How Does a Pianist Remember the 30,000 Notes of the ‘Rach 3’?

This piece is republished from Margulis’ “Pianist to Pianist” blog.

Scientific research by Charles Brenner and Jeffrey Zacks has observed that walking through doorways interferes with memory and facilitates forgetting.

More specifically, their “doorway effect” is a theory based on the fact that retaining a memory is more difficult after literally walking through an actual doorway (to another room, the outside, the other lecture hall, in or out the church, a stage door etc). It appears that memory works better when remaining in the room in which it originally captured the information — in real locations (like a piano practice room, the university, a museum, a shopping center, the green room etc.), as well as in virtual reality simulations (like an Avatar program at DARPA; or Skyrim, the Sims or Destiny on PSX) — and that one loses some of the information when walking out of the room. It’s called the “encoding specificity” principle and suggests that memory organizes information in a “location based” way.

Research suggests that “some forms of memory seem to be optimized to keep information ready-to-hand until its shelf life expires.” This idea has been called an “event model” by G.A. Radvansky.

“Concert pianists can perform a 45 minute piece with 30,000 individual notes that have to be performed in an absolutely particular order.”

In these cases, the brain doesn’t store information in an organized retrieval structure (as that takes more calories). Imagine being in a subway station memorizing the number (and perhaps names) of stops to your destination — an opera house let’s say. After you passed through the sliding train doors and entered the portal of the opera house (a couple of doors really), most likely the brain estimated each time that the usefulness, shelf life, —> Read More