Tired Of Struggling To Learn Memory Techniques For Language Learning On Your Own?
Sometimes all it takes is a powwow with a good friend.
I know, I know …
That’s why I was so excited when John McPhedran and I started hanging out to talk about our shared passions:
Heavy Metal …
… & Mnemonics!
You Don’t Have To Memorize Vocabulary And Phrases Alone!
At least two cool things happen when you share your adventures in memory:
1) You learn how to use the techniques better yourself.
2) You come up with completely new approaches.
Or you learn to use the Major System for memorizing notes:
All of those things happened when John and I started hanging out, and so I’m excited to share with you our wide-ranging conversation about memorizing German, music and even a bit of Mandarin. (It’s funny to listen back to this interview because since then, my approach to Chinese and how much Chinese I now know has thoroughly grown!)
Here’s the full transcript of our discussion. To make it concrete for you, I’ve extracted 16 principles from the discussion you can start using right away. We’re confident that you’ll learn a lot and urge you to find a person to chat about your memory projects with. For starters, you can join the Magnetic Memory Method Facebook Group after downloading and listening to this episode of the Magnetic Memory Method Podcast.
Method Number One:
Invest In Memory Training
Anthony: This is Anthony Metivier. You’re listening to the Magnetic Memory Method Podcast and today we have a real special treat John McPhedran. Did I pronounce that right?
Anthony: It’s pronounced just the way it’s spelled which is awesome. Well John, how do we know each other?
John: It’s quite a funny story. About just over a year ago, I’ll tell the whole story.
Anthony: Yeah, tell it all from the beginning.
John: Just over a year ago, I’m from New Zealand, and I have married a lovely German woman. I was in Germany last year, so this is my third time now, but I was here last year and I was about to fly home to New Zealand. Me and my wife, we were in a hotel in Prague, and I was just looking on my Kindle for stuff to buy on Amazon. I was always looking at German language books, things to learn German and better ways to do it, and I came across the Magnetic Memory Method mnemonics system for learning vocab.
I bought that and started reading. It just sounded really cool. It wasn’t something I dove into straight away. I knew that it would take a while before I got around to doing it because I had some other priorities, but I always kept it on the back of my mind. Six months after that, I came back to Germany to live, and I knew that I had to sharpen up my German skills, so I looked further into the Magnetic Memory Method and ended up buying the product on Udemy. Through the message system there, I just start typing Anthony just questions that I had.
From reading his books, I knew he lived in Berlin, which is where I’ve moved to, and I knew that he also was a heavy metal bass player. So I thought it would be cool if I just put it out there just to you know just poke the fire I guess you could say. Just to see if he was close to where I was and just make the first step into maybe meeting because he seemed like an interesting guy. We just started talking back and forth and I kind of dropped that I was a heavy metal guitarist. That kind of sparked Anthony’s interest. Basically, from there we just kind of messaged back and forth and ended up jamming together.
Then the real funny part of the story I guess was that we ended up living a fifteen minute walk apart from each other. So coming from the other end of the world, from New Zealand to Berlin, to actually live fifteen minutes apart from this dude that I was learning all this cool stuff from was you know pretty awesome. So we’ve kind of just been friends since and have been recording music together and just talking about memory stuff. I’ve kind of come out with some memory things that sparked Anthony’s interest. So it’s why I’m here today doing this.
Anthony: Yeah, and not any kind of memory stuff, but grammar and music which is, well, some very rich and detailed things to be memorizing. I’m really glad that you did email me and now you’re coming to my birthday party. So things are getting real serious.
John: Yeah, I’m looking forward to that.
Anthony: So that’s the end of the week. But in any case, one thing that I really admire is that you’re actually taking these approaches and doing what I have suggested, and we’re trading notes. We’ve both got Excel files open or documents, and we were looking at our process. It’s so exciting to see and hear what you’re doing, and how you explain your mnemonic images just put so many pictures in my mind, which I can tell why they’re so memorable for you. So maybe we start with German. Do you remember the first word that you actively memorized using mnemonics?
John: Well I first got into mnemonics and it wasn’t through using Memory Palaces. Like I knew the technique of using mnemonics. I learned quite a lot of vocab before coming to the Magnetic Memory system. The first word, I can’t remember the very first word, but maybe one of them that was within the set of words that I learned using mnemonics, not German in general, but mnemonics was der Balkon, which is balcony, and you know you don’t really need a mnemonic for that.
The first one that was really to help me learn something kind of hard was die Behandlung, which is like treatment. I imagine a woman with a big puffy hand because she’s being stung by a bee, just the bee and she needed treatment for a sting in the hand, Behandlung. I can’t remember where the lung came into it, but a lot of mnemonics are like that. Not every single detail is there.
It’s really just a thing to kind of instantly click your mind. That’s what it was. I mean I’m still like that with my mnemonics. I don’t even really necessarily go into all the details when I’m imagining them. I kind of create them, and I drill them for a bit, and then after while it is just something that really triggers your mind. Ah, that’s what it was and I’m able to know what the word is.
Anthony: Before we go further, you said now twice “the Magnetic Memory system.” Is it really a system to you? The reason I ask is because I’m always very clear about saying this is the method. You’ve got to adopt it for yourself. Systems are, I mean not to correct you, if you find it so systematic, but –
John: No, and I’ve heard you say that. No, well it’s a method if that’s how you describe it as a method. It really is. You have really got to try and make your own thing out it. It’s the only way it will really work. It all depends on how you process things.
I feel personally that I’m kind of lucky. In your book you said, you’ve got a decent imagination I guess or imagery in your mind if you can imagine water flowing. Do you remember writing that?
John: So I thought, yeah, I can actually imagine a river and water flowing. Cool, I might be able to do this. I mean the first questions that I asked you were about the crossing your path. Because I want to try to have everything perfect. I am quite a perfectionist like that. So I was asking you those kinds of questions because I didn’t really want to leave any stone unturned. Then just the way you replied to me, I was like yeah, I have just got to try to make this my own to see what works.
I find that, in particular, the crossing the path doesn’t really even matter to me necessarily because I can just be anywhere in my palace and you know I can look behind. You know what I mean, like my spacial, I don’t know, spacial recognition or I don’t know what that kind of word is. I should put it in a palace and learn it. But you know what I mean, I can kind of just instantly be in the center of a building and just imagine in my mind where all these places are around the things. The crossing my path doesn’t even really matter.
Method Number Two:
Make The Memory Methods Your Own
I kind of felt that you know I’ll just make this my own. So it’s not a system if you describe a system being rigid because it definitely is not rigid. You’ve got to have a bit of creativity to it. It does take effort, as far as coming up with the mnemonics. The thing is it does take effort to come up with those things and you are using your creativity to try and create these scenarios that actually represent some kind of abstract information you’re trying to learn.
But, on the backend the amount of time you save not having to repeat over and over and over and forget stuff, you are saving all that time at the backend. That’s why I love it so much for that. You write these mnemonics and then you go back through the palace again, or what I like to do is just put them in Anki.
Method Number Three:
Ditch Boring Learning Methods
Like you, I hate using Anki to rote memorize stuff. It frustrates you. As you say, once you start getting frustrated, it makes it harder to learn and that’s when you’re just like, man, am I ever gonna be able to do this. To me, using Anki just for the testing, to actually just give you these words and instantly be able to go to my palace. It doesn’t always work that I instantly know it. Sometimes I’ll write a mnemonic that was from a couple of days before and I’ve never revisited it and I’ll get this word, but you kind of remember where it was supposed to be in the house, and it takes a little bit. Sometimes I do have to bring out my sheet again just to remember what I wrote down. But I mean, that’s about as much as I have to do. After that, you know the word.
Anthony: Just to clarify for people, you’re essentially doing the memory work first, then importing or creating Anki slides and using those, what do you call them? Slides or index?
Anthony: Cards, digital index cards to look at the German word in German?
Anthony: And then you go into the Memory Palace to look at the imagery to help you decode the sound and meaning?
John: Yeah, I guess that’s what’s happening behind the scenes, but as I said, if it is something really new – like one word that I learned recently that kind of gave me a little bit of trouble was das Aufputschmittel like stimulant, and I could remember my bridging character for auf is Alf, and I had the little fluffy alien. I had him putting stuff in the middle of a plant stem and the stem represented STIMulant but that’s the only information for word stimulant. That’s quite often what I’ll do. It will just be some little bit of information that triggers the rest. I remembered the word Aufputschmittel but I couldn’t remember what the meaning was. That was one that when I got the word, I knew where it was in the palace but I couldn’t remember the word. So I had to go back and open my Excel file. But I only do it once.
If you forget it, which is five percent of the time, most of the time you don’t forget it and you do it and you drill it and you’ve got it. Then, honestly, after a few times doing it, two or three times of going through these cards – you don’t even have to decode the information. You know you get it. I actually think I read it in English. I don’t read them in German for this. I read them in English for this. The word and I translate the word from English to German.
Because I find when I’m trying to speak German if I don’t know a word, you search for the word you want in English first anyway, and then if you’re really stuck for words, if you don’t know a word to use, and you know English, you’ve got to try to find the word in English and then translate it from there.
John: So yeah, I’ll do the English word first.
Anthony: I would challenge you though to start doing it with the German word first because you want to train your mind to not go to English first.
Anthony: So that’s why I always do the native language first. Because everything is so heavily linked on the sound of the word, using the mnemonic imagery to recall the sound and the meaning of the word in the same blow, then what I basically want to be able to do is have my mother tongue as a kind of ghost that is banished by the instant recall of the sound and the meaning of a word.
Of course, I don’t really use cards. So when I started with Chinese and 对 不 起 which is part of “Excuse me, may I ask” all I just see is in the Memory Palace is Mark Twain kneeing a Chi master in the face. I don’t even really have anything to indicate “Excuse me, may I ask” because that’s just so rude of him to do that in that context. I don’t know why I don’t need it. But if I were to have some sort of indicator of “Excuse me, may I ask,” that to me, that trips me up from going in my mind directly to the actual Chinese. Now that may not be your experience. So I’m not suggesting that you do anything other than as you please, but that’s my rationale for that.
John: Yeah. Oh, it’s the same with me. If I’m not drilling with the cards, if I’m just going through the Memory Palace they are like a unit like that.
Anthony: Okay, I see.
John: I don’t have an English word sitting there. It’s just an image that you just remember, oh that’s what it is. And then when I’m trying to talk German, like I’m definitely well aware that you don’t want to try and translate first. You do start getting better at just talking. We had a little conversation before, it was a basic conversation but I didn’t translate. Unless it gets hard and I can’t think of what I’m actually trying to say. If I can’t kind of go further than what I just know without thinking of English then I’ll have to resort to some kind of English word to actually think of the nest step. But it’s really just to kick start the next step. I’m really trying not to think in English when I’m talking.
Anthony: Right. Well, let’s move this to grammar. You were telling me something really fascinating about working with the tenses.
John: Most of my German I learned the hard way. When I first started learning it was in 2012. I had moved to Erlangen, my wife was studying there and I lived there for a year, and I spoke nothing of German or any other language. I knew nein and scheiße which most people do, maybe ja, das ist Gut. That kind of stereotypical stuff.
My teacher was lovely. She was a real nice woman. I started learning quite good at the start. She was obviously a native German speaker and we started with the normal things. Like du, ich, sie, er, those kind of nominative cases of all the pronouns and basic conjugation of the verbs and it started quite good with those real basic sentences. Then within a little while, it just went from 0 to 100.
I never knew anything about English. I knew how to speak it or I know how to speak it. I knew what a verb was. I knew what a noun was. But I didn’t know what a subject was of a sentence. I didn’t know what the direct object or the indirect object was. It was only through learning German that I’ve actually learned all these things and they actually relate a lot to English.
So the teacher had started laying all this grammar on me and I got this big list of irregular verbs. She gave me this list and she goes you’ve got to remember this. And I’d only just come across the whole case system just a few weeks before which if you’re an English speaker just throws you out because you’ve only one way to say “the.” So I got all these lists of stuff to learn. I’m just like how do I learn this. It’s one thing to say I have to but how do I do it? She was like I don’t know. You just have to. I was like that’s not an answer.
It put me in a kind of bad mood with it. To be honest, it wasn’t a priority of mine. I never thought that I would actually come and live here. At the time, music and playing guitar was what I really wanted to do. I had all my music that I wanted to create and had these other things.
German was turning into just rote memorization. I remember my wife made this curriculum up for me for studying. It was just rote memorization of all these words that I just had to try to remember from scratch and just all these grammar concepts and I though how am I going to learn this? I didn’t have a good attitude. It wasn’t until after, when I got back to New Zealand after a year. I was just really disappointed in myself that I hadn’t gone harder at learning.
Method Number Four:
Learn How To Learn
That’s when I started on just how to learn. You know, how to learn German. That’s when I first came across mnemonics for the first time. I learned a lot of words. It worked really well but I was using other people’s mnemonics. One thing I’ve found is that it doesn’t work as well as your own. Because you remember your own creations a lot easier.
The things that tripped me up most in German other than not knowing the right words to use is prepositions because they don’t always translate directly as you would use them in English, and I find there is no real set rules to use them. That comes through just being exposed a lot. Like the word zu Fuß, to go by foot. In English it is “to foot.” The other thing was verb tenses. I used to try and talk to my wife when we would sit down and try and practice and I would try and say these things.
Because when you start you’re always in the indicative active present tense. Like ich gehe and that’s how you start. Then you’ll move on to the indicative active. In conversation you’re going to go to the present perfect tense. You get quite good at using those tenses. Then if you want to express something like “when I’m here I would have done this.”
John: That’s when the tenses get quite complicated in German, because what I was explaining before, the verbs work differently. When you are using the passive voice like the future perfect Ich werde gehört worden sein. I will have been heard. I thought that was the thing I always got tripped up on. I was trying to say something or try and express these things and my girlfriend would say no. It’s expressed like this this. I realized that I just didn’t know enough. I don’t know if it is spacial. Just the whole timeframe of things like when you’re talking about future and past.
So that’s where I devised this one here. It’s exactly using the same system that you give. I have basically, its’ just an upstairs office block that has offices. Again, it depends on what people want to do to make it their own. I just found I knew this place that had three rooms down one side, three rooms down the other. Down the left-hand side is all the active voice tenses and moods. Down the other side was all the passive voices. The two offices up the front, they are opposite each other.
At No. 1 that was all the indicative mood. The next set of offices down which was two opposite each other. That was Subjunctive 1. Then the next ones down were Subjunctive 2.
So that covered all the moods and all the voices. Then within each of those palaces, there were little mini palaces inside one kind of hallway which is its own palace. In each of them I just have each tense. Some of them are really simple.
I’ve got in this office here, this is the indicative mood for the active voice. So the present tense. It’s my mom’s office. I have my mom unwrapping a present. The present just represents present tense. I didn’t need a mnemonic to tell me the conjugation of verbs in the present tense.
John: And the same, simple past is not as hard. I’ve got me, that was my desk sitting in old clothes. I just imagine like any old clothes you want. I kind of imagine like old blazers or something, old English kind of styles, sipping a cup of tea. Because the tea represents like ich spielte. Like “I played” and that’s what the tea represented there.
Then the storage room was the future tense –
Anthony: But just for people. Why does the tea help you remember spielte?
John: Because you add a “T”.
Anthony: Ah, you add a “T”.
John: In the simple past you usually add the “T” to regular verbs.
Anthony: Ah, perfect.
John: But I didn’t need it. I already knew that. But I just wanted to be thorough and have something representing each kind of station here not really just miss anything.
Method Number Five:
Be Illicit In Your Imagination
Here we get probably a bit illicit. But in the future tense werden is the verb to represent something happening in the future. So I’ve got Leigh who was our receptionist. She is in space clothes. Space clothes all I mean it represents future to me. I just imagine just silver. So it’s not like astronaut suits. Just something silver and shiny because it just seems a bit futuristic to me. It’s easy. She passes a joint; weed represents werden to me.
When you you’re trying to come up with mnemonics, you go with the first thing that means something. That’s what came up with me. This is probably a bit illegal but she’s passing a joint to an infant. To me, an infant represents the infinitive verb. Ich werde spielen.
Then moving on. Once I get to the perfect tenses, you know present perfect, past perfect, future perfect, I imagine a prefect. I did a year in a boys’ school where prefects, they had the flash blazers and that. I just think of the prefect. A “prefect watches over Hamlet” represents sein. And Habibi. I was trying to think of a name that was like haben. Habibi represents haben. I imagine them playing with old game parts. The old game part, I just imagine a box of old chess pieces and I thought of parts = past participle, that’s where the parts comes in and the game, I put the game in there for ge, because unless it has a prefix that is inseparable, we have the ge. So that’s for that.
Then again with the future perfect, I have the same thing but because in future perfect you have werden again because you have got to represent the future in this. I’ve got a prefect wearing space clothes while smoking weed hands out old game parts to Hamlet and Habibi. Sort of like ich werde gespielt haben or ich werde gegangen sein.
Anthony: Oh yeah, because you’ve got to have it in “to be.”
John: When it’s a verb using sein. So that’s why I have Hamlet and Habibi. The helping verb will either be sein or haben. Then, obviously, the passive voices you only have sein.
So the most complicated one, I’ll give an example of because they are all just repeating after that, they kind of have a similar concept. So this is the future perfect in the indicative passive voice. A prefect in space clothes and smoking weed. So “prefect” represents future perfect, “smoking weed” is the werden, old game parts to a traffic warden who then gives it an infant Hamlet. So it means that sein will be at the end. Ich werde gehört worden sein. I will have been heard.
Anthony: A lot of people ask me, don’t you get confused if you’re repeating stuff. So you’ve got Hamlet several times. You’ve a prefect several times. You’ve got an infant in different contexts. Do you find that this is difficult to manage or –
John: Yeah. If I just left it and didn’t come back to it, I would never remember it. This one was kind of quite hard in that respect, because sometimes you forget what’s happening at certain stations, but that’s just where the drilling comes in. Then after a while, once you get into especially the subjunctive, it just repeats themselves.
Anthony: How much time would you say that you spent on putting this together and then how much time in the actual review of the mnemonics before it gets into your long-term memory and what would you say is the payoff, the value of it compared to another approach.
Method Number Six:
Stop Fooling Yourself That You Don’t Have Time –
John: The time it took, when I do any of this stuff, I really don’t spend that much time on it. Like I can’t sit down and just come with heaps of mnemonics. I mean maybe if I forced myself to I could.
I come up with these goals. Here’s my spreadsheet. I know that if I have all these little things that I want to do, if I just plan them instead of thinking I’ve got one massive task. It’s that whole eat an elephant thing. I’ve got this one massive task. Instead of thinking I’m just going to sit down and do it, I kind of think well if I just do a little bit today, a little bit tomorrow and I plan out tiny little chunks, I know that by this time it’s going to be done. It’s not going to feel like too much effort.
To be honest, when it comes to writing these mnemonics, maybe ten minutes a day. So maybe it took me ten minutes to come up with this one indicative mood active voice, just that one station with all those tenses may have been ten minutes. Then I would have just put it away for the day. So you’re looking at six days, seven days.
Anthony: Right, and then in terms of actually reinforcing it using mnemonics.
John: Well at the moment, I’m doing it now.
Anthony: So this is a work in progress.
John: Yeah, so I’ve got these mnemonics down. So now, basically, I have just phrases that I’ve got in my Anki that I just translate using the correct tense and knowing what mnemonic I’m using with.
Anthony: So you were saying before that these particular memory palaces, they just worked out perfectly. Did you seek them out or they were very convenient let’s say, did you seek them out intentionally to use for this purpose or they just came to mind.
John: Not for this purpose. It was just when I was doing the Magnetic Memory Method, coming up with a big list of like palaces. Where’s my vocab one? Again for those that are listening I’m just going through my sheet. So it was when I came up with all my A, B, C, D, I kind of had a stockpile of leftovers. I had some leftover that I didn’t use for any houses.
Method Number Seven:
Think And You Will Find The Solution
I don’t know why I used that one in particular. It just kind of made sense. It took thinking. I just thought of trying to think in my mind how am I gonna come up with some way, because I knew that with the tenses in particular, I knew that this was one block. I knew the indicative mood active voice was one block that had present, simple past, future, present perfect, past perfect, future perfect. I knew that that was one block and that was one block. So I was just thinking of the building in my mind and then the imperative at the end which you don’t really need a palace for that.
I was just kind of thinking for something in my mind that would be contained enough but have separate compartments in it that would separate these different things. Each building is right next to each other and across the hall. It was just really convenient for that.
Anthony: Well, I’m really excited to be sitting here watching this because you’ve got it nailed. I mean you made your Memory Palace key which is a list of memory palaces organized alphabetically and so forth. I get lots and lots of email all the time and some people just say this is crazy. This is overwhelming. I look at some of the reviews of my books and there is one person who said this book came from the twilight zone. I recognize that it seems like it’s over the top and just a crazy amount of work to do this, but –
John: It doesn’t all happen in a day. I mean just listening to your podcasts and like throughout the course like people who have trouble coming up with places. Pine Hill is my Memory Palace for “F.” Forgive me for swearing but the reason I put it beside “F” was because that house was fucking cold. That’s why I associate it with “F.”
John: Prenzlauer, that’s my place I live in now. That’s Z, there’re not many streets with Z but Prenz has a Z in it so I put it Z. Here like Jacob, my cousin Jacob, he had a house in Hunter Crescent and just up the road there was a big empty lot of land that had this old car in it that we managed to play around in one day when we were young. It was a real funny day and the car represents that house to me. So that’s what C is. So the first name of your house doesn’t have to match up but just has to spark. It’s not until you start doing it that you remember what these houses are.
It’s not like you have to write this key out and then instantly commit to memory what all these houses are. You have the spreadsheet. You have the record. If it is recorded, you’re less likely to forget. It is through just returning to it that you remember that. Once you start putting the mnemonics in the houses, you don’t forget them then because the mnemonics, the words you’re learning, they start with the letter. So like when I’m doing A, I put the German word starting with A in the A house. I don’t put the English word starting with A. So it’s German orientated.
Method Number Eight:
Use Technology Intelligently
Anthony: Well it’s very cool. And you’re just using Excel file with multiple tabs?
John: Yeah. If you look here, I mean I have a vocab load sheet. Stations – so I have a separate sheet for stations. A is the A-framed house on Plantation Road, then I have 1, 2, 3 all the way to 17 at the moment because that’s the amount of words I have in there. I kind of went for the micro.
John: Yeah, kind of straight away. I started off with macro stations but then I just kind of felt that I had a good memory of these places and I felt that I could easily put multiple words in a room. Again, with the room, you don’t have to remember it exactly. My brother’s room in this house. I know where it is. I have a memory of it but I can’t remember what he had in there. So I’ve got like by the door, I’ve got a corner in the left. Then I just put a chest of drawers there. I don’t know if he had one there. I just put a chest of drawers there. And then the other corner. The corner and then a bed, corner and then by the door again. And for most times that’s all I have in a room. Unless it was my room, or unless I’m really intimate with all the little things in a room, most rooms are going to have a chest of drawers and a bed. Maybe a TV or something. It’s not hard to add that stuff in if you can do it.
Anthony: So you don’t have any trouble juggling say like a virtual element that you’ve just invented.
John: No, because you drill it. Again, if you were to write these out and never come back to it, it’s not going to stick in your mind. You drill it, and then as you drill it you remember it.
One thing I did, I took a bunch of words out like the verbs that use dative, that take dative and the verbs that use sein like ‘ist gefahren’ that use sein instead of haben for the helping verb when using the past and the perfect tenses. So I ended up taking all those words out of my palaces and putting them in a separate one because I thought it would be more helpful just to have those particular categories of verbs in their own thing. Because when I was talking to Sina and she would always correct me that I used haben instead of sein or something like that. So I decided to put these verbs on their own. So when you’re talking and same with dative, like when you call someone dich when they should have been dir because the verb is dative.
John: But other than that, I take these verbs out and then it’s not that hard. I just put another one in there and then with drilling you forget that other one was even there. The new ones are in there now.
Method Number Nine:
Just. Do. It.
Anthony: Well, that’s amazing to hear. Because you are answering so many questions that I get all the time. People say well can I reuse Memory Palaces. What happens if I need to renovate something? It sounds for you pretty nontheatrical or nondramatic. You just do it.
John: Just do it and it really is just the drilling. I can’t emphasize that enough. You just walk through them. You have got to revisit them, walk through them and, if you want to, drill them on Anki. Because being able to do it like that, you get a word and you’ve got to instantly got to try, without tracing steps, to instantly know where something is sitting in a certain Memory Palace. It gets to the point you don’t need the mnemonic. It happens kind of quickly.
Anthony: That is one thing that people either criticize or don’t want to do. They say I’m going to set up all this stuff just to not even need it anymore. I wonder if you have thoughts on that. Do you feel like, okay now I’ve got it and I spent all that time just to get these words? Is there remorse or any kind of issue around that?
John: Remorse? Because I did it?
Anthony: I’m just speaking the voice of what I’ve read from people and their feedback is they just think this is so much work to create mnemonics that they are ultimately not going to use.
John: But it’s not work. If you’ve tried to learn stuff by rote you are putting all that – I always think I’m a really lazy person. I don’t really feel like I’m a full of energy person that really wants to do heaps of stuff all the time. I’m probably disciplined more than anything.
So when it came to this, I watched your course, I went through it and it was effort to just have to sit down and start because it’s creative. You’ve got to think. I think when you’re drilling – you can get on Anki and you can get all other people’s flash cards and it probably seems easy because you’re not putting any work in to do this. This is sweet. But the amount of mental energy and the time it takes to learn the stuff by rote, and then just to forget it anyway – there’s a good chance. I mean it’s not always the case.
I learned quite a lot of words through rote memorization, but I hated it. I couldn’t stand it. It was boring and made me not want to do it. It wasn’t exciting.
So, yeah there is the work up front, but again it’s the eat an elephant. Maybe you would sit down and you would come up with all your houses. I think I might of come up with all my houses in a day. I didn’t really think that was too hard. It is effort. I kind of went above and beyond. I’ve categorized all my stuff. Especially in like the nouns and stuff. I put all the extra information like plural information and like if a verb is strong and uses sein or whatever. So I kind of went above what you talk about for my own personal thing.
Method Number Ten:
Know Where Your Time Is Really Saved
To me it’s the amount of time you save on the backend. That’s where the time is saved. I’ve learned thousands of words using mnemonics and drilling with spaced repetition. Just to drill, not to learn, but honestly I think – is it a horse and cart metaphor or chicken and egg. What comes first? It is a bit of effort and coming up with mnemonics takes effort but it’s not that hard. Like ten minutes a day. If you want to learn thousands and thousands of words really quickly, then of course you’re not going to learn that through osmosis or through flash cards. You are going to have to put in a lot of effort to learn that anyway. Just do it every day. You have ten minutes. You have fifteen minutes. If you don’t have fifteen minutes, then something is wrong.
Anthony:Well I think so yeah. I mean I was just talking about my Mandarin Chinese Mnemonics And Morning Memory Secrets because I’ve recorded it and I don’t know if it is going to come out before this one or after. I think it will come out this week about how for myself I make sure that I get this stuff done. If you go in my room right now, you’ll see that there’s a book on how to write Chinese characters. There’s all my little colored pens there and so forth. The computer doesn’t go on. The smart phone or stupid phone or whatever phone I have doesn’t get looked at until that book is in my hands and I write down, I practice writing eight characters, and I practice writing eight characters eight times each. Now this where I get into systematic thinking. It is eight characters eight times each and then I go and I do my memorialization stuff working with Pimsleur.
John: That was in your email.
Anthony: Yeah and I just do an entire page. That’s just the rule and that’s a systematic sort of thing. What I’m trying to get at is that this is first thing in the morning and it’s a very small investment of time but it compounds so hugely.
John: Yeah. It compounds. Definitely, it builds up. I think that’s the problem with learning in society in this day and age. People want the magic pill and who doesn’t? Wouldn’t you like to be fluent in a language like that? You know it doesn’t work like that. I always thought anything worthwhile is gonna take effort. You can’t get around having to put in effort.
Maybe this isn’t for everyone. Maybe some people are real awesome at rote learning. Rote learning wasn’t my thing and I wanted a better way of doing it. First it was mnemonics and then once I coupled mnemonics with the palaces, it was just was like bang. Having mnemonics floating around in space, it was good, but I’ve forgotten a lot of them now too. Whereas having them in a palace, it is just boom, boom having them there. It is really awesome.
Anthony: Somewhere in my slush pile of research there is an article that I read that they did some studies with polyglots. And they said that in their research that polyglots are actually very, very good at rote learning because they spend sometimes decades doing it. But I think it is the discipline. It is the consistency of consistent effort applied. Even polyglots have what is often called in that world the stubborn quintile. That is the 20 percent or whatever number percent of words that no matter what they won’t stick. That’s when mnemonics are a go-to method because there is really no other way. There is another way, which is just to not learn them. It is really exciting. If we can switch gears.
John: Well put it this way. If you want to learn heaps of vocabulary and you think you haven’t made a start at all on this and you think I’ve got up with all these houses and then I’ve got to come up with all these stations after that, then don’t think of it like that. I’m a big fan of writing my goals down. I put them into chunks and put them on a calendar and I know if I spend 20 minutes today doing that and it’s going to be done and I cross it off and go through all that.
But if you’re coming at this thinking this is a lot of work. Well yeah, it kind of is. You’re learning a language! It is a lot of work but don’t think that. Say today I’m going to write from A to J. I’m going to come out with those houses. It doesn’t take very long. Then you do the rest. Then you do the same with the stations. You just go through.
Method Number Eleven:
You even say don’t overwhelm yourself. Just go through and put your first ten stations in and then do that with all your things. Once you have the houses, the palaces and once you have a few stations, and you have it set up kind of like this, it is really quick. If you put it in perspective to learn one word, and not all words need mnemonics. I don’t need to put that in the palace. It is valuable real estate as well. When you’re putting these things in there. Some words you are just like I don’t need to put that in there. I can remember that, and if I forget it, I mean I’m going to come across it again. I’ll know what it is. To learn one word, to come up with a mnemonic shouldn’t take more than two minutes.
Anthony: I’m glad to hear you say that because I’m always trying to communicate exactly that.
John: They don’t have to be awesome. I think this probably where people trip up because it is creative. You’re using something inside yourself to create something. It’s just a tiny little piece of an image and that’s exercising parts of your brain that feels like work. It shouldn’t take more than two minutes.
Then to actually really drill that and to know it, it shouldn’t take more than going back to it. On a hard word, I don’t think more than five times. I think to go back to a word five times would be a really hard word. You are looking at learning one word maybe five minutes. Whereas to learn a word through rote memorization is it going to take longer than five minutes? Probably. If you keep forgetting it. When you break it down, I reckon maximum one word from start to being right in your memory would take five minutes from start to finish.
Anthony: People are going to think that I’m paying you to say this.
Anthony: That’s basically what my experience is. I was talking with this girl on Skype, and she basically was I think making a kind of suggestion that I learn how to say husband and wife in Chinese if you know what I mean.
So I said all right teach what they are. It is 老公 lǎo gōng for husband and 老婆 lǎopó and my tones may not be correct there. I kind of hope that she was suggesting something there. I just said okay, you know how I’m going to do this. I’ll tell you Laozi who is like a famous figure in the history of philosophy and so forth. He is hitting a gong. He’s right here at this corner of this room and then he’s kissing a girl on the butt for 老婆 lǎopó. You may not know this yet, but “po” is German slang for butt. So he’s just kissing her on the “po – poa.” And know there’s a kangaroo there who is punching because that’s my mnemonic for the rising tone.
Then I just visited it a couple times. She said I’m going to ask you a month later if you still remember that. I’m just like no problem. I just memorize it a few times. I take every opportunity that I can to tell people what husband and wife is in Chinese to reinforce it. With my speaking partner I put it in sentences. She totally butchered me and it was like no that is not how you would say it in a sentence. Here is how you say it in a sentence.
The point being is that I have established that probably for the rest of my life those words are never going to go away because of visiting it maybe five or six times, I don’t remember, but then making an actual effort to go and say it and to try to put it in a sentence and make it part of your life and then you’ve got it.
John: To me, I’m finding the tenses harder because there’s more moving parts. You’re putting them in structural format. But again that’s just drilling. If you can take one word, like one verb and go through all those tenses with one verb, then you’re going to know that verb. To learn just words on their own, the lifespan of starting it to having it in your memory I reckon five minutes.
Anthony: Yeah, I agree. There are certainly some words that are a bit more challenging. What I find, and you’ve already touched upon it, is to limit the amount of time. Like when I’m going through Pimsleur, sometimes I’ll hit a point where they’re bridging from one set of words to another set of words. If I happen to hit that change over in the middle of a session, then it will get a bit overwhelming. Because now all of a sudden you are shifting gears and so the words for “let’s have dinner at your place” then you start going to the words for money and amounts, then you have to scale back and take the amounts and the numbers on a different day altogether. That, I find for me, can get a bit too much.
It is just amazing to me how much you can do in such a little period of time. Then you reinforce it with speaking.
How do you find it speaking in German? You’ve already touched upon it, but do people help you out, correct you?
Method Number Twelve:
Practice What You’ve Memorized
Out In The World
What I find is that there is no such thing as German. I’ll get in a taxi in this neighborhood and the guy will speak to me completely different than if I’m in a taxi that I get in in Schöneberg. You just start to develop a skill for decoding what that must mean. This new pronunciation and this new slang and this new keitzdeutsch and this new regional dialect whatever the case may be.
John: I’m in no way real fluent in German. I start the integration course on Monday starting at B1. I’ll be doing five hours a day, five days a week.
Anthony: Mine was four hours.
John: Four hours a day, 1:00 to 5:00, four hours a day, five days a week for about three months. I’m really looking forward to pushing a bit more and really talking every day like that.
Going around and out and about asking for stuff, I usually do, especially in the East as well, because obviously back in the day people weren’t brought up learning English like they probably were in West Berlin. I find when I have to do things, like I had to get my driver’s license and the people don’t speak English, or I had to go to the hospital one day and you quite often find that people aren’t speaking English. They might know real basic English, but they won’t speak English to you. In that sense, I can get around. I have to ask them to speak to me slower. Mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut, können Sie mir langsam sprechen. They will speak slow and dumb it down a bit and I’m like yeah, yeah. I can understand. I can talk back.
As I said, busting into the middle of a real technical conversation, I’m not going to be doing that at all, but just getting around is sweet. The other thing as well is trying to decode what people are telling you. A prime example. I’ll always use German when I go out. I won’t resort to using English because I want to do it German because I’m in Germany. I asked if there was any pizzas or something like the frozen pizzas. Honestly what came back to me was just (incomprehensible) but I heard Vorne and Kasse. Those two words. I was like sweet.
Anthony: They’re up the front by the cash register.
John: Yeah, that’s really how most of it works is that you pick up. When you’re learning, I guess when you start learning through a teacher and if you start reading, like when you’re reading books, you come across so much of the common vocabulary that once you build enough of that up, you can pick up those when people are talking to you. They are kind of like the anchor points of a sentence you know that when people say that you’re like yeah.
I’m definitely not at the stage where I can translate like boom and instantly narrow down to the fine point of what they’ve told me but I’ll hear enough words and be able to decode it quick enough to actually know what they’ve told me. Sometimes you know, I’ll walk in the wrong direction. And they’re like no, no.
Anthony: I should say though, for people who don’t know the course system. You’re being a bit modest because starting at B1 is actually quite something. So that you’ve developed this on your own to start at B1. Because I didn’t get in that B1. I had to start at A1. So there’s A1 and A2 and then B1. I did half of B1 before my program was over. I got into it relatively quickly but nonetheless the fact that you’re starting at B1, and what I’ve heard when we’ve talked German it’s pretty impressive.
Anthony: I just wanted to let people know because I don’t think that they use that in North America and the audience is primarily North American for this podcast. Just what B2 means as opposed to A1. Basically there is three levels, A, B and C and you’re just under halfway there. Once you’re done B1 you’re under half way there. That’s interesting and good and great. You are also a musician.
Method Number Thirteen:
Apply The Techniques To More
Than One Area Of Interest
Anthony: And this to me is absolutely fascinating because today you told me something that I think cracks the code that I have been trying to figure out and so maybe say a little bit about that. Because we have talked about how you are a systemic thinker and you showed this chart that you made to help you be able to do rhythms.
John: The sequencer.
Anthony: Later you had something also for notes that was a similar chart that had to do with scales.
John: I just came up with those charts. That’s too hard to explain on this if you’re not a musician. Just from sequencing drums and using a sequencer. I’m a guitarist first and foremost. I don’t produce electronic music. I play heavy metal. In order to get drums because I pretty much haven’t got a band or anything, I’ve had to learn how to create drum beats from using a sequencer program and programing them.
I’m not someone who learned to read music. I wanted to come up with a way that I could write music without having a computer or without having my guitar with me. I came up with different charts. I’ve got one for like arrangements where I can write about what I’m feeling. Because a lot of it comes through like either a beat or some kind of feeling you’re wanting. Is it going to be fast and slamming or is it going to be a bit more subtle. Because it is tension and release. You can kind of write notes.
I’ve got a chart where I can write in English about certain aspects of the song. I’ve got a chart for writing drum beats. It’s just kick, snare, hi-hat where I can just like on a computer where I would put in a kick. I can just write it out with a marker and I will know the beat in my head. I can basically write out a beat and play it. There’s a song there. You can start writing a song.
Then the sequencer thing, I just went overboard. I had access to a laminator. I have them all so I can write on them with wipe off markers so I can keep reusing them. Instead of having a staff where you would write notes on, I thought well I’m more used to seeing a sequence window where you have the piano roll up the side. It’s keeping with the same divisions of the beat. Like the drum thing is that I showed you so I just basically wrote a grid where I can write melodies out using this. If I was to write it out I could go and then put it straight into the sequencer and hopefully it would sound like what I had in my head. I use the drumbeat thing quite a bit and try and come up with beats and then just play them on my hands and knees to try and get the feel. Other than that, that was just something I did and haven’t really touched back on that. When I start writing my next batch of songs I will probably go into doing that a bit more.
Anthony: About memorizing music, one of the things we had talked about is I was just telling you what I would consider a quick fix when I’m studying music which is just use the major method, and I think it’s relatively manageable for quick fixes and with four strings on the bass. I never have bothered doing this with the fifth string. I play five strings but in any case that approach was major method. Each fret has a number and then creating a word for each number. The E string is Ernie, A string is Al Pacino, D string is Dracula and the G string is Grover. If I needed to remember something on the 12th fret of the G string then it would be Grover getting a tan. Because in major method 1 is T or D, 2 is N so tan. It could be a ton of bricks was falling on his or whatever. Just so it has that TN sound. What you’ve done is going the distance as you’ve shown that you do. But explain that a little bit and you’re thinking behind it.
John: With the notes?
John: With the fretboard. I’m kind of going back I think memorizing music. I kind of sidestepped up there because this is kind of memorizing the notes on a fretboard. Not necessarily remembering music per se. I found when I first started playing guitar, the way I memorized, I’m definitely not a savant or those dudes who can imagine the music really clearly in their head. I can imagine certain things in my head but I definitely couldn’t write it down. I don’t have that real good ability to instantly play what I hear. But as far as like basic rhythms and things like that, I can imagine songs in my head.
When I first started, probably even before I even started playing the thing that really helped me was learning the lyrics to songs. This obviously only works with songs that have lyrics. It wasn’t something I thought about. I would listen to music when you used to buy CDs and then used to sit there and you’d listen to it and you would just read along and I’d just learn lyrics to songs that I really liked. What I’d do I would just run through my head. Smells Like Team Spirit was the big one. I’d already know the lyrics so I would sing these in my head and then instead of just doing bits and pieces and I would just try and do the whole song. Again, I’m only talking from my own experience. I don’t know how easy that is for other people or if it’s simple or if it’s really hard. This is something I did and used to do whenever I was bored.
Method Number Fourteen:
Practice The Art Of Concentration
One time we went on this school trip. We were camping when I was 15, and I was really tired and just trying to put my mind somewhere else and I imagined the whole Never Mind album from start to finish. From Smells Like Team Spirit to Something in the Way. I played the whole thing in my head because I knew all the lyrics. I guess it’s just concentration. I used to do it with Jimmy Hendrix. I remember like Purple Haze. It is how I used to put myself to sleep. I would imagine the songs in my head. Once the lyrics kick in you kind of just imagine singing them out. I found that real invaluable. I think that was a real good skill that helped me a lot with learning structures of songs and I just think that was a really valuable thing to do.
As far as what we’re doing here, the notes on the fretboard. There is so much stuff in music that is rote memorization especially once you start getting into theory and stuff like that. Again, I’ve just learned so much of it through rote memorization. One thing, and it’s probably a divided line between guitarists. You don’t need to know the notes on the fretboard but I’m sure the virtuoso players probably beg to differ. I want to be able to play really well. I’ve tried to learn the notes on the fretboard and it’s hard.
Just like rote drilling and even doing things like playing the scales and trying to learn them through playing scales and stuff. I thought there must be some way to learn music with mnemonics. Like this kind of stuff. Again, just after meeting you and talking about it, it kind of fires up those things and you start thinking. I thought well if I can at least understand the fretboard.
A little backstory. If you are a musician you might understand that, pianists learn to sight read and the reason it’s good for pianists is because there’s only one way to play a note on a piano. You might get like E at different times on a keyboard, but they are different pitches. They vibrate slower. On a guitar you can have that same E like three times, that exact same pitch three times on the fretboard. So it’s like a more three-dimensional instrument.
Because of this, guitarists seem to be very visual and a lot of time it comes from playing patterns of these things. But, you can’t escape it. The guitar is a visual thing. What happens is you end up with all these different scales. On a piano, a scale has a certain sequence of notes to it but it’s that same kind of sequence: tone, tone, semitone, tone if you are playing the major scale.
Whereas guitar can work like that if you’re playing along one string. But once you start going across the fretboard, across the strings, it’s still if you’re playing the scale one note after the other, it’s still that, but if you’re playing three notes per string, every three notes your breaking that pattern and you have to have it on the next string. I kind of started with that before I got onto learning the notes.
I thought everything is based from learning the notes. I thought if I could learn the notes of the fretboard using mnemonics, the next thing would be, and I’ve already started thinking about it, I haven’t put anything to paper yet, the next thing would be learning the scales, the different three note per string scale patterns. Once you know them, if you know what I’m talking about, it is kind of like you can go up, down and across. Once you learn them. They all kind of fit into each other really nicely. I’ve kind of started on an idea for using that.
Then on top of that, I thought well if you can go there, then you can start learning the triads. Which is the next set of kind of like shapes that would sit on top of all of that. I think if you can do those three things using mnemonics, you would have a very good visual representation of the fretboard that you can imagine really well in your head instead of just being arbitrary dots on a fretboard.
My first thing was well the foundation would be learning the notes. It is going to be hard to learn all these other things if you don’t actually have the map of the fretboard and at the very basic the map is the notes of the fretboard. It really is just an extension of the Magnetic Memory Method. I’ve used one whole building. From the nut of the guitar to the 11th fret, so it is twelve different stations in this one big building.
If you can’t think of a big building, I think you could probably cut it after the 5th fret. You could go from the nut to 5 and then 6 to 11 you could probably have two palaces that could take up those parts and then if you really can’t find buildings that’re big enough for that, you’d probably be able to do it into fours. Like from the nut to the 2rd fret. From the 3th fret to the 4th fret. Kind of that.
But I basically chose one big building because it was big enough and I had a good enough memory of it. It was an old tavern we used to own, my family. For anyone, that doesn’t know the guitar, once you get to the 12th fret, it’s just the same. It’s the same as from the nut to the 11th fret. So I don’t really worry about that. All I’ve done is I’ve basically created twelve different stations inside this one palace and they represent each fret on a guitar.
So at the nut, I’ll just read it out. It’s the bottle store that is downstairs in this tavern. I’ve got the corner window by the spirits. The beer chiller, the shop counter, the front office and the wine area. I’ve got some kind of mnemonics in here that probably aren’t real appropriate for a podcast.
Anthony: You already forced me to put the explicit sign on this one.
John: I’ll try my best. This is at 5th fret. And my mnemonics are – this is the dining area next to the kitchen. I have the salad bar, the toilets, the window overlooking the car park, the table overlooking Caltex, and the cutlery station. What these are, at the salad bar that’s the bottom E string. So at the 5th fret at the bottom E string, at the toilets string five. The window looking at the car park is string four. The table is string three and the cutlery station is string two, and on a guitar the first string and the sixth string are the same. So I don’t bother putting a sixth micro station in there.
John: By the salad bar I’ve Ace Ventura just dishing up some salad. So that’s A. By the toilets I’ve Donald Duck walking in. These are basic mnemonics because I’m not trying to remember any information in them. It’s just to represent a note. I’ve Ace Ventura. Then I’ve got Donald Duck. Then I’ve got Gandolf overlooking the car park. I’ve Captain America sitting at the table with his shield eating food. Then I’ve got Elvis Presley by the cutlery station getting some forks. So with that you’ve got A, D, G, C, E and then A again. So that’s all your notes at the 5th fret on the guitar.
Anthony: Just so it’s clear for people, Captain America is C because of Captain.
John: That’s pretty basic. The only thing with music is that you have what are called enharmonic notes. What that means is it’s like the alphabet you have A to G: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, but in between those notes you can go A, A sharp. However, A sharp can also be B flat. That one pitch can represent either an A sharp or a B flat, then C sharp/D flat, and then between E and F it just goes E, F. Then F sharp/G flat, G sharp/A flat, A sharp/B flat, B, C, C sharp/D flat.
For the enharmonic things, I have two people or two characters usually battling each other. One example is at the second string of the 2nd fret C sharp/D flat and my mnemonic there is I have Cat Woman for C but I don’t have the Penguin, I have Danny DeVito as the Penguin in Batman Returns, and it’s by a freezer. So it’s interacting with the freezer there. He’s basically taking fish out, slipped up on the fish and the Cat Woman is trying to scratch him so he’s D flat and she’s C sharp. She’s got the sharp claws. She is in the dominate position trying to scratch him who is the sub-dominate position. I don’t know. Because he’s going down.
I have others. Like for example I’ve got for A sharp/B flat I’ve got Axl Rose with a switchblade for A sharp trying to slash up Bret Michaels from Poison. So it’s A sharp/B flat.
Anthony: Okay. So on A string you have C sharp/D flat like at the 4th fret if I’m correct.
Anthony: On the A string. Do you use the same characters on the E string where that appears?
John: No, every single note has its own character. Like at the 4th fret, I haven’t drilled this so like it takes me a little bit to fully remember. But if I remember right, C sharp/D flat I’ve got Dave Navarro going down on Carmen Electra.
Anthony: Now I’m never going to forget that.
John: C sharp, so C Carman Electra. Dave Navarro going down, D flat.
Anthony: Oh, so you even incorporate that.
Anthony: Nice, nice. Well, you know, it might be explicit but it’s not entirely unpleasant. Actually I don’t know. We’ll have to ask Dave Navarro what he thinks about that. Now let me see, Dave Navarro was the guy from Jane’s Addiction. I was just thinking about that. I was looking here at my roommate.
John: He was in Chili Peppers
Anthony: He was in Chili Peppers. But not that album. It was –
John: One Hot Minute.
Anthony: One Hot Minute. Man that was good. I really like his guitar playing. Anyway, I’m not going to forget that very soon. But that’s it. Right? What do you think about this whole topic of, because it’s one thing that scares a lot people off is that I don’t want my head filled with sex and violence.
John: You’re already thinking about it anyway. I mean the world is full of it man. You put on the news. This is not real violence. So what, Axl Rose is switch blading up Bret Michaels. It’s not that violent. They probably do it in real life.
Anthony: Well yeah, if you watch their You Tube videos where they are snipping at each other. They’re definitely not kind in real life at all.
John: No. It’s not real violence and it’s not stuff you wish upon people. But it does help you remember stuff.
Anthony: So take it into practice. Let’s say that you manage to use mnemonics to accomplish all these three levels that you talked about, how do you think that that’s going to translate into playing ability in the short and long term?
John: It’s hard to really know at the moment. I know it’s really important to understand. Like I don’t really use notes so much. I don’t sit there going this A. If I’m coming up with a solo or even trying to improvise on something you have your go to patterns. It is really pattern based. You try and use your ear as much as possible.
My forte really is writing music. I can improvise somewhat over like backing and stuff and kind of like jam over stuff. But there’s so many layers involved. It’s like mnemonics aren’t probably the be all or end all. I think the best things mnemonics would work for when trying to memorize music would be trying to memorize the theory. Like if you’re trying to memorize all the key signatures and stuff like that. Obviously trying the memorize the notes on the fretboard.
I’ve still got to drill that. I basically have just written this out and haven’t really come back to it. But knowing the scales. In particular I’m talking about three-note per string scales. There is already the cage system which if you’re a guitarist you might know what that is. Playing pentatonic scales like in those box positions I kind of find it all right but for the kind of stuff that I like to do, that metal kind of lead playing, I like three-note per string a lot better because you can go across the neck and then across the strings.
Method Number Fifteen:
Combine Acronyms With Imagery
It’s really hard to explain over just audio but they are like Lego pieces that really fit nicely together. I’ve already started thinking about mnemonics. With that stuff you’re just dealing with the diatonic system like you’re dealing with seven – well there’s six different patterns, two of them repeat. But you’re dealing with kind of like seven patterns that all lock together. For one pattern, people call them by the modes. They’ll call this one pattern maybe like the Phrygian mode where the one and the second note are like right next each other. You’ve got that flattend second while technically the context will define what mode it is, but as far as recognizing these patterns people will name them like Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Mixolydian, Locrian.
There’s another thing I’ve made a mnemonic for IDPLMAL. That was my mnemonic for remembering the order of the modes. So basically the Phrygian shape, know Phrygian is context not necessarily the shape. It’s not a shape at all but it’s a musical context, but that particular shape with the one before it, to me I’m kind of thinking the Phrygian one kind of looks like a snake. So I already know there’s going to be a snake for that pattern and then the one before that kind of like to me I imagine kind of like Bruce Lee doing a big kick like that with a straight leg. That big kind of flying kick. I kind of imagine him kicking the snake. That’s the first one I’ve only ever really thought about it.
The visualization thing is really important. If you’re memorizing pieces of music, you don’t necessarily need to know the scales you can really just go over where your fingers go. But if you’re trying to improvise then you really need to know these patterns and being able to connect your ear to them is even better. Being able to know and anticipate what is coming up.
I think if you can lay these scale patterns out and have a really good mental visualization in your head, you’re going to be able to go to them a lot quicker. Sure there’s different elements. You’re going to have to have good technique which is a physical thing that you have to practice. Mnemonics aren’t going to help there. But to be able to just go to these patterns really well through mnemonics it will be a lot better I think being able to remember mnemonics than just shapes.
Then on top of that the triads. I’ve always thought all the different versions and inversions of triads, I always thought that would be a really important thing to be able to visualize really well and even Joe Satriani even says it himself. He says a lot of people learn arpeggio shapes all over the guitar. He says it’s probably better to learn where all the three-note triads are because the arpeggios are all based around those anyway.
John: And so I think application wise if you can have a real instant grasp. If you can say you’ve got the scales and you’ve got the arpeggios down, you can just instantly in your head memorize and visualize where you’ve got to go and what shape you’re playing, that’s when knowing the notes will come in because that’s when you go I’ve got to play an A minor arpeggio in second inversion here. That’s when you’ll probably be able to holistically use all those three things together.
But I mean this is not tested or anything. As I said, I’ve only started with the notes and the next things will follow. I feel confident with it. I’ve always thought those three things together as far as good fretboard visualization to have a fully rounded visual comprehension of the guitar I’ve always thought those three things together would be very important. They are something that you can definitely do with and make it easier with mnemonics. You’ve just got to sit down and do it.
Anthony: Well that’s really what it comes down to. It is sitting down and doing it. I really want to thank you for all your insights and sharing your experience because it’s fantastic. Also for just leaping on the microphone with me to record an episode of the podcast.
John: Interrupting the drum session.
Anthony: Is it cool with you we’ll end this episode with one of your songs?
Anthony: The one that I was learning with you. Is that cool?
John: Yeah. Objective Decimation.
Anthony: It’s really great.
John: It’s brutal.
Anthony: It’s brutal. Actually it’s kind of funny we ended up doing a different project because I don’t want to have to memorize this song because it is so intense and detailed.
John: It’s a lot to learn.
Anthony: Not because I didn’t want to learn it. Actually what I wanted is for you to just tab it out for me.
John: I will once I finish recording the songs, I will tab my music out.
Method Number Sixteen:
Publicly Admit When You’re Just Being Lazy 😉
Anthony: Yeah, that’s really what my laziness was. Also I’m a bit tone deaf. So when I have to try and learn by ear. If it’s in standard E I can do it okay. Are you in C sharp or B.
John: Well it’s a transposed instrument I guess because my guitar is tuned half a step down. So I’m a half step from standard tuning. But I’m playing in – so it would be A flat minor but it switches. This is where the modal stuff comes in. If you go a fifth up from A you get E. It switches between A minor and E Phrygian dominant which is basically the same scale. If you play the A harmonic minor where you hit the raised 7th, and E Phrygian dominate you’re using exactly the same notes. It’s exactly the same. It’s just instead of A being your home base E becomes your home base. When it cranks into the chorus that’s when it switches.
A minor becomes the key, the home base for the key then. So it sounds a bit different, but it’s really E flat and A flat because I’m tuned half a step down.
Anthony: Well any case, down tuned makes it more of a challenge for my ear to pick out the differences. I always had that problem with The Outside. I was like come on, just tab it for me.
John: I will tab them. Once I finish. All my songs are written and I’ve got to re-record the guitars and do some work on the bass and then do the final mixing and kind of mastering of it. And then I’ll have them for my website. I’ll probably sort out something final for that. I’m still contemplating whether to charge or not. If I do it won’t be much. It took a lot of effort to do them but I kind of want to cross-pollinate with the Fretfury Guitar Tuition thing. Kind of like niche myself in that whole guitar tuition thing. Kind of niched in that hard rock metal kind of genre and then the music is the credibility to get people in and then I can kind of do all the other teaching based around that and so I will tab the songs out because I want to be able to put them on You Tube; my video is teaching people how to play my stuff. Then who knows. If they want to learn more then there might be some kind of membership deal. The idea is that I’d give all those songs away. Not the fully finished recorded songs, but backing tracks and have all the tabs and have all the stuff there and then the videos on You Tube so people can actually learn how to play all those things. That is the ultimate goal. They will be tabbed.
Anthony: I’m really looking forward to that on multiple levels. What’s your website? I’ll link to it.
John: Yeah the one if people want to go listen to music is www.firstincharge.com.
Anthony: We’ll link to that.
John: I’ve got another one. But there’s nothing really on it just yet.
Anthony: And you also have videos that walk people through some of your production techniques.
John: Yeah, First In Charge are some basic videos of just how I did the drums. How I did the bass. It’s all home recording and with technology these days you can get pretty good results from doing it. I just wanted to show that you can do it on a real tight budget. Everything is done on the cheap but at the moment I’m pretty happy with the results. I still have to re-record guitars but other than that, just very brief overviews. I don’t go in depth how to program drums because then you have got to learn how to play drums a little bit to understand the concept behind them. But just a walkthrough of the drums, bass guitars and vocals at the moment.
Anthony: Well it might be homemade but when I first heard it, it just sounds like totally in a studio so we’re gonna roll Objective Decimation. For everybody out there, and even you don’t like metal listen to it anyway because you’re about hear some super talented from John McPhedran and so thanks again for being on the show. Listen to this episode a couple times. Because this is just action packed with all kinds of stuff that you can get using no matter what language you’re listening to or what instrument you’re playing and tell us how that you did and until next time, keep magnetic.
This video features music John and I recorded together in Berlin based on my song, “Goin’ Down.”