Drum Corps International
The Fine art of memorization

The Fine art of memorization

by Drum Corps International


Emily Tannert
At this point in the drum corps season, most corps have held their third camps and pared the membership down. They've also announced their shows. What that means for you, the member, is that you've received a massive amount of music to learn: the warm-up and exercise program, two or three movements of the summer program, possibly a parade tune, and maybe even the corps song. In other words: a lot of music! And not only that, you've been told to have it all memorized by the next camp, or else. It's a daunting task, make no mistake, but -- as with everything -- there are some tactics you can use to make the task easier. The first is to get organized and set deadlines. Set out everything you have to have memorized, and decide what you'll have memorized by each deadline. Be realistic -- you may not be able to get all 11 minutes of the show down in a week! But you can probably memorize one movement of the show, plus a couple exercises or the parade tune, in a week. Keep a list of everything you have to memorize and cross things off as you get them done; this will help you stay focused. These tactics work for learning a lot music even if you don't have to memorize it. Don't forget to review everything in the week leading up to camp -- those exercises you memorized back in week one will likely need to be brushed up. The single biggest key to memorizing music is that you have to force yourself to do it. Most musicians become sheet music-dependant very early in the process of music education, and as long as we have music up on the stand in front of us, our eyes will inevitably slide over right before we get to that part we're not quite sure about. The tricky part about that, though, is that our brains imprint our mistakes to a much higher degree than it does our successes -- meaning that the best way to remember something the second time around is to screw it up the first time! That means we as musicians, or you as the player, have to wean off sheet music -- usually by turning the music around or closing the binder. It's really easy to have it sitting there, available, just in case -- but you'll never quite get it down if you do it that way. The second biggest key to memorizing music -- or anything else for that matter -- is repetition. Most memorization techniques simply maximize how you fit in those reps. Try separating a piece into sections, memorizing each section separately, then putting sections together until you eventually get the whole piece. Composers often conveniently split the music up for us by including rehearsal letters or numbers. To begin with, you might memorize A to B, B to C, C to D, and D to E. Then you'd add on until you had A to C, and C to E. Then you combine to two and finally, you can play from A to E. It is important when using this type of memorization tactic to be sure to work on the transitions between sections; the best way to do this is to make sure you're going all the way to the first downbeat, or even through the first measure, of the next section. As you're memorizing, try starting towards the end and adding on to the front, instead of starting at the beginning and adding on to the back. Too often we only start at the beginning, so we end up knowing the first third or so really well, but we get fuzzy after that, and by the time we get to the end, we're mostly guessing. Starting at the back and working your way forward will help defeat that tendency. It also helps combat sequentially based memory patterns, which tend to lead to the brain going on auto-pilot and coming up blank at a crucial moment. Strive also for a knowledge of your music that goes beyond simply a kinesthetic knowledge of "push finger here, blow into horn there." Be able to write out your music, name off the pitches, sing it (in time and with good rhythm!), and visualize it. Horn players on a metronome and finger through a passage without blowing or playing; mallet players can practice visualizing which keys to hit on the keyboard without moving their hands; and drummers can isolate the sequence of rudiments and repetitive patterns. Don't forget articulations and dynamics, and especially don't forget to memorize rests and practice counting! The more different ways your brain has encountered, and recognized and processed, the same material, the less likely you are to get thrown off when put in different performance situations. And of course, it goes without saying: don't leave it all until the day before camp. If you're frantically reviewing your parts while in the car on the way to camp on Friday night, you probably won't be able to remember what you need to in a high-pressure situation. In a situation where the last few spots may be decided by who's most on top of their game on a given night, you don't want to leave anything up to the potential misfiring of a few neurons! Emily Tannert is a sophomore music education/percussion performance major at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, La., and holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University. Emily aged out of the Glassmen in 2003 and was assistant tour manager for the corps in 2004 and 2005. You can contact Emily at emily@imoses.com. What I'd do different The lay of the land Preparing for the physical demands Perfect practice Drum corps rites of passage Kickoff week Zen and the art of drum corps shopping Making it happen, financially Auditioning: Just go for it The Ageout rule Doing drum corps Transitioning to the professional level The Basics on auditioning From storm-ravaged Louisiana, some hearty thanks So you want to march Emily Tannert's past columns

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