Recently a friend memorising a solo concerto asked if I had any insight as to why, when going through the piece, there would often be a little slip. Yet the one time he played it through while reading some notes on the author, his recall was totally accurate. You can imagine how this tickled my curiosity!
I then remembered an anecdote Prof. Victor Liberman once shared with us (I studied with Prof. Philippe Hirshhorn, but all of the students regularly followed both classes…).
During a performance of the Tchaikowsky concerto, a terrified Prof. Liberman had absolutely no idea on which note to begin the concerto. This lasted for the whole length of the orchestral introduction and it was not the first time he had played that concerto. Out of desperation he decided not to think and hoped his hands would do the right thing. Well, they did and, for Prof. Liberman always wanted an answer, he went to his GP the following day to ask what was wrong and how to fix it. :-)
What happened and why? It’s difficult to pinpoint an answer, but one thing is sure: more is now known about the memorization process and there are techniques to make playing by heart more reliable.
Memory processes include 3 steps:
- Encoding > how we ‘translate’ information so it can be stored
- Storing > where is the information stored and for how long can it be stored
- Retrieving information > recognizing or recalling the information
There are 5 different kinds of memory:
- Analytical > understanding the score
- Auditory > hearing the sounds before producing them
- Visual > seeing the score or hand position
- Kinaesthetic > a sort of ‘muscle memory’
- Rote > based on repetitions
Most musicians use Rote memory, but this is unfortunately the most unreliable.
The best is to implement all of them.
Here how to in 7 steps:
- Analyse the score
- Identify patterns
- Create chunks
- Assign to each chunk a name, a feeling, a face, a dialogue, an image, a characteristic, emotions, how you want it to sound… the more specific and imaginative the easier to recognize it and recall it later
- Work on the chunks randomly (keep changing the order)
- Work on the links between chunks
- Implement Memory Visualisation > hear the music with the ‘inner ear’; see the score, notes on the instruments, hand position in your mind; feel the physical movements required; imagine the story and the emotions you want to convey
Now you are ready for the Method of Loci (or Memory Palace):
- Choose a route you know well
- Choose elements along the route
- Assign to each element a chunk of the music
- Now play the sound track to your journey. :-)
Resources & links:
>> World memory champion Andi Bell’s card technique
>> Andi Bell explains the ‘link method’ memory technique
>> Joshua Foer: Feats of memory anyone can do