http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cswhOCKQZ7Q [Accessed: September 23, 2012]
The Chunking Method
In a TED talk, Ardon Shorr, a PhD student in biology, focuses in on how we increase our working memory for processing and absorbing sounds and information through a psychological phenomenon called, “chunking”. Our working memory is limited to three to six items per moment and when there is an overwhelming amount of information to take in, our brain chunks together smaller pieces in order to memorize or understand the entire piece.
We organically seem to “free up room” when performing this learning task of chunking by organizing and processing smaller tasks within the entire task. Most music is organized this way; phrases of repetitive or contrasting material that make up the larger structure of the musical piece. The main musical idea is presented in a phrase of tension and release; it is either repeated or contrasted. Our brains follow this natural rhythm of tension and release in music.
Ardon Shorr begins by playing a barbershop quartet song that he analyses into small chunks. The song begins with a phrase, repeats it, and then contrasts it with another phrase and returns to the original phrase with some modifications. This is called binary form. Chunking the piece into comprehendible sections also aids in memorization and an overall understanding of the song. This learning task not only increases our working memory for music and language, but helps us multitask, process the constructs music and even learn new languages.
I perform this learning task of chunking on a daily basis with my students when teaching songs by rote or teaching phrases of difficult musicality. Students are taught how to break up songs into small phrases at first in order to learn or memorize the entire song. Ardon Shorr chose rather simplistic songs to present his idea of chunking and I wonder if one were to chunk a song of more complexity, such as a twelve-tone Schoenberg piece, if it would present the same and would our brains have the capacity to chunk it. The more complex the ideas the smaller the chunks would have to be. I see this method being used not only in music class but in all curriculum areas to aid in comprehension.