Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Let's Memorize Music!

As your children are preparing for their Let's Play Music Recital, or any performance, they'll need to memorize some music. It may seem overwhelming to memorize a piece of music, but this challenge is well worth the effort!

Benefits of Memorization

We don't spend tons of time working on memorizing music in our classes, but this is one element of musicianship that we want you to get a taste of! Why is memorizing beneficial?

Memorizing trains memory. Some people will tell you not to waste time memorizing because you'll fill up your brain and run out of room. Nope! The opposite is true- the more you work on memorization, the better and more efficient you get at it. 

Learning more helps you learn more. Memorizing music improves your skill at memorizing other types of information, too. Memorizing can help improve students' ability to learn.

Actually, one factor that makes learning a challenge for some kids is having a poor 'working memory' or short-term memory. You must be able to remember what you're working on long enough to get to the end of the math problem, the challenging sentence, or the phrase of music. Practicing CAN improve your working memory. Music can provide a brilliant exercise to improve your mind.

Memorizing is a work out. All of your awesome brain functions work hard when you learn something challenging or memorize it. Pushing yourself to maintain focus on these challenges trains your brain to work through struggles and stay focused. It can be exhausting because it's a workout! Learn how to handle tough mental work by giving yourself a few minutes of tough workout every day.  Students who have these skills and resilience are great thinkers!

Rote learning improves overall thinking. Memorization benefits the hippocampal foundation, a structure in the brain involved in memory. Repeated activation of the structure leads to more neuronal plasticity. So, again, you're making yourself a quick-thinker and better problem solver.

'Knowing' improves creativity. When you 'just know' facts, equations, bits of music, etc. your brain is free to use processing energy on... finding creative solutions.  Memorizing lots of music in a variety of styles makes you a better composer; as you are putting together your own new piece, you have loads of samples you can draw up from memory to emulate and alter. 

7 Tips for Memorization

Teachers Joy Morin and Laura Evans shared their favorite strategies for memorizing.  Gently encourage your child and share these ideas.

Memorize in small sections, even two to four measures at a time. When you have mastered one small section, then go on to the next small section. Then go back and put the two sections together. In the same way you gradually mastered a new piece, you can memorize it. Don't expect or try to get it all at once! Celebrate when you can add a few measures to your memory.

Try to play without the music in front of you - see how far you get! Place your music on the floor or turn the page around so you don't have the temptation to look at those notes. Then go back and work on the part where you have trouble remembering, and try again.

Practice the music away from the piano. Sit at the table, on the couch or in the car and practice your song without the music or the piano. If you can "play" it (sing the tune, tap you fingers) without the instrument or music, then it is a good indication that you have the piece memorized well!

Watch your hands as you play. Simply closing your eyes may not always produce the best memorization. By watching your hands you can get a better understanding of the music and have an anchor of familiarity when performing in a new environment.

Memorize hands alone, especially the often neglected left hand. Make sure that you know the bass line so it will flow naturally when memorizing both hands together.

Sing the note letter names out loud, in rhythm, in each hand without playing them. Singing note names is tricky. If you are able to sing them then it's proof that your brain knows those details of the music so well that it will remember them despite any nerves, mix-ups or stumbles. You will be able to play through at the performance and if you make a small mistake, it should help you to continue without having to start over completely at the beginning of the piece.

Analyze the music by looking at its form (is it ABA format?), it's harmonic rhythm (red, red, yellow, red), etc. This will create a mental road map to follow as you memorize the piece.

Spaced Repetition & Memory

When we learn a new bit of information on Day 0, we all start to forget the information right away. It's a bummer, but that's just how the brain works. Our brains need cues to get the message, "hey, this stuff is worth remembering." 

So even though you JUST memorized some music, you start forgetting right away. 

The forgetting curve looks like an exponential decay curve. 

Each time we review what we know (and start to forget again right away), the decay curve is a little bit flatter.  Each time we can allow longer periods between review, and we can remember just a little bit longer before we start to forget. 

The trick for optimizing learning is to plan repetition of activities and information so that the reviews coincide with the intervals of time when students are starting to forget their facts.  With organized intervals of repetition, we can study smarter, not longer.

That's why we sing a new Let's Play Music song or game in every class, several times, when it is first presented. Then it comes back (less frequently) for us to review and sing.

Remember Every Song Forever

If you want to study smart, try creating your own spaced repetition learning: review pieces of information that you are retaining  less often than pieces that you are forgetting. 

Here's quick piano example: Make a list of all the songs you have memorized, ever. Attempt to play through the songs. Based on how accurately you can remember the song, decide if you will review it again tomorrow, next week, next month, in 4 months, or next year.

As part of your routine, each time you play piano, include some work on a new piece you are trying to memorize and some time for a play-through of a piece that you already know. 

If your list is short and you're having fun, you might play more songs than are on your list (playing memorized songs is really fun.) Or you might have a special  day each week when you use ALL of your practice time to play from memory!

The importance of a printed list is to remind you of your songs. If you wait too long, you'll eventually forget what you worked hard to memorize in the first place. 

Remember, the goal is to practice again just as you are about to forget, and that happens at increasing intervals each time.  By making it part of your routine to play through one old favorite (it's fun-you won't mind), you'll retain every song you've ever memorized, forever! 

One Last Benefit

I know your student is very young right now, but you'll be glad to know that memorization practices can stave off cognitive decline in aging populations.  Continue practicing songs you've memorized, continue learning new ones, and you'll stay sharp in your later years.  Music lessons really are a gift that stays with you your whole life long!

Have fun preparing for your recital, and plan to keep those songs in your memory forever.

-Gina Weibel,M.S.
Let's Play Music Teacher

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