August 11, 2010

Holding it in!

Your phone number is seven numbers long (plus the area code now). It is seven numbers long for a reason - because psychologists learned, a long time ago, that the average person can remember about seven things are a time. George Miller published a paper in 1956 entitled, "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information". Now we just call it Miller's Magical 7+/- 2.

Miller was looking at the capacity of short term memory - how much information could you hold on to while "converting" it to long term memory (the place you store your home phone number for later). What's important is the Miller found you could hang on to about 7 things. I say things for a reason. Each of us defines "things" differently.

So, if you're learning a new tune, the seven or so things you can remember will be different if you're a very experienced musician or if you're just new to the harp. If you're new, for you each thing will be a note. If you're very experienced, your thing could be a phrase.

How much stuff is in a thing (no, this is not a very technical discussion – I just want to get the point across!) depends on how much experience you have, how much you practice remembering things, how you think about the music you’re learning, and other things like your experience at the harp (as opposed to experience with other instruments), how stressed you are in general and about learning the music in particular. Other things may impact your learning – are you hungry, tired, busy, etc? All of these will affect how well you can remember and which side of seven plus or minus two you’ll be on that time.

So as you’re trying to learn new music, be sure to be mindful of what you’re trying to learn, how much stuff you’re trying to cram into your head at once, and how much stuff is in the things you’re trying to remember. Don't worry about holding it in - just keep working at it.  And don’t forget – like playing your harp, your memory will get better with practice!

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