Thursday, October 8, 2009

Musical Memory

The web link above is a brief description of some studies carried out at Mc Gill University by Prof. Caroline Palmer. In connection to the chapter on performance from Jourdain’s book, it is clear that the brain works on different areas or aspects simultaneously when memorizing, or recalling music from memory; Palmer mentions that the motors skills take a significant part in the process of recalling music from memory, as well as, music that falls more naturally on the fingers, or that fingers have some familiarity with the nature of such music, is easier to memorize.
I have always had the worst musical memory and therefore have been interested in how this thing works. From what I read so far, I conclude that the development of musical memory is similar to the different learning styles that music education insists so much in the UK. As teachers we’ve been constantly advised to cater for the three learning styles, visual, aural and kinaesthetic. It seems that three styles are in operation in the process of memorization, with one of the three as a prominent skill that the learner falls back on.
In regards to music, given its aural nature, it gives the impression that we value the aural skill over the other two; at least, this is what I gather from Jourdain’s accounts on virtuosi. In my opinion, his accounst tent to be rather biases towards the traditional standards. As drummer Kenowwod Dennard from Berklee College of Music mentions, we need a new kind of virtuosity at this point in time; especially, when music education is trying to present itself as inclusive.

1 comment:

Liana Henkel said...

I am also interested in memory and playing music. In my younger days, I had no problems memorizing my piano pieces but now, it is a struggle. I did put playing music aside for a number of years and when I returned to it years later, memorizing became a real struggle and I just gave up (which has been a disappointment since I would love to sit down and play from memory). But why? I was studying for tests and reading and writing papers with no problem. What is special about music memory? Perhaps it is partially aging and partially confidence and experience/lack of time to really put in the effort to build the memory skill back after a longish break in my own practical musical studies. But there has to be more than that.

I agree that many learning styles/abilities work together in playing music from memory. I remember one of my professor saying some of the same things when I asked for some advice – aural, kinesthetic, visual, knowledge of theory/application from one piece to another in the same style.

Caroline Palmer talks about advanced pianists and how they didn’t have difficulty transferring their knowledge to a new piece when the conceptual relationship or the “type of music” was retained but novice child players could only transfer when the “motor and conceptual dimensions were identical” She doesn’t mention the age of the player but perhaps the point is just that it is a novice player who isn’t as experienced and hasn’t stored all the musical experience in their brain that is required to seamlessly make the transfer of knowledge that she found in advanced pianists. Perhaps this could be extended to a player who has taken a break from playing music – do they start back at the beginning or perhaps a mid point like a novice player. Palmer is a pianist who has now taken her own own piano “out of storage” - I wonder what her experience is in this area now that she has returned to playing.