Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Training Your Memory

I read a lot in my spare time. That being the occasional five to ten minutes that I get here and there during the day. Needless to say it takes many a month to get through an actual book on my cell phone so more often than not I'm just browsing the audio forums on Reddit or reading some tech blog posts. There have been a lot of articles recently about training your memory and when I read the most recent one some things finally clicked into place for me.

The concept of a "Mind Palace" has come to the forefront recently with its frequent use in the Sherlock Holmes series on PBS. It also features heavily in fiction, quite often in a similar vein where a detective uses his photographic memory to go back through things he has seen and pick up on new details. The process involves associating memories with visual anchors to make retrieving them easier. While most people can't achieve the kind of savant-level performance pictured in those scenarios, improvement is generally possible to some extent.

Every time I read an article like this I would get frustrated because while I can hold a pretty long input list in my head (including mics, positions, patch points, inserts, routing, etc) I can't remember all five things I need to pick up at the grocery store on the way home. This has led to my trying a multitude of solutions from paper notebooks to digital solutions with little to no success.

There are problems with both the analog and digital methods. Carrying a slim notebook in your pocket is great. You're not confined to just typing a list into your phone, it's easy to add a little sketch, or turn it sideways and fit some additions in the margins. But they get wrecked easily and eventually they get full and you put them somewhere, often putting that data out of reach. On the digital side you have a little bit of a stumbling block in that it's not easy to jot down a long list of information on the screen of your phone. On the other hand, newer apps make it very easy to snap a photo, clip a web page, sync it all up and you can get to it on any platform from anywhere in the world. The only down side is that you're often standing around waiting for an app to open or getting slowed down by the user interface instead of paying attention to the task at hand.

At any rate, the basis of the technique finally clicked into place for me when I realized that I could take one of the easier methods for memorization and adapt it to an area where I'm really good at remembering things. I'll link to the article but the premise is that you set up a mental template for a ten item list to start. Each item rhymes with the number it's assigned to, one - run, two - zoo, etc. Then you put whatever thing you're trying to remember into the image. So if the first thing on your list is picking up the dry cleaning you picture yourself running in the door of the cleaners, then you need to get your oil changed so you picture your car at the zoo, maybe with a gorilla doing the work. The more outrageous the imagery the better you'll remember.

When the light bulb finally went on for me was when I realized that I already have a list like that. It's my stock channel input list and it's chiseled into my grey matter like words on a tombstone. So for me anyway it was a simple jump to 1 - kick, 2 - snare, etc. If I need fifteen things from the grocery store, the first ten are arranged on a drum kit, the eleventh item is on the bass amp, and so on. I can get as crazy as I need to in that frame work. Picture an avocado shredding a guitar solo and you're guaranteed not to pass them by at the store.

Check out the article if you want it laid out in more depth, but that's the general principle and it's already helped me out a bunch.


  1. You can memorize an input list easily because every input list is arranged the same. If some deranged band engineer handed you an input list with kick drum on channel 8, snare on 4, and so on, you'd have a lot harder time keeping it in your head.

    Interestingly enough, if you show a chess grandmaster a chess board, they can memorize it fairly easily. Some chess players have been known to play pretty good chess while blindfolded. However, show them a chess board containing a position that could not possibly occur in an actual game of chess, and their ability to memorize it drops to that of any other person.

    I just wanted an excuse to compare our job to chess.

    1. I tried to take the white queen with my rook and wound up leaving my kick drum at the dry cleaners.


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