Friday, December 6, 2013

Tricks (or Techniques) For Memorization

I never saw a purple cow
I never hope to see one.
But I can tell you here and now
I'd rather see than be one!

Have you ever heard that rhyme?

Other than nursery rhymes this is one of the earliest poems I can remember being able to recite by memory.

Over my life I have memorized many things, including poetry.

My Brit Lit teacher in high school made us memorize the Prologue to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

After ::mumble, mumble:: years I still remember it.



I've memorized Bible verses and the books of the Bible.

I have certificates and ribbons as evidence of my successes.

I found that 4 was a lucky number for me in memorizing verses.

If I read the verse aloud 4 times, then wrote it out 4 times, I was able to easily memorize verses.


In music there are many opportunities to memorize music.

When I was in high school if you played your solo at contest by memory then your score was raised.

When performing in choir we often had to memorize the music.

When in marching band it was not uncommon to be required to memorize music so as to not have to march with a lire.

Obviously the longer the pice the more effort was needed to memorize the piece.

I have nearly excellent short term recall. 

This would usually irritate classmates when a class assignment required memorization. The classmates would work all evening to successfully put an exercise in their memory.

Me, I would go off by myself about 5-10 minutes before class time and memorize the piece.  Then be ready to perform it in class.

What irritated my classmates was something that I had/have honed over the years.

Some techniques for memorization - kind of like my lucky #4 technique described earlier.


A recent radio interview prompted me to think about how I have been able to memorize music.

In the interview on NPR of the Chinese pianist Yuja Wang, she talked about memorizing Rachmaninoff's Concerto #3 or, as Wang called it in the interview, Rach 3.

First suggestion: listen to music.  Specifically, listen to the piece you are working on as it is performed by as many other artists as possible.

In this day of YouTube a musician can view/hear a piece of music played by 10s, 100s, 1000s of musicians. 

Good and bad. 

For you can learn from both types of performances: HOW to perform and HOW NOT to perform.

Second suggestion: a thorough understanding of the structure (form) of the piece.

Being able to recognize that each part of the piece builds upon what came before.
     "Whatever you just played tells you what you need to play next."

Being able to recognize repeated passages and new passages is important.

Third suggestion: desire to learn the piece. 

If you don't want to memorize something it won't happen.

This desire is directly fed by your persistence.

Three good suggestions.

What memorization techniques work for you?

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