How Effective Is Mental Practice for Memorizing New Pieces?

How Effective Is Mental Practice for Memorizing New Pieces?

Many well-known musicians have described using mental imagery to increase confidence, and hone and refine their skills over the years. There’s a lot of research support out there for imagery too, suggesting that mental practice can indeed be a useful supplement (though not replacement!) to your regular physical practice.

So…if visualization can help us increase the level and consistency of our motor skills away from our instruments, could it also help us memorize music away from our instruments?

I mean, intuitively, you’d think that the answer would be yes. But what does the research say?

Stressed, Anxious, and Feeling a Little Burned Out? Here’s How an “Awe Walk” Could Help.

Stressed, Anxious, and Feeling a Little Burned Out? Here’s How an “Awe Walk” Could Help.

Whether it’s handling election stress, Zoom fatigue, or just making it through that part of the semester where the end is in sight but you’re not sure how you’re going to get there, learning to manage our stress and emotional well-being is an essential, but often neglected skill. One that can not only help us avoid burnout and bonking, but help us become more mentally tough, bounce back from adversity, and optimize performance too.

That said, it can require a bit of a mental shift to give ourselves permission to really explore this, as our tendency is to put our heads down and power on through, even when this isn’t the most productive path forward.

So where should we start?

Well, there are a bunch of things one could do, but a couple weeks ago, I stumbled across a study about “awe walks.” I hadn’t heard this term before (though I had heard of sniffy walks for dogs), but it seemed kind of intriguing, and since I have to walk the dog every day anyway, thought maybe this might be a way to kill two birds with one stone (like, an awe sniffy walk? or sniffy awe walk?).

Umm, ok…but how is an awe walk different from your regular ordinary run-of-the-mill normal walk? Let’s take a closer look…

Bob Fisher: On How to Become Great at Something, and Setting Multiple World Records (at Age 50+)

A few years ago, thinking it wouldn’t hurt to get away from the computer now and again and be a little more active, I accompanied my son to his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class, and signed up for some classes myself. Needless to say, rolling around on the ground, getting crushed and choked by a bunch of bigger, stronger, faster guys (and gals), many of whom were half my age, was totally out of my comfort zone. So I spent the first year or so feeling totally incompetent, very insecure, and wondering why I was doing this to myself…

The experience was (and continues to be) very humbling, and made me much more empathetic to the experience of adult learners in music as well. Whether coming back to an instrument after decades away, or starting a new instrument in one’s 30’s, 50’s, or even 70’s, it can be tempting sometimes, to wonder if it’s truly possible for an old dog to learn new tricks.

I do think it is possible, of course, with the right sort of practice and instruction (even if we may not pick up these new tricks quite as quickly as we once did…).

But to get some more perspective on this, I thought it might be interesting to chat with someone whose efforts to hone their craft really only began in adulthood, rather than in childhood.

And as I think you’ll see in a moment, the lessons are pretty applicable to us all, regardless of age or level of experience. So whether you’re an adult learner looking to devote more time to music as you near retirement, or a high school student looking at auditioning for college this year, I hope you’ll take away some ideas that you can use to make your practice this week a little more engaging, enjoyable, and effective.