How do you memorize guitar music and Scripture? That might seem like an odd or even polarizing question to ask these days. However, I am a Christian. This is a Christian website (if you haven’t noticed). I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. So, what in the world does memorization of the Scriptures have to do with classical guitar? I think we can draw a few parallels. Let me explain:
I believe there are truths that we can see in the guitar that we can apply to everyday life. Also, there are truths that we can see in everyday life that can help us with our guitar practice. As I said, I am a Christian and as part of being a Christian, I memorize as much Scripture as possible. I also play the guitar and try to commit as much material to memory as possible.
Picking the Guitar Up
Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is to pick up the guitar to practice. I have looked at my guitar and appreciate the kindness and grace of God in letting me play that instrument. However, having the desire to be the best guitarist possible doesn’t do a bit of good if it isn’t practiced.
You can see the same in reading and memorizing Scripture. The Bible will not do you a bit of good unless you pick it up. Reading the Bible gives you insight into Who God is. Memorizing Scripture gives you wisdom and understanding to live out its truths.
In both, we must practice our art. As we practice, we get better and more fluent. If we don’t practice, we stagnate.
I’m very thankful that I have time in the mornings to have my coffee and read my Bible. Those mornings have been very sweet. Not every morning is filled with bright glorious revelation. Sometimes the reading is just dry but read anyway. There are mornings that I don’t read. Thankfully, these are very few. When I need to catch up, I’ll read an extra chapter or so. Reading the Bible is the warm-up for the day. You warm up your mind and your spirit for the trials or joys that coming your way. (If you are interested, here’s my Two-Year Bible Reading Plan).
Similarly, it is always good to warm up your fingers by stretching and running through your warm-up routine. It is good to get the blood flow working again. If you’re older, work the stiffness out of your hands. Here you are preparing for the trials your fingers are about to go through.
In both, we are getting readying and preparing. Getting our fingers and our minds and spirit for what lies ahead. Having a good mindset, whether for practice or living, is essential. Never engaged in life unprepared or ill-prepared.
Reviewing Old Repertoire
The next step in my morning routine is reviewing Scriptures that I have already memorized. Like in our playing, I sometimes forget a phrase or how something is worded. I’ll have to go back and review that phrase several times. Committing it to memory or adjusting my recall accurately.
Again, sometimes we can’t remember a phrase in a piece. I was playing “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” the other night and could not remember the “B” section. I’ve been playing that piece for years. It’s one of my favorite pieces. And it may be obvious, but I needed to pull the piece out and review the section.
Just like reviewing a phrase in Scripture several times, you will have to review the section several times. Many times, we will have what I have heard called “memory slips.” These can be caused by stressful situations, but many times, it is a lack of practicing the piece.
Learning New Repertoire
Learning new repertoire, whether Scripture or music, is always a little intimidating. In the beginning, I always feel a little brain fog. That fog is cleared by having a structured approach to learning. In this section, I would like to share with you my approach to learning a new piece.
Memorize the Process
There are a couple of ways to learn a piece of music. You may have heard, for instance, learning a piece backward. Also, you can approach a piece note by note, measure by measure, or phrase by phrase. Depending on where you are in your musical journey, one method might be better than another. As you progress in your musical journey, you may move to a different approach. It all depends (music is so subjective, isn’t it?).
Memorize by Measure
Start with the first measure and play it to the downbeat of the next measure. Once you have that down, add the next measure and repeat until you have the whole phrase down. (What is a musical phrase? A phrase is a musical sentence. As you play you can hear where the melody has a question and then an answer. The end of the phrase is where the question seems to be answered.)
Just like starting by measure, when memorizing Scripture, start with a short phrase. Have you ever noticed that sentences seem to have a beat? Sentences have a flow and cadence to them. Pick one of those short cadences and memorize that first. Then add the next little cadence to that. Wash, rinse, and repeat.
Repeating Phrases 5 Times in a Row
Once you have the phrase down, grab a metronome and play it slowly. Play it through at half speed. Play the phrase at least 5 times all the way through with no mistakes. Once you can do that, speed the metronome up 10 bpm and do it again. Repeat the process until you can get the phrase up to 100%. Preferably if you can play it at 120% it helps when you play it slow.
Just like in repeating the phrase, you can repeat the Scripture phrase five to seven times. Of course, there is no need for a metronome. You could use one if you wanted. That might be interesting.
Memorize One Phrase Per Week
It usually takes a week or so to learn the phrase. It depends on how hard the phrase is. Sometimes it doesn’t take that long. Other times it takes longer. But a week is about the average. Make sure that the phrase is “locked” into your memory before proceeding. Also remember, when learning a phrase of music this way, it is important to keep it fresh. Make sure to play the phrase regularly as you continue to learn the rest of the piece.
The same is true when memorizing Scripture. Recite the phrase(s) you’re already familiar with a couple of times. This keeps it fresh in your mind. Then add the next phrase to it. Before long, you’ll have the whole passage memorized. It usually takes a week or so to memorize a passage.
Remember the learning process can always be modified as needed. All of us learn differently and what works for me may not work for you. Have a plan in place to learn how you learn. This will be extremely important in life and practice.
Also, if you are interested in understanding what the Bible teaches, click here. It will give you the basics of why the Bible says what it says.
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