Several years ago, I wrote this post on how I use musical artmaps to aid memorization, but this week I learned some helpful tips at the workshop about how music mapping can also be a powerful tool in the beginning steps of learning a piece as well. The presenters Greg and Lori Peters shared some of the ideas from the book Mapping Music: For Faster Learning and Secure Memory, a Guide for Piano Teachers and Students, by Rebecca Payne Shockley. We then tried it out with a couple of short pieces. I think of a music map as a type of "musical shorthand." It allows you to condense the fully written score into a shorter symbolic version as an aid for learning and memorizing the piece.
Without even hearing the music, scan the score for a couple minutes and try to remember all you can. Pay attention to key, form, melodic contour, phrase structure, chords, etc. rhythmic or repeating patterns or try to audiate (hear the piece in your head) or ghost play (move fingers that would play away as you mentally practice away from the piano). This focus on analysis from the start really forces a student to become more cognitively aware of the chunks and patterns in the music instead of just relying on their ear or muscle memory to learn.
Play as much as you can remember without the score even though you have never played or heard the song. As a primarily visual learner, playing the music without the score is a challenge for me! But the process of the challenge then heightens my awareness of the elements I need to focus on.
Use chord symbols, arrows, dots, expression marks, etc. Shockley uses primarily symbols, letters, dashes and dots in her example maps, but I find that it is more memorable for me when I make some associations to pictures, lyrics or a storyline to go along with the other marks and add some color. For example a yellow balloon floating up could represent a major scale passage going up, an elephant represents an accent at the end of a phrase, an ice cream cone represents a series of "vanilla" chords (C, F or G). etc. The artwork may take a bit more time to map out, but with the extra associations I think it would make the music map a more effective tool for me to remember a piece with.
Play from Map
Without even hearing the music, we scanned the score for a couple of minutes trying to remember as many elements as possible. I was amazed that after only a couple of minutes the teacher's who volunteered were able to play almost a full page of music without ever playing from the score using just their music map.
This is a musical artmap that I had a student use to memorize a simplified version of the Theme from William Tell Overture. Since they had already learned the piece with the score they just needed a few visual cues to remember the form and phrases. I'm excited to try out a combination of Shockley's music mapping with art mapping to help my students learn some of their pieces from the beginning in this way. Adding in the beginning steps of scanning and playing without the score from the beginning will challenge them to really see the chunks and patterns in their music from the start and will facilitate better-sightreading skills in the process.