Memorizing, Time, and Resources

I have a ‘thing’ about  memorizing. In the past I have convinced myself I’m not good at it. “I used to be good at it, but I’m not anymore. There’s too much to learn.”, I would tell myself.

Brain music image

What it basically came down to was I didn’t give myself enough time or resources to memorize what I needed to. When I first started singing, I learned pieces very quickly – I memorized them and that was that. It might have been because I would listen to my lessons nearly every day as I walked to work, drilling them into my memory. It could be that I was just working one job and had the time and energy to practice every day for 30-45 minutes. That kind of time and devotion allowed me to easily integrate what I was learning into the repertoire I was trying to memorize.

As my studies intensified, I had to learn more and more with fewer resources. This culminated in my Master’s studies at at McGill. (It’s a Master’s, it’s supposed to be challenging!) But, it also taught me that I needed new methods and ways to memorize repertoire. I was (and sometimes still am) very ‘last minute’ about it.

Currently I work an office job 20 hours a week, teach 16 hours per week, plus manage my own studio – it’s the hidden hours of life-tasks that eat up the time and energy: email, social media, paying bills, managing a household, walking the dog, preparing food, etc. Sad as it is, my own singing practice often takes a back-seat to the necessity of steady income. Then there is the task of looking for, booking, and preparing for auditions. This leads to paid performance work. I know this.

Then why is memorizing such a big deal? Because it takes time, energy, and resources that are currently distributed elsewhere.

What to do? Here are some of my tips – I also recommend taking a look at the related links I posted at the end of this blog.

  1. Take a social media fast for one week. Maybe two. Devote that time to memorization instead. You may just be astonished.
  2. Take your music to bed with you. I mean it. Just a quick review (5-10 mins) of music before you sleep is a great way to improve the retention and learning you are aiming for. I do this and wake up singing the passages I’ve been trying to learn for days.
  3. Practice your music in small sections and change it up a lot. The bulletproof musician (see link below) had a great guest post on this a few weeks back. It’s something I’ve been trying and I like it.
  4. This may or may not be obvious, but to memorize vocal music, you do not have to sing it all the time. Speak the words in rhythm, break it down (related to #3).
  5. Read the score – at first with a recording if you like, then read along and ‘hear’ the music in your head. Do this ideally when you won’t be interrupted.
  6. Listen to the music away from the score – either your own lesson/practice (preferred) or a recording – while walking, running, or exercising.
  7. Repetition, repetition, repetition – correct repetition! It can take up to 7 correct repetitions to learn something accurately, but around 21 correct repetitions to re-learn something you’ve learned incorrectly the first time.
  8. Slow things down. DO NOT sing it or speak it at full speed all the time. If you can’t do something correctly at a slow pace, you certainly cannot do it correctly at a faster one. Use a metronome to keep you honest.

Try these out and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you if you have more tips to add to this list. I’ll collect them and put them in a follow-up post. Alternately, feel free to leave a comment below with your tip(s).

Thanks for your time and happy memorizing!!

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