Let go over a cliff, die completely,
and then come back to life —
after that you cannot be deceived.”
~ Zen Proverb
You’ll find defining the Super-melody and cleaving to it to be one of the best ways to help you memorize music. For any of you who have a fear of memory slips during performance, clinging to the Super-melody and letting the other notes go, contrary to what you might think, actually makes the memory much stronger. You entrust the inner parts largely to your muscle memory and only need to be responsible for singing out a single line. With a little practice, even an untrained musician can sing through a song from memory beginning to end without fear of losing his place.
Even if something in the inner parts gets off, by clinging to the Super-melody and continuing forward, you’ll find your place again almost immediately. You’ll find though that with a little practice, you won’t depend on this crutch. By giving yourself permission to fail, failure generally disappears.
Memory for me is one of the first points of departure when preparing a new interpretation. It should be an active goal from the very beginning until you achieve it. Then you should go back and forth between using the score and playing from memory until you learn to realize every single detail therein.
It’s difficult to reach depth of expression while looking at the notes in front of you. The page becomes a barrier between yourself and the music.
I find the process of memorizing to be a combination of working at the keyboard and working away from the keyboard.
Away from the keyboard, I work through many filters of analysis: harmonic analysis, structural analysis, emotional analysis, deep score-reading, rhythmic and metric analysis. And as a conductor, I prepare the score such that I could conduct a pianist or group of pianists, and I orchestrate it in my mind and prepare to conduct my orchestral transcription.
Composers and conductors tend to have a much more strongly developed sense of inner hearing than instrumentalists and singers. They don’t depend on sonic feedback to inspire them and tell them the notes. Studying away from the piano, singing all of the lines, learning to hear them and pre-hear them, prepares you for meaningful playing. It’s a bit like playing blind. You don’t realize how much you depend needlessly on your eyes until you shut them.