Thoughts on Memorizing Music With Mnemonic Techniques

[NOTE: this post was originally published in the old JoshNotes.com blog on March 15, 2010.]

Some thoughts on memorizing music with mnemonic techniques:

I haven’t tried any of these methods yet — they are just ideas at the moment.

One idea is to create images for each of the solfège syllables using chromatic variants: do, di, ra, re, ri

Images could be based on using the sounds of the syllables at the beginning of the image words.  For example:

  • do = doe
  • di = diable (hot sauce?)
  • ra = Ra
  • re = beam of light
  • ri = reaction (atom)
  • etc.

It might be possible to encode chords into images with figured bass notation.

E.g., "do-46 wrapped in cord" (second inversion of an F major chord)
C_with_64_figured_bass.png
Image credit (Creative Commons license)

In complex music, there might be too many notes to make it worth memorizing all of them (for practical use), but images could be used to jog memory in places.

Some music (simple chord progressions or jazz charts) could be converted to numbers:
Imaj7 VIm7 | IIm7 V7 | IIIm7 VI7 | IIm7 V7

Major could be the default, and minor, dominant, augmented, and diminished chords could all have images or props assigned to them. For example, a pickaxe for minor (miner).

I’m wondering if it might be easiest to have one measure assigned to each locus in a memory journey.

Intervals could also each be given an image — something that might even help with ear training by associating the sound of each interval with an image.

Since music can be so complex, memorization might have to be somewhat freeform at times, but there could be certain patterns in memorization.  For example: different musical voices could be assigned vertical heights in the memory journey. A three voice piece might have images for the lower voice assigned to the floor, another voice assigned to middle height, and the top voice assigned to the ceiling or possibly up in a tree or on a wall if available in the memory journey.

To indicate the direction of a musical line, a group of 3rds or 6ths might go up some stairs, up and over a hill, or down a ladder or through a trap door in the floor.

For occasional enharmonics, a sharp (♯) could be represented by being poked with needle or a tic-tac-toe match, and a flat (♭) by being associated with flatbread or a boot/kick.

I haven’t tried any of this yet. At the moment they are just ideas to test later.

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