Habits of Mind

The ability to memorize is, to some extent, a habit and a valuable one to cultivate. How many children are actually taught how to memorize something. For example, a very, very long time ago I was told by Sunday School teachers to memorize verses from the Bible, particularly the New Testament. But I don’t recall anyone, teacher, or parent, coaching me as to how best to actually memorize those verses or anything else. The result is that my capacity to memorize was pretty bad. Rote memorization didn’t work for me and the result was frequent humiliation in Sunday School class.

Health, is the greatest gift, contentment, the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship. Buddha. There. I have remembered the quote from Buddha. What was my “trick?” It may have been to concentrate on the key words health, contentment and faithfulness and then link those words to three other key words gift, wealth and relationship. That one was relatively easy since just yesterday I had written it out because of the word relationship, which I found of particular interest.

As a psychologist at Harvard, Howard Gardner has written several books, around fifteen, almost all of which use “mind” in the title. His most famous work is on Multiple Intelligences which he called Frames of Mind. In the book, Gardner identifies eight “intelligences” as follows”: linguistic, logical/mathematical, musical, kinesthetic, spacial, naturalistic, interpersonal and intrapersonal. He has also postulated another intelligence which he relates to spirituality. I’m not recalling as of this writing what he called this “spiritual” intelligence. Refreshing my memory with Wikipedia; Gardner prefers “existential intelligence.” That’s OK by me. Existence is certainly something we all need to make some serious judgments about. But Sunday School left me pretty cold and, much later, very skeptical about some “answers.”

All of these intelligences have some requirement for memory. Yet it may be that the ability or capacity to memorize or hold in a useful form within the apparatus of the brain, is built into the intelligence of say spacial or logical/mathematical. Certainly the capacity to train the ear or hearing to recall musical tones and rhythms is an important part of the ability or intelligence for music. A good friend with a PhD in music related that in “Ear Training” classes for music majors , there were always aspirants for a music major that “flunked out’ because they were not capable of doing this type of memorization. My friend also said that this “ear training” was a skill for sight reading of a musical score. Being able to instantly translate the notations for tone and rhythm and then simultaneously play the music has to be an amazing test of musical ability; though less dependent upon raw memory.

My personal experience with sight reading for the trumpet was a dismal failure during my teen age years. Memorizing music for me required playing slowly each phrase of a new piece of music and then combining phrases and speeding up the tempo until the mind and muscle coordination combined to render a reasonable resemblance to what the music should sound like. I did not have access to recording devices such as a record player so that I could listen to the music being played by someone much more expert than I. While taking trumpet lessons from Harry Strobel, he would sometimes, but not always, play a piece such as Carnival of Venice, for me and I would remember the music well enough to try and emulate it while practicing during the intervening week. Unfortunately, my habit for practicing left a lot to be desired and too often I would return for another lesson without the requisite skill expected.

The result everyone, Strobel, my parents – and me – gave up and I quit playing the trumpet when I was about 15 years old. Lousy memory? Maybe. Maybe not!

Could be that some other critical habits of mind needed attention.