Memory and the Performing Musician

November, 2007

Jennifer Mishra researches in the area of music cognition, specifically focusing on performance memory. Her articles have appeared in Psychology of Music, Psychomusicology, Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, Contributions to Music Education, Research Perspectives in Music Education, and the Journal of String Research. She has also presented at conferences hosted by the Society for Research in Psychology of Music and Music Education, and at the International Conference of Music Perception and Cognition, Desert Skies: Symposium on Research in Music Education, and MayDay Group Colloquium XI. She is on the editorial board for the Journal of String Research.

Musicians want to know:
 How to memorize a piece in the most efficient way possible  How to avoid memory lapses in performance – memory

stability
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Performance (i.e., “memorization”) – not perception Reasons for forgetting
 Not all memory slips can be eliminated through sheer repetition  Why memorization slips happen  How to avoid!

www.mishramusicresearch.com jmishra@uh.edu

Jennifer Mishra

University of Houston

November, 2007

Day before recital Memory, for many musicians, is relegated to that category of the feared and mysterious. Even the greatest musicians can fear a memory lapse in performance and may practice an extraordinary number of hours because of this fear. Dissipating the fears will lead to an increased feeling of control over the seemingly random process of memorization

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Human Memories are Designed to Forget Musicians want memory to work like a tape recorder. Musicians accomplish an extraordinary feat when memorizing music.
 Exceeding – by a lot – limited memory capacity (7 + 2)  Remembering in strict order  Remember music exactly - gist is not enough


Nancy plays through her Prokofiev right before her recital... but gets a memory slip at the very end. Watch part II to find out whether or not she overcame her challenges... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJpqSKuSmbA http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7s3lyzCLOVU
University of Houston November, 2007

Shouldn’t ask why memorizing is so difficult, should ask how we manage to do it at all!
Memorizing music is a multi-layered, serial-position task in which thousands of pitches, each bound to rhythmic, expressive, stylistic, and other implied musical as well as lyrical and production information must be recalled in a specified sequence with the final product coalescing into a new and understandable entity.

Jennifer Mishra

Recall as much of the story as possible

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Bartlett discovered story was not recalled exactly Recalled gist of the story, overall concept Patterns to forgetting & errors
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Paraphrased & Condensed Added extra information Omitted irrelevant details Ambiguities clarified Unfamiliar details made more familiar

Save memory capacity
 Condense when stored (practiced)  Reconstituted when retrieved (performed)  Errors happen at each stage – bits of information lost &

Bartlett, F. C. (1932). Remembering: A study in experimental and social psychology. Cambridge University Press. www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/science/mindchangers3.shtml
Jennifer Mishra University of Houston November, 2007

filled in
 based on our expectations and knowledge
Jennifer Mishra University of Houston November, 2007

Jennifer Mishra | jmishra@uh.edu

1

Memory and the Performing Musician

November, 2007

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How piece memorized affects memory Practice techniques = Recall techniques
 Mind-ful practice (analytical)  Deep level of processing - find patterns, connections  Repetition is a superficial level of processing  More connections = deeper processing =

Common practice techniques emphasize pattern recognition; allow obscure patterns to become clear
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stronger memory
 Sensory “memories” ▪ Aural ▪ Visual ▪ Kinesthetic  Finding Patterns (analytical)
Jennifer Mishra University of Houston November, 2007

playing hands separately blocking chords (on keyboard) rehearsing under-tempo rehearsing the piece backwards score study away from the instrument transposing

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Analysis may be visual (based on scored notation) Analysis may be aural (i.e., not notation-based)
 interplay between voices in a fugue

Analysis may be kinesthetic (e.g., blocking chords)
University of Houston November, 2007

Jennifer Mishra

Kinesthetic memory often confused


One problem in determining why memory lapses occur is that an interruption during a performance of a memorized piece is not necessarily caused by the inability to recall the music. Technical errors or a physical mistake may result in a breakdown in the flow of the music, but are not the result of a memory error.

with automated procedural memory
 Not more memory slips because of

Unsurprising – Difficult bars more errors than expected
 May reflect technical problem rather than

kinesthetic practice – automation is necessary for complex motor movements  Conscious thought (declarative) slower than automatic movements (procedural)
 Performance problem if attempt to impose thought on faster moving automatic movements  Landmarks to monitor automatic muscle movements
Jennifer Mishra University of Houston November, 2007

memory problem

Fewer errors than expected on structural bars
 More starts & stops on structural bars  Supports knowledge of phrase structure  Incidental learning

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Ebbinhaus forgetting curve Memory is an active process
 Memories don’t just disappear

Debate
 Forgetting: Memories are lost  Forgetting: Memories can’t be retrieved

passing of time not cause loss  Rust – oxidization not time
▪ Memories 0verwritten ▪ Forgetting is active process

Two primary reasons for forgetting
 Interference  Context-Dependent Memory

Jennifer Mishra

University of Houston

November, 2007

Jennifer Mishra

University of Houston

November, 2007

Jennifer Mishra | jmishra@uh.edu

2

Memory and the Performing Musician

November, 2007

Interference
 Memory of past piece or section interfere with retrieval  2 passages that are similar – but not the same  New piece can interfere with retrieval of previously learned

When memorizing musical material, also memorizing environment
▪ Incidental to material, but may provide memory cues
▪ Lights, décor, smells, sounds…

piece
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Ironic as enculturation – previous learning helps memory Overcoming interference
 Make each piece / section distinct  Imagery, emotion, labels…  Different environments

Memory is context-dependent
Practice & performance

▪ Memory cues lost if changed - impedes retrieval

 Retrieval problems when mismatch

Mishra, J. & Backlin, W. (2007). The effects of altering environmental and instrumental context on the performance of memorized music. Psychology of Music, 35(3), 453-472.
Jennifer Mishra University of Houston November, 2007 Jennifer Mishra University of Houston November, 2007

Instrument as “Context”
 Changing instruments = changing contexts

Mediating context effects
 Practice in performing environment (dress rehearsal) ▪ Practice context = performance context  Practice in many environments ▪ Music matched to different cues - context in flux ▪ Less chance of encountering truly novel environment for performance ▪ Experts less likely to have memory slip in novel contexts played in many different contexts  Imagery – imagine performance; imagine practice

Mishra, J. & Backlin, W. (2007). The effects of altering environmental and instrumental context on the performance of memorized music. Psychology of Music, 35(3), 453-472.
Jennifer Mishra University of Houston November, 2007

Distributed & Imagery

Context = external & internal
 Internal contexts (state-dependent memory): mood/anxiety

Spread out memorization
 Different times  Different places  Take breaks

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Drug state may change (beta-blockers) Anxiety brings physiological changes

state, physiological state, drug state  Changes in internal states negatively affects retrieval  Practice: Low Anxiety Perform: Heightened Anxiety
 though anxiety states may stabilize with drugs

Even slight change in internal context is a change of context Make practice situation like performance situation

 Less likely to have memory lapse due to change of context

Appear in performance, absent from the practice: shallow breathing, cold hands, stiff legs, sweaty palms, tremors in hands, legs, heightened awareness of limited visual field.
Though anxiety may, in itself, be seen as the cause of memory slips, an alternative hypothesis is that memory slips occur because the performer’s internal context at the time of performance is different to that at the time of practice.
University of Houston

Heighten anxiety during practice (record, audience)

Jennifer Mishra

November, 2007

Jennifer Mishra

University of Houston

November, 2007

Jennifer Mishra | jmishra@uh.edu

3

Memory and the Performing Musician

November, 2007

Attribution Theory
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Memory & Aging
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Why do we think we mysterious and unrelated to practice and can lead to feeling that successful memorized forget? performances result from wishful thinking or good Influences amount & luck. type of practice, persistence, motivation, superstitious behavior
 Internal / External reasons ▪ Within or outside of the performer  Stability

Memory lapses during performance can appear

Declarative memory (knowing that) affected by age Procedural memory (knowing how) preserved Implications for music:
 Process of memorizing may be affected by age  Once pieces are memorized, age doesn’t affect

performance of pieces

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Why memory lapse? Not a good memorizer – give up Why memory lapse? Memorizing is too difficult – give up Why memory lapse? Luck – may persist Why memory lapse? Didn’t practice enough – persist*
University of Houston November, 2007 Jennifer Mishra University of Houston November, 2007

Jennifer Mishra

Memorization is difficult
 Rare in everyday remembering

tasks

Encoding affects retrieval
 Repetition inefficient  Deep levels of processing (aural,

Jennifer Mishra researches in the area of music cognition, specifically focusing on performance memory. Her articles have appeared in Psychology of Music, Psychomusicology, Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, Contributions to Music Education, Research Perspectives in Music Education, and the Journal of String Research. She has also presented at conferences hosted by the Society for Research in Psychology of Music and Music Education, and at the International Conference of Music Perception and Cognition, Desert Skies: Symposium on Research in Music Education, and MayDay Group Colloquium XI. She is on the editorial board for the Journal of String Research.

visual, kinesthetic, analytical)
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Interference leads to forgetting Change of context leads to forgetting
 Distribute practice time  Distribute practice space  Use imagery
www.mishramusicresearch.com jmishra@uh.edu

Jennifer Mishra

University of Houston

November, 2007

Jennifer Mishra | jmishra@uh.edu

4

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