Trick Your Brain
We have to remember a lot of things by heart, like scientific processes or the position of musical notes on sheet music. How do we make it easier for our brains to retain all this information so that we can access it at the touch of our fingertips? Use fun tricks (mnemonics) to help ourselves along; because if it’s fun, we’ll probably remember it! In this post, we look at some simple mnemonics, and in the subsequent chapters we’ll discuss more involved memory tricks.
Everybody loves shortcuts nowadays. That’s why acronyms are so popular. Acronyms help you remember simple lists, for example: MEGS for your shopping list of milk, eggs, garbage bags and sugar. They also help you remember a list of things that need to be in order, like the notes in the spaces of the treble clef stave: FACE.
Take the first letter of each word in the list you want to remember. Arrange them in a cute, memorable way that will stick in your brain. Voila! You’ve remembered the stages of cell division!
IPMAT: Interphase, Prophase, Metaphase, Anaphase, Telephase
Keep in mind, though, that memorizing it doesn’t mean understanding it. Also, sometimes the letters just won’t arrange themselves into something memorable.
Silly sentences are even more fun than single words so they will stick better in your head. It’s also easier to arrange the initial letters of random words into a sentence. Take the space notes in the bass clef stave.
Is it easier to remember A, C, E, G, or that All Cows Eat Grass?
While acrostics are fun and easy, they sometimes take too much time to come up with until you’ve had some practice. And like acronyms they’re only suitable to remember things with, you still need to understand what you are memorizing first.
- Songs & Rhymes
Have you ever had an annoying tune stuck in your head, despite whatever you do to stop humming it? That’s because it’s catchy. Its rhythm and rhyme act like glue to adhere to your brain cells. What a useful and powerful memory tool!
Think of your childhood. How did you learn your alphabet – 26 letters that had to be arranged in the right order? You sang them to a popular tune, ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’. Fast forward to your Literature lecture in university. You’re wondering how on Earth those Greek storytellers of old remembered the whole of Homer’s Odyssey? They sang it! And then there’s the ever popular but slightly creepy rhyme that helps you remember the 6 queen consorts of King Henry VIII and how they came to their ends.
Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced beheaded survived.
If you need to remember numbers, say the telephone number that you just got off that cute guy, you chunk it. That is, you break it up into a few groups. So if the guy’s phone number is 7683-3359, you break it up into 76 83 33 59.
You can break things up in any way that works for you, some people are more comfortable grouping the same numbers together: 768 333 59. Most of the time, however, the rhythm you fall into when reciting pairs helps with memory, especially if you emphasize the second item in the pair: milk, EGGS, sugar, BUTTER, cheese, JAM. Yes, this technique can also be used for other things.
Try It Out
- Make up an acronym for the list of mnemonics described here:
Acronyms, Acrostics, Songs, Chunking
- Remember, the words in this list don’t have to be in order, but you can use this technique to remember things in order too.
Make up an acrostic with the same list.
- Try singing it to a tune or rapping it. Yes, rap it. I recently watched the 206th episode of the popular forensics expert series ‘Bones’ during which they rapped out the major bones of the body. I can’t get it out of my head now!
- Chunk up this sequence of numbers and see if you can commit them to memory:
Test yourself on all these things you’ve tried out a few days later. No cheating!
Don’t forget the power of repetition. Even if you’ve come up with the most memorable of acronyms or songs, you still need to repeat them to yourself until they are cemented in your head.