Ways to Retain What You Learn In Music


in Learning Music

When learning music, one of the biggest issues is how you retain what you learn. This isn't the memorization issue; it's about understanding and retaining the principles and rules used to define music.

Why Bring This Up

I have an insatiable need to be learning and applying new concepts. This is all part of my continuous effort to always be striving for more knowledge and improvement. The downfall of which is that you can end up going to many directions and not really learning at all.

I have to sit back every now and then and make sure that I get focused on a specific item to ensure that I make direct progress to an end goal.

I was reminded the other day of how much is retained when based on the various ways learning systems are implemented. These methods are from lectures, reading, visual and audio, discussions, and use of new material.

Let's take a quick look at the general data associated with learning. These are not specific results, but general accepted ranges based on various studies.

You Only Retain:

5% to 10% from lectures and reading.

20% to 30% from audio-visual and demonstrations.

about 50% in discussion groups

around 75% when you practice or implement within a short period

up to 90% when you use immediately and teach others what you've learned.

Let's take a closer look at these implications of the learning methods.


Buying a reference book and reading it is such a hard way to learn. Have you ever noticed how often you have to go back to it figure something out.

Reading is more about entertaining short term memory and gathering ideas and overviews. Unless you focus on something with more than just reading it rarely provides you with a good learning experience.


I always like the televisions cooking shows where you watch it for a half hour then go and try to cook up that marvelous meal they just taught you to make.

Most of the time you remember the bigger picture, but you've forgotten all those details you need to pull off that meal for your family. Don't you really have to practice a few times to get it just right. (Not talking to naturally talented people that pull it off, even when you don't watch the show.)

Also Part of this is in the art of story telling. Stories are one of those unique factors that helps us retain knowledge through association, such as through an imaginary image.

A story will give you a framework that allows you to recreate knowledge through reliving the story. This is one of the steps used in our music principle concepts for learning note names and locations on the keyboard as well as in learning the master staff.


Many classrooms try to get away from the lecture mode and go to discussion mode. They understand that by engaging the student in conversation they are forced to think about the materials and by becoming interactive will retain more about the subject.

Practice and Teaching

The two highest retention rates are always around the practice, implementing, and teaching methods. This is why so many teachers assign homework or give a specific thing to practice.

Golf players will often take lessons to improve their stroke and then go out and hit a bucket of balls to implement what they have learned. Some even try to teach others on the course, but that's a different story and dynamic altogether.

What this Means to You

It's easy for you to read about music principles on this site or in reference books. However, in order to really learn and understand them you need to implement and practice.

That's exactly how we developed the workshop course, learn a principle, explore the use of that principle and then place it into practice. We even encourage you to teach your parents, child, brothers, sisters, and friends what you are learning to get you up to that 90% level of retention and knowledge.

Have you heard the saying, “If you want to learn it, teach it” This is when you really find out what you don't know. It's also how you expand your knowledge.

The thing is if you're going to learn something, plan on spending some time with it. Read, work, view, listen, practice and teach. This is the process that we really go through whether we realize it or not.

So if you find that you aren't getting something or you're not able to retain the knowledge, think about what part of the process you are letting go by. I'm going to bet that one of the first places you stumble is practice. Regroup, plan, and execute using the new knowledge of what it takes to truly learn.

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