Memorizing- Part Two
by Jamie Andreas
I will now elaborate on the concepts set forth
in Part One of this examination
of memorizing music. In Part One, the essential point I wanted
you to understand is that Attention is the foundation of the
process of memorizing music, and you must be aware of the quality
and quantity (intensity) of your own Attention. This is a very
difficult matter, because becoming aware of the quality of our
own Attention is like the eye seeing itself. You are being asked
to pay attention to your in-attentiveness. Just as there must
be special circumstances and devices for the eye to see itself
(reflecting surfaces, ponds, mirrors, etc.), you must create
special "mental circumstances", by using certain practice approaches,
in order to become aware of your lack of awareness.
Three Kinds of Memory
There are three kinds of memory that musicians
use: Finger Memory, Ear Memory, and Eye Memory. They are more
precisely named Muscle Memory, Inner Ear Memory, and Mind Memory.
Think of them with whatever description serves you best at your
present level of understanding.
Finger Memory is the strongest, most automatic,
and most primitive form of memory. Like a computer, your fingers
faithfully record whatever information is input to them, and
just as faithfully, use that information to "compute", which
for us musicians, means play or perform. If the fingers, through
Correct Practice, are only fed the right information, the exact
information that will lead to the result we want (the right
notes at the right time in the right way), they will give it
to us. Of course, if they are given wrong information, or "mixed
messages", sometimes right sometimes wrong, sometimes different
degrees of both, then they will just as faithfully give that
back to us. Through lack of Attention, players often input this
faulty information, and wonder why they don't get the result
The power of finger memory is awesome, but it
is not enough. I discovered this for myself early on, when I
began giving concerts. I must say this only happened once to
me, but it was quite a lesson. I have always played all my concerts
from memory, sometimes up to an hour and a half of solid music
from memory, (and when you play classical guitar, that's a lot
of notes!) Well, once it happened that I got lost, could not
remember, and had to go back to the beginning. Of course, it
was quite a lesson in how to handle major embarrassment, but
it was more than that. I came to realize that the reason I could
not get out of the jam was because I did not have the other
two kinds of memory going for me: Ear Memory and Eye Memory.
The thing to realize is that Finger Memory is
very powerful, but also very stupid! It is not intelligent.
It can't think. I usually think of Finger Memory with an image.
It is like a mole, burrowing underground. It keeps moving by
instinct, and has an instinct for where it is going, but it
is blind, in the dark. It has no awareness of the whole picture
(the music in its totality as movement, sound, emotion). That
is why, when finger memory is all you have going for you, and
you get lost, you have to rewind back to the beginning, that
is, start the music over, and hope for something better next
time around (which often doesn't happen). Even though the fingers
may know the moves to make, they, shall we say, ain't talkin'.
The more intelligent forms of memory are Ear Memory and Eye
Ear Memory is very interesting. Some people use
it from the beginning of their involvement with playing an instrument.
In fact, it is part of the natural approach of someone who has
what we call "natural talent". Using it produces strong results
as we develop our abilities through daily practice, and anyone
can learn to use it, but it is amazing how many would-be guitarists
Ear memory is your inner awareness of the music
as sound. Ear memory is the result of your awareness of each
note as a sound, heard externally AND internally. Again, it
is developed simply through focusing attention on the music
as sound sensation during the practice process. Very quickly
for some, and sooner or later for everyone else, it develops
into the ability to distinguish the important characteristics
of sound, such as tone and pitch. It results in the ability
(with practice) to reproduce the sound with our own "primary
instrument", our body, by singing the notes.
And let me make this abundantly clear. YOU MUST
LEARN TO SING THE NOTES IF YOU WANT TO BE A MUSICIAN! I always
have my students sing, whether I have to force them to, or they
do so willingly! When you sing the notes, you enter into a different
relationship with the music, it becomes more real for you. One
of the truest things ever said to me by a teacher was "if you
can't sing the notes, you are not hearing them". I have found
this to be absolutely correct. By learning to do so, I discovered
that many times I thought I was hearing them, but I was not,
not in the deep way a musician must be able to hear them.
When we play, the inner hearing of the note that
is to come next, the phrase that is to come next, guides and
prepares the fingers in their actions. Many students, especially
in the beginning, do not have the inner experience of hearing
the notes. For them, playing and practicing is just "moving
the fingers around". The teacher must test them to see if they
are having the inner experience of truly hearing the notes.
This is done by asking them to sing. Often, a student will not
be able to reproduce the pitch, and that's fine. Once you get
them to at least make a sound, you have something to work with.
You can refine it as you go along. It is my experience that
all students are able to get with the program with a little
practice. And anyway, what good is a guitarist who can't sing?
The way I look at it, no self respecting guitarist would go
through life only strumming chords, and having to find somebody
to provide a vocal melody line every time they wanted to "make
music". I believe all guitarists, even beginners, want to sing.
They are just too "chicken" in the beginning. So, whether you
sound like an angel, or croak like a frog, START SINGING!
Eye Memory is your awareness and memory of the
written music. Just as a conductor, standing in front of the
orchestra, must know every note that everyone is supposed to
play, so you must know, in a conscious way, every note you need
to play (or every chord, if you are singing and strumming).
This means you must know, and know that you know, as in being
able to say each note or chord, and being able to visualize,
in your mind's eye, the written music, be it tab, notes, or
When defined as Mind Memory, this form of memory
is your awareness of the music as a mental concept, as an idea.
It involves your awareness and understanding of ALL aspects
of the music, harmonically, structurally, and so forth.
A useful analogy for grasping the essence of the
three kinds of memory I have been explaining, is to think of
an actor in a play. 1)Memorizing the lines he needs to speak
in a mechanical way, solely by repetition (like catechism in
Sunday school) is like Finger Memory.
2) Being able to hear inwardly the line that is
to be spoken next is like Ear Memory.
3) Understanding the meaning of the words, why
they are being spoken by the character, and how they relate
to all the other characters and the story as a whole, that is
Mind Memory. It is the result of thought, and intuitive involvement
with the music.
If Mind Memory is strong, you can never really
lose it on stage. Even if you forget your lines (the notes),
you can "fake it", because, being aware of the whole picture
at any given time, you are able to "think on your feet".
to Start Using the Three Kinds of Memory
This is done by testing yourself.
Finger Memory: just sit without the music and
try to play it. Can you do it? If not, you need more attentive
repetitions of the music.
Ear Memory: play the music in your head. Sing
the melody out loud. Can you do it? If not, keep trying! Play
the notes, hear the notes, outside AND inside.
Eye Memory: close your eyes and SEE the music.
Say the first note to be played out loud. Say the next note.
Keep going. If you get stuck, look at the music, and burn it
into your brain. Say them out loud.
Does it take a lot of effort to have all these
kinds of memory working for you when you practice and play?
Yes. Is it worth it? Only if you want to be the best you can
For more information, and to get answers to your
questions, visit my site.
Copyright 2000 by Jamie Andreas.
All Rights Reserved.