First, allow me a reference back to performance anxiety, otherwise known as stage fright. And my point is as important and simple as this; the anxiety we call stage fright tends to compete with and block conscious access to long-term memory. And long-term memory is what we rely on to perform. Second, let’s remember that our true goal and purpose is not to reproduce notes and rhythms and symbols on a page, but rather to realize the meaning and emotion of music. Therefore, how we approach memory is essential to reaching our ultimate and spiritual goal in the communication of music to our audience. And there are several methods or techniques we can employ to strengthen and bolster our memory. One of which is mapping.
What is mapping?
Mapping is a method of learning music that begins with learning the music as a whole, followed by the discovery of details as the learner finds them. The term was coined by Dr. Rebecca Shockley of the University of Minnesota who explains how this method is a more efficient method of memorizing:
“Mapping is a Gestalt approach to learning that starts from the basic structure and gradually fills in the details…” It is in direct opposition to the one measure-at-a-time approach …where the accumulation of details without awareness of the whole results in a patchy performance that lacks unity, direction and musical meaning.”
Steps to Mapping…
1) Study the music for a very brief moment, scanning it in its entirety without the instrument. Make general observations about the various qualities and attributes that make the piece unique. See and hear the things that attract you to the piece. You don’t have to see all. Remember, you are looking for overarching aspects of the piece that will stay with you as you later investigate these individual characteristics in detail. You can then choose one aspect, say, a rhythm that is fundamental or repeated in the piece and clap it. Make it physical. Make it yours. You might notice tonal areas that are unique or memorable or perhaps the kinds of harmonies utilized; perhaps a harmonic pattern.
2) Now go to your instrument, without the music, and improvise on what you have learned are the larger patterns of the piece. Think of this as making a sketch or outline of the piece. Don’t be concerned with playing the details; you are now in a creative mode regarding the overall structure. You won’t get the notes right, and that is not the point. When finished decide to take another aspect of the piece and improvise on that.
3) Make a transcript of the ‘map’ of the piece. Yes, that’s correct! Write down a general sketch of the piece. You can use some details if you like; and, you can use your own symbols. Be creative! If you are familiar with Schenkerian analysis/reduction, this is the time to employ it! Personally, I am influenced by and utilize Schenkerian reduction in nearly every piece I learn. As with the improvisational stage, there is no right or wrong way to do this. The important thing here is to utilize tools that have meaning for you.
4) Now get your instrument! Now, make up something from the ‘map’ you’ve created. Have fun!
5) Move away from the map and your instrument to visualization; away from both!
6) Proceed next to choosing smaller and smaller sections of the overall form attempting to, gradually, place more and more detail into place. This detail will include pitch, rhythm, dynamics, texture, timbre, etc., in the various ways you discover the piece. At this point you are alternatingly moving between the actual score and your general/ Schenkarian ‘map’.
Mapping can be utilized with any piece, but it most beneficial, essential in my opinion, in any larger composition.
I hope that you find this ‘method’ to be freeing, enjoyable and helpful as you learn your next pieces.
As always I enjoy reading feedback from my readers. Let me know how you are doing and whether these writings are helping you in your progress as a musician.