In Praise Of The Mnemonic Peg-System For Memorizing Lists

Image of a peg to illustrate a concept related to the mnemonic peg system

The Peg System is an alternative to the Method of Loci and the Memory Palace technique.

Or is it?

The reality is a Memory Palace is itself a collection of pegs. When people don’t realize this fact, they miss out on the power of both memory techniques.

Just so we’re on the same page, here’s a brief rundown of what a Peg System is and when you might want to use one:

The Peg System (sometimes called the pegword method) is just what it sounds like:

The exercise of “pegging” (or linking) one thing to another. It assumes that you know the first thing, so it’s just a matter of Magnetically connecting the next in your mind.

I’m going to be giving some examples of how this works, and I want you to follow along.

But here’s an important caveat:

Following my examples or the examples of any mnemonist is not the best way to learn memory techniques. As you read, treat these examples and demonstrations only. Immediately create your own images in your mind.

Only in this way will you be accomplishing two things:

1. Learning the link system
2. Exercising your imagination

Let’s get started.


How To Hang Information On A Number


Have a read through the following list of rhymes:

1 is a gun

2 is a shoe

3 is a bee

4 is a door

5 is a hive

6 is a stick

7 is heaven

8 is a gate

9 is a line

10 is Ben

11 is heaven

12 is a shelf

Etc. …

This number-rhyme technique is related to these other 3 powerful techniques for memorizing numbers.

How To Attach A Number-Rhyme Peg System To A Memory Palace

If you really think about it… wouldn’t it be easy to number each Magnetic Station in a Memory Palace and give it the rhyme peg you created?

Illustration of the Peg System with number rhymes attached to a Memory Palace
Illustration of the Peg System built into a Memory Palace

Notice in the image above how this works.

The couch serves as Magnetic Station #1 in the Memory Palace. The gun for the number rhyme is always there, always ready to be used for the purposes of elaborative encoding when you want to memorize something.

On Magnetic Station #2, you have the shoe and on Magnetic Station #3, a bee.

To make these associations clear to your brain, I recommend that you make your pegs concrete and specific.

For example, instead of a generic bee, think of the Jerry Seinfeld character in The Bee Movie. Instead of the idea of a shoe, think of your favorite shoes from high school and use those. Specificity makes everything in the world of mnemonics work better, even better than flashbulb memory.

What On Earth Is This Memory Technique Really All About?


To be clear:

This memory system is about mentally “hanging” one piece of information onto another. In this case, you are hanging a rhymed word onto something you already know and will probably never forget  (the numbers 1-12). You’re associating them.

There are some problems with the rhymes I just gave you, however.

Here’s the major issue:

Although all of the items that rhyme with the numbers (something that is in and of itself part of creating memorability), not all of the words I’ve given you are directly visible.

For example, what does heaven look like? Clouds? Angel wings? Fields of grass as shown in Gladiator as Maximus makes his way to Elysium?

Who can say?

And that lack of specificity can be a problem.

But not usually if you know your system and always use it … religiously.


Here is why:


What we’re going to do with these rhymes is use them to memorize more information.

For example, let’s say that you’re going to an important business meeting and you’ll be meeting twelve new people.

The 11th person you meet is named Ralph.

How are you going to associate Ralph with 11? Well, you could see him floating on a cloud (heaven).

Or you could see him with angel wings bursting from his back (heaven).

Or you could see him on the roof of the Sistine Chapel flirting with God’s finger (heaven).

The important thing is to be consistent.

And include wild, exaggerated action in a visual way. It’s great if you can make it absurd too. So instead of seeing wings bursting from Ralph’s back, you could have them bursting from his chest, perhaps even poking through the “Ralph” name tag on this chest.


A Concrete Alternative


Image of Evan Wilds, a fan of the peg mnemonic systemPersonally, I never use “heaven” for 11 the rare times I use the Peg System. It’s too abstract and vague and there are too many possibilities. I use my friend “Evan.” I’ve known him for years and can see what he looks like in my mind (he’s almost always got a goofy smile).

And if I were to meet a guy named Ralph and wanted to memorize him as part of a list of names, I would have him interacting with this new dude Ralph in a weird and interesting way.

Or better yet, I might include some other Ralph I already know to “peg” Ralph even deeper into the connective tissue of my mind.

For example, Ralph Macchio from The Karate Kid might show up and do some fancy footwork in a fight between Evan and my new business associate Ralph. It would be large, bright, vivid and filled with zany action.


Go One Step Further


To make this process truly Magnetic, you can add a Memory Palace component to your pegs.

In fact, as I suggested in this episode of the podcast, pegs are perfect for use within Memory Palaces as much as possible.


Because having a location increases your chances of recall and reduces that anxiety we were talking about.

Not only that, but you also use and strengthen your spatial memory.

And the more you do this, the more you’ll become a Memory Palace fanatic and get the massive results that only Memory Palaces make possible.


More On How To “Link” The Peg System With A Memory Palace


Let me leave you with three fuller examples from the list above, but this time with examples of names and how they could be memorized.

Again, make sure to come up with your own examples so that you can learn this method by doing instead of just running the examples through your mind.

Don’t make the mistake of hoping that they’ll work for you next time if you’ve only just read this over.

That’s activity.

Go for accomplishment.

1 is a gun.

Memory Palace station: My bed.

Target name: Kirsten.

Associative-imagery: My gun shoots a gun made from pillows and the curtains where Kirsten is standing.

Notice the similarity between “Kirsten” and “curtains” in terms of sound. This is the Principle of Compounding. Use it as much as you can.

2 is a shoe.

Memory Palace station: My desk.

Target name: Amir.

Amir plays a drum kit made of mirrors using shoes instead of drum sticks.

Notice the “mirror” contains the “mir’ sound of Amir. It is the most striking part of the name, so the image is centered on capturing that for decoding later.

3 is a bee.

Memory Palace station: The wall where my guitar rests.

Target name: Phil.

I see my other friend Phil swatting at a bee with my old philosophy textbook while my new associate Phil puts a filter on his camera lens before shooting the action.

Notice that I am using a friend I already have named Phil, plus a book of philosophy.

I also have Phil putting a differently spelled but similar sounding filter on his camera.

To some people, this compounding procedure might sound like overkill.

However, I recommend that you practice getting good at it. It will make the difference between memorizing material effectively just some of the time and all of the time.

And since I assume that you’re into mnemonics for total memory mastery, then you’re going to want to get started with the principle of compounding right away. You can do this even faster by developing an alternative approach to pegs called the PAO System.

For more on the Memory Palace technique and advanced ways to use it:

Magnetic Memory Method Free Memory Improvement Course


Further Magnetic Resources:

The Only 4 Memory Improvement Systems You Need

Peg System article on Wikipedia

Magnetic Memory Method Article on the Major Method

The Magnetic Memory Method Masterclass

Bruno Furst, who also taught a version of the peg system

The Original Email That Forms The Basis Of This Podcast Episode

Just in case you aren’t able to listen to the podcast, here is a copy of the original letter I received. If you’d like to write in and have a question addressed on the Magnetic Memory Method Podcast, please feel free to get in touch.

Associating in the void does work although I have to admit that your loci system for storing vocabulary may have two advantages:

  1. Having a location might improve fluency
  2. There is something very slightly superior seemingly to the loci system versus the peg system for example.

I would like to expand a little on number two. I had used the peg system for 30 years before I started using the loci system. Once I started using the loci system I began to notice that there are actually two separate associations one makes with the loci system as contrasted with peg system.

One is the interaction with the item stored there at the locus. The other is the visual image of seeing the word one is trying to remember at the locus with no real interaction except visually being there. With the peg system in contrast there is only the interaction between the word one is trying to store in memory and the peg word for the numeral.

So in conclusion I think that loci system involves an extra association with essentially two chances to recall the word or image whereas the peg system only involves the actual interaction between the peg and the word to be recalled.

Even so I would like to see the two systems compared experimentally. Keep in mind that the peg system could be used for language learning as well as simple list learning just as the loci system can.

6 Responses

  1. It really is a great idea. But if you add 10 items with 10 pegs in a palace and now when you go to the next palace wouldn’t it be confusing to use the same pegs again?

    1. Great question, Nandu.

      If you’ve used the peg system correctly so that the information gets into long term memory, there should be no confusion. (I’m referring here to Recall Rehearsal.)

      However, it’s not always a great idea to reuse them right away even if you have used them correctly to get info into long term memory.

      That is why one should consider the fact that having a wide variety of them is best.

      And the Memory Palace is the ultimate peg system, even if most people don’t think of it that way.

  2. So for example, the sink acts like a mini memory palace inside the much larger memory palace, right? Loved this Anthony.

    1. Thanks for checking this one out, James. Great to see you here.

      Yes, I sink can be a mini-Memory Palace inside of a bigger one.

      In some sense, that’s really what these Memory Palaces are:

      Squares of space inside of bigger squares. It’s a powerful way to think about it. 🙂

    1. I’m not aware of a game, nor would I advise using one.

      If nothing else, you could consider using print flash cards – a much more likely means of learning all your pegs speedily. This is because you would benefit from the haptic learning benefits that come from using the hands in a more dedicated manner.

      You could also base your pegs on the Major System. This would enable you to use logic and simply deduce what the pegs are until they have entered long term memory.

      This is how I memorized my 00-99 PAO pegs. It was very fast and they became permanent very quickly.

      Even better: For some of them, I have multiple pegs per letter and digit pair.

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Anthony Metivier is the founder of the Magnetic Memory Method, a systematic, 21st century approach to memorizing foreign language vocabulary, names, music, poetry and more in ways that are easy, elegant, effective and fun.

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