Aural, photographic, muscular memory, which is best?

Edited: March 12, 2018, 12:03 PM · There are different types of memorizing for sure, but is one considered better thatn the other? Im the mother of a small violinplayer who gladly would like your imput on this :)

So Im asking, cause Im a bit puzzled about the whole memorizing thing at the moment. In my country most of the violinist are taught by reading scores, which does result in memory problems for many as playing without the scores is not always forced in many music schools.

Then there is suzuki, in which kids are asked to play just by hearing, not reading.

The thing is that my girl can read the notes well and I have let her read first from her Suzuki book before playing from memory as I can see that she has trouble with aural memorizing. She has great note memory (close to perfect pitch, but not perfect pitch as it is much slower) and can recognize most of the notes when palyed separately, but she has dificultien in playing the whole piece by memory if she hasnt seen the score. When asked she says that she sees the score in her head when she plays. When she sings the piece, Im not sure how she does it as it is a bit hard to understand how a 5 year old interprets things,

If I dont let her see the notes it takes so much longer for her to pick up the piece and it is harder to make sure that the technical playing is okas all her concentration goes then to finding the notes,

To be honest I am not sure how her (really good) teacher feels about this. I think she would be happier if my girl would just memorize everything aurally or muscularly. But my girl has strong visual memory as I have. So it seems such a waste not to use it at all and only rely on the most difficult memory type for her.

So what is the concensus on this? is it bad to study the notes too, if full memorizing is also required? Does it matter in what way she memorizes as long as she memorizes?

After she learned to read the notes and we have used them she has made rapid progress and technically is also going in the right direction and has recently learned a nice vibrato and also shifting to 3rd position, though we are in book 2, so having the score makes it so much easier and more fun for us, as we both can see it in out head and discuss it too, so she has capasity left to go forward technically. But as I am insecure with violin things being a pianist, Im thinking is this good or bad?

Replies (17)

Edited: March 12, 2018, 1:07 PM · Aural and muscular memories are absolute necessities!

Visual clues may "speak" first to one or the other, but ultimately to both memories simultaneously.

I find that students who only approach the music from the written page neither listen nor watch how I play - nor how they play!

Edited: March 12, 2018, 2:43 PM · You worry too much. Trust the teacher and enjoy the music.
Edited: March 12, 2018, 8:36 PM · There is no peer reviewed evidence that photographic memory exists.

Now, going from there, it's important to remember that a 5 year olds brain is very very different from an adults - it's even very different from a 7 year olds brain. During the first 12 or so years the brain changes drastically and personality develops. This keeps on going right until the 20's, but it becomes subtler with time.

My sincere opinion is just to trust your child's teacher. If they want to teach aurally for now allow it. It's great that your child can already read notes and learn that way - think of this as developing a weaker skill instead of just reinforcing a stronger one. It's similar to when your child learned to use the washroom. They were really good at using their diaper, but pretty bad at using the potty. Now that you have forced them to use the potty, they are able to do both well (although perhaps not socially acceptable!).

By learning aurally first they're likely going to end up with a stronger sense of pitch than otherwise and will have the slightly rare (compared to reading) skill of playing by ear. I have a little envy!

As far as muscular memory goes, it will come from either reading the dots or hearing the noises and following along. Don't worry so much about it. Just follow the teacher. Progress is slower doing it the teachers way because your child is learning something they aren't already good at - this is a good thing and in this case slower progress is also a good thing. If they end up being completely unable to progress past a certain point a good teacher (you say yours is!) will adapt around this and change their approach.

March 12, 2018, 10:35 PM · Teaching only aurally is really hard at home as Im a lousy violinplayer, she does pick up also my lousy playing the same time. And this is also a problem.

So she basically should just listen the cd and then just play the music, which is too hard at this stage and lenght of the pieces due to her young age. If I only teach aurally, how should I overcome this? She learns what the teacher teaches aurally, but we have lessons only once a week and not every week. She does get bored in doins only a little new material.

Rythms she does learns aurally and can copy almost any rythms I sing her. So Im sure she has some aural skills, its just not the easiest skill to her. How to develop it more and at the same time let her go through the pieces at the speed she is technically capable?

Are there any readymade aural training books for violin, I mean shorterp pieces that I could teach her at the same time. At the moment we do sight reading pieces in addition to suzuki pieces and scales she could do somthing extra fro developing aural skills more maybe?

March 12, 2018, 10:52 PM · Hi Maria;

I don't have an answer to that, but there are probably people here who do. I hope they answer for you!

However the best course of action is quite likely to ask the teacher for extra work. If your child is bored with the current work load or is advancing through it quickly you should discuss moving faster with the teacher. There might be a reason they are moving at a slow pace, or they might just not realize that there is more at play at home than what they are seeing. It's always best to go through the teacher rather than around them. You're paying them your money to teach your child - part of that includes paying them to make these sort of decisions (with your input, maybe) for you.

Edited: March 12, 2018, 11:03 PM · I couldn’t begin to give advice on child learning, but intuitively I agree with Michael. She is at the age of rapid brain development, and by focussing on her weaknesses I would think will basically hard wire some abilities that grown up can only wish they would have been given the opportunity to develop when it was still possible. Start with a strong aural and rhythm foundation along with hand coordination and you are well on your way to master the instrument at a later stage.
Edited: March 12, 2018, 11:35 PM · Definitely the memorization of melody, imagine a drastically long concerto lasting for more than half an hour, how to ensure muscle memory would not go wrong? And if you want to learn a new one, then another set of muscle memory program must be established? I think muscle memory means to ensure accuracy of intonation in shifting between different positions, not a program for the memorization of music.

The Suzuki method is used for young children to establish absolute pitch and emphasizes playing by ear, and functions well in Asian communities. While traditional method emphasizes sight reading, but solfeggiò and piano course are also important in order to be trained with good sense of intonation, though solfeggiò course would not completely ensure every pupil to have absolute ear, unless the pupil has absolute ear since toddler or the pupil not have it but at a very tender age, which makes this candidate very sensitive to sounds, and the establishment of absolute ear is possible. I had piano course and solfeggiò course once a week since the first day of violin course in conservatory, around nine years old, but unfortunately I do not have absolute ear.

Edited: March 13, 2018, 12:35 AM · I understand muscle memory is not very good way to go and luckily it is not the primal method she memorizes, so that is not the problem.

It all boils down to the question whether it is good that she sees notes in her head and can play partly from visual memory. She knows the pitches all right so she is not playing only with visual memory, she is not transferring visual note to muscular fingerings, Im sure she has the melody there too. And as she can sing she surely hears the piece in her head too.

She can play just by hearing but only very very short melodies and they are not right the first try. If I only play her the melody and not show the score she cannot learn the pieces by heart at all. So if I do that our progress stagnates and sort of stops all together as the pieces in book 2 are just too difficult for her to learn just by hearing.

So how is it with you? Do all violinists just learn melodies and not see notes in their head at all? I definately see notes in my head and then I also see the piano board and my fingers moving simultaneously plus of course I also hear the melody in my head while I play. I sort of see in multidimension. Hard to expain but Im sure many do.

Or do they? I have never asked anyone what they see when they play.

My problem has always been that I am not good at composing as my brains dont let me see score and notes when I make up a new melodies in my head or with piano. And I sort of thought that making the connection with melody to the score early on would let her not be as disabled with composing later on as I have been if it is something she may want to do. That by teaching her to read music fluently would also let her write it fluently. But maybe I am wrong?

March 13, 2018, 5:09 AM · Different people learn things different ways. Whatever works is fine. Anyway, the most important thing to convey at your daughter's age is that making music is a fun activity. Play together, sing together, listen to recordings and go to concerts together. The rest will follow naturally. Too much analysis only interferes.
March 13, 2018, 6:47 AM ·
Our objective should be to strengthen our Aural memory, more specifically, pitch memory.

Pitch memory works very quickly when strengthen, and requires the least processing power and is recalled very quickly and accurately. It is also the first in line of a sequence of thought and movement that are required to play a note in tune. Without this being FIRST (IT HAS TO BE FIRST), you will NOT be able to play a note in tune.

Muscle memory doesn't work like you think it does, we really done't train the muscles to follow a pattern, maybe someone could, but it's a waste of time. Pitch memory is first, and then the muscle are trained to follow that. If the muscles are trained before the the thought of the pitch is recalled, we generally will call this "out of tune," because that's the result.

Image memory(photo) is very slow, and requires a lot of processing to store the information. Recall is also very slow and probability of mistakes is high.

One way to strengthen pitch memory is to repeat a sequence of notes 5-6 and then repeat them in your mind first 3 times, and then play the sequence on the violin 3 times. Then move on to the next group of notes.

Notice I said 5 or 6 notes and not 2 or 3 or 8 or 12. There is a very important reason behind this. If the number is too large, we will divide the memories into smaller numbers. 12 notes will be grouped 3,3 ,2,2,2 to aid in recall. Over time this will weaken our memory.

March 13, 2018, 6:59 AM · How much listening are you doing? If you're just listening to the recording once and then trying to play it, it's not going to work - think about how many times you hear a pop song before you can sing along, or it starts getting stuck in your head. Try also having the pieces on in the background of your day-to-day life, playing the CD while you and your daughter are in the car or cooking dinner. The reason the Suzuki method starts with the pieces it does is because those were songs that children would already be familiar with as nursery songs; when you move on to the more advanced pieces, to play by ear you have to build that same sort of familiarity.
March 13, 2018, 7:05 AM · Every violinist needs to be able to "pre-hear" what they're about to play -- certainly the next pitch, and preferably the sequence of notes ahead, too. (Even when notes are read, they are preferably read as a chunk that one pre-hears.)

Because of this, aural memory is a critical skill for violinists. Irene is correct here about listening. For kids learning via Suzuki, there is a reason that they tell you to constantly play the CD (or digital equivalent) -- one or two hours every single day.

"Muscle memory" is built automatically -- and for beginning violinists, much of the initial stages of this simply go into ingraining the mechanics of handling the violin and bow properly.

Visual memory is nice to have, but you don't want to have to read the notes off in your head. I have a semi-photographic memory and sometimes resort to recalling a score in my head, but frankly this isn't very useful without strong aural memory as well, especially once the music gets complicated.

Edited: March 13, 2018, 7:38 AM · Thanks for the replies :) Imust confess we are not doing listening for hours. Ill play the piece we are working on for about 20 minutes before we start though.

The replies make me think that maybe I should start training her pitch memory again. We have sort of stopped after she learned pitches individually played. But now Im going to start playing 5 pitch sequence for her to play after me (without seeing me of course), I tried 4 pitches and she can do it all right. So if we do that every day her aural memory is bound to get better. It is just that the visual memory wants to override as it is very strong for us both. I always thought that everyone sees the score in their head as they play lol. In addition to other things of course. And yes, I can stop looking at the score at will but then I am a bit (read a lot) lost as seeing makes me feel secure.

But I am not going to ditch the score either, we need it , otherwise she wont progress and it is not going to be fun. I get that it is important to develop those things that are not easy but doing only those things will take the fun out of playing and that is still the most important thing. As over 90 procent of violinists here are taught by score it is hard for me to accept that the score is not to be used, as most of the professional violinists here have studied with the scores, and still have become professional violinists somehow.

March 13, 2018, 8:12 AM · The point of starting with playing by ear is so that the player can concentrate completely on the mechanics, and they can use their vision to look at the placement of the bow on the string and such.

If you're going to study Suzuki, do it the way that her teacher says to. Otherwise there's no point. You're paying someone a bunch of money to teach, and if you don't listen to what the teacher says, and assume that you know better, you're wasting your money.

Once a player gets to the point where the complexity of the music means that it's difficult to accurately pick out the notes/rhythm by ear, they'll learn from the printed music. Note that this occurs after the ability to play simple melodies by ear is learned.

Edited: March 13, 2018, 8:37 AM · So many of today's great violinists started with Suzuki ( https://suzukiassociation.org/discuss/5396/ ) that I would not hesitate to follow the Suzuki teacher's advice in every way including as regards your own parental participation. I saw the results of early Suzuki training reasonably close up with the early development of the great virtuoso Anne Akiko Meyers as well as a number of other young players.

One thing about that particular Suzuki school: the students were sent off to other more traditional teachers when their talent became obvious - so they did not actually finish all the Suzuki books before they went on to the other teachers. I did experience their playing after they had left Suzuki and they were well developed in all the areas of Maria's concerns. (I specifically recall a couple of the girl's fooling around during a community orchestra rehearsal break playing the "Bach Double" alternating 1st & 2nd violin parts every measure - from memory - that seemed to be one of their games.) And I was the CM of that orchestra when Anne Akiko Meyers returned from LA to flawlessly solo the Mendelssohn Concerto with us at age 12, after she had played it with the LA Phil. She was certainly "big time" already - but then, she had already sounded "big time" when she soloed the Vivaldi A Minor with us 6 years earlier.

Edited: March 13, 2018, 9:51 AM · andrew, Im not sure my daughter is i the same league as those masters ;)
Im pretty sure the greatest of players are greatest just because they have very strong aural skills to begin with and my daughter is not exceptionally talented in aural skills. Sure they can be developed but more likely her talents will always be more visual and technical than aural whatever we do. Sure she will probably become a good player, perhaps even professional with teaching and casual orchestra substituting, but that is probably as far as it goes, more likely she will be a doctor or a vet and play just for fun.

Visual skills are also very usefull for an amateur as they mean being able to very fluently read notes for example, and so being able to play in orchestra with minimal work. Even though Im visual, Im not a good note reader as I was taught with similar system to Suzuki and learned notes too late. So that is one thing why I dont have full faith in the purest Suzuki style teaching (which her techer does not, she is more flexible) as Ive seen the bad results that can come of it.

But as Ive said we are going to start focusing more on aural skills again. Well see how it goes, if it helps her memorize more aurally. And as long as she is progressing fast and enjoying it and learning new things and sounding better, all is fine, she is still young, just turned 5 :)

March 13, 2018, 10:34 AM · You may be right, Maria, it's just that when I observed the progress and skills of teen-age former Suzuki students I think they were doing better than I did with more conventional pedagogy that began in the late 1930s.

I must confess that I cannot recall any time that I was not reading notes while playing the violin since an early age. Certainly since age 5 I always had music on my stand for my daily 30 minute practice. I do not remember the 6 months before that, but for the first 6 months before my lessons started at age 4-1/2 I just messed around with by "birthday violin."

I know when I hit my first sight-reading failure at age 10 when I sat down my first day at the Manhattan School of Music (MSM) youth orchestra to read with the rest of them for the beginning semester - they "left me in the dust." I did not attempt orchestra playing for another 3 years or so and became a pretty good sight reader. It was at least another 65 years before I finally realized the MSM orchestra must have been playing the same music they had performed in concert the previous Spring.

But I still think with an experienced violin teacher a student will develop the necessary skills. It is up to the teacher to balance each student's aptitudes with violin-playing requirements.

Although my father was a pretty good amateur violinist he never interfered with my learning other than to be assured that I was continuing to practice daily. Even after I quit lessons and continued on my own at age 12 he never offered advice or poked his nose in when I practiced. But whenever I asked for help or advice he seemed happy to give it.

Of course I never got to be a great violinist - but I was CM of my high school orchestra for 3 years and years later served as CM of a community orchestra for 20 years and even in my 80s, now, I continue to have regular musical experiences on violin, viola, and cello.

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