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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

Memory's Mysterious Moods, Why Sam Played It Again in Casablanca, And What Guitar Players Can Learn From Both

"Play it, Sam" in the film Casablanca cues one of the cinema's great tunes. Within seconds a pearly tear-drop glistens on Ilsa Lund's (Ingrid Bergman's) cheek, while Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) stares into the far distance transported moodily to a distant time and place. And all because of that tune - such is the power of music's association.
I hope to show you how the association of ideas can also help you memorize, for association is one of the three key aspects of playing from memory. The three are connected, one leading to another. They are:

1. Reflex
2. Visualization
3. Association

Once you understand how they work, you can begin to improve them.

Reflex memory is very strong. You only have to begin a fingering pattern and the rest of the piece comes tumbling out of your mind and fingers. The problem with reflex memory is that it is sequential. In other words, if you trip up or are nervous, then you are likely to come to a stop, and so find yourself in big trouble.

How to improve reflex memory:
You can help reinforce it while you are learning a piece. Focus on the fingering pattern itself in slow motion. Only in slow motion will you observe the step-by-step movements and be more likely to strengthen the reflex memory.

How slow is slow? Slow enough to have to think of the next fingering movement. To make the reflex memory in the fingers strong you first have to make conscious every sequential step. To do this even more effectively you move on to the next stage: visualization.

Visualization is an extension of reflex memory. As you practise slowly, you are already using a visualization technique by visualizing the next movement. Visualization can be developed further to improve the memory.

How to improve and extend visualization techniques:
- play in slow motion visualizing the next movement before you make it
- put the guitar down and visualize yourself playing:
i). the fingering patterns
ii). the notes
iii). both fingering patterns and notes together

Association of ideas is an intrinsic part of memory. A smell, a sound, a song - they can all instantly remind you of events a long time ago. The key to this aspect of memory is that the association is often between unrelated ideas. A song can remind you and transport you vividly to a location or event. As Time Goes By in Casablanca creates a dramatic context by becoming an "association" trigger. Sam has only to play it to conjure a flood of memories.

How can we use this stirring aspect to help improve our memory of pieces?

How to use association of ideas to improve memory:
The visualization technique should have already created a strong association between fingering patterns and the notes. Now create 'association gate-posts' for the piece, focusing on form, structure, melody and harmony too.

In this following example I highlight the key elements of association.

An example of association of ideas:
The chord half way through the piece played with all four left hand fingers is a C dominant 7th, taking us back to a return of the same melody as in the beginning, only this time it is in the key of F, and on the second string. The notes of the tune return slightly modified, starting with the second finger. Written down all this sounds laborious, but the brain works at the speed of lightning and can process information in a micro-second, spinning all the various elements above into a web of connected threads.

The ideas above can superficially appear unrelated to the apparently more urgent demands of learning a fingering sequence, but both the visualization and association techniques above can give much greater security to the strong, but brittle reflex memory.

Whether your nerves will hold it all together when it comes to playing in front of others is another matter, but in your advance preparation you will have done much to keep them in check.

By the way, memory can play all sorts of tricks when it gets into a mood. I have seen Casablanca at least four times and could swear I heard the line “play it again, Sam”. Yet that line is never spoken in the film, only “play it, Sam”. Maybe memory will always be a bit of a mystery after all.

Read more:
My previous blog Memory's Mysterious Moods 2:
Three Steps to Memorising Music

posted 10th April 2011

My previous blog Memory's Mysterious Moods:
Why I forget what I have forgotten but can remember music

posted 20th March 2011

Kato Havas: Stage Fright, its causes and cures

Igor Stravinsky: An Autobiography

Arthur Rubinstein: My Young Years

November 2011

Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=833 .
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