Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How to Memorize (almost) Anything

I have always been good at memorizing things. Part of it, I think, is that memorizing begets memorizing. The more you do it, the more you're able.

My parents started us memorizing at an early age (formally, though I did it on my own even if I didn't mean to). I learned books, Bible passages (not just verses, but whole passages and later in life whole books of the Bible), songs both sung and played on piano. I've learned lines to plays, monologues and whole presentations. And as I've done it, I've perfected the craft. I can learn things quickly. Except one thing.

Latin. And basically anything in a language that isn't English.

In day to day life, this isn't a problem. Very rarely would I need to memorize something in another language as there would be no use for this. But I sing and when you sing you have to learn other languages. This has always been a struggle for me.

I noticed after having each of my kids that some of my memorizing brain cells seem to be missing. It's not that I can't memorize, but it takes longer. And those non-enlish cells seem to be nearly non-existent.

This struggle made itself known the most in the last couple of weeks. The choir I sing in is doing a big concert the end of June featuring music from movies. Some of the music we're singing is not in English. Some isn't even real words. This week I was supposed to have memorized O Fortuna from Carmina Burana by Carl Orff (technically an opera, but you will recognize this song from countless movies- and a beer commercial - so it gets to be featured). I love singing this song. However, it's a beast to memorize. None of the words are hard, but there is nothing repeated, except in words that end similar or are almost the same. I used to think I could memorize anything. This song may prove me wrong. At least this week.

But the title of this post says I'm going to teach you how to memorize (almost) anything. These are all my methods that I use for various memorizing. I use as many as necessary until it's mastered.

*Repetition - kind of a no brainer, but it does help

*Say it out loud - this helps because your brain retains things better when you say them/it hears them

*Say it with an accent - You have to make it stand out. Sometimes, if I'm getting tripped up on one word, I just say that word with an accent so I remember it.

*Sing it - make up a tune if you have to

*Make actions to go with the words - they do this with kids for a reason

*Learn it before you go to sleep and then re-learn it in the morning - your sleeping brain processes it and I think that's when it moves it into longer-range storage.

*Word association - I use this for learning terms (or other languages), what does the word (or meaning) remind you of? When I had to learn information about composer in school I would make up whole stories to go with the facts, usually that had nothing to do with what I was learning, sometimes tied into a song. The crazier the better.

*Write it out - Even better if you can write it out while listening to someone else say/sing it (off of a recording works well. If you don't have a recording, make one of yourself saying it)

*Look for patterns - any parts that repeat? When learning songs i find this to be the easiest. It might be something simple like, "you do this 3 times and then the notes go up, do it 3 more times and then the notes go down)

*Look at it on paper, lots - I have a near photographic memory. If the words/notes don't come from instinct, sometimes I just read them off of the inside of my brain.

*Start at the end - this is especially helpful with songs. If you start at the beginning and work to the end, the stuff at the end is a bit more shaky, meaning as you go on, the song becomes weaker. But if you learn a line at a time starting at the end and adding the line before it as you go, the piece will get stronger as you play/sing. It's always better to end on a good note!

*Teach it to someone else - somehow saying it/correcting someone else/listening to them etc. is what makes it stick in your brain. I'm sure I passed all my music history exams because Tim needed to hear everything from someone else I needed to say it.

*Change where you are physically (even sitting to standing) when learning similar parts that are easily confused. Then you can associate your surroundings/posture with that section

*Cue cards - Quiz yourself on what you know. Writing them out will also help with the memorizing

*Play a game - If I'm learning long passages or songs with a group I like the game where one person says a line and then the next person says the line and adds one on and so forth. Listening to everyone else say it will help you prepare.

*Especially for music, don't passively play/sing it - each time you look at it to practice be thinking of what you're saying (how will you remember that this line comes after that one), watching for patterns etc.

*Think about what makes sense - I know not everything we memorize makes perfect sense, especially when you get into poetry and such, but typically writers write in a way that makes sense. They tend to group similar thoughts together. So look for those patterns. Also, if you're memorizing something with a rhythm to it, words will often rhyme. This can help you to keep in mind.

*Rap it - especially good for learning rhythms in a song, but also good for getting a mouthful of words strung together. Put a beat to it (if there isn't already one) and rap it.

Okay, those are my tricks. Got any more? I have a song in latin that's only half memorized, I need some help.

Ps - For those reading this from my Rocky days. Yes, I used to have this song memorized, but remember how I said I could memorize quickly? Everything was stored in my very short term memory. None of it stuck. Boo.


  1. Good tips, Melanna. I did my best memorizing while jogging, walking or doing jumping jacks. I know for the song I memorized in Latin it was important to know the meaning of each word and mentally be aware of it while singing so I wasn't just saying sounds, but actual words like it was my language and I was conversing in it. Don't know if that helps? :)

  2. I agree with Olivia. It really helps to at least know the root meaning of the word you are trying to learn.
    When we memorize scripture in kids church, I put the verse on the board and then have the kids read it together with me, inserting actions where we can. Then I invite them one at a time to come up and choose a word to erase. After each erasure, we try it again with the missing word(s). By the time the words are all erased, they have it down pat (and so do I!).

  3. great tips I think I will have to remember to come back here . lol just kidding really great tips


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