From sight-reading to memorized performance

If you have performed from memory, you no doubt have had the experience of an audience
member coming up after a concert and saying in amazement “How did you learn so many spartito musicalenotes?”

In the last few posts about memory, we’ve talked about learning and memory as two sides of the same coin,  about the many kinds of memory in music, about the formation of neural pathways in the brain, and about our brain initiating a motor-action plan as we begin to play a piece of music. But how, in fact, do we “learn so many notes,” and what are the best ways to practice to ensure that the memory for all those notes will remain secure? Continue reading

Memory and falling dominoes

The Starry Night is regarded as one of Vincent Van Gogh’s best works and is probably one of the most well-known images in art, having been appropriated for everything from mugs to mouse pads to desktop wallpaper.

Van Gogh's The Starry Night

Van Gogh’s The Starry Night

I recently happened upon a very unusual version of Starry Night – a video of the iconic image created by falling dominoes.  As I watched the dominoes fall (or not, in some cases), it struck me that the falling dominoes are a perfect analogy for motor programs in the brain as we perform a piece from memory.

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The many kinds of memory in music

In music we often talk about auditory, visual, and motor memory.  But outside of the music world, we encounter a dizzying array of memory terms. We read about  short-term vs. long-term, explicit vs. implicit, declarative vs. procedural, semantic vs. episodic –  and more.    So what do all of these terms mean in relationship to memory for music? Continue reading

Learning and memory: two sides of the same coin

When I was in grad school (the first time), a friend showed up at lunch one day looking far more stressed than usual.   When I asked her what was going on, she said she had a dream the previous night, and she was convinced it was a premonition of disaster for an impending degree recital.  In her dream, she walked out on stage, acknowledged the very large audience of faculty, friends and family, sat down at a beautiful 9’ Steinway on which she had practiced, and then drew a complete blank.  Not only could she not remember how to begin the first piece, she couldn’t even remember what repertoire was on the recital.  Sound familiar? Continue reading

Can synesthesia be taught?

It wasn’t so long ago that the very existence of synesthesia was questioned. (You may recall from an earlier post that there are 60+ types of synesthesia, the condition in which stimulation of one sense leads to automatic experience of a second sense.) Many scientists throughout the twentieth century scoffed at the idea of synesthesia – saying that people who claimed to have it just had strong childhood memories linking two senses – for example, colors and numbers.

Credit:  © brunobarillari/Fotolia.com

Credit: © brunobarillari/Fotolia.com

But research during the 1980s and 90s definitively proved the existence of synesthesia, and scientists are now looking at its advantages and disadvantages. Does having synesthesia give you cognitive benefits?   Does it improve memory?  Is it embedded in our genes, or do we learn it through environmental associations from childhood? Can adults be taught synesthesia?

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Myth or reality: mirror neurons and music, part VII

A few months ago I wrote several posts about the importance of mirror neurons in the study and performance of music.  Mirror neurons, as you recall, are the cells that fire both when wemyth and reality word cloud act and when we see someone else making the same action, and multiple studies have been conducted that specifically explore mirror neurons in musicians.  But some scientists have called mirror neurons the most hyped concept in neuroscience.  So are mirror neurons myth  – or reality.  And what difference does this controversy make to practicing musicians? Continue reading