Types of Musical Memory

January 19, 2004 at 03:46 PM · Hello!

I was just wondering how many types of musical memory are there?

The obvious ones I can think of are:

1) Hearing, pitch memory (i.e remembering the notes)

2) Photographic memory (i.e remembering the score in your head, and seeing it when you are playing).

But my father told me that there is another type, which is Muscle Memory, where you can remember the feel of the movement of the fingers.

You are very lucky if you have all three, but I was just thinking... are there more types of musical memory?

Look forward to your opinions!


Replies (20)

January 19, 2004 at 05:13 AM · Greetings,

there are more than this. I just can`t remeber all of them.

1) Visual memory (score)

2) Aural (sound)

3) Muscular

4) Kinaesthetic

5) Analytical

6) Mnemonic


8) Prune...

The reason why violinists cannot remember stuff, get stage fright and generally play like a dog`s dinner is they rely on the least efifcient form which is muscular memory. this is thoroughly unreliable (unles you are a small child) and should be a relatively small part of the technique you us e in your practice.

The most importnat is hearing the music in your head.

(Heifetz would force his students into this mode by making them play from memory and change fingerings as they went along.)

but this skill is often by passed because we practice from the music which is a big no no as far as I am concerned. (A great many musicians including professionals never actually hear music in their heads at all. They just become skilled at converting printed symbols into physical actions)A piece is memorised first and then pracitced for me and this has been a traditional teaching method in the past although it is kind of out of fashion now. The cellist Janos Starker inissts on it.

A lot of great players have photographic meomry which is nice for them but does not guarantee a perfect performance.

Mnemonic is using triggers to help remember

Analytical is where you intelectually analyse the structure of the piece so you might say `this is four g major arpegiios followed by a three octave a major scale in semis` which is easier than remembering discrete notes.

Experience is knowing the style and therefore anticiating what `handel` for example would probably do at such a point.

Anyway, there is a book by Liebermann called `Your Body is Your Instrument ` which I reocmmend you study in d epth for this vital area of perfromace/practice,



January 19, 2004 at 10:52 AM · good!that explains in particular why some violinists are so bad in improvisation...but you have forgotten"THE" first point:EMOTIONS...that explains why music is generally so bad!!!

I write them on the sheets of music...specially usefull at the beginning of the session.

I also"remember"than somebody who is learning"pi"makes a little story to each number...

January 19, 2004 at 03:51 PM · Thank you for your answers!!

Just would like to confirm something: What is "PRUNE"


January 19, 2004 at 04:52 PM · Prunes are a very special part of Buri's life. (It's a joke)

January 19, 2004 at 08:50 PM · It's odd - I seem to have no problem memorizing whatsoever... I can play a piece once and play it again without looking at it. But according to Buri's description of the different types of musical memory, I don't really know where I fit in; I'm curious to know where, nonetheless.

January 19, 2004 at 08:54 PM · I memorize quickly. I do not know what it is. I would have to say it is a combo of listening to the piece a lot, and remembering harmonically what the orchestra (or piano) is doing. In terms of Bach I just photographically remember the notes, which is what I use in combination with the other 2 things I was telling you about.

January 19, 2004 at 10:25 PM · i think a combination of aural and muscular would be the best, right? except for prune of course, but not everybody is that talented.

January 20, 2004 at 01:34 AM · I wonder if there's room here for smell and taste as triggers? Like I always drink coffee while I practice, so I associate coffee with the violin (I used to drink coffee in lessons, and I think it stuck). And I always think of a certain jazz album when I smell the perfume I habitually wore when I bought it. Can anyone relate?

January 20, 2004 at 01:55 AM · Greetings,

Sue you just raised a fascinating point or two.

Olfactory memory is our strongest recall tool and in advising students in academic fields I also suggest that they do exam preparation while wearing a specific aftershave etc which they then put on for the exam. Getting the wrong bottle is just plain stupid of course...

There is no reason why this should not work for practicve to. Indeed, I do associate a number of works with specific smells are there is no connection with prunes whatsoever.

The coffee is another crucial point and violnist should be very cautious about this. Coffee is a drug which alters thye neurology rather substantially (that`s why I love it!) so anything learnt while drinking coffee is easier to recall after drinking coffee agfain. Many p@layers work against efficent use of their body by their abuse and misuse of drugs of which caffeine/coffee is a major culprit.

A more severe from of this phenomenon is the heavy drinker who can only recall what he did to whom the previous evening after a few more early morning glasses of vodka.

If you want to research this kind of stuff then the filed of Neuro Linguistic Programming is often helpful,



January 20, 2004 at 03:09 AM · Greetings,

Incidentally, there is an excellent section on memory from a slightly differnet perspective (not very) in Gerle`s Art of Practicing. I think this is a must read for all aspiring players. And even those who are merely perspiring,



January 20, 2004 at 04:29 AM · Greetings,

Owen, just jumping back to your proposal for a combinatation of aurul/muscular as something to aim for.

I think it is going to vary a lot and the crucial point is to have all these reosurces interacting as much a spossible in practice so one can take over from another on stage if necessary.

Having said that I am inclined to disagree with your suggestion as long as it does not influence your promise to keep me in alcohol during my dotage.

The basic problem for most apsiring players is monkey practice centered on muscualr memory which is why (among other reasons)stage fright is suvch a widespread disease. In essence, wasted practice time translates into a pig`s ear in public.

The mind should direct everything that is done in practice in order for one to let go (and be free to come back) on stage. Younger players get by on the muscular stuff because they are still recalling their childhood to some extent but when you get old you have to rethink or quit.

This is not a criticism of repetition in pactice, but any repetition that is not preceded by thought and followed by feedback is essentially poor practice. It is also pretty much the norm. Take a walk around the practice rooms at major music colleges to confirm this travesty!

IIf I am practicing the Bach g minor Presto for example I will emorize it first but I cannot do this using only aural memory. I have to use chordal descriptions and verbal descriptions of scales and even fingering patterns followed by singing the scales in my head. I will also make careful mental notes of the structure and compare repetitions of larger patterns that may have slight differences but are related.

The pracitce with the instrument is then done from memory and this will allow me to notice places where technical devices such as keeping the fingers down are helpful and I use a visual impression of the score as I repeat these points a few times.

Muscular memory is not on the list except as an incidental effect of muscular thought...



January 20, 2004 at 08:14 PM · I have photographical memory and usually use it more often when I am listening to someone, like suppose... I can tell which page, bar number the person is playing on. But, my photographical memory comes in handy, when I have forgotten some dynamics, and perhaps some musical terms!!

January 20, 2004 at 11:03 PM · Nazrin, I'm just curious.. do you have a strong aural memory as well? And do you organise the piece in terms of imagery, or more photographically?

January 20, 2004 at 11:05 PM · By the way, that's amazing that you can remember bar numbers!

January 20, 2004 at 11:58 PM · Greetings,

Lorenzo, there is nothing amazing about it. Not only can I remmber all the bars i have ever been to, I can also remember how much I drunk,



January 21, 2004 at 02:31 AM · i'll have to think about that for a bit, i've never had any problems remembering pieces at all, but maybe that will change when i get older. Still whatever i use now seems to work pretty damn well.

January 21, 2004 at 10:18 AM · I have a strong aural memory. I have realised, that if I ever do a mistake (which is usually very unnoticeable, because I make it sound like it was written like that) the cause seems to be "The fingers just don't listen to the brain!"

January 21, 2004 at 10:44 PM · Stephen, LOL :)

let me guess, you go to the same bars regularly and drink the same amount of fermented prune juice..

January 22, 2004 at 03:08 AM · Greetings,

Nazrin, that sounds good to me. But I think it is a case of your fingers talking to the wrong part of your brain. Hvae you read `The Inner Game of Tennis.`? I read it recently and thought it was a lot more helpful than `The Inner game of Music` which is also very good but somehow I never really clicked that strongly with,



January 22, 2004 at 05:36 AM · 1(a) Visual Memory

1(b) Eidetic Memory

(a) may be considered 'photographic' if it is quite strong, but (b) is what is generally referred to as true photographic memory and very rare.

Regarding Visual Memory

Memories are not stored, their path is taken, and then taken again... like beating a path through the forest and using that path as a guide on the next journey. The act of perception (laying the pathway), is the act of storage. The 'thing' and the 'process' are the same. Individual parts of the process are localised in the brain, 'memories' (even very specific ones) are general experiences, or a combination of localised processes.

When you recall, you are 'inventing' something you brain has a propensity to invent based on a re-inforced neurological structure from past experience. As the pathways fade (or more accurately are masked by newer pathways), the memory fades, and may even take different paths. i.e. The chinese whisper.

Who here can share the shame of playing a re-capitulation in the tonic, and not the dominant... and then having it reported in the paper! Thank god for genius accompanists.

So aural, visual, muscular etc are the same kind of memory, from stimulus. How you consciously go about percieving each of the senses determines how you will reconstruct them.

Regarding Eidetic Memory

No-one really knows how it works... but comprehension is not nessecary for recall, i.e. the person can view a page without 'reading' it, then project a visual image of the page, and read off the page, bypassing all pattern recognition etc.

They make people with perfect pitch seem positively normal.

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