Imagine: Memorization Techniques For Music, Part Seven

Imagine with music. Paper notes and hearts on a music sheet.

Part Seven – Imagine: Memorization Techniques

BY MEGHAN VANCE • April 22, 2024

This week, we’ll be looking at our final learning style to help us memorize music: imaginative. Imaginative techniques are particularly helpful when the music being memorized either has very little repetition (such as some through-composed music) or so much repetition that extra attention is needed to distinguish between sections (such as “theme and variations” songs). However, imaginative techniques aren’t only helpful for creating patterns and cues where none seem to exist. They can also help you create ideas that are personal, which can help you make your music both more memorable and more musical.


One way to think differently about your song is to imagine you are the teacher, and need to teach this song to a student. What ideas and techniques in the song would you say are the most important? Where are the hard spots that need the most focus? How would you break the song into sections? Dr. Enamul Hoque, in his article on memorization, writes that students who learn a song both as the student and as the teacher “learn it twice,” so imagining themselves as the teacher helps to “cement the concept into their brains.”

Three teen students imagine themselves as the teachers of a music class as a memorization technique.

    Use what you know about your song to imagine yourself in a setting. Try to use the title and what you know about the composer and era to help, but make sure the setting you imagine matches the ideas you hear in the music. Hoque recommends the “memory palace technique. This technique involves visualizing a familiar place…and then imagine items…around the place.” If you’re imagining yourself at the seaside, for example, maybe a section with big chords can be represented in your imagination by waves crashing into the rocks, and maybe a small staccato run is a little crab scurrying to safety.


    Hoque writes that “Studies show that if you connect an emotion to something that you want to remember, you will more likely be able to commit that information to your memory.” So, how does your music make you feel? Add this to your setting. Is your seaside setting a relaxing place, scary, or frantic and bustling? What is it in your setting that makes it feel that way? How can you convey these feelings through the aspects of your song?

    A romantic seaside view with footprints and a heart drawn in the sand. The view helps the student imagine a feeling to recreate in their music promoting good memorization and musicality.

    You can combine your imagined setting and emotion with a sequence of events to help you remember the sequence of ideas in your music. Paul Nowak, for Iris Reading, suggests imagining a journey: “It involves using a specific path to remember by associating landmarks in your path with an item you wish to retain.” So, as you walk along your beach, do you come across the rocks or the crab first?

    Rick Wormeli, for AMLE, takes this one step further by creating a dramatic story: “For example, if we had to memorize horse, candle, dictionary, cryptology, violin, and thunderstorm, we’d imagine riding a horse through a midnight thunderstorm that threatened to extinguish the candle flickering in the lantern we carried in one hand above the horse’s head. If it goes out, we won’t be able to find our way to the cryptologist’s home to give him the secret code dictionary that he needs to save the country.”

    Creating a story for your music is particularly effective, because you can make parallel connections between the tempos, moods, and destinations in your story with the tempos, moods, and destinations in your song. Try memorizing dynamics as different characters entering the scene. Young students may find it easier to imagine a story about animals than people. For example, they might choose a lion as the forte character, and a mouse for pianissimo. They might imagine a hare for fast passages, and a tortoise for slow passages.

    “Imagination” comes from the word “image.” Even though you’re creating images within your mind, this learning style is tied closely to visual styles. William R. Klemm, for The Journal Of Effective Teaching, writes that “Images should be based on vivid nouns, because nouns are concrete and easy to image.” However, it’s best to incorporate all five senses into your story. Can you smell the salt water at your beach, and hear the gulls, and feel the sand between your toes? Not only will your fives senses make your story more interesting, but Hoque writes that “Using as many of the five senses as possible when studying helps us use more parts of our brain and retain information better.”

    Stay tuned: in our next installment, we’ll be looking at post-memorization techniques: ways to strengthen your memory after you’ve already memorized your piece.