Music and Language: Do I Have to Memorise?!

Something which I could never muster the energy to do before was to memorise music.  I would learn to play a piece, but would have to look at the notes on the page before being able to play.

This was a real handicap: If I was out and about with my flute and someone asked if they could have a listen, the answer was invariably ‘no’ – I had nothing to play!

Cantonese/Mandarin were the same.  It didn’t matter how many character readings I’d memorised: if I couldn’t produce complete sentences without reference to a book, as far as the other person was concerned, I didn’t know any Chinese.

Music: Memorise, Memorise, Memorise

The key, then, is massive memorisationmusicians need to be able to produce music on cue, and second language learners their second language.

For music, I cannot improve any further on the bar-by-bar practice regime detailed in Piano Fundamentals: take short bunches of notes and repeat them tens or hundreds of times; once memorised, move on to the next bar; finally, string everything together.  If you can play each bar without looking at the score, you can play the whole piece too, without too much extra effort.

This is, in fact, partially where I got the idea for L2 chunking from.  Bar-by-bar practice is simply breaking down a piece of music into manageable, comprehensible sections – and then putting them right back together.

(I’ve been trying this out extensively on my flute for the last three or four months, and I have to say that it’s been a real revolution – I get loads out of each practice session, because I can fluently play several new bars of music for every hour of practice.  It’s made a diploma next year suddenly seem extremely achievable!)

Languages: Memorise, Memorise, Memorise

For languages, you can do the same thing.  Break a sentence apart into whatever chunks make it comprehensible for you.

Person 1: 我戒指好像沒有帶在身上耶…

Person 2: 有啦!你不是說你一直放在包包裡面?你從來沒有拿出來過啊

…can be split up thus:

Person 1: 我戒指   好像   沒有   帶在身上   耶…*

Now, all you’ve got to do is repeat, repeat, repeat:

  1. Repeat each fragment until you can say each part accurately
  2. Put adjacent fragments together, again with lots of repetition.
  3. Go back to step #1 if it gets too difficult.
  4. Move onto the next sentence (going back to step #1).
  5. Put the two sentences together… and so on.

But I’ll Look Like an Idiot!

…so go and practice in your room!  This is how the best musicians practice (see links above) – you’re just doing a different kind of performance.

Anyone else do similar stuff, either for musical instruments or language?  Anything I’ve missed?  Anything that could be further improved?  If so, leave a comment below!

*We’re just going to ignore Person 2 for now – we’re going ‘bar-by-bar’, don’t forget!  Also, I’m not sure what the grammatical name of each part of the sentence is – but we’re not interested in that, right?  We’re just interested in how to use the pattern.  Screw what the grammarians think.

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One thought on “Music and Language: Do I Have to Memorise?!

  1. Pingback: The Input Hypothesis and Various Fallacies #3 | Thousand Mile Journey

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