I love the phrase “playing by heart.” It sounds much better than “playing from memory.” To play by heart means to have the music living inside of you. To play from memory means to simply regurgitate stored information. So why is it important to play by heart?
The answer is simple. When the music is living inside of you it has genuinely become yours. When you play from your soul with no music in front of your eyes you can envision the music close to what the composer heard in his head before he wrote it down. Music does not live in the printed notes. It lives in the fired imagination of a creative artist. How do we achieve this stage in performance? It requires work of a very specific kind.
We must first understand that how we learn a piece in the beginning will do much to determine how we will eventually perform it. That is why I feel it is so important to try to commit to memory every detail of a piece as early as possible. So much time can be wasted practicing with the music in front of you, struggling to find the musical direction and technical perfection that we all desire. It is better to study the piece away from the cello and absorb it into our mind. It will help us to discover what the piece is asking of us before we start practicing it. Then when we start learning the piece at the cello we already have a much clearer idea of the way the work should sound. This will help us to commit the piece to memory much earlier along with diligent practice. Try to memorize one line at a time. Do not try to do too much all at once!
I would like all of you who have never played from memory to try doing it during your next practice session, no matter what your ability level is. You should notice a certain freedom in your playing along with a little more technical security. This is the first step to learning how to “play by heart!”