Practice, learning and memory, part II

Chopin_Prelude_7Almost everyone who plays the piano has, at some point in his/her study,  learned Chopin’s Prelude in A Major, Op. 28. Only 16 bars and lasting a bit less to a bit more than a minute (depending on the performer), the Prelude is deceptively simple. A few repetitions and it feels as though we have it “under our fingers;” a few more repetitions and hey!  we’ve memorized it!

But wait – leave it for a couple of days, and all of a sudden, you begin to wonder: Continue reading

Practice, learning and memory, part I

None of my teachers ever spoke with me about how to practice.  They didn’t suggest strategies or give me tips.  I guess they assumed, since I memorized so easily, that I didn’t need any help.   I had what’s called a “good ear,” and I could hear the piece in my mind.  By the time I had developed the motor skills to play a particular piece, all of the melodies, rhythms, and harmonies were in my head, and I counted on that when I performed.  I assumed that good auditory memory was all I needed.   But after a couple of bad experiences following grad school, I decided that I needed to develop a more secure system for learning and memorizing.

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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