Especially Difficult Learning Tasks: Dates and Places
Lesson 13B: Strategies that make the learning less hard.
Posted Nov 30, 2020
There is a number coding system that makes it easier to remember numbers. This is especially useful for remembering dates. The code is as follows:
The principle is to first convert an integer (0 through 9) to a letter that is a consonant. Then insert vowels between the consonants to create a word that can be imaged. Words are constructed by insert vowels, which are neutral and do not affect the scheme. Think of vowels as wildcards. So, in the example above, 44 stands for “rower,” with the word constructed by inserting appropriate vowels between the two r’s that represent number four.
A set of rules determines how to construct number-associated images. The rules dictate what letters and sounds go with numbers 1 through 0, as follows:
Number — Letter or Sound — Mnemonic Aid
1 — t or d — each letter has one down stroke
2 — n or kg/gn — two down strokes (kn/gn have same sound)
3 — m — three down strokes
4 — r — last letter of word “four”
5 — L — Roman numeral for the five in 50
6 — j, ch, sh, soft g — reverse J looks like 6,
7 — k, ck, hard g or c — attach a flipped 7 to a straight line on its left
8 — f, ph, v — F joined with another upside down F
9 — p or b — backwards p or a rotated b look like 9
0 — z, s, soft c — Z as in zero, soft c as in cent
It may seem like a lot of trouble to memorize these rules, but once done, it gives you a lot of memory power. You can construct all sorts of images based on these rules (see number-image list below for 1 to 100).
The words, all nouns, that you make up from these consonants can be a single word that includes all the consonants or several words that are sequentially linked. The number system can be useful for long-term remembering of some things, like dates, for example. If you wanted to remember that the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, you could build a memorable picture as follows: a number code for 1776 could be dog (17) and cage (76). Couple this with whatever image comes to mind for the Declaration, such as the liberty bell. Now picture your dog sleeping in its cage crate, being awakened by the ringing bell. For the link to July 4, you might want to add a firecracker image that goes off after the bell rings, like a Pavlov experiment where the bell rings, unconditioned firecracker stimulus goes off, and dog responds with jumping around in his cage.
The other use for this system is to create an easily remembered peg list. To convert this to a numbered peg list, you make up words using these rules. For example:
3 ma (mom)
16 dash (-)
80 fez (hat)
89 fob (watch fob)
95 bell89 fob (watch fob)
Although the list has 100 pegs, they are relatively easy to memorize because they are constructed by a rule. If you know the rules for converting numbers to letters, you can even generate your own word peg in case you forget.
There are even more powerful uses of this code than remember numbers or dates. Suppose you are trying to memorize a textbook, page by page. Suppose on page 47 (rock) the page explains alpha rhythms, showing an EEG trace, and pointing out that they occur mostly when eyes are shut and that alcohol and sedatives lower the frequency. To remember this, you visualize a rock floating on ocean waves that look like the graphs you saw in the book. You only see this image when you shut your eyes. Imagine opening your eyes and the rock/wave image goes away. Shut your eyes, see the rock/waves again. Then imagine drinking a beer, and the waves get larger and slower (i.e., fewer of them).
You could go through a whole textbook like this. How would you deal with several textbooks? This problem, not easily solved, is how to forget what is on the pegs. After all, you use the pegs over and over again for different items. Actually, this did not seem to be a problem when I was using this system to memorize magazine content. Clearly, this system works best only for items you just want to remember for a short while.
Music is hard for most people to learn. You not only have to memorize the notes, their timing, and sequence, but you have to train the body parts like fingers, lips, and tongue to execute the notes.
You’ve probably heard the old joke: "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?" "Practice, practice, practice!" Well, music practice does take time, and it’s probably not a satisfying answer for people looking to learn music quickly. But surely there are techniques and strategies to expedite the process. Here’s one method I’ve created using related memory principles:
1. Skim the whole score to identify hard and easy parts and phrases that repeat. Then start at the beginning, memorizing in chunks, one or a few bars at a time, depending on the capacity of your working memory. After memorizing a bar or phrase, see if you can play it without peeking. Musicians do not learn a new piece from beginning to end all at once. They often start at the beginning of a piece and learn a small section until they get it right. Then they learn the next piece. Then they practice stitching the pieces together. They repeat this process until they get to the end.
2. Memorize the mechanical acts needed to play the notes (keys on a piano, valves on a clarinet, etc.). Learn one hand at a time. Look at the hands and keys while playing.
3. Play what you have just memorized from memory and repeat until you feel it is mastered. Play one hand at a time, then play with both together. Don’t peek at the score until after you have played the section. Check for any errors in your recall.
4. Play the chunk slowly at first, then test the tempo by playing with a metronome.
5. Move to a different chunk and repeat steps 1-3. Add one bar or phrase at a time. Mark sections of the score as they are learned.
6. Join the latest chunk with those previously learned and play from the beginning.
7. In the next practice session, rehearse what was learned in the previous session before moving on to new material.
Klemm, W. R. 2012. Memory Power 101. (New York: Skyhorse).