Memorization of facts is easiest to a song or rhythm because music provides structure for the brain with its predictable patterns of rhythms and placement of words. If you want to use this powerful mnemonic device to assist your children with their memory work, here are some tips on how to teach something for memory work using a song.
Tips on How to Teach Something Using a Song
Let’s use “The Star Spangled Banner” as an example.
1. Listen to a recording of the whole song or as the teacher, sing the whole song through.
While you may listen to a recording for the initial exposure to the song, I recommend live singing for teaching. Recordings tend to be very fast because we like to listen to lively music, right? But fast recordings are not helpful for learning words, so by teaching live singing, you can control the tempo and make sure your students are learning the correct words and pronunciations. Then you can repeat the phrases as often as you like and eventually speed up the tempo.
When you listen to a recording of the whole song or sing the whole song through for your students, you may want to have the words written up where your children can see them, and point to the words as they listen to the song. (We are focusing on memory work and aural learning, not learning to read music, so just the words and/or representational pictures as visual cues are beneficial.)
Think about where the natural breaks are in the song – these will be short sections of words or a natural phrase in the music.
2. Start with the first section of the song, “O say can you see? By the dawn’s early light.”
(Note: Do not try to memorize too long of a section at once.) If you want to add actions for kinesthetic learners too, you may say the phrase first and add the action of pointing to your eye for “see” and adding another action for “light.” As the teacher who already knows the song, sing the phrase (showing the action of pointing to the eye and the action for light), let your students sing it back (with the action of pointing to the eye and the action for light) and repeat this call and response – you sing it, they sing it. Then everyone sings the phrase over and over at least seven times, making sure you are singing it accurately and at the same speed each time so your brain can develop a pathway of memory.
3. Follow this process with the second section of music, which in “The Star Spangled Banner” is “What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming.”
You will follow this process for each phrase – you model singing the phrase for your children, they sing the phrase back, you model singing the phrase for your children again, they sing the phrase back, you all sing the phrase repeatedly (seven times).
4. Put these first two sections together and sing the first two phrases together five to seven times.
Make sure the children are singing at the same speed each time and hold out the notes that are longer – don’t let them rush from “see” into “by”. It is important to sing the song correctly and the same way each repetition when learning it to let the neurons of the brain form these new connections and patterns so the children will be able to recall what they have memorized, for neurons that fire together wire together.
5. Go through the process for the third phrase. (“Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight”)
You model singing the phrase for your children, they sing the phrase back, you model singing the phrase for your children again, they sing the phrase back, you all sing the phrase repeatedly (seven times).
6. Add this to the first two sections and sing all three phrases together five to seven times.
7. Repeat this with the fourth section of music, “O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming.”
8. Add this to the third phrase and practice these two phrases over and over, then sing through all four phrases.
9. Continue learning each section separately, then add to the previous sections until you know the whole song.
If a song has more than four sections, you may only want to learn four sections in one day, especially if you are new to memorizing to songs or the words or music are new or difficult. Then, the next day, review the first four phrases and add more sections. For example, extremely long songs – like a timeline song with over 150 events – or songs with unfamiliar tunes or older language – like hymns or the Westminster Shorter Catechism – will take longer to absorb. It is better to break up the memory sessions to allow the brain to develop neural pathways so you do not just “cram and forget.” We want to truly exercise the memory to eventually be able to store the words and melody in long-term memory.
10. Once the children know the tune and all the words of the memory song, review, review, review!
This is when you can experiment with singing it at different tempos or with silly voices, or by adding fun physical challenges, like singing the song while hopping on one foot.
The process for teaching memory work using a song is simple: you model singing the phrase for your children, they sing the phrase back, you model singing the phrase for your students again, they sing the phrase back, you all sing the phrase repeatedly (seven times). Then you add the next phrase, master it, and practice the phrases together, adding phrase upon phrase. Then, review, review review!
Other Articles by Jus’ Classical
Resources for Memory Songs
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*Note: I have not personally used or listened to all of these recommendations, but I wanted to show you what kinds of items are out there for memorizing to music, and these have high ratings.