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Peter Lindemere B.Mus PGCE. Bass Teacher.

Bass teacher based in Hampshire

4 - 6 string electric fretted/fretless bass and double bass. 25 years experience in music, teaching privately for 20 years. Studied music with some of... read more > >


Peter Lindemere B.Mus PGCE

Learning Types And Memory Techniques

29th April 2012


Learning Types and Memory Techniques



Learning types


There are a lot of things you need to remember as a musician: scales, intervals, chords, key signatures, time signatures, accidentals, musical terms and elements as well as all the physical techniques you should know as a bass player - the list seems endless!


There are in turn a lot of memory techniques and ways to help you understand how your memory works that will greatly improve and ease this seemingly daunting task, we will look at some of these methods in this chapter, but first........


What type of learner are you? This is a question that you may or may not have come across at school; teaching psychologists have agreed that most people fall under these three categories of learning types, or a mixture of them and teaching strategies have been tailored to suit them accordingly: -


                                     Visual                                  Auditory                                Tactile / Kinaesthetic


These three learning types are sometimes abbreviated to VAK. As we will see, these categories can be expanded slightly when it comes to playing an instrument. Visual learners will memorise more information by sight, they prefer learning from observation, the written word, diagrams and pictures. Auditory learners will memorise more information by listening or being told something, they will not learn as well from written information, they will often benefit from reading new information out loud. Tactile / kinaesthetic (sense of touch / movement) learners are very much hands on people, they like to learn by imitating and doing.


Each learning type makes up about a third of the population, roughly a three way split with overlaps of varying degrees - these figures are only a rough estimate as research has produced so many conflicting percentage figures.


There are many on-line sites that cover accelerated learning techniques that will have questionnaires to help you discover your learning type – try it; you will find it interesting and useful! – The bottom line is that you as an individual should try to discover what learning type you are, what memory techniques works best for you as a musician and employ them accordingly.


This relates strongly to the idea of memory as a basis of all musical activity - the idea that instrumental playing is based entirely on memory functions within the brain. So when it comes to music, the three senses / learning types mentioned above can be expanded and compartmentalised into five specific areas: -


           1.    Auditory         2.  Visual             3. Tactile/Kinaesthetic          4.  Analytical         5. Emotional


These are the various ways that instrumental students can learn to memorize music and physical techniques. Playing effectively from memory will come from using a combination of the following methods: -  


‘Auditory’refers to the memory of the sound of the music itself – melody, harmony, chords, intervals, rhythm and structure.


 ‘Visual’ refers to either the memorised look of the printed score, TAB, fret board diagram or the sight of the hands and the geometric shapes or finger patterns they create engaged in playing an instrument.


Tactile/kinaesthetic’ refersto the sensation of touch, pressure and feeling of movement of the hands and fingers whilst playing - these two memory functions are sometimes lumped together under the single heading of ‘haptic’ memory, which I will use from now on in this book.


Analytical’ refers to the memory of theoretical knowledge of music - intervals, scale and chord construction, notation, sequences, structure, harmony, musical landmarks etc. - the grammar of music as it were.


Emotional’memory; the way a piece of music makes you feel emotionally, or how you are feeling when you learn or perform a piece of music - which perhaps may be the storeroom for that elusive quality known as ‘feel’ or ‘soul’.


All these memory functions are, of course, strongly linked and overlap.


What is interesting is to what percentage musicians draw on these memory types - there are many blind musicians who are excellent players without the need of ‘visual’ memory - the visual learning memory system is a useful aid to the auditory and haptic memory for sighted people, but it is not indispensible.


Another example would bethe percussionist Evelyn Glennie, who is profoundly deaf; therefore ‘auditory’ does not apply in her case – a great deal of her playing comes from visual cues and haptic stimulus – she feels the vibration of sound in different parts of her body.


There are also many fine musicians who have little, or no ‘formal’ theoretical knowledge to draw on e.g. Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix or Paul McCartney, but it does seem likely that all musicians draw on ‘auditory’, ‘haptic’ and ‘emotional’ memory to varying degrees.


Having said that, it is my belief that if these five memory types are made known to, worked on, explored and developed by the average musician, the result will be a well-rounded and proficient performer who will vastly improve their musical memory in a shorter space of time.



Memory techniques


Your overall memory is divided into two parts - short term and long term memory. Short term memory will cope with the here and now, e.g. a shopping list or something that has just been said to you. As the name implies, what is stored in the short term memory does not stay there for very long and is soon dumped, unless it is transferred to the long term memory – think of it as a RAM chip in a computer – a gateway to the long term memory.


Logging information into the long term memory can either happen instantly or it may take many repetitions depending on the information, the individual and the way in which something is memorised. Think of long term memory as a computer’s hard drive, in that any information stored there can be recalled at any time. When information is stored in this manor it is said to have been learned.


There are many approaches to logging something in the long term memory, in fact it is recognised that almost all experience is stored somewhere in the long term memory; failure to remember something is a problem with the recall system, it does not mean that it has been erased from the long term memory all together. Effective ways of memorising new information are making them stand out in some way by using imagination, association (the more outrageous or exaggerated the better) and by making them personal in some way. You can also add to this by considering and employing the learning types mentioned above – the key to good recall is to store information in as many ways as possible in different parts of the brain.


For example, if you wanted to remember that the word triad means a three note chord, the first thing to do is break the word up – tri means three, ad means add the notes together.




The next technique to employ is association / visualisation – seeing the fret positions of a triad on the neck of the bass and the shape the fingers make in covering the notes. Triad is also a word used for the Chinese Mafia, you could therefore visualise the rather unusual sight of a Chinese gangster sitting at a piano and playing a three note chord - a triad.




The word triad and its meaning could also be written out in a colourful and memorable way – thus using your haptic memory as well as your visual memory, you can now see how overlaps in memory types will occur and re-enforce each other.




By saying the word ‘triad’ and its meaning out loud (hopefully when you are alone!) you will have stored the information in your auditory memory. This can be re-enforced by playing a triad on the bass or keyboard (if available) and saying ‘This is a triad’ out loud, in doing so you have also used your haptic memory as well as your auditory memory.




Consider what a triad is – it is a three note chord formed from the first, third and fifth note (interval) of any scale (every other note in fact), a triad chord (all the notes played at once) or arpeggio (all the notes played one at a time) can be major or minor, augmented or diminished (more of this later!) and are built up in intervals (the distance from one note to the next) of a third. I will explain these technical terms later, but you should now see how the analytical memory can be used.


By now you could almost guarantee never to forget what a triad is!


As we are on the subject of triads, we will now look at some more ways to remember chord note letter names using memory techniques.


Memorising Triads       


As we have seen, chords are constructed from intervals of a third by missing out every other note of a scale; therefore we could construct a series of letters that make up the 3rds alphabet – CEGBDFA. As you can see, starting on any letter you can work out the three chord note names of any triad using this sequence as it is cyclical, they are all in there!

For example, the chord note names on a triad of C would be CEG – the memory makes connections through association, therefore one way to remember a letter sequence like this is to use them as an acronym (taking each letter of a sequence and making a word from it): - CEG for instance could be the initials for “Cows Eat Grass”, a triad on F would be FAC, this could be “Fish and Chips” and a triad on G would be GBD this could become “Get Back Down” (the same technique can also be used to memorize the lines and spaces of the bass clef staff – e.g. lines, GBDFA  = Good Boys Deserve Fruit Always and spaces, ACEG = All Cows Eat Grass).

“Cows Eat Grass” is of course a well known acronym, the trick with memory techniques is to personalise what you are trying to remember in some way that is special to you – therefore you should try to create your own acronyms for triad sequences, the more exaggerated and outrageous the more likely they will stick in your memory – use your imagination!

Try it for yourself with the following triad sequence on C Major: -

1.       CEG


2.       DFA


3.       EGB


4.       FAC


5.       GBD


6.       ACE


7.       BDF




Another memory technique is to use the haptic senses (touch and movement). This involves working out chords on the fingers. This is done by assigning a letter to the thumb and each finger (again, the same technique can also be used to memorize the lines and spaces of the bass clef staff).

For example, if you are right handed (reverse this if you are left handed) hold out your left hand, we will work on a chord of C again, therefore your left thumb would be C and the fingers would be DEFG – by starting on the thumb, C and missing out every other finger the chord note letters become apparent – CEG. Touch your thumb with your right hand and then each finger in turn as you do this and consider which note that they represent, this will involve your haptic memory.

This memory technique obviously involves the visual memory as you are watching what you are doing, but if you say the note letter names out loud as you do this then you will have involved your auditory memory as well!

Mind Mapping       


Mind mapping has been around for a while now; these individually drawn pictures give the mind a way to see the big picture, the common way to construct these pictures is to start in the middle of the page with your subject and branch out in all directions from there; allowing you to see a lot of information at once. The more imaginative the writing, diagrams and colour you use, the more likely it is that you will remember the information that you are trying to learn – the emphasis here being on visual and haptic memory.

Consider the mind map below that shows all the modes (scales) that come from each interval, or scale degree of the major scale. All the major scale names and major intervals have been written in red. All the minor scale names and minor intervals have been written in blue. There is only one sharp interval in the Lydian mode and this has been written in green.

Each scale degree and corresponding Roman numeral is shown and the finger patterns as they would appear on the fret board are represented by the dots above each scale. As you can see there is a lot of information to remember when it comes to the modes; laying out information this way is yet another method of logging it in the long term memory as you are employing both your visual and kinaesthetic memory in physically writing and looking at your work – Try creating your own mind map using this information – be colourful!

 Memorising scale pattern shapes       


This carries on from mind mapping in a way, as it is a visual aid to scale pattern recognition and memorization, haptic memory can also be employed by drawing out the dot patterns themselves.

The idea is to strip away all of the technical detail of the scale e.g. major or minor, intervals, mode degree and name, by making the memorizing task as simple as possible and just focusing on the dot pattern, or shape of the scale itself as it would appear on the neck of the bass.

These dot patterns of the major scale and all of its modes are laid out below as they would appear looking down on the neck, meaning that the first dot in the bottom left hand corner of each group would be the root of the scale, the next dot to the right would be the 2nd note, the next dot on the left above will be the 3rd etc.

This is a very good way to relate sound to shapes; as the brain loves patterns and is far more likely to remember these shapes and relate the sound that they make when you play them than trying to take in too much detail about each scale– the technical detail can be added later!


Points to remember     


It is a good idea to plan when, how and what new material you want to learn, whether it is theory, key signatures, notes of the staff, a new chord progression or a bass line. Writing out a list or an action plan setting out your goals of things you want to remember can be very helpful in this respect. Remember to be positive in your attitude about what you are learning; never look upon anything as a chore – the more positive your motivation, the more likely information will be effectively stored in the long term memory.


Consider how new material is going to benefit you as a player and how to get the best from it – try to assess your strengths and weaknesses – concentrate on your weaknesses (be honest with yourself!) and what you really need to learn most as a player – apply the memory techniques that work best for you as an individual accordingly.


Try to avoid taking in too much information at once, the short term memory will only cope with about twenty minutes of learning new information, after this you will start to notice memory dips, making recall more difficult. Breaking up your time when learning new material with study breaks (break for 5 or 10 minutes) will help with this.


For example:


20 minutes study / practice – break – 10 minutes study / practice – break – 5 minutes study / practice – break.


This could involve learning as little as four to eight bars at a time, or per day, if you are trying to learn a new piece of music and commit it to the long term memory – you will always learn more in small chunks. Make sure when you play something new for the first time that you play it without mistakes, as any mistake played when learning something new have a nasty habit of lodging in the long term memory and reappearing later on!


Reviewing new information before you go to sleep is also a well known method for logging what has been learned into the long term memory, this simple technique can improve the recall system dramatically.


You should now have a number of memory techniques and strategies to commit information to the long term memory. These can all be applied to any piece of music or technical information that you wish to memorise; you will find that some techniques will work better for you than others. The main thing is to experiment with all of them and personalise them as much as possible to make them work for you as an individual.

Why this is a good idea:


Discovering what learning type you are and employing these memory techniques will greatly enhance your potential to learn and become a more rounded musician in a far shorter period of time than not being aware of these techniques at all. Not only can these techniques be applied to music, but also to any information that you need to memorise and learn. 


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