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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

How to set yourself a year's realistic programme of study and development, and stick to it

My New Year's Guitar-Playing Resolution Number Five Revisited

Number five of my New Year’s resolutions has assumed an urgency needing immediate attention, since half of the first month of 2012 has already passed and slipped through my fingers, and maybe through yours too.

Setting realistic targets with plenty of time for additions as the year progresses is my immediate response to the challenge of how to stick to a programme of study over the year. This applies whether you are a dedicated enthusiast or a seasoned professional. If your targets include learning lots of new pieces, then choose just a few essential ones leaving time to learn other pieces which you may come across during the year. If your target is improving aspects of your technique don’t set the bar too high, leave time to explore and develop other related aspects.

The less experienced you are as a player the more difficult you are going to find setting realistic targets. That is one reason why examination boards and conservatoires devise and offer a year’s curriculum which can be very helpful, although you need not stick to it as a binding guide. Your trusted teacher should be able to help you set a personal set of goals for a year’s programme of study based on your own abilities and work-rate.

The more experienced player you become the more likely you are to be realistic about how much you can progress, although the margin between realism and idealism may be blurred.

You can plan your year’s programme of development in three parts: short term, medium and full-term. The short term applies to a target of one week or one month, medium term could be three months, and full term is the whole year.

Practical/short-term versus idealistic/long-term
You may find it easier to plan a year’s programme in bite-size chunks of one month at a time. We can all more readily see ahead one month than a whole year, so if you are very practical in your outlook you could plan a year in multiples of a month. For example, you may have decided to improve your technique to play fast scale passages: set a specific (realistic!) metronome mark for each month, increasing by the month and see where it takes you by the end of the year. On the other hand you may feel inspired to set a long-term goal of one year and prefer to work out backwards how much you should get through per month. For example, say you have decided to learn Bach’s Chaconne by the end of the year: you could divide it into approximately twelve sections, one per month.

Taking stock and re-focusing
Don’t abandon your year’s target if you feel you are not going to reach it. Rather, think that it wasn’t realistic and needs fifteen or eighteen months. Assess your progress from week to week and be prepared to not only change your achievement time-line but also how you are practising and studying to reach it. Your target should give you time to discover other music and explore other avenues of self-improvement.

Notice that I have not offered any advice regarding what you should be studying in your year’s programme, only how you should decide it and organise your practise. To decide on an interesting year’s programme try to combine all the elements which make up a three-course meal: a starter, main-course and dessert. In musical language that means a starter: something that encourages you to continue; a main-course: something that is challenging and fulfilling; a dessert: something which is fun and pure pleasure!

This has been my rough guide to setting a year's realistic programme of study and development.

January 2012

From Panama To Piccadilly With No Jet-Lag

My four mile walk across London does the trick

Crossing the Panama Canal 1 January 2012

I crossed the Panama Canal on New Year's Day in 30 degrees. It is a sight to behold and a marvel of human endeavour. So too is aeroplane travel, for within a few days I was back in London - in 5 degrees! The change of temperature and time zone was a shock to my system, but I do have one remedy which does the trick for me and makes me feel a lot better very quickly, and that is walking.

On Friday 6th January, only two days after arriving back in London I went to meet some students at the Royal College of Music. As I finished at 6pm it was already dark. It was cold and the air was quite still – good for walking. Here is the route of the walk I took, which I recommend whether you are a Londoner or a visitor, jet-lagged or not jet-lagged. It is about 4 miles long and takes in some of the finest parts of the city. You can do it during the day or at night. It will take you 1 hour 45 minutes at normal walking pace.

In London 6 January 2012

Go to the Royal Albert Hall, walk around it and down the steps which lead to the Royal College of Music. Already you have taken in two great Victorian buildings. Turn right at the bottom of the steps and walk down Prince Consort Road, left into Queen's Gate, and take a right at any of the next three turnings which lead into Gloucester Road, where you turn left. Admire the great Victorian residences on the way, many of them no longer private addresses.

Keep going along Gloucester Road, cross over the busy Cromwell Road, and proceed straight into Cranley Gardens until you meet Fulham Road where you turn left. A few minutes down Fulham Road you will see the Art-Deco style Michelin House from 1909, now converted into a restaurant by Sir Terence Conran. At the end of Fulham Road just as you turn right into Brompton Road don't miss the imposing Victoria and Albert Museum. You don't have to wait long before you see the pretty lights of the Harrods store on the right hand side just before you join Knightsbridge. Not even the thundering traffic put me off admiring the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and other buildings on the way to Hyde Park Corner, where I turned left into Park Lane. Just past the Hilton Hotel I turned right into Curzon Street, where is situated one of the most beautiful cinemas in London. At the end is a huge 18th century palace-like building which is now the Saudi Arabian Embassy.

I turned left at this point in Charles Street and then took a right into South Audley Street walking all the way to Grosvenor Square and the US Embassy. This part of the walk reminded me most of an older aristocratic London, with its 18th and 19th century façades, apartment blocks and houses. At Grosvenor Square I turned right and then left until I found myself in Duke Street. For those of you who can take no more walking remember the London Guitar Studio beckons at the end of the street. Here you can admire quality guitars, flamenco costumes and shoes, and all sorts of other delights. Time your walk to arrive before the shop closes. Otherwise keep going and turn right into Oxford Street. Within a few minutes you will be at Oxford Circus, the cross-roads of the more elegant Regent Street and Oxford Street.

At this point, I for one had had enough for one day. You may decide to press on. Russell Square and the British Museum lie to the north-east, while Soho restaurants and other pleasures to the south-east.

I bet that by the time you have finished this walk you the visitor will love London, and you the Londoner will be reminded of the city's beauty.

By the way, after all that walking, and the next day’s too, my jet-lag disappeared. Already the Panama Canal of six days before had become an almost unreal memory.

In Duke Street visit The London Guitar Studio:

January 2012

Ten New Year Guitar Resolutions

No excuses, this time they are really going to happen

To learn the pieces I keep putting off

To enjoy in a completely relaxed and patient manner all my practise and playing

To do as I preach to my students and not to put off to tomorrow what I can learn today

To always comply with my Five Time Test method of practising phrases i.e. to be able to play a phrase correctly five times in a row before moving onto the next one

To set myself a year's realistic programme of study and development, and stick to it

To finish composing those great pieces going round in my head which I never get to finishing or writing down

To set very high targets in the hope that I may reach one or two of them

To not waste a moment on indifferent music and to dedicate all my energies to only good music

To listen to more music of all styles from Rock to Baroque, for both my pleasure and education

And lastly, but not much to do with guitar playing….

To not get so easily depressed and annoyed by crowded streets, crowded shops and crowded airports. (Maybe this should be part of my fifth resolution!)

Watch this space for my progress report of how I get on. Have I missed out anything important?

By the way, what are yours'?

December 2011

My Favourite Pictures of 2011

Here are a few of my favourite moments and photos of 2011. I have done a lot of travelling, don’t even want to think how many miles!

In Lima, Peru on 22nd February

In February I had a wonderful time visiting Lima, Peru for the first time: a Baroque city with Inca memories.

Carlos in Germany on Sunday 27th February

Just a few days later I was in Homburg, Germany trying to keep warm for an excellent music festival directed by Wolfgang Weigel.

Carlos in Guanajuato restaurant, Mexico in April

In April I played Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez in Guanajuato, Mexico. Here I am trying out a guitar in the restaurant after the concert.

Carlos with bus and crowds in London, July

By July I was back in London during a heat-wave which caught me by surprise.

Carlos in London, October 2011

October gave us a colourful Autumn.

Carlos and Martin Taylor at the Bolivar Hall, London, 21st October

My concert with Martin Taylor at the Bolivar Hall, London was an absolute delight.

Carlos at the Centro de Cultura, Barcelona, Spain, 4th November, photo by Enrique Ruiz-Tagle Pezoa

....And then there was Barcelona. I really like this black and white photo.

Look out for my next article next week: my New Year Guitar resolutions. Have a great time between now and then.

December 2011

Pluck Or Fiddle Yes, But Speak No More, My Leader

After watching the TV debate between the USA Republican Party Presidential contenders I think that each of them playing to us on a musical instrument would be a better test

It has been frequently said with some authority that learning a musical instrument is good for a child's development, and at the other end of our lives, good for keeping our faculties intact into old age. It has even been suggested that musicians are less likely to get Alzheimers disease because of the skills they have acquired, coordinating as they do physical, intellectual and creative abilities.

Would not these features, if indeed they do help keep us at our peak, be the ones we should especially require from our politicians?
We could set them the task of learning to play a musical instrument and see how they get on in six months. They would all start from a level playing field. The result would be a musical measure of their ability to develop the qualities also required for political leadership.

Dazzling performances distract us from the crazy content

I watched the American Republican Party Presidential Candidates' debate on Fox TV last Thursday and thought it would be an excellent test. Without wishing to blacken names unfairly I would guess that some of the smooth talkers on display would probably make a hash of playing the guitar. They would be far too concerned with not making mistakes, stopping to search for the right notes every few seconds. In contrast one of the other candidates almost admitted to being impetuous. He appeared to improvise his declarations with flair through nicely varied rhythm and pitch. I wasn't surprised he received the greatest rounds of applause, although I think the audience was more swayed by the manner of his delivery rather than the crazy things he was saying, not unlike the effect caused by the dazzling performance of an indifferent piece of music.

Two of the candidates - OK, I will name them - Perry and Romney - look alike, smile a lot, have similar speaking voices and quite scarily, could be not only brothers but also resemble the late President Ronald Reagan. They even speak with a similar tone and inflexion. Could it be that President Reagan was their father? If only they had known, rather than call him "Mr President, sir" it could have been "hey dad, when you come back from talking to that Russian man with the funny mark on his forehead can we go to McDonald's?"

Our leaders would be required to periodically play us a piece of their choice to stay in office

Having seen TV interviews and debates in the UK, Spain, Italy, Venezuela and Mexico, I was impressed by the tough questions put to them on USA television, as opposed to the deferential approach taken towards politicians by interviewers in some Latin countries. In the UK such set-piece debates do not encourage direct interaction between the candidates, nor such tough and personal questions from the interviewers.

The more I think of it the more I like the idea of setting them the six month task of learning a musical instrument. Instead of us having to endure outrageous proclamations and banalities we would ask them to play us sixty seconds on their chosen instrument, more would be unnecessary and unbearable. Flow, technique, dedication, expression, rhythm, coordination, bluff and nerve would be on show or not in their displays. It would spare us the tedium of listening to carefully rehearsed half-truths and cut straight to the chase. Better still, it would all be over in a few minutes, and we would then have fun choosing between them while they fussed and fiddled back-stage, furiously declaiming only to each other in the absence of a larger audience - us the electorate.

Once in place our leaders would be required to periodically play us a solo of their choice, and participate in a chamber music piece or band. Any sign of decline would precipitate their demise.

Only politicians with pluck would survive. All the others would be left whistling in the dark and reduced to the ranks.

You know, I think it might work.

December 2011

What's Special About The Guitar

No volume, no sustain, no range, but there is one thing...

Sometimes it is good to take a step back and put things into perspective. At this moment I am doing so and thinking about the guitar itself. What is it about the guitar that I like, when it has so much against it compared to other instruments?

It doesn't have volume. By the measure of any orchestral instrument the dynamic range is from very quiet to very very quiet. Stravinsky went further and said "it's not so much quiet, rather it sounds from afar". Play the guitar with a string quartet and you have a struggle to be heard. Play a concerto with a chamber orchestra and you cannot hear the guitar beyond the tenth row unless the orchestration is as light as a feather - and what's the fun in listening to that for twenty five minutes or so? As far as the sound heard in the first ten rows it lacks weight and beauty for many of the lower harmonics are lost, leaving only a thin line breaking through the orchestral texture, audible but only just.

It doesn't have a sustaining sound. The great cellist Pablo Casals noted this when he heard his compatriot Andrés Segovia play him music by Bach. The lack of sustain makes lyrical playing very difficult, which is why the guitar comes into its element when it plays fast rhythmic music.

It doesn't have range. The pitch distance between the lowest and highest note is not even four octaves, which sit in the lap of a grand piano with room to spare either side.

It doesn't have a repertoire. Until the 19th century good pieces are no more than a few isolated dots on the musical landscape. The first great piece was composed less than a hundred years ago, and that was Manuel de Falla's Tombeau. Benjamin Britten said "the guitar is an instrument without a repertoire" although he improved the situation by composing his great Nocturnal for it.

So I return to the question I posed at the beginning. What is it about the guitar I like? Maybe some of the negative aspects I have described have a positive element contained within.

It may not have sustain but on playing a note both life and death are evoked together. Julian Bream has said that the note blooms instantly at its birth, whereupon it immediately begins its decline. This is a striking and poetic image.

Because the guitar lacks volume we listen all the harder until a tiny world of gradations reveal themselves as from a fairy's wand. And when the wand is waved a spell is cast on the fingers, nails, flesh and strings, from them emerging something special.

Andrés Segovia cast the spell superbly and described the guitar as "a miniature orchestra," and so it is. The beauty of the guitar is there contained: in the spell-binding sound world it creates. That is what I like best of the guitar.

But a beautiful sound world conjured from a fairy wand is not enough. Let us go forth and continue the business of creating music for what Agustín Barrios described as "the mysterious box". Without a music of its own it will remain just that, and surely it deserves more.

December 2011

Winter Is Here, Let's Have Some Baroque Please

Autumn in London, October 2011

How the seasons affect my moods and musical inclinations

I will tell you a story, a true story.

As a young teenager I would spend my holidays in Valencia. One day I went with my uncle to the bull ring. It was the height of summer, and very hot, even at 11pm. I was there to see not a bull fight but a Flamenco song concert, a far cry from the theatrical extravaganzas of today. A series of singers, each with a different guitarist, sang their hearts out in thrilling improvisations. From their dark voices cascades of notes cracked through the still night air, and took my breath away. Hot summer nights were designed for Flamenco with the smell of jasmine, and ever since both have reminded me of that unforgettable evening.

I have noticed that all the seasons, not just summer, affect my mood and musical inclinations. Spring's regeneration encourages me to explore an artistic renewal, by learning modern and contemporary works.

Winter is a time for reflection, and more than any other season evokes the yearly cycle. Winter is ancient; its colours are white and blue. Coats, scarves, hats and gloves are as thick as the contrapuntal textures of Baroque music.

Autumn is the season for change and uncertainty. How long will summer hold out, and when will winter strike its first blow? I associate autumn with the beginning of academic terms, so it is often a time for planning and preparing music of diverse styles.

Here is a short-list of my ideal guitar music for each season, both for listening and learning:

Spring/rebirth =
Takemitsu: Towards The Sea and In The Woods
Ginastera: Sonata Opus 47
Brouwer: Elogio de la Danza

Albéniz: Suite Española
Granados: Spanish Dances
Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez

Villa-Lobos: Preludes
Llobet: Catalan Folk Songs
Barrios: La Catedral and Mazurka Appassionata

Bach: Suites
Dowland: Lute Fantasies
Falla: Homenaje: Le Tombeau de Claude Debussy

The seasons themselves have been the trigger for some inspired compositions. Foremost is Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Stravinsky used the idea of spring as a violent symbol of musical revolution. For Delius, Debussy and Milhaud the seasons produced quieter moments of beautiful soundscapes. Could it be that if we became more aware of our moods with each change of season we might learn some music more enthusiastically and effectively? Maybe, maybe not, but of one thing I am sure, I will always remember the effect of that night in the Valencian bull ring, for in my next life I might even have a go myself at Flamenco singing – in the summer time, of course.

Listen to:
Debussy: Soirée dans Grenade (for piano)
Delius: On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring (tone poem for orchestra)
Delius: Summer Night on the River (tone poem for orchestra)
Gershwin: Summertime (song from the opera Porgy and Bess)
Kosma/Prévert: Autumn Leaves (French popular song)
Milhaud: Les Quatre Saisons (for orchestral ensemble)
Piazzolla: The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires (for New Tango band)
Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (music for ballet)
Vivaldi: Four Seasons (four concertos for violin, strings and basso continuo)

December 2011

Meeting Sor and Tárrega In The Dream World

What Was It Like For You?

Here you have them, Fernando Sor and Francisco Tárrega, sitting in front of you, each has played to you, and you have played to them. In this dream world scenario, how best to sum up the differences between them and us?

Let's start with the sound each makes with the guitar. Most striking of all is their use of flesh technique. This may be the greatest single contributory factor to the difference in sound between modern guitar playing and that of yesteryear.

Our guitarist composer time-travellers have brought their guitars with them. Sor plays on a smaller guitar strung with gut strings, which produces a sweet sustaining sound. He plays without nails. Tárrega is showing off his new Torres model. It is a bigger instrument than Sor's and makes a deeper and brighter sound, although still not as large and resonant as modern instruments. Notice how he too plays without nails.

Listening to each play gives us a chance to note their approaches to tempo, rhythm and phrasing. The choice of tempo is a vital key, for it opens the door to the inner meaning of music, while rhythm and phrasing give shape to the meaning.

I can imagine Tárrega and Sor very interested in the modern guitar. It has a bigger dynamic range, nylon and wound strings, and a much larger resonating chamber. It is not the instrument for which they composed. How would they play the modern instrument?

Unfortunately I don't know, because at this moment our daydream encounter is cut short by a rude awakening, which is a pity. If we could have heard how each would have adapted their playing to the modern instrument, it would have put a varnish on our legendary meeting with them.

Of course, the reality is that I at least, have never had such a meeting. I have never heard Sor, Tárrega or Milan play and nor has any one else I know. For this reason we have to make do with circumstantial evidence, in other words, with the evidence available except for their actual playing.

Here is a summary of how you might enjoy tracking down the evidence of how Sor and Tárrega played:

Read eyewitness accounts of their playing, e.g. from their students.

Read the guitarists' own words, e.g. Sor's Guitar Method.

Listen to recordings by different artists and see how they have approached interpreting the music of composers long departed. Try to analyse the differences between them to discover why you might prefer one to the other.

Come to your own conclusions and put them into practise. Enjoy!

This has been my rough guide to the interpretation of music by dead composers.

Read more:
Fernando Sor: Method for the Spanish Guitar

November 2011

Style's The Thing, But Where To Begin?

If Tárrega came back today he might be shocked...and mocked

H.G. Well's novel The Time Machine set the modern mind racing regarding time-travel. Dr Who popularised the theme on TV. The Hollywood blockbuster Back To The Future and its sequels developed it for the cinema. Woody Allen explored the theme in his wonderful movie Midnight In Paris. All four set modern man centre-stage travelling in time – past and future. What I have not seen or read so far is a fictional account of people arriving on our doorstep, so to speak, unannounced, from a different time zone, wishing to mingle, observe and join in with no malicious intent.

The advantages for us 21st century guitarists could be huge. Imagine guitarist-composer Gaspar Sanz strolling into your practise room while you play selections from his best-selling book La Instrucción de Música published in 1675, from where we draw such pieces as Españoleta and Canarios. No sooner has he taken a seat in the corner than another two visitors knock on the door. “Hello, my name is Fernando Sor, may I come in?” Behind him is Francisco Tárrega. What would they think of us and our playing? Would they like our big brash modern guitars with nylon and carbon strings, tuned at modern pitch? And how would they react to the sound of an acoustically amplified guitar, or a plug-in one?

Now let me reverse it. How would we react to them if they did not reveal their identities? Picture the scene. There they are, illustrious guests, in our very presence. Sanz picks up a guitar, plays it without nails, and improvises around his own pieces with a mixture of strums, rasgueados, and scale runs before passing it on to Tárrega. Nailess, he slides and vibratos his way through Capricho Arabe while Fernando Sor waits his turn. If we knew not who they were, would some of us not be tempted to make such modern pronouncements as:
“Stick to the score, you are making up too many notes and harmonies.”
And maybe: “too many glissandi and too much vibrato, and oh yes, don't exaggerate the rubato.”

Let's face it, such a scene is not likely to happen soon but my imagination is fired by it and its implications. Underneath my musing lurks that dark horse of musical performance: style and authenticity. There are few criticisms more unsettling than to be accused of playing “not in style”. If Sanz listened to us playing today he would have a few things to say, and I bet many would be entirely unexpected. No doubt he would be both touched and amused by some of our earnest “authentic” interpretations. He would be flattered we had read all the instructions he had written in his book, and in books by other 17th century composers, and studied contemporary music of his time, and of his parents' time – all in our attempt to play his music in the manner and style to which he was accustomed. “Well thank you very much”, he might say, and then add a few disarming remarks.

And what about our old friend Luys Milan, the vihuela player,who published El Maestro in the 1530's? He has crept into our studio almost unnoticed. We play him one of his fantasias, which contained the first tempo indications ever published in music. They included apriesa (fast), despacio (slow) and ni apriesa ni despacio (neither fast nor slow). As well as his musical publications, he wrote a book about courtly manners and customs. I can see him now, this gentleman-player from the great Spanish Royal Court of Valencia, politely leaning forward, and in exquisite old Spanish say:
“Jolly good. May I suggest the fast passages are too fast...”

Don Luys' remarks prompt Fernando Sor to speak:
“That reminds me, you played my Andante Largo too slowly.”

And our shyest guest of all, Francisco Tárrega interjects:
“I would prefer you to play all the glissandi more expressively. They are part of the tune.”

By this stage, I would be slightly dazed if it were me playing to them: one man's (or woman's) slow is another man's medium tempo. One man's glissando in good taste is another one's bad taste.

The performance comments above reflect some of my own inclinations of course. But then I will be the first to listen to masters come back to life to confirm what I already suspect: how difficult it is to project ourselves into musical styles of the past. The search for genuine “authentic” style is fascinating, laudable, and irresistible. It creates a convincing performance for the player himself and for the listener, but it is a quest that raises almost more questions than answers. Written indications in a musical score are just that, indications, and no more. Allow them to set free our imaginations and then musical sparks really fly.

Think of it: Don Gaspar, Don Luys, Don Francisco and Don Fernando in your studio, speaking all together animatedly in their cute vintage Spanish of the 16th, 17th and 19th centuries, saying:

“Si, si, si, sin imaginación no hay música – yes, yes, yes, without imagination there is no music.”

At least we can all agree on that.

Read more:
Gaspar Sanz: La Instrucción de Música Sobre La Guitarra Española (1675)
Tablature for 5 course guitar with explanatory notes by the author

Luys Milan:
Libro de Motes de damas y cavalleros: el juego de mandar (1535)
His book on life at court

El Maestro (1536)
Music in tablature for 6 course vihuela with introduction by the author

Francisco Tárrega: Capricho Arabe

Fernando Sor: Andante Largo Opus 5, no. 5

November 2011

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