The value of performing from memory

Williamon, A. (1999) The value of performing from memory. Psychology of Music, 27 (1) pp. 84-95. ISSN 0305-7356 (print) 1741-3087 (online)


Performances of the Preludes from Cello Suites I, II and III by J. S. Bach were recorded on video-tape across five separate conditions, differing with respect to memorisation and the presence of a music stand. Fifty "musicians" and thirty-six "non-musicians" were asked to watch and rate one video-taped performance of each Prelude on four performance aspects: overall quality, musical understanding, technical proficiency and communicative ability. Ratings indicated that (1) performing from memory was superior to playing from the score, (2) visibility of the performer influenced audiences' ratings of performances in a favourable direction, (3) the extra time spent preparing for the memorised performances was beneficial and (4) musicians seemed biased in favour of performances without a music stand. Results are discussed in relation to possible implications for musical performance and pedagogy.

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