Sunday, October 30, 2011

Music and memory
(How I overcame the 'beginner's blues' while learning the guitar)

Let me introduce you to my new friend, my sweet sounding acoustic guitar.
It was my third or fourth guitar class and I was nervous when my instructor asked me something like ‘what is the note on the third fret of the first string’? I would stutter something not-so-confidently but when I was asked to play the note I would do it right. It was kind of strange - I could play the note but I would get confused in remembering the names of the notes like "G", or "A" or "D". Later my instructor told me how important it is to ‘memorize’ everything in music. Since then I’ve been consciously making an effort to ‘work’ on my memory whenever I practice new lessons. Memory and recall are integral to learning any musical instrument. For me this was a new kinesthetic and psychomotor skill to practice: it needed a different set of sub-skills to remember, recall and reproduce a particular melody. Memorizing was a new challenge and often I would end up blaming my dependence on reminders, alerts on my mobile phone for remembering simple things and organizing and planning my time.

Later as I improved my performance and got appreciated for being a ‘fast learner’ by my instructor, I could memorize the notation for the latest lesson (a song) but I would forget the previous lessons. Perhaps it is ‘normal’ to do so, but then, I just didn’t want to give up. I started practising the old lessons along with the new ones and imposed more self-discipline in playing the song without looking at the notation – something like memory test. It was important for me to take this approach because of my love for the instrument and my firm resolve to continue learning, especially when, the experience of learning a musical instrument is simply out-of-the-world. Imagine the joy of performing for your own pleasure, pursuing your passion, especially when your favourite songs are based on this instrument and it was my long cherished dream to play the guitar. Of course, there are other aspects of learning like the amount of patience, the mood and the most critical – the time. I never faced a problem in handling them because of my interest and strong desire.

When I look back, I can still remember the lyrics of songs learnt several years ago and I can easily recall them and sing along. But, the same is not true of recent songs. Trying to understand the problem, I could figure out why ‘old’ lyrics are still so fresh in my mind while the ‘new’ ones just vanish, even from the short term memory. To a large extent this was because, earlier, I never depended on any gadgets, there was no technology (ready reference) that could retrieve the lyrics from the Internet or YouTube like we do today, for everything had to be written in book and mugged up. Perhaps this also had to do with the quality and emotional quotient of songs then and now. And most often I would play the song on the music system and take down the lyrics by pausing it and writing down in my music book. This was a good exercise in memorizing it and in the process, there was some activity for the brain that would otherwise get rusted.

While our phones are getting smarter, we are getting laid back. The pace at which technology is changing and our ease of adopting it, had made things very different. With the gadgets like smart phones and other handheld devices getting more and more sophisticated, we seem to be getting perpetually dependent on them for managing our lives. The convenience of technology claims its first casualty – our memory! Look at the way the virtual memory (on the hardware or on the Cloud) has ‘lightened’ our burden. We are happily storing most of our stuff and access them when needed. We need not remember any numbers, we need not calculate using our brains, we need not remember directions – for these are normal and basic things performed by a simple mobile phone. And for everything else we have Google. So, we don’t tax our brains and prefer to ‘live light’ as our lives are getting more virtual and less real.