Colorful Memorization

Audrey’s memorization plan used colorful washi tape to break the piece into sections. You can see the post-its we used the week before to create a peek-a-boo window.

Memorizing a piece can be challenging. Even more challenging can be motivating a student to memorize a piece.

I wanted Audrey to memorize this Tango, the same piece that we’d used the Peek-a-Boo Window on the week before. 

First, I had her interact with the score. We used colored tape to separate the piece into phrases. It’s more intriguing to ask, “Audrey, can you pick some colors of tape to show yourself where the phrases are?” than it is to say, “Please memorize this piece in two bar sections, starting at the beginning and working your way patiently to the end.” (I know which one I would have wanted to do.)

Audrey’s list for working on each section. Each time she played it correctly from memory, she could check a box. This picture was taken at her lesson after we’d tried out the process successfully with several sections.

After we finished breaking the piece into sections, we took the same colors and made a check-off list with boxes. It gave her a miniature art project and literally brought color into the lesson. Each time she played a particular color section correctly, she could put an X in the box. The tape we used is Japanese paper tape called washi tape. It’s used for all kinds of craft projects. I use this washi dispenser, but it’s a little pricy. You could certainly start with just a few rolls of tape and see if your students like it.

You can use this type of system on its own, or with an incentive chart. Lately I’ve been enjoying using these small incentive charts – even with students as old as eleven or twelve years old. (There are all kinds of charts, so look around till you find a few that would appeal to your particular students. They come 30 to a pack, and include the stickers you’ll use, so you can use them pretty freely.)

I asked my student, Tasha, what she liked about the incentive charts. She said, “I like being rewarded for small tasks. It makes me feel better and I can see my progress. I can see myself getting closer to my goal.”

Seeing progress is something we don’t think about enough. More often we think about rewarding completion of a project than rewarding incremental progress along the way.

Every time I take the time to get my student involved in the process of creating a visible record of their progress they respond well. Every single time.


This piece is from the P Plate Piano by Elissa Milne. I’m sorry, again, that you can’t get these cool books in the states. You can, however, get her Pepper Books and they are wonderful. But her P Plate books are super cool, too, and only currently available in Australia and by special arrangement with the editor. So if you’re lucky enough to live in Australia, use them!