Twelve lines of text ought to be easy to learn – you’d think. But the first twelve lines of Ephesians chapter 3 – equating to the first seven verses – have proved very hard for my memory to retain.
Considering this, however, I remembered that when I was memorizing music more frequently, in the last couple of years, twelve bars of a fugue by J S Bach took me infinitely longer to get to grips with than twelve bars of a jazz-style piece by Christopher Norton. The Bach was much more complex, making it the equivalent of an abstract text, whereas the jazz piece, while enjoyable to learn, was more straightforward musically.
|Last part of a Bach Fugue|
Anyway, hacking away at the task of memorizing yesterday I gave myself some additional images to remember for the first three or four lines, since these were the ones that were particularly obstinate in terms of staying with me.
Then I managed to recite the lines backwards line by line. This made my brain claim it was going into overload, but I assured it that it wasn’t.
I still felt I needed something extra to hang onto.
In our kitchen, where I do most of my memorizing in the mornings, there’s a large clock that was given to my mother many years ago. It has no numbers; instead it has pictures of cats – twelve different ones. Originally, on the hour, a cat would meow, but we all got fed up with the awful sound and switched it off.
|A cat clock similar to ours|
Yesterday, I recited the twelve lines while working from the cat equivalent of one to twelve. And when I could do that, I went backwards, from twelve to one. The cats aren’t distinguishable enough for my brain to say something like: on the Persian sitting at four, I recite line four, or on the Manx sitting at nine I recite line nine. I just have to think in my head that I’m looking at a cat picture that represents the number four or nine and hopefully line four or nine is there, ready to be recited.
If this seems over the top, it isn’t. When it comes to memory, the brain prefers difficult to easy. Things learned easily tend to be forgotten far sooner than things that are learned with considerable effort.
The authors of the book Make it Stick talk about how a test was done on two groups of baseball players. One group was thrown the same kind of ball over and over – such as a curveball - and of course, they got better at it as time went on. In fact these were already top players, so getting better for them was a considerable achievement.
The second group was thrown a different kind of ball every time, and initially they fumbled and missed, hitting some and not others. But as time went on, even though they were thrown a different ball each time, overall they improved more than the other guys. With the first group, once their brains knew that they’d get a certain ball they relaxed, and didn’t continue to be alert to changes. The second group was continually alert because they didn’t know what they’d get, and so they improved in regard to all the balls that were thrown.
There’s something about the brain that delights in difficulty. If you want to memorise something, then make it harder for the brain, not easier.