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#61 Using Review to Improve Your Memory (part 3)

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

By Christy | The Practicing Pro

This blog is part 3 of the memory series. To read parts 1 and 2, see blogs #54 and #58.

Do you want to memorize easier with a review program?

Are you feeling overwhelmed by a HUGE piece of music that you need to learn and memorize by a deadline?

Today we are talking about making memorizing advanced repertoire easier, and I mean WAY easier, by using a review system that works.

How can you set up your new young musicians to find memorizing easier, both now and down the road when they learn and perform harder more complex pieces?

Once you memorize something, it’s important to revisit and review what you have learned in order to strengthen that memory. This is sometimes easier said than done - memorizing, just like speaking a new language or meditating, is a skill that needs to be practiced daily in order to improve. What does this mean for practicing music? This is where a good review program can prove invaluable.

The idea of a review program is that you can extend your memory volume by reviewing more songs every few days, weeks, and then months - building up your memory retention skills over time. Eventually, you will be able to play songs by memory faster and remember them longer.

This is something I call practicing “to remember”- it's quite magical actually - if you practice remembering easier songs for long periods of time, then this will actually help you learn how to remember harder songs for a long period of time as well. The more you remember, the easier it is to remember. Brilliant!

What does this mean when practicing?

Let’s say you have a piano series with 12 songs in each book. The songs in each book of the series get longer and harder. I know that’s not usually how it works. Usually, the more advanced books have fewer songs that are much longer in length. But for our example, it makes it easier to understand. The key to the review program in this scenario would be to “review 6 pieces a day”.

To start, you learn songs 1-6 in book one. As you learn each song, you play all of the 6 songs every day. That makes 6 songs a day.

When you start to learn song 7, this is considered your working song or learning song.

You still continue to play pieces 1-6 every day while you are learning piece 7.

As you are finishing up learning piece 7, you start learning piece 8, even though 7 is still not completely performance-ready yet. You still continue to play pieces 1-6 every day by memory, as well as working on pieces 7 and 8.

Now you start learning piece 9.

Piece 8 is still a bit bumpy and not quite at performance level, but by now piece 7 is mastered! Great! So now you have 7 performance-ready, memorized songs.

Moving forward, each day you SKIP in rotation one of songs 1-6. So this means instead of playing pieces 1-6 every day, now you choose 5 of them, alternating each day with a different one you skip. You also play piece 7 every day, as well as the songs you are learning, making it a total of 6 review pieces (5 from pieces 1-6 and your piece 7). Once you have piece 8 memorized and at a performance-ready level, then the 5 review pieces that you rotate are pieces 1-7 and you continue to play piece 8 while learning pieces 9 and 10. This pattern continues.

After a while, you will be learning song number 20 and working on getting number 17 and number 18 at performance level. That means you practice those three songs every day ON TOP OF your 6 review songs from pieces 1-16. You rotate each day which ones you play from 1-16, meaning you are now playing each of the 16 songs you already know about every other day. Do you see how your memory is stretching? And now you know a larger volume of memorized, performance-ready music too! It is incredible though BECAUSE you still only play 6 review songs a day that are at a performance level on top of the songs you are learning, meaning you are not spending any more energy or time on practice than when you first started. What? Wait? This is amazing!

Now imagine where you will be if you continue with this system for years. You would have, for example, 60 review pieces of varying length and difficulty that you play 6 of each day, meaning you are playing each one every 10 days. And you can still remember them at a performance level! How is this possible? It’s because you have PRACTICED learning “how to remember” by playing regularly by memory and slowly stretching out your ability to remember more music.

Remember that to practice memorizing, you don’t need to learn hard things. It doesn’t matter if it’s a long and complex piece or an easy one. What is important is that you are practicing recall. You are practicing “how to remember”. So play or sing your favorite songs regularly by memory so that you improve the skill, making it easier to memorize more complex pieces down the road. Make that road the most direct route to travel on by paving the way for success with your trained recall and memory skills.

For example, I can walk to the store by taking a complex route: turn left, down the side street, turn right, then up the hill, around the park….basically a long windy path. OR I can just drive in a straight line right to the store.

By training your brain to memorize an ever-growing collection of songs, the path to memorizing a new one becomes more and more simplified. By exposing your memory to song after song, your brain creates and strengthens those neural pathways. It can start to pick up on the composition of a song - the average number of verses, the transitions to a crescendo at the start of a chorus, how your body feels while in the middle of a song, the way your fingers feel moving from chord to chord, etc. The more repetition, the easier it is to learn another song because your brain takes what it already knows about a group of songs and applies it to the new one.

Listen to specific playlists over and over instead of always listening to new things. See Blog #54

So to summarize, review what you already know every day. Make a big list that you keep adding to. Start with a list of 6 songs that you play each day and check them off. Keep adding and adding to the list and watch your list and your memory GROW! Not only will this give you a large group of songs that you can play anytime, but it will also strengthen your memory and recall skills and enable you to learn better, faster, and easier.

Check out my Free PDF download Checklist for a Successful Music Practice for teachers and practicing parents.

Your easy checklist for successful home music practices from Christy, the practicing pro. Whether you are a new or seasoned practice parent or music teacher, this checklist will help you organize before, during, and after practices for effective and fun practices.

INVITATION from Christy Hodder:

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Learn more about PPA and join the waitlist HERE for the next Practicing Pro Academy course. It's only offered once a year so you don't want to miss it. The registration will only open for a few weeks and I'll let everyone on the waitlist know immediately so that you can grab one of the spots.

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