Flashback to a 1967 college class, Art of the Renaissance, with Dr. L., a slightly geeky but well-liked professor who much to everyone's amusement sometimes chose to sport a toupee, and sometimes not. I’d signed up for his class to satisfy a humanities requirement. It seemed like an easy A with no term papers or big projects. However, at the first session I discovered that each class would consist of viewing about a dozen art slides which we’d later be required to identify on midterm and final exams.
I wondered how in the world I’d ever be able to remember upward of 100 slides of Renaissance art which would be shown during the semester. Maybe it wasn’t going to be such an easy A. When the students balked at the requirements, the professor stood his ground but proceeded to advise us about how to accomplish the seemingly daunting task. He suggested that we make a quick thumbnail sketch of each slide as it was being shown, noting its title, artist, brief description and a few unique phrases to recall the class discussion. He also highly recommended studying the group of slides as soon as possible after each class. Feeling a bit overwhelmed and not knowing how else to proceed I tried his suggestion. It worked! I was able to remember each and every slide in great detail … even from my very poorly drawn “thumbnails.”
I’m not saying that this was the best way for a professor to educate a class in Renaissance art, but I feel that I learned some valuable lessons concerning memory – how just a little bit of studying at a time adds up, and that sometimes we are capable of a lot more than we think. I try to remember this lesson whenever I feel overwhelmed by the amount of music assigned for orchestra and cello lessons.
While mulling over this analogy it also occurred to me that it would be valuable if this idea of the “thumbnail sketch” had some application to learning music. As I thought about it for a while the term “music mapping” came to mind. I knew I’d heard that term somewhere. I searched, and sure enough recalled the book titled Mapping Music by Rebecca Shockley. The method is outlined clearly in Stephanie Judy’s book Music for the Joy of It. Although I probably wouldn’t follow the method religiously, it certainly does point out how a quick overview of the “large picture” is valuable in discovering the essence of a piece of music, much the same way as the thumbnail sketch did in art class.