Emotional Memory in Learning

And layers...

I have already written an article here on how to learn a piece of music.  In a nutshell, one spends more time away from the piano mastering the piece through repetitious listening until it can be played on the Internal Jukebox, then one analyses the chord patterns to identify regular progressions and only then should one head to the piano with all that in mind and start to experience its presence on the keys.  Of course, difficulties are to be dissected away from the piece as they arise then implemented back into the piece with surprising ease.

Herein, however, I would like to introduce you to the philosophy of having songs internalised and at your fingertips without the need to try methods to forcefully memorise them.  In other words, in the same way that one does not forget how an emotion feels, a song cannot now be forgotten either; it is, for want of a better word, carved into what I call the 'emotional centre' and is therefore 'beyond conscious interference'.

This may seem a little unusual, to remember a song by not remembering it, but when you become aware of all the things you are able to do naturally and without memory, such as typing on a keyboard, knowing how to make your favourite food and unconsciously being able to walk around a city without getting lost yet never thinking consciously about the route because you're talking on your phone, you begin to realise that certain things do not require conscious involvement anymore.

Remember:  One remembers best by remembering that there is nothing to remember!

Madness, you say?  Read on.

First of all, understand that 'memory' is just a noun and 'to remember' just a verb which both relate to the physical activity of the brain's effort, beyond conscious control, to create connections for spontaneous recall.

Our brains are inherently programmed, beyond conscious involvement, to make our body do things and... remember things, by nature.  You do not make your nails grow or your eyes work 'on purpose' but due to that dreadful word 'tradition' and the plethora of 'brain games' for phones these days, we have been led to believe that we can 'improve our memory', etc., which is actually as futile as trying to make your nails grow more quickly or your eyes work better, just by mere thought alone.

The topic of memory, as with everything humans get their hands on, is divided up into so many subsections that it's difficult to remember all of them (see what I did there?).  Nevertheless, one of these is called 'procedural memory':  "Procedural memory guides the processes we perform and frequently resides below the level of conscious awareness. When needed, procedural memories are automatically retrieved and utilised for the execution of the integrated procedures involved in both cognitive and motor skills, from tying shoes to reading.  Procedural memories are accessed and used without the need for conscious control or attention."  (Article of interest)

In addition to all this, emotions play a huge part in memory recall and thus skill acquisition efforts.  For example, everyone can remember where they were during significant events in the world or in their lives yet they made no conscious attempt to remember it at the time.  Again, no conscious interference.

So when acquiring repertoire for performance, why not consider some of these entirely justified and oft-times proved-through-experiment concepts?  Why not accept that pieces can indeed be internalised and thus executed without any conscious interference?  The only reason why not is because of the Ego.

I titled this article in the way I did because apart from getting the song into your internal jukebox and identifying chord patterns before actually heading to the piano to play it, you would do well to create emotional connections to 'moments of interest' in the piece, not just the piece as a whole.  Once you come to play it, you will have 'link points', so to speak, in addition to knowing the piece by heart, which can never be forgotten because emotions are timeless.  The internal jukebox will fill in the spaces between these link points.

Your only effort, therefore, is to spend time identifying 'moments of emotional interest' and the piece will remain structured in the mind without any conscious involvement in memory recollection.  In addition, since it is beyond conscious involvement, all pianistic components (fingering, dynamics, tempo, etc.) will be included/recalled automatically.  Just don't get involved and stop trying!

Allow me to provide an example of the above, in order of discussion:

This very popular melody by Erik Satie may sound very easy to play and granted, it is not technically demanding but it is a very 'sparse' piece without much to hold onto and seemingly quite a lot of 'parts' to 'remember'.  As always, internalise the piece so well (without conscious analysis) that you can play it on your internal jukebox.  This may take a few days and many repetitions but it is all part of playing 'mindlessly'.

Once internalised in this way, study the score and identify musically different sections.  Then, within the sections, identify the patterns of 'roots'.  It is the key of the chord or the bass note, not the inversion, which determines the pattern.

I have done this and noted the following structure and points of interest:

Section A:  Bar 1-12 = G / D, 3 beats per bar, one bar per bass note throughout;
Section B:  Bar 13-21 = G / D, as above but also B / E (same 4th interval being used as G / D);
Section C:  Bar 22-31 = A / D (again, same 4th interval) but primarily D;
Section D:  Bar 32-39 = E / F / B / E / E / E / E (chord root) / A (chord root) - again, 4th interval.
Section A again:  40-51 = as above
Section B again:  52-60 = as above
Section C again:  61-70 = as above
Section E:  71-End = E / A ... / D - again, note the cycle of 4ths!

Now head to the piano and master the sections, then put them together.  Close the eyes as often as possible and allow the fingers to find their own comfortable positions for the left hand chords and melody.  Be conscious of 'conservation of movement'.  The RH could be played without even moving the arm if a good position is found... but you may choose to play it all with the index finger and swing the arm a little!  Be free, not rigid.  When I did this, I felt inclined to only use the middle three fingers and not my thumb or little finger.  Note:  not a conscious choice!

Moments of emotional interest for me vary between one note and whole sections.  Section A for me is a lonely yet thoughtful stroll around the bridges of Budapest.  Section B is a happy realisation but bar 21 I associated with walking past a particular area which brings back a particular negative memory.

By creating emotional connections to particular areas of the piece, all I need do is remember 'the walk' and, as if by magic, without any conscious effort, as written in the opening paragraphs, the memory of the piece comes back to me and the pianistic elements follow... effortlessly.

I strongly recommend trying this because one never forgets an emotion and thus, by connecting parts of a piece to them, those parts seem to remain in some deeper part of the brain, ready for recall when the emotion comes... without conscious involvement.

And remember...


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