Music, while it is the most complicated material to be memorized and requires the greatest accuracy and attention to detail, makes more different kinds of sensory impressions than any other material to be memorized. It appeals first of course to the ear. Visual impressions are made both by the printed page and by the sight of our fingers on the strings and fret board. The aural and visual, in turn, lead to our intellectual impressions. The sense of touch is involved in the contact of the fingertips with the strings and fret board. While neither our sense of taste or smell are used, our senses of direction and motion are used in connection with the sense of touch in moving from one part of the fret board to another. This forms certain muscular impressions, which help us to memorize our music. Memorizing music is largely a matter of synthesizing and synchronizing all these various impressions made upon us by our different senses. We must learn to combine these impressions into one clear, unforgettable picture. Let us take as a simple preliminary example the following two-chord progression and analyze the process of memorizing it (Fig. 1).
Figure 1 - from
Variations sur Folias de Espana by Manuel Ponce
(1)-First we must try to hear how each note sounds and then try to remember those sounds. Play each note of the first cord separately trying to hear it very clearly and then try to hear it "Mentally" away from the guitar. Do the same thing with the second chord. Now try to hear the first chord moving into the second chord in the proper dynamic relationship and at the proper tempo. At this point you should use the guitar only as an aid to obtain the pitches - don't start playing chord changes yet - let your brain do the preliminary learning. It may help to call out-loud the letter-names of each note in the first chord beginning with the lowest and simultaneously think or sing the tone-pitch as the individual voices move to their destination in the succeeding chord.
(2)-Second, try to form a mental picture of how these two chords look on the staff. Think first of the low D in the bass and form a clear picture of its place on the staff. Then think of the F, A, and D notes in the treble and of their place on the staff. Think also of the tempo, dynamic, and finger markings; include them in your mental picture. Form a similar picture of the second chord being careful to include the barre indication. After you have a very clear mental picture of each of these two chords, try to make a connection between the two pictures thinking of the first chord and replacing it by the second one. If your original pictures were sufficiently clear this will probably not be hard, but if any difficulty presents itself, restudy the music and pay particular attention to the voice leading. This will help you to connect the two chords in your mind and you will probably discover your ear giving you valuable if unconscious assistance.
(3)-Although this step may vary as to when and where you include it in your memorization process, it should not be overlooked if you desire to truly understand your music and provide optimal memorization security. This step involves the theoretical analyses of the two chords. In this example we have the minor tonic chord progressing to the V7 of V chord in the key of d minor. So often the musician does not realize the great aid to memorization that analyses provides and then, only when it is used frequently enough to thoroughly understand and apply. Try it; you will be greatly rewarded for your efforts if you persist.
(4)-After you are very sure of how these chords look on the staff use a similar process with regard to their picture on the fret board. This will also involve a choice of both left and right hand fingerings. I recommend the use of the fourth finger on the D notes in the melody voice providing a common finger to facilitate moving from one chord to the next and allow for a smoother melodic line. In any case, decide which fingers you are going to use, write in any except the absolute obvious ones with a pencil and then be very careful to use the same fingering every time. When you do write in the fingering be sure to add it to your mental picture of the chords on the staff. Having decided upon fingering, try to picture the notes on the fret board with the fingers you intend to use. For instance: picture your right hand placed with the thumb on the 6th string; 'i' on the 4th; 'm' on the 3rd; and 'a' on the 2nd, all free stroke of course. The left hand will be pressing F with the 3rd finger; A with the 2nd; and D with the fourth. The fourth finger will remain down during the change. While you are trying to form a visual picture of fingering do not allow yourself to use your hands to clarify the picture but refer back to the music if in doubt. The visual picture will be clearer if you do not depend upon motor sensory impressions at this time.
(5)-After you are very sure of the visual pictures of the chords on the staff and the fret board including their proper fingerings and you can close your eyes and mentally play the chords in your imagination, you can then play them very lightly and very slowly on top of the strings without making any sound. Move so slowly that you have time to think of each individual finger on each note and give your utmost attention to the fine details of accuracy and efficiency of motion. Think of the sounds that will be played, think of the tonic moving to the V7 of V chord, think of the dynamics you will use, think, think, think! (6)-After you have formed all these mental pictures of the two chords, go back and review them to make sure that there are no mistakes and that all elements are memorized (tempo, dynamics, fingerings, tone color, etc.). Then relax or at least change activities for fifteen minutes or so before reviewing them again. Review again in an hour and an additional three or four times during the day at well spaced intervals. Each time you should check the music for details you may have missed or forgotten. Be sure to review once just before going to bed since the mind is most apt to retain what is presented to it at that time.
(6)-Next day, review your mental pictures once more and write the notes down just as you remember them including all details. Practice slowly and carefully. If you can do this accurately without referring to the printed page you may be sure that these chords are completely memorized and can be refined and maintained with periodic review and practice.
Although this example may seem ridiculously simple it does demonstrate clearly the different components that are involved in the optimal memorization of music. It is an excellent exercise in the mental concentration and attention to detail which really good memorization requires. A short period of practice of this sort every day and the continued application of these same principles to whatever one is to memorize will soon eliminate the chief difficulties which most people experience in remembering their music.
In designing a building, the architect makes sure that its foundation is sufficiently solid to support the weight of the entire structure. Similarly, in learning and memorizing music the student must first establish the foundation and support his optimal memorization abilities with the four pillars of secure memorization - Aural, Visual, Muscular, and Intellectual Impressions.