MEMORIZE AS YOU GO ALONG
Additional Information

There are many fascinating facts that have been discovered about memorization and the human brain. Here are four:

1. Short Bits Make Memorization Easier

Look at this list of numbers:

2024561414

It appears to be a random set of numbers. It’s actually the phone number for the White House switchboard. It’s so much easier to think: 202-456-1414. You can now memorize these numbers, read them with pauses, and put them in a useful context. Very short bits of information are easier for your brain to deal with, easier to learn, and easier to memorize.

If you’re not using this to your advantage when you memorize music, you’re hurting your progress!

2. You’re Already Used to Thinking in Short Phrases

Quick Quiz: What are the next 4 letters of the alphabet after N?

The answer is easy: O, P, Q, R. But, what’s not so easy is immediately coming up with the answer. It’s interesting how many people say “LMNOP” in their minds to figure this out. Many people even hear the melody from the alphabet song (also known as Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star) as they think “LMNOP” in their minds.

Sure, you can easily come up with ABC or XYZ—the beginning and ending of the long string of letters we call the alphabet—but quickly getting details from the middle of so much information is impossible without short patterns.

Your brain cannot jump randomly into a large pool of information. It sifts through short, recognizable patterns and pulls out what’s useful. Use this to your advantage when you memorize music:

• Memorize one phrase at a time.
• Learn just one section of a song (verse, chorus, or bridge) at a time.
• Don’t worry about memorizing the song sections in order. It’s okay to work on the bridge first—even if you don’t yet know the verse.

3. Your Brain is Designed to Forget Things!

Your brain is designed to forget nearly every piece of information it receives! If it didn’t do this, you would remember every face you saw today, every breath you took, every footstep, every bite of food. Most stuff isn’t important enough for you to remember. (If you have some time to kill—after you’ve played your instrument today, of course—do an online search for “Latent Inhibition” and “Habituation.”)

If you want musical information to make its way into your long-term memory, you need to take action! You must overcome your brain’s natural tendency to stop paying attention. You need to do something special:

• Use very short, highly focused mini-practice sessions to learn every nuance of a bit of music.
• Make what you’re playing special to you in some way.
• Attach a strong emotion to your music.

Don’t underestimate the power of feelings and emotions to help you memorize things. The most emotional events—like a traumatic event such as a car crash—are forever imprinted in your memory. You need the music you’re learning to be just as strong a memory.

Why will your brain memorize the current music you’re learning, instead of the TV show you watched and laughed so hard at? Many musicians can quote their favorite movie more easily than they can play their favorite song. What are you doing to help your brain remember?

4. The 2/3 Memory Loss Rule

Studies done by learning psychologists have shown that, given a long list of information to memorize, the majority of people are most likely to forget the information that’s approximately 2/3 of the way through the list.

Try it yourself. Here’s a list of the instruments in an orchestra, in alphabetical order. Read over the list from beginning to end many times until you feel you know it:

Bass
Bassoon
Cello
Clarinet
Flute
French Horn
Harp
Oboe
Percussion
Piano
Trombone
Trumpet
Tuba
Tympani
Viola
Violin

Now, write down the list – in order. How did you do? Which did you forget?

To overcome the 2/3 Memory Loss Rule, you need special strategies:
1. Study lists backwards and forwards.
2. Start in the middle.
3. Focus on just a few items at a time.
4. Re-organize the list, breaking it into related items, like this:

Violin
Viola
Cello
Bass

Flute
Oboe
Clarinet
Bassoon

Trumpet
French Horn
Trombone
Tuba

Tympani
Percussion

Piano
Harp

You’ve now eliminated the long list! There is no 2/3 of the way through. You can memorize just the brass instruments without even paying attention to the other instruments.

Imagine doing this with every song you learn. And, musicians definitely suffer from the effects of the 2/3 Memory Loss Rule when it comes to memorizing songs and other pieces of music. Not only will your brain naturally show this weakness, but the musical material is often the most difficult that far into a song:

• In a rock song or a jazz standard, the Bridge often falls in that position in the song. Bridges are usually unique and sometimes are in a different key than the rest of the song.
• In the Sonata form used in classical music, the Development section shows up at that point. The Development is usually the most technically challenging section.

Memorization Shortcuts

You CAN memorize any music you’re learning. Each of the strategies listed here will help you make memorization a normal part of the learning process.

Be Sociable, Share!