You Must Remember This…

I once debated with an intelligent and able amateur musician what I believed to be going on when I was playing from memory – which is most of the time. I claimed that I was playing by ear and monitoring accuracy with my memory. He claimed the opposite. Listening to Sergio della Sala’s talk at last year’s SLF I was interested to hear him suggest that our memories are not so much accessed as recreated and that the solidity of each memory is destabilised in the accessing.

As if there weren’t sufficient things to sustain the interest in memory as we know it, there is also the increasing phenomenon of outsourcing our memories to online and external data storage facilities – a kind of prosthetic memory. Dr. Susan Blackmore discussed the effect this trend might have on our memories last night on Radio 3’s Sunday FeatureRemember, Remember. One interesting application might be to help remove the distress caused by uncertainty in sufferers of dementia. You can listen again to the programme until Sunday 28th. Dr. Blackmore’s website also sports an article on the programme from the Radio Times

Returning to the memory monitors ear/ear monitors memory debate I’d say from, watching pupils over the years, that both processes are equally in evidence – although rarely in the same person.

3 thoughts on “You Must Remember This…”

  1. When I play folk tunes from memory it feels like it’s mostly muscle memory of where to stick my fingers! I have noticed recently, however, that the sounds that come out when I noodle around are not unexpected. I think I’ve heard the 12 or so notes that I play most often so many times now that I vaguely know what to expect. As that familiarity grows it feels like my recall of tunes is just beginning to shift from recall of finger placement to melody recall.

    I’m not quite sure what you mean by “memory” and “ear”. Does “ear” mean knowing the tune to hear in your head, and then having the facility to produce that tune on your instrument? And “memory” means recalling how you’ve played it in the past?

  2. Actually, Robert, I should be more specific about the latter here: memory does indeed mean recalling how I’ve payed it in the past – but also simply recalling the sound of it, if I’ve never played it in that key before – or perhaps at all.

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