Memorizing Doesn’t Work

This is a tip that works with just about anything you’re studying.  Our brains weren’t built to memorize and they don’t do it very well.  Our brains were built to work through systems.  And once you’ve worked through a system a few hundred or thousand times, your brain does it so quickly that it appears to be memorized.

Let’s say you’re struggling with reading traditional music notation.  You can’t possibly memorize all the notes and their placements on the staff.  On a guitar you’re talking about up to 3 octaves of notes.  That’s 24 notes.  When it comes to sequences, there’s the law of 7 + or – 2.  That’s the amount of things in sequence we can remember.  Which is why phone numbers are 7 digits.

So if 24 is out of the question, how do you do it?  You need a system.  One or two small points to memorize and the rest is worked out from there.

With our music notation, your baseline should be FACE.  That’s the space notes from bottom to top on the staff.  Once you know that, then it’s easy to figure out the line notes in between because it’s just alphabetical order.  Once you get off the staff into ledger lines, you’ll want to start working with intervals.  Something I’ll discuss in another post.

The other part of making memorization easier is grouping.  Think again about how you memorize a phone number.  you don’t actually memorize 7 digits.  You say to yourself “da-da-da…da-da-da-da”.  Two groupings of digits.  When you learn small groupings and then stack the groups together, it’s easier to remember large amounts of material.

The alphabet is a good example.  I’m sure we all learned it by learning the Alphabet Song as kids.  Great example of grouping: ABCD   EFG  HIJKLMNOP   QRS    TUV   WX   YZ

Learned as phonetic groups, the order of letters is easy to remember.  And how many of us thought that LMNO was all one letter for a couple months there?  Just me?  But you can see how each group is rather short, except the third one.

So, with whatever music concept you’re working on, apply this technique of grouping and systematizing to make it easier.  Memorizing is the long hard way.  This works great for reading, learning chord spellings, scale patterns, learning songs, and everything else.  Feel free to leave a comment below and let me know how you’re using it.


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~ by Phil Johnson on December 9, 2009.

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