The “Major Method” or “Major System” for memorizing numbers is not called “major” because most mnemonists use it (they do). It’s given this name because history has tended to attribute the memory technique to Major Beniowski.
For more on its history, check out this YouTube Playlist, Get Good at Remembering Numbers:
As discussed in that first video, we now know that an earlier version of the Major Method existed, one invented by Aimé Paris.
This French scholar, renowned for his approach to number memorization, earned the honorable title “professeur de mnemonique” from the Athenee University in Paris in the early 1800s.
In scientific literature, you’ll encounter terms like “phonetic mnemonic system” and “digit-consonant system.” These aren’t nearly as sexy as the “Major System,” so I recommend sticking with the term most people know.
I also recommended registering for my FREE Memory Improvement Kit and the free training videos that come along with it:
Regardless of its name, the Major Method works by associating numbers with sounds. Typically, each number is connected with a consonant. Most people use this pattern:
0 = soft c, s or z
1 = d, t
2 = n
3 = m
4 = r
5 = l
6 = ch, j or sh
7 = k
8 = f or v
9 = p
The next step is to combine the sounds you’ve made. For example, 22 could be “nun.” You simply add a vowel to the two letters to make a word.
Based on this principle, you can make a sound-word association with any number. This will help you memorize long digits, eventually equations, or even info related to Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies.
But let’s start simple:
Take 235, for example. There are different possibilities, but “animal” is the first thing that comes to my mind. What comes to yours?
Add A Memory Palace To The Major System
Memory Palace work technically belongs to the term, “method of loci.”
Personally, I think that term is outmoded. It’s cool, sure, but people often mispronounce “loci” and I tend to think that even a small confusion like this turns too many people away from a method they would try if they could only encounter it in English.
That’s why I always use the term “Memory Palace.”
There’s a lot to say about creating Memory Palaces, but in brief, these are mental constructs you build in your imagination. You base them on real locations.
Like your house.
Or your school.
Or your church, your favorite movie theater or restaurant.
The important thing is to create a mental journey through the Memory Palace that is clear and crisp so that you don’t have to think about it.
Just keep it simple.
The first time around, try to find 10 “stations” along your journey that you can come across in a linear manner. Do so without trapping yourself in the Memory Palace or crossing your own path.
Lots of reasons. For one thing, it costs mental energy if you’re crossing your own path.
And if you trap yourself, you can’t add more stations.
That sucks. You always want to be able to add more stations so that you can memorize more information.
(And for that matter, once you’ve built your first Memory Palace, build another. You can never have too many.)
There’s a lot more to the art of creating Memory Palaces, but these few basics will get you started.
Memorize Numbers Along The Memory Palace Journey
Now that you understand how to use the Major System to make images from the association of numbers with sounds (like “nun” or “animal”), it’s time to store those images so that you can recall those numbers at any time.
So let’s say that you want to remember the number “22235.” That could be “nun animal.”
And let’s say that you’ve got a Memory Palace that starts with your bedroom. (And it starts with your bedroom because this is the best place for the journey to begin in a way that lets you avoid trapping yourself and crossing your own path).
In order to make this number even more memorable now that we have a place to “stick” it …
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We Need To “Magnetize” The Imagery
How do we do that?
We turn it into imagery that is large and filled with zany action. Like how about having a nun attack a tiger? That would be pretty memorable, wouldn’t it?
Once you’ve done this, move to the next station in the Memory Palace and then memorize the next number.
Or perhaps it isn’t a number at all. Perhaps it’s a historical date that you need to associate with some information about certain political events. Like the Jay’s Treaty with Britain, or something like that.
By starting with that specific date (by now you can come up with a mnemonic image of your own), you’ll be able to “encode” the information in images and then revisit it whenever you want to “decode” it.
Pretty cool, right?
It is, and even works for memorizing music or even the zodiac. For these or any other purposes, please make sure that you also know …
How to Get Information Into Long Term Memory
This is important.
Although you will increase your ability to memorize this information greatly by not only creating a crazy image and sticking it in a Memory Palace, you can and should lock it down for the long haul.
You do this by revisiting the imagery several times.
It’s really easy. You’ve created a Memory Palace and you know exactly where to look for that tiger-attacking nun.
And if you’ve got ten pieces of information along that journey, it’s easy to travel it and decode each image. It’s almost like watching a movie.
I recommend that you revisit that journey and watch that movie you’ve created (making sure to decode the imagery and practice retrieving the information) at least 5 times the first day.
What To Do If You Have An Exam Coming Up
If you’ve got an exam coming up, I’d recall the numbers five times a day for a week and then at least 1-2 times a week thereafter. Do this for as long as you want to keep the imagery fresh and available.
It will probably still be there if you don’t perform this Magnetic Memory Method Recall Rehearsal, but you might have to fish around for it.
But if you’re serious about being able to recall the information, you’ll revisit it more than a few times to get it down cold. That’s just how the method of loci works best. Every good Memory Palace book stresses the same point.
And the best part is that you’ve done so without having to use index cards or any weird and boring stuff like that. The only time that it’s good to repeat information over and over again is when you’re using your imagination to do it. That makes both your memory and your imaginative abilities stronger and stronger.
Intermediate & Advanced Major System Techniques For Memorizing Numbers
Once you have the basics of the Major Method down, you might want to learn how to create a Person Action Object (PAO) or 00-99 system. For that, please check out The 3 Most Powerful Techniques For Memorizing Numbers.
These next-level techniques for memorizing numbers will then help you in other areas, such as human anatomy.
You can also think about using a Major System to help you memorize any book. Basically how it works is by having images for each page based on the page number.
For example, if you want to memorize a fact on page 75 of a book, you use an image built from the Major System to remember the location in the book. Then you use the page as the Memory Palace.
I did exactly this when I wanted to recall a point about episodic memory in Maps of Meaning. I turned 75 into John Cale and had him interacting with Freud and Shakespeare, who are related to memory science related to how we remember ancient wisdom.
Using The Major System For Memorizing Formulas
Yes, you can do that too in every area, ranging from chemistry to physics, biology to computer science. You can also apply the Major to speed math and becoming a mental calculator.
The trick is always to make sure that you have the systems in place so that you can rapidly encode either the numbers or the symbols that you see.
For even more advanced techniques related to numbers and equations you come across while reading, learn how to memorize a textbook next.
And remember: The more you learn, the more you can learn.
Thank you for stopping by and checking it out.
Do you think you’ll apply these techniques yourself?
Thanks. This is very interesting. I will surely try it out.
Great! I look forward to your progress updates along the way! 🙂
Any thoughts on numbers that repeat like 2226 how would you do that? Picturing 3 versions of Noah? I am new to this appreciate the insight.
Thanks for asking about this, Joe.
Yes, I would use a 00-99 PAO for this.
22 = Nun
26 = John Nash
Having an image for every 2-digit number from 00-99 allows you to “chunk” more than one number into a single image. This makes the process much faster.
You can also go for a 000-999 system or even a 0000-9999 or higher if you wish. But for most of us, a 00-99 is just fine.
If you want to stick with just the Major System on its own, then yes, an image with 3 swans or Noah would be fine. It’s not as refined as having a 00-99, though.
Please let me know if you have further questions. We might do a guided number course starting next week, so let me know if you’d like to be notified about that. 🙂
couldn’t a 0-9 PAO system maybe have a little easier application (and memorization) since it only requires you to memorize 30 images instead of 100 (or 300 for a PAO) but you could still work with 3 digit numbers at a time (which should work ok for math stuff right?), or even 9 digits with only 3 images, and most math (that’s not competitive that is) doesn’t seem to need much more then that.
I’m not sure what you mean by 0-9 requiring only 30 images, Casey. I don’t know, so by all means develop and test this system and explain it on a YouTube video if it works for you.
If it doesn’t, you might consider more training to avoid having an incomplete understanding of the teaching.
For example, you should never need to memorize your images if you’re creating the system correctly. The only thing that requires memorization is either the Major System or whatever alternative you’re using to encode the digits with consonants. All of the images from that point on our selected from existing mental content, thus eliminating the need to memorize anything.
Memorizing the Major is a small task, though I can appreciate why it feels like a big one. Developing the 00-99, however, is something that is not something that is ever complete. You can go on adding more and more possible solutions as you develop as a learner. It is something that lives, breathes and evolves.
I show how this works and my own process of evolving the 00-99 in the numbers course, which is part of the MMM Masterclass. There’s a full walkthrough.
After the system has been developed, it’s all just practice and evolution through practice after that. 🙂
well first i wanna mention, what i meant by 0-9 needing only 30 images was based on the PAO concept, 10-P, 10-A, & 10-O, that’s all.
that said, even if i work it out i don’t (& can’t) do youtube videos.
with that out of the way, i do think your right & I’m not getting something.
i seem to be stuck where the associations part is concerned. it seems no matter how hard i try i can’t seem to really come up with anything, i struggle big time.
i mean like, i can look at words, or numbers but i can’t think of anything, they don’t remind me of anything, & nothing comes to mind. i try to calm my mind and just let it flow (get out of its way as it were), but i can wind up sitting there for quite awhile and have nothing come to me (or anything i do think of takes a while & is generally quite week).
so i feel like I’m missing something.
i mean i can visualize ok, and i can make my way through a memory palace pretty well, i just don’t have anything to put in it (no material to work with).
i feel like this is a pretty big wall, since i can’t seem to learn anything any differently (faster or better) than i did before.
i mean, i know it works cause i can do it when people in videos give examples. I just can’t seem to make up my own stuff.
you see i grew up not really having much in the way of “interests” so i don’t seem to have much upstairs in the way of associations.
is there something i can do to boost association production? (so to speak)
i apologize for the lengthiness of this comment. i just figured there wouldn’t be anything you could do to help me unless you knew some of what was going on, and i SO appreciate your help (like you wouldn’t believe).
so thank you for everything you’ve already done for me, & thanks in advance for this one, & future inquiries. 🙂
You don’t actually have to make anything up. That’s the beauty of the system. I haven’t made up any of my 00-99 PAO and that’s why it’s so fast and effective to use.
Could you elaborate on the logic assigning the value pairs?
I don’t see how
0 is related to s? In anyway or
1 = t/d
2 = n
3 = m
4 = r….
Just memorizing this seems like a huge task.
Thanks in advance
Thanks for your question, Mauricio.
First, if the mind of the learner isn’t used to these techniques, it can seem like a lot of work. However, just about everyone looks back and wonders why they over though 10 simple associations was tough. They usually wish they had just gotten started sooner.
There may have been a logic to these associations in the beginning, but we don’t really know. It goes back to ancient India, however, and this version arose in France.
If you sound out d and t, you’ll notice that your tongue hits approximately the same part of your mouth. Likewise with some of the others where you have variations.
If you don’t like these choices, by all means change them around. Over the years, it seems to me that most people use this version though.
If you make a 10-station Memory Palace, you should be able to memorize these associations relatively quickly. After that, it’s just practice.
Does this answer help you out?
I’ve got the major system down and have made my list of 99. However the images for each number is not automatic yet
How would you setup a memory palace to rehearse those numbers until automatic?
Great that you’ve developed your system!
Technically, you don’t need a Memory Palace if you’ve used the Major. The string of numbers are themselves a kind of Memory Palace that allow you to use all of the Recall Rehearsal patterns central to the Magnetic Memory Method.
Enjoy this journey!
Could one try rhyming instead, or is it too inefficient? For example, one is sun, two is shoe, three is tree, etc. Even higher digits like thirty-one, dirty-bun, or shirty-fun!
This way, one could use sun, bun or gun (for one). And mix and match images freely and not get “bored’ or repetitive by always using gun (especially if you need to remember 11 22 33 etc).
But I think the downside to this approach is that you can’t easily mix images the way you can compress mnemonics with small sounds in the major system etc, because you can remix sounds into new words/combos, so it’s very compact and quick.
Your thoughts, meastro?!
Great thinking, Luc!
Yes, you can mix in all kinds of approaches and this is advisable when dealing with information that needs it.I will often compound in a few strategies at once.
One thing you can also do is use number systems for language learning. Normally, I use the alphabet, but if I get stuck, a glance at the consonants always suggests an image from the Major-based 00-99 PAO.
And adding in a rhyme can only make it more memorable.
Which techniques are helpful in learning a language? And how would it be best to implement them? Thank you!
The Memory Palace is tremendously helpful, along with the tools used inside of them. These are covered extensively on this site, along with other powerful techniques for learning languages faster.
Note that the Major can also be used for language learning. When I can’t find mnemonic associations using pegwords, I will use my Major System-derived 00-99 PAO to help come up with images.
This approach works great because the Major is based on consonants and we find them in all languages (at least all spoken languages I’m aware of).
Languages that are more vowel-heavy are a bit trickier, but you could modify how you use your number systems to compensate for a memory advantage.