Molly Gebrian: On Efficient, Reliable, and Evidence-Based Memorization Strategies for Musicians

I have to confess that I don’t remember a whole lot from my freshman year Music History 101 class (in my defense, it’s been a few years). But there is one thing that stuck. Why this thing in particular? Who knows, but the one thing I do remember, is that Franz Liszt invented the piano recital. And that he was the first pianist to perform a full concert from memory.

Meaning, this playing from memory tradition that we’ve become accustomed to and assume is normal, was not always a thing.

So if playing from memory makes you break out in a cold sweat, now you know who to blame. =)

Of course, shaking your fist at the portrait of Liszt on your practice room wall isn’t going to change much. But lucky for us, there is quite a bit of research out there on learning and memory nowadays. And the evidence suggests that memorization is a skill. As in, something we can get better and more efficient at – with a little bit of know-how, and some practice.
Molly Gebrian is a viola professor at the University of Arizona. So she has had to play from memory on many an occasion, of course, but is also uniquely qualified to talk about the science of memory, as she was a neuroscience major in college and remains an enthusiast of all things brain-related.

In this episode, we’ll explore:

-The three stages of memory, and why we need to emphasize each one, for successful memorization and recall
-Strategies for effective memory encoding
-Strategies for effective memory consolidation
-Strategies for effective memory retrieval
-The one “magic bullet” for practicing (if there was such a thing)
-The biggest mistake people make when it comes to memorization
-How much retrieval practice we need to do to make sure our memory is secure under pressure
-Two ways to protect against choking
-Molly explains the science behind my mom’s genius strategy for helping me memorize as a kid
-The three “streams” we need to have going simultaneously when performing from memory
-Why it’s a good idea to pay attention in theory class (for memorization)
-When is the best time to begin memorizing a piece
-Whether slow practice helps memory or not
-And a whole lot more!