Memorizing New Material
Last month we dealt some ways to enhance your practice. Another aspect involved in this is being able to memorize new material. First let me say that everyone will not be able to use the exact same methods to memorize things. However, this month I would like to explore some methods that you can use as a starting point. We will start by taking some methods mentioned last month, and looking at them in more detail. Then we will look at an additional idea that may work for you.
Last month we mentioned the method of practicing the pattern for eighteen minutes, ascending and descending very slowly, without mistakes. Next, taking a minimum five minute break, making sure to get away from the instrument, to allow the pattern to sink in, and then, coming back to resume practice and review. Now, let’s look at this more closely.
The initial eighteen minutes is to take a snapshot of the pattern that you are trying to learn. You must practice slowly, up and down the pattern, without error to do this properly. If you go too quickly and make mistakes, you can not get a clear picture of the pattern that you are trying to learn. Then you move on to your minimum five minute break. You need to get away from the instrument and take a break here to let what you just did sink in. If you go on to practice something else, it will get all mixed up with what you just did. Give your self at least five minutes. It can be longer but no less than that. After your break, come back and review that day’s pattern and do any other practicing you may want to.
The next day, repeat this sequence with the next new pattern you want to learn. The only difference will be, during your review session, review any previous day’s patterns as well as the new one. Each pattern is done only once for the eighteen minutes. It takes a period of twenty one days, before anything will be fully committed to memory, so you will need to keep playing the patterns for this period of time. Better still, try and put them into your playing as soon as possible.
Repetition is the old tried and true method. The length of time that you do this kind of practice is critical to your success. Last month we discussed two ways to do this, depending on the material. For new concepts and patterns, you should do shorter concentrated practice, similar to that described above. New concepts take a higher level of concentration, so need to be done for shorter periods of time in order to begin learning them. Otherwise you reach a point where, though you may be doing your repetitions, you are not getting anything out of them.
Physical skills that you have already worked on, but have not yet memorized can be repeated as much and for as long as you want. Once you have set up the connections in your initial practice, and can execute the pattern, you need only repeat the physical motion. Doing this repeatedly allows you to memorize the pattern and get it to the point where you are no longer thinking about what you are doing. By removing the thought process, the pattern becomes automatic, and then you will also be able to execute it more quickly.
This is one that you can do anywhere to learn your instrument, and works especially well for guitarists. Take a system to map out your instrument, and use it to memorize where any note is on your instrument. For instance on a guitar, you can map out your instrument using fractions. The top number of the fraction is your string number, and the bottom number of the fraction is your fret number. The fraction 3/9 would translate into third string, ninth fret, which is an E note. You can do this in your head anywhere, or you could make up a sheet of these to use when you have time. The point here is to develop a system that lets you "see" your instrument in your mind, even though it is not physically there.
In the end, these are just a starting point. Ultimately, everyone will, at some point, devise methods that work best for them. Hopefully these ideas will get you started on that path, and at least help speed up the process for you. Keep searching for new ways that work for you, remembering we all do not learn in the same manner. Just because a method may work for someone else, it may not be the best for you. Keep searching and you will find your own path.