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Clayton Haslop

How I Solved the Memory Problem

May 20, 2009 at 3:22 AM

When I was young I had several traumatic experiences
with memory.  On one occasion I stood up to play and
couldn’t remember the first note of the piece.

Not a very good thing for one’s confidence.

In fact it took many years before I felt at all ‘right,’
when performing, without a music stand in front of me.
Sure glad I got over it.

And here’s what I did.

I FORCED myself – and at first my little gray cells
strained with the effort – to ‘see’ the music in my
mind’s eye while playing.  And I didn’t only do it with
the violin under my chin.  At night I would visualize
myself playing through my newly memorized repertoire in
my head as I lay in bed.

Yes, it did tend to wake me up a bit. 

Yet once I relaxed and fell asleep I slept great,
knowing there was something in my head I could recall at
will rather than only when the stars were aligned in my

I still do this today.

Over the years I’ve created new challenges to my memory.
 I will count out loud while I visualize and play.  I
will even dance hip-hop steps around the living room while

In recent days I’ve begun incorporating something new
into my arsenal of memory.  Now I’m memorizing ‘the
changes,’ as jazz players refer to the flow of harmonies
that make up a piece. 

If I know on which beat or subdivision of a beat each
chord changes, and can improvise on them without getting
hopelessly lost, then it really doesn’t matter if I
momentarily forget Mr. Beethoven’s notes or not - with
all due respect.

The show will still go on.

All the best,

Clayton Haslop

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on May 20, 2009 at 12:11 PM

Great ideas!  Yes, memory is like a muscle.  It is better if trained!


From Bill Busen
Posted on May 20, 2009 at 4:42 PM

Having worked in a neuroscience lab, I bet this would work - the auditory and visual representations of the note are stored in different parts of the brain.  Two chances.

From Graham Clark
Posted on May 20, 2009 at 7:54 PM

Yes, of course such visualisation will work.

However, it does not internalise the music, only the score. The map, that is, rather than the territory.

A real  jazzer internalises the changes by hearing where the bass and harmony goes next, and when, not simply knowing the name of the next chord or note, and counting.

We build an internal map of tonality that we navigate by hearing the tonality, NOT just  by knowing the names of the notes. We know the sizes of the intervals, hence the distances on the fingerboard,  rather than which notes are which.

Still - it's a start.


From Ruth Kuefler
Posted on May 21, 2009 at 1:41 AM

I was having trouble memorizing some of my jury music this semester, so I started running through my pieces mentally every day, often when I was walking places, or sitting, or driving. It really paid off — I had no trouble on my jury. 

From Michael Godfrey
Posted on May 25, 2009 at 9:51 PM

When I was learning the major and minor scales, I practiced reciting and singing them while I went running.  Both ascending and descending. Visualizing the notes on a staff also helped.  It didn't occur to me to visualize actually playing the notes.

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