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Gleason's Four Types of Musical Memory

Posted by Stev187 on Saturday, January 20, 2007

Four Types of Musical Memory
from Gleason's Method of Organ Playing

There are four types of memory which are used in music.  Three of these types, aural, visual, and motor memory depend on our senses or imagery.  The fourth, and most important type, is known as cognitive memory.  It is based on knowledge, and is the memory we use in the analytical study of the music.

The memorization of music requires the combination and collaboration of the four types of memory.  We all vary in our natural gifts and capacities, but all types of memory should be cultivated and improved.

Cognitive Memory

This memory is the basis of all study, from the time the piece is first practiced until it is performed from memory.  Every detail of the music should be analyzed technically and musically, and be consciously known.

Organize notes into patterns, groups, and phrases.  Note all sequences and variations from the sequential pattern.  Analyze harmonic progressions and relate them to each other.  Contrapuntal lines, rhythm, and interpretive factors are all part of analytical study.  Study the form and relate the details to the whole.

Aural Memory

This memory is useful in enabling us to hear mentally what the next note or choird is, and it strengthens the other types of memory.

The ability to hear accurately and retain what we hear should be developed until individual lines of the music can be played and sung without errors.  Eventually a whole composition can be "practised" by going through it and hearing the sound mentally.

Visual Memory

This type of memory gives us a mental image of the way the notes look on the printed page, or the place of the notes and the shape of each passage on the keyboard.

Visual memory may be developed by concentrating on a measure of music, consciously noting all its details, and then reproducing it from the mental image.

Gradually more measures can be added, and a mental image of whole phrases and sections can be retained.  Avoid using different editions of a composition during the learning process.

Motor Memory

This is one of the most useful and also the most dangerous types of musical memory.  Motor memory involves the touch sensations and training of the muscles so that the movements in playing become automatic.  They should, however, never be mechanical.

In developing motor memory, the same fingering and pedaling must always be used.  Avoid repeating phrases endlessly without thought or purpose.

Never depend on motor memory alone in memorizing a piece.  The slightest interruption in the automatic process will invevitably lead to a breakdown.

Gleason, Harold.  Method of Organ Playing, 5th Ed.  Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 53-54

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