[1.III.6.14] How to Become a Good Memorizer

Nobody becomes a good memorizer without practice, just as nobody becomes a good pianist without practicing. The good news is that practically anyone can become a good memorizer with proper training, just as anyone can become a pianist with proper practice methods. Most students have enough desire to memorize and therefore are willing to practice; yet many fail. Do we know why they fail, and is there a simple solution to the problem? The answer is yes!

Poor memorizers fail to memorize because they quit before they start. They were never introduced to effective memory methods and had experienced enough failures to conclude that it is useless to try to memorize. One helpful device in becoming a good memorizer is to realize that our brains record everything whether we like it or not. The only problem we have in memorizing is that we can't recall that data easily.

We saw that the ultimate goal of all the memory procedures we discussed is good, solid MP. Until I conducted my research on MP, my understanding of it was that it could be performed only by gifted musicians. This turned out to be false. We all conduct MP in our daily lives! MP is just a process of recalling items from memory and arranging them or using them, for planning our actions, solving problems, etc. We do this practically every moment of our waking hours, and probably even during sleep. When a mother with 3 kids wakes up in the morning and plans the day's activities for her family and what to eat and how to cook each dish for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, she is conducting a mental procedure just as complex as what Mozart did when he played a Bach Invention in his head. We don't think of this mother as a genius on the level of Mozart only because we are so familiar with these mental processes which we conduct effortlessly every day. Therefore, although Mozart's ability to compose music was indeed extraordinary, MP is nothing unusual – we can all do it with a little practice. In today's teaching/training practices, MP has become standard in most disciplines that require utmost mental control, such as golf, figure skating, dance, downhill ski, etc. It should also be taught to piano students from the very beginning.

Another way to improve memorization is to apply the "forget 3 times" rule; namely, that if you can forget and re-memorize the same thing 3 times, you will usually remember it indefinitely. This rule works because it eliminates the frustration from forgetting and it gives you 3 chances to practice various memorization/recall methods. Frustration with, and fear of, forgetting is the worst enemy of poor memorizers. You don't really have to completely forget it, but just give it enough time (several days or more) so that you have a good chance of forgetting it, then rememorize.

Once you start on this journey of practicing memorization and memory maintenance, you can gradually add all of the methods and concepts discussed above (associations, understanding, organizing memory, etc.). A young person starting in life and naturally applying these techniques will become a good memorizer in just about everything. In other words, their brains become constantly active in memorizing and it becomes an effortless, automatic routine. The brain automatically seeks interesting associations and constantly maintains the memory with no conscious effort. For older folks, this "automation" is much more difficult, and will take longer. As you succeed in memorizing these initial items (such as a piano repertoire), you will simultaneously begin to apply the same principles to everything else and your general memory will improve. Therefore, in order to become a good memorizer, you must change the way you use your brain, in addition to knowing all the memory tricks/methods discussed here. The brain must be trained to constantly seek associations, especially associations that are stimulating (funny, strange, scary, etc.), that will help you to recall what you memorized. This is the hardest part -- changing how your brain operates.