13 July 2011

Five Memories

Thinking back over the school year, sorting through goals, piling themes around in my mind, weaving a few related ones together, a conversation with my piano teacher surfaces more than once, perhaps in more mental stacks than she imagined it would.

One stack, the obvious one, is what I call the "How in the world am I going to do this graduate school thing, recital and all, for another year?" pile. The other, the one even closer to my heart of hearts, is what I call the "How in the world am I going to get this whole book of the Bible stay in my mind for a lifetime?" pile. And somehow, her words ring true not just for school, but also for life.

When it comes to the music (the hour of it I've begun to learn in preparation for my graduate recital), I struggle to stay focused, play the details I know are there without getting distracted by other thoughts.

When it comes to the words (the Revelation, and now parts of Daniel, that I've quietly been tucking away inside myself for several years now), I struggle to review enough, keep them fresh, feel like they're ingrained to the point that I could honestly look you in the eye and tell you I've memorized a book of the Bible and be able to recite all its sentences and paragraphs to you at the drop of a hat.

How do I make a memory? One that really stays? One that I can communicate effectively and accurately to others around me when I need to or want to?

She gives me words, ideas about making memories. I write them down, feeling that I might otherwise forget them.

There are five kinds, she says. Five memories to build.

Most of the time, unless we force ourselves to exercise more of them, we might build two or three memories at most. She's right, I decide, because the more I think about what she says, I believe I use only two, and I figure out how those two without the others set me up for some of the fumbles I make in the recital hall.

These are they:

  1. Visual: what the music looks like in the score (on the page). Or, in memorizing Scripture, this would be what the words look like in my Bible.

  2. Visual: what the notes look like on the keyboard as I play them. Or, in memorizing Scripture, this might be the mental picture of what the words are describing.

  3. Aural: what the music sounds like. Or, what the words sound like aloud.

  4. Muscular: what the music feels like in my hands as I play it. Or, what the words feel like in my mouth as I speak them. (I know that might seem strange, but if you've ever sung formally, like in a choir, you generally begin to recognize not just how something sounds when it sounds good, but how it feels in your mouth and vocal chords when you sing it.)

  5. Theoretical: how the music (individual notes, chords, phrases, etc.) functions as it moves from one section to the next. Or, how the words string together to form phrases, sentences, verses, paragraphs, chapters, books...

Point being this: whether I'm working toward playing a recital or putting memory verses away for the long term, have I gone through the passage thinking specifically about sound? Is my visual memory built only on what the notes look like as my hands play them, or could I also "see" what they look like on the page and play them from memory as if I'm actually reading them from the score?

If I could turn one piano piece, or one verse of the Bible, into five different memories in my mind, wouldn't I increase my chances of reproducing it accurately? Even if I'm tired? Even if something in the moment distracts me?

It would cost me, to be sure--time, energy, mental exploration. But somehow it strikes me that the potential payoff would be well worth the effort.


  1. Good thoughts! Made me think of watching the book of "Matthew" video. Obviously, it's visual but many parts of verses stick in my mind to this day because of how they sound. I can see the scene and here the words, the enunciations, the inflections, and the flow of the speech, making the words come alive. And I wasn't even trying to memorize. Amazing how the brain works!

  2. I like your idea of watching the gospels on video to reinforce memory! Especially when the text is faithfully followed, as I recall it is in those. Yes, God has given us wonderful brains, and I pray He will help me use mine to the fullest!


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