Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could look at a piece of music once, instantly memorize the notes and then immediately start drilling it into muscle memory? The time you’d save using music mnemonics would be immense, and you’d experience much more pleasure learning music as a result.
Here’s the thing:
You Can Memorize Music!
But there’s a catch.
What I’m about to share is largely untested. I’ve completed some promising experiments, but haven’t completed the full Memory Palace for any single instrument. That means I haven’t used the approach I’ll describe for you to its fullest potential.
UPDATE: Since originally writing this post, I have made great strides. Here’s a run down of where things currently stand with how to memorize notes on a guitar:
I will keep exploring every nook and cranny of using mnemonics to remember music.
And when I’m satisfied, I’ll make a course about how you can use the method too.
In the meantime, the concepts are far too exciting not to share. They’re also so logical, coherent and mnemonically beautiful. It will be impossible for you not to grow in memory and mind if you choose to tinker with them.
And who knows? You might come up with a cool variation that winds up in the forthcoming book and video course!
Music Mnemonics: The Ground Rules
First off, we need to establish some ground rules and guiding principles for music mnemonics. When talking about memorizing music, we need to be specific about what kind of music and for what instrument.
Or, we need to focus on particular parts of music theory. To just throw around the term “music mnemonics” risks confusing everyone.
If we’re talking about musical terminology, that’s easy. Just treat the terms like you would any professional material, like you would using the second edition of How to Learn and Memorize Legal Terminology. Since numbers might be involved, go in prepared with the Major Method.
If you want to memorize notes on the staff, there are already well-established mnemonics for that. I don’t have much to add when it comes to Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge for the treble stave and FACE for the notes between the lines. You can find lots more mnemonics for music like these all over the net, but in truth …
You’re Always Better Coming Up
With Your Own Music Mnemonics
Why does this matter?
Because you’re on the Magnetic Memory Method website to master music mnemonics and other memory techniques. Not goof around with yet another crutch of limited, short-term value. You’re here to learn skills that will serve you for life and that means learning to make music mnemonics of your own.
Here’s how a thorough reading and re-reading of this material will help:
What I’m going to cover in this post is the memorization of the notes on the fretboard of stringed instruments like the guitar and the keys of a piano. This material is a demonstration of what is possible if you combine a number of Magnetic Memory Method elements and see your instrument as its own kind of Memory Palace.
To accomplish this, we need to know how to use instruments like guitars and pianos in terms of what note falls on which spatial position. I’ll make a few suggestions about chords, but beyond that, I cannot currently say much. There are a lot of aspects to music and what I’ve got for you is just a piece of the puzzle.
But Oh What A Piece!
Let’s look at guitar first. For some much earlier writing I put out on the topic, you might want to start with Memorize Bach On Bass. Or, just dive in.
The fretboard of the guitar is a field that can be expressed using coordinates. In this way, the fretboard shares characteristics with the chess board (something I believe this approach will also help with when it comes to memorizing chess moves).
For example, E appears several times in the fretboard.
A string, 7th fret
D string, 2nd fret
E string, 12th fret
There are several more appearances, including the open string noted and 12th fret positions on the E strings themselves. If we say that each open note is represented by 0, as it is in guitar tablature, then we can agree that each note has a numerically expressible geographical coordinates.
This May Be The Simplest Unused
Technique In All Of Music Learning
Next, let’s try and make each string more concrete.
For example, I play primarily 5-string bass, so my strings all have an associated character:
B = Bob (Played by Bill Murray in What About Bob?)
E = Ernie from Sesame Street
A = Al Pacino
D = Dracula (As played by Bela Lugosi)
G = Grover from Sesame Street
Coming up with these figures took approximately 2 minutes. Probably less, but I didn’t have a timer running. If you play any stringed instrument, be it a 4-stringed violin or a 21-string sitar, I recommend you name each string. It makes for great mental exercise.
Next, since you’re a clever fan of the Magnetic Memory Method, you already know the Major Method. You’re set to get started.
You’d Be Crazy Not To Have This Math
Memory Weapon In Your Arsenal
In case you don’t know the Major Method, here’s a simplified primer:
The idea is to link consonants with numbers. Like this:
0 = soft c or s
1 = d or t
2 = n
3 = m
4 = r
5 = l
6 = ch, g, j, sh
7 = k
8 = f or v
9 = b or p
From this point, you can make words when you pair two numbers together by inserting a vowel. The vowel you use is largely arbitrary, but the trick is to find a word that represents a concrete person or object that exists in the world.
For example, we know that E appears in the 7th fret of the A string. Since 7 is a solo number, let’s call it 07. That gives us “s” and “k” using the Major Method.
The first thing that came to mind for me is the word “sack.”
Since the A string itself is represented by Al Pacino, having him do something with a sack tells us instantly that our target information is located on the 7th fret of the A string.
All we need now is a sign to tell us that the note on that fret is E.
Since we’ve already established that open E is Ernie, we can use him in the image. Therefore, the image of Al Pacino placing a bag over Ernie’s head to strangle him let’s us instantly decode the following information:
The 7th fret in the A string is E.
To take another quick example, E on the 12th fret of the E string itself could have the image of Ernie getting a “tan” from a “ton” of “tuna.” It’s bizarre and makes no sense, but is easy to remember. I’m compounding 3 words that have “t” and “n” to create words that mean 12 in the Major Method.
E on the 2nd fret of the D string is 02, which lets us imagine Dracula pushing the “sun” into Ernie’s face, again using the corresponding number-sound associations from the Major Method to create this word.
In sum, where E appears on the fretboard, we can instantly know where it is by having a predetermined system that links:
A string Bridging Figure with a note Bridging Figure to a sound-number spatial co-ordinate.
If for some reason you needed to play E in these three positions and wanted to instantly remember that order, all you’d need to do is experience either visually or conceptually a story in your mind:
Al Pacino pops a sack over Ernie’s head, but he escaped to get tanned by a ton of tuna before Dracula shoves the sun in his face.
It’s A Mouthful To Explain …
But This Technique Sure Packs A Punch!
If you had a character for each note, a character for each string and the Major Method, you could memorize the sequence of any riff, solo, scale or notes in a chord.
But There’s A Problem!
What if your instrument isn’t tuned in E or you change tunings often?
I’ll admit that I don’t have a solution for this, but I’m working on it. If you’re set in C, B, or any other note, then you can create this system using the core principles you’ve just learned.
When it comes to changing tunings ranging from a single string to placing them all in different tunings (in The Outside we played in C#), you at least have fixed relations to rely upon.
For example, if your E string is in C#, the first fret on that string will be D. You can name your string Bridging Figures and still use the Major Method and your objects or actions accordingly relative to the position of the notes in the tuning environment.
Another music mnemonics idea I’m developing involves the frets as columns.
For example, we’ve seen the 7th fret involve a sack, the 12th tanning and tuna by the ton, and the 2nd the sun.
What if these fret Bridging Figures represented those frets for each string? The 2nd fret A note on the G string also involves the sun (Grover pulling the sun out of Al Pacino’s nose.) The D on the 7th fret of the G also includes a sack (Grover putting a sack over Dracula’s head).
By operating in this way, you drastically cut down on the number of images and actions you would need to create music mnemonics for the entire fretboard. You also create a lot of repetition that could initially create confusion, however. You just need to dive in, experiment and see what works best for you.
How To Apply The Major Method To Memorizing Piano
In a similar vein, to get a similar spatial representation on the piano keyboard, you need only give each key a number. To make a word for each, simply assign a zero to each single digit, giving you nine words that start with s. Mine are:
01 = Sad tragedy face
02 = Sun
03 = Sammich (White trash pronunciation of “sandwich”)
04 = Sartre (the French existentialist philosopher)
05 = Sal (character from Dog Day Afternoon)
06 = Sash
07 = Sack
08 = Savi (friend from university)
09 = Saab car covered in Maple Syrup
I haven’t done all the keys on the piano keyboard, but assuming I owned an 88 hammer Grand Piano, the 88th key might be the singer of Voivod or a Volvo. In each case, there’s an extra consonant, but this would never lead to confusion because the piano I own would never have more than 88 keys.
The cool thing here is that you’ll always know not just where Middle C is, but also its number. And you’ll be able to create a story to memorize any chord, which can also be used to help remember scales and useful for many other applications.
The One Step With Music Mnemonics Nearly Everyone Forgets
The tools you’ve just learned are exciting and will be game-changing for any musician who wants to learn them. You just need to sit down and do the preparatory assigning of the notes and numbers.
However, in order to get the fullest possible benefit, you need to also rehearse the assignments you make in your mind with the instrument in hand. Then, when you look at sheet music and make up a story, you can quickly “translate” that story into practice.
Following these steps will get the notes into long-term memory the fastest. In fact, you should not expect to or even desire to play music from the Memory Palace you’ve made of your instrument.
The sole purpose of this music mnemonics technique?
It’s a tool. You can use it for drilling the scales, music theory material and song passages into long-term memory for performance.
It’s a tool for making any piece of music part of you in ways that go beyond just recall and music muscle memory.
This should be your goal for language learning too, which I mention because language learning and music learning share many similarities. That’s true even if you use something like Gabriel Wyner’s Fluent Forever App.
When it comes to spoken fluency, the number one mistake people make: is thinking that they need to go into their Memory Palaces to find imagery and decode words on the fly during conversations.
This is not the case at all!
Rather, you use the Magnetic Memory Method learning process for Recall Rehearsal.
Recall Rehearsal means mentally revisiting the information a sufficient number of times to get the information into long-term memory.
So whether it’s foreign language words in a sentence or notes and chords in a musical phrase, use the mnemonics to drill the sequences into the muscle memory of your tongue or fingers. Even speed card memory pros take a long time reading the sequences they’ve memorized in their mind, far longer than it took to memorize the cards themselves.
When it comes to music, you’ve got to play it in real-time according to an established construct of time. The tools you’ve just learned will help, but must be used in the service of placing the music so it ultimately comes from your body an soul with minimal involvement of your memory and your mind.
Moving forward, I’ve ordered Dean Vaughn’s Vaughn Cube for Music Theory.
I’m a fan of Vaughn’s book, How to Remember Anything: The Proven Total Memory Retention System. However, after using his fixed, 10-station Memory Palace approach a few dozen times, I don’t find it as clean or practical as his work suggests and continue to prefer the flexibility of the Magnetic Memory Method. It’s possible, however, that his approach to music mnemonics will give me insight into:
* Better incorporating sharps and flats in the current method I’m developing. At the moment, I don’t see this as a pressing need because I already know a sufficient amount about music. But it would be helpful for others to have music mnemonics and other strategies for memorizing which notes take sharps and flats and where they reside on the fret and keyboards.
* Memorizing relative and minor keys quickly and permanently.
* Recall triads in major, minor, diminished and augmented forms for any note at will.
* Handle chord permutations with ease.
* Complete mastery of all the scales in every key.
* And much, much more!
In the meantime, are you ready to give the current state of this exciting new branch of the Magnetic Memory Method a whirl?
If so – Awesome! I’m excited to hear what you think about this approach to music mnemonics and look forward to your feedback on this preliminary description.
P.S. Gracious acknowledgment is due to John McPhedrine with whom I’ve had many discussions about this approach to remembering different aspects of music using music mnemonics. This write-up is also dedicated to Jonathan Levi who has been pleasing the world with multiple instruments lately. Have fun!