Okay, so here’s a quick memory test: can you remember what PRS stood for? No? Yes? Just in case you need reminding; Patterns, Repetition and Stimulus! (Link to part 1)
This month, I would like to focus on using “patterns” to help not only ourselves but our students to deeply embed important learnt information into our long-term memory.
The Big Mental Jigsaw!
The long-term memory works to connect new information to that which was previously learnt. A bit like slotting in a new piece of jigsaw to the sections previously solved. Jumping to a completely abstract concept can be a very challenging leap for both learner and teacher and best avoided. Better teaching is to build on what the student already understands. This is the concept behind grades or levels in music education, providing a gentle and systematic approach to learning based on progressively growing the students knowledge and skills.
When introducing a new idea in a lesson, can we make a comparison to something similar that the pupil already understands?
For example, when teaching the scale of C minor harmonic on the piano, I like to explain that this new scale is very like C major, which they are already familiar with. C minor harmonic has exactly the same fingering but the difference is that the E and A are flat! I get my students to first play C major and then add the flattened E and A. This seems to get quick and smooth results.
Keep It Short & Simple!
Our brains love simplicity and pattern. In fact our minds are constantly looking for explanations to the world around us, trying to make sense of the chaos and building routines. Even the most “free-spirited” of individuals will probably have specific, prearranged places to dump their belongings when they walk in through the door!
When explaining a new concept, speak slowly! Filter out the waffle! Trim off the fat! Use simple words appropriate to their age! And keep sentences “staccato”! Simple diagrams are often effective as the pupil can then visualise the concept. Demonstrate the concept. Give them an example. Get them to try it too. Mnemonics are a great memory retention aid like, uh, KISS (Keep It Short & Simple) for example!
Sometimes a music theory or composition activity can be complex and overwhelming to a student, involving a number of stages that need to be completed in the correct sequence. Producing a simple step by step instruction page can really help a pupil tackle the challenge with increased confidence and also to approach the sequence of tasks in the correct order.
Is the Penny Dropping?
Always watch their facial expressions and body language to check that what you are explaining is registering. A great tip is to ask them to explain it back to you or another pupil. Have they understood properly? Or is there a need for a little further nipping and tucking?
In the next article, I will focus on the next element of PRS; repetition.
As before, please have a think about the issues relating to repetition as a memory aid in your music lessons and feel free to add your thoughts as comments under this blog, as I would love to incorporate your ideas into ether of the next two articles. Below are a selection of comments that you kindly shared last month (some of the comments I’m saving for the next months). Many thanks in advance for your contributions…
“During teaching I try to teach new concepts at least 3 times in 3 different ways. Some ideas: simply explaining the concept, drawing on the book underlining etc., engaging the student – having them read out-loud while I underline the key ideas, playing the piece for the student, having them play parts and showing patterns, pulling up more information on a piece than what is in the book, showing you-tube videos of pieces being performed on different instruments and other arrangements of the same piece, and whenever I have a story to tell I do as that does engage the student. Finally, afterward asking if they understand.”
Brian Jenkins wrote:
“I’ve always been fascinated with memory. As a pianist it is of upmost importance. One of my favourite books on the subject is: Your Memory: How it Works and How to Improve It
The most interesting thing to me is short term memory and how to improve it. Studies show that with very few exceptions people can hold around 7 items in their short term memories. Savants and others that seem to have the fabled yet misnomer “Photographic Memory” almost without exception have the same short term memory capacity as anyone else. Apparently it depends on what 7 items means to each person. To an experienced musician a chromatic scale going up two octaves is really only one or two items to remember. The note the scale starts on and the note the scale ends on perhaps. Although there 24+ notes, we can identify a pattern and notice it is a scale. This is how musicians like Gieseking were able to memorise an entire concerto away from the piano in just a day. It’s because he had such a deep understanding of music, and was able to see patterns on first glance that would take even very experienced musicians hours of analysing to reveal.
Another fantastic book on the subject is Gieseking’s book about Piano Technique. Don’t be confused by the title he actually spends quite a long time talking about memory: Piano Technique
I try to teach my students that theory and looking for patterns in small sections and repeating them over and over is the best way to learn a new piece, as well as become better at fitting more things into our 7 items.”