William Fitzpatrick - violin expert

The Violin Memory Graph

How to approach memory in violin playing

In this video, Prof. Fitzpatrick teaches you the secrets behind memorization in violin playing.

Released on August 4, 2021

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, and welcome to the exploration of graphs found in my series States of Playing. This particular graph is centered on memory. It goes from how we learn music to how we perform music. We can even begin to understand why we sometimes forget music, you know, have memory slips. I find it to be a useful graph, but I've learned that it does need a bit of explaining to completely understand its significance. And so, with that said, what exactly is memory?

Well, memory is the process that we use to acquire, retain, and later retrieve information that we use to perform. We can break the process down into three areas: encoding, storage, and retrieval. As encoding is the processing of the information to be entered, let's start there. So, we are looking at the piece of music for the absolute first time, beginning the learning process. Hmm, I should note that though we have five senses, seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting, we only use three, seeing, touching, and hearing, to gather the information, encode the information gained through our senses about the music we have started to learn, about the music we've started to play.

For us as violinists, this means that we are using these senses to begin our understanding of where we find the notes, fingerings, rhythms, and bowings. But this understanding is very superficial, as this information goes into our sensory memory, where it only stays for two or three seconds before heading on to our working memory. It is inside of our working memory that we hold on to this information, but we hold on to it only long enough to use it. You could say that it's here that we keep in mind anything we need to keep in mind while we're doing something, like when we are performing.

This leads us to the next step in this journey. It's here that we encode for storage all the information we have processed. This area in which it is stored is called our long-term memory. This area is unlike our working memory, as here, we can store information for extended periods of time. From here, we can begin our retrieval of the information stored and bring it back into our working memory, where we can then use it to perform.

This is the overview of the process, but it gets to be even more intriguing to me when we consider how we store the information in our long-term memory. The way in which we store those notes, fingerings, rhythms, bowings, phrase shapings, et cetera, will determine how well we are able to retrieve them, how well we are able to perform them in our working memory. So, how we encode or practice the information becomes the key to a great performance, as, just like I've said, this determines how well we will, how well we can access it, retrieve it from our long-term memory. You see, if we can't access the information when we try to retrieve it, we will have what we know of as a memory loss, that moment in a performance where everything goes blank, where you lose your place, have that horrible performance-threatening moment.

All right, then, to increase our ability to retrieve this information, we need to understand a bit about how this information is stored in our long-term memory. To begin with, it's stored in chunks, chunks of information. I remember I used to think that it was stored like a video, that when we performed, it was like playing back a video. But this is not true, as the chunked information that has been stored gets randomly retrieved into our working memory, and once there, put into the correct order so that we can perform. This has huge implications to me, as it has an impact on how we practice because, as I've said, it's through our practicing that we encode these chunks of information. So, to store the information, our notes, phrases, fingerings, rhythms, bowings, expressive shapes, dynamic explorations, you know, we need to break things down, break them down into these famous chunks.

So, when I consider the larger picture, I like to think of this process as an upside-down pyramid. What I mean by this is that we take the larger information and whittle it down more and more, refining it more and more, turning that information into chunks. It's these chunks that are then encoded or practiced into our long-term memory through, for example, repetitive practice methods. The better the information is identified and then practiced in, the easier it will be to retrieve, the easier it will be to perform.

So, by looking a bit closer at my graph, I think we have discovered a more detailed idea of this memory process and found out more about what this means to us as violinists. Knowing this should help us design and implement better practice methods. It should help us to be more creative with our practicing, and through this effort, design pathways that get as close as possible to achieving our goals.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Wieslawa Rzeszowska on August 6, 2021 @7:36 am PST
Comment: Excerpts from Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin
Arrangement for violin and piano by Joseph Makholm
-William, your workmanship is wonderful
How can I get violin and piano sheet music?
William - host, on August 6, 2021 @9:44 am PST
Hi! Am so pleased that you like it! Currently however the arrangement is not published. Will let you know when it becomes available!
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