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Copyright © 2018 by Wayne Stegall
Created April 2, 2018.  See Document History at end for details.


A scientific method to memorize your music (or anything else)


Long ago in 1993, I bought Kevin Trudeau's memory course mainly because I wanted an easy way to memorize scripture.  His method was to relate every item memorized with the oddest possible associations then retain the associations.  After a while of insane-sounding muttering, I threw the course away.  Then it seemed God inspired me.  I thought of Pavlov's dogs and their programming with partial reinforcement and came up with the following idea.  It seems that human systems are efficient and will not build unnecessary skills.  That is they are lazy.  Therefore, a memorization method must convince the brain that the information to be memorized is important.  This means that mere repeated reading of the material will not send this message:  the brain will anticipate the next repetition and decline to remember it.  There are two elements to this method.  The first and most important is memory stretching.  If a newly learned bit of data is allowed time while examining other things to be nearly forgotten,, when it is repeated the brain with it is important information.  The second is partial reinforcement, that is to repeat exercises on an irregular basis.


A modest amount of material is chosen to memorize then divided into approximately equal sized chunks.  As each chunk is memorized, other chunks are repeated or memorized with a view to returning to target chunk just as it is about to be forgotten.  If it is forgotten it is re-memorized with the same beneficial effect.  Partial reinforcement would play by varying the amount of intervening material before returning to the target chunk.  As you proceed multiple chunks are in various stages of learning simultaneously.


Francisco Tårrega's Lågrima has 16 measures:  8 measures in each of sections A and B to be played AABBA.  It seems a strategy to memorize section A entirely before memorizing section B.  Doing both perhaps wound not be intractable.  The following example gives a sample sequence of measures played.  Only those appended (look) are played while looking at the score.

Memorize section A of Lågrima

1(look), 1, 1
2(look), 2, 2, 1, 2
3(look), 3, 3, 1, 2, 3(fail)
3(look), 3, 1, 2, 3
4(look), 4(fail), 4(look), 4, 3, 4, 2, 3, 4
5(look), 5, 3, 4, 5
1, 2, 3, 4, 5
6(look), 6, 5, 6, 4, 5, 6
7(look), 7, 6, 7(fail), 7(look), 7, 7, 6, 7
4, 5, 6, 7
8(look), 8(fail), 8(look), 8, 7, 8
1, 2, 3, 4, 5(fail)
5(look), 5, 5, 4, 5, 6, 7 8
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

This example is not rigid.  You have to choose how to proceed based on your impression of your progress.  If there is excessive forgetting increase repetition; if all too easy, proceed more aggressively with less immediate repetition of the current chunk. When this is done aggressively, it feels like lifting weights with your brain.


I noticed that this method worked better on new material and less so on that already played to familiarity.  Perhaps the brain had already determined no need to memorize the familiar.  So too, partial reinforcement suggests a missed day of doing some otherwise regular exercises is not so bad as you think.  Finally, I recently read a scientific article that restated the memory stretching technique that I devised years earlier.

Exercise your brain.

1If I find the article I read, I will post a reference here later.

Document History
April 2, 2018  Created.