How to Memorize Music: The Two-Chair Technique

Equipment required:

  • Memorizing musicYour instrument and normal practice equipment (Regardless of whether you sit or stand to practice, we’ll call this Chair 1.)
  • One extra music stand and one extra chair (We’ll call this Chair 2.)


  1. Arrange the extra stand and chair (Chair 2) so that the music on the stand is not visible when you are in your normal playing location (Chair 1).
  2. Place the music to be memorized on the extra stand at Chair 2 and leave your instrument at Chair 1.
  3. Sit in Chair 2, and try to memorize the pitches, rhythms, dynamics, articulations, and tempo markings in a short segment of the music. Be able to access it intellectually (recall the notes), aurally (imagine the sounds), and kinesthetically (imagine yourself playing it).
  4. Move to Chair 1, and, without peeking, recall the music and try to play it slowly. Even if you forget part of the passage, try to reconstruct it or fake it until you get to a part that you remember.
  5. If you faltered on any part, go back to Chair 2 and study the music again before returning to Chair 1.


  • Memorization trick with two music standsThe purpose of the two chairs is to enforce the principle of never playing the music with the score visible. You should not be using this time to practice your sight reading, but instead to learn the music in such a way that you will never need it in front of you as a crutch.

  • Try to make a game out of this technique, where your goal is never to have to go back to Chair 2 once you’ve moved to Chair 1. This will help you figure out how to internalize the music more deeply.

  • If you are a singer, it is still worthwhile to have the two chairs, so that you can enforce the “no peeking” rule. When you are in Chair 1, you may sing, but in Chair 2, try not to vocalize. Imagine yourself singing the music instead. As a singer, you have the added responsibility of memorizing the meaning and pronunciation of the text as well.

Try it

Try this technique when beginning to learn your next piece. Share with me your successes, difficulties, revelations, and ideas for improving the technique. I’d love to hear your reactions, but only once you’ve tried the technique.

Robert Kelley

About Robert Kelley

Robert Kelley is a music theorist, composer, pianist, harpsichordist, and Associate Professor of Music at Lander University, in Greenwood, South Carolina.
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