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.
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
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.
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.
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