Learning music versus memorizing it: Two memory systems in us
Date: June 26, 2011
We human beings have two memory systems in us, each with different but overlapping neurochemical circuitry. In the published neuropsychobiological literature, each system is referred to with two different labels.
The declarative memory system and the explicit memory system are two different terms that refer to the same memory phenomena. This system is activated by experiences that occur within conscious awareness so that language can be used to represent it and talk about it (thus, it's declarative). The memory and learning that are formed and consolidated can include experiences in which sensory, motor, cognitive, and emotional processing can be, and usually are involved, and these types of experiences also include deliberate, effortful memorization of language/musical 'information.'
The procedural memory system and the implicit memory system also are two different terms that refer to the same memory phenomena. This system is almost always activated outside conscious awareness. The memory and learning that are formed and consolidated also include experiences in which sensory, motor, cognitive, and emotional processing are involved, but...the main difference is that the learning happens without conscious awareness so that language canot be employed to discuss it until the learning is brought into conscious awareness.
A hugely important feature of these memory phenomena is that the two systems commonly function simultaneously. So, how can this science-based information be used in the practical world of singing in choirs?
Learning a new piece of music:
(1) Experience the whole piece of music from beginning to end (sight-singing or listening to a recording of it and then begin rehearsing it).
(2) Examine collaboratively what the words and music are expressing about human beings or the 'human condition' (celebration, remembrance, emotional reactions to a situation or an event, etc.) to create memory 'tags.' The singers need to be looking closely at the words and music.
(3) After about the first three times singing through a portion of a piece (or the whole piece if choir members are adept at sight-singing), then ask the singers to do an "...experiment, just to find out what happens. Close your music and let's find out how far you can get without it. Just for the fun of it."
Most of the time, singers will be surprised at how much they remembered. [You've already figured out what happens during the 'experiment,' right?
Help them 'get off the book' ASAP by helping them learn the music. I have ceased and desisted using the words "memorize," "memorization," "sing from memory," etc. [Wonder why? Can you figure it out for yourself?]
Another hugely important feature of these memory phenomena is that memory consolidation can and does happen during sleep. Items numbered 1) and 4) in Joshua Bronfman's previous post have been researched scientifically and shown to be 'real' effects of sleep. Naps after learning also have been researched with the same results...greater memory consolidation during the sleep.