Practicing Perfection: Memory and Piano Performance, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Practicing Perfection

Memory and Piano Performance, 1st Edition

By Roger Chaffin, Gabriela Imreh, Mary Crawford

Psychology Press

320 pages

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The memory feats of famous musicians seem almost superhuman. Can such extraordinary accomplishments be explained by the same principles that account for more ordinary, everyday memory abilities? To find out, a concert pianist videotaped her practice as she learned a new piece for performance, the third movement, Presto, of the Italian Concerto by J.S. Bach. The story of how the pianist went about learning, memorizing and polishing the piece is told from the viewpoints of the pianist (the second author) and of a cognitive psychologist (the first author) observing the practice. The counterpoint between these insider and outsider perspectives is framed by the observations of a social psychologist (the third author) about how the two viewpoints were reconciled. The CD that accompanies the book provides for yet another perspective, allowing the reader to hear the polished performance.

Written for both psychologists and musicians, the book provides the first detailed description of how an experienced pianist organizes her practice, identifying stages of the learning process, characteristics of expert practice, and practice strategies. The main focus, however, is on memorization. An analysis of what prominent pianists of the past century have said about memorization reveals considerable disagreement and confusion. Using previous work on expert memory as a starting point, the authors show how principles of memory developed by cognitive psychologists apply to musical performance and uncover the intimate connection between memorization and interpretation.


"Of all the interdisciplinary collaborations of late between psychologists and performers, surely the most fruitful…has been that of the American-Romanian concert pianist Gabriela Imreh with cognitive psychologist Roger Chaffin and his wife the social psychologist Mary Crawford. I would go so far as to say that the report of their research should be required reading for every pianist, piano student and teacher in the land."

Piano Journal

"This study of how a concert pianist prepares a new piece for performance is a collaboration between the pianist (Imreh), a cognitive psychologist (Chaffin), and a social psychologist with an interest in post-positivist methodology (Crawford). Centering on a description and analysis of how pianist Gabriela Imreh learned the third movement of J.S. Bach's Italian Concerto, the authors relate the pianist's account of how she learns to the psychologists' interpretation of the process."

Music Educators Journal

"It contains interesting quotes from the writings of historically significant pianists and teachers, Imreh's own comments about the process during the learning period, and insights as the concert pianist prepares for the final goal, the recording. Recommended for all inclusive music libraries and for undergraduate and graduate libraries in institutions emphasizing performance, this book will also be useful to psychology students who study memory and memorization."


Table of Contents

Contents: Series Editor's Foreword. Preface. In the Green Room. Improvisations. In the Words of the Masters: Artists' Accounts of Their Experience. Expert Memory. The Way to Carnegie Hall. Lessons From J.S. Bach: Stages of Practice. In the Words of the Artist. Effects of Musical Complexity on Practice. Memory and Performance. Stages of Practice Revisited. Coda. Appendices: Discography for Gabriela Imreh. Score of the Italian Concerto (Presto) by J.S. Bach.

About the Series

Expertise: Research and Applications Series

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
PSYCHOLOGY / Cognitive Psychology