Memorizing and the Power of “Yet”

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Memorization is a crucial skill for many music studies. Whether you need to remember the names of notes, the Circle of Fifths, spelling chords, musical formulas, or lines of song lyrics, memorizing can help you improve your performance and understanding of music. However, memorizing can also be challenging and frustrating for some people. If you find it difficult to memorize any of these things, try not to say “I cannot memorize this.” Instead, say “I have not memorized this yet.” This will help you approach the task with a more positive attitude and give you the motivation to keep trying until you succeed.
According to a study by Stanford University, having a growth mindset, which means believing that your abilities can improve with effort and practice, can enhance your learning and achievement1 Therefore, changing your self-talk from “I cannot” to “I have not yet” can make a big difference in your memorization skills and musical progress.
Sometimes, a musician will write out the lyrics of a song over and over with the chord symbols directly above the words. A few repetitions like this can fix it in their memory. One example of a musician who practices this technique is Taylor Swift, who writes catchy pop songs with simple chords. She does this to memorize the lyrics and the melody quickly, so she can perform them confidently on stage. Writing out the lyrics and chords repeatedly also helps her improve her songwriting skills and creativity. By doing this, she can write songs that resonate with millions of fans around the world.
One technique to help you memorize a text is to use a cover-up method. Use a sheet of paper or a 3 x 5 card to cover a page. Then slide the paper or card down, a line at a time, as you memorize. Keep going back to the beginning. This method will help you catch mistakes. By covering up the text, you force yourself to remember what you have played and test your memory. This can also improve your understanding of the phrases and holding the song in your memory.
Practicing retrieving information from memory is a useful learning strategy. Memories that are retrieved are strengthened, and unclear information can be embellished with additional details, further increasing comprehension and connecting ideas to other concepts. Retrieval practice helps students “use it or lose it,” just like practicing a language or an instrument. Struggling is a good thing for learning (what scientists call a “desirable difficulty”). Retrieval practice improves students’ understanding of their own learning process (what scientists call “metacognition”)1234.
Dr. Paul Revin’s quote is in line with the benefits of practicing retrieving information from memory. Retrieval practice is far more beneficial for learning than re-studying that information for the same length of time. It’s not what you think you know; it’s what you can prove you know5.
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