Lost Notes, Memory Tricks and the Discomfort Factor


The other night, at practice with my band (Duke Rushmore), we did something unusual. We’ve been working on some new songs for the past few weeks and as such, have ignored some of the old ones that we have always played. It’s part of learning, I guess, that we focus our energies on the present. But at practice, we decided to go back to some old songs that we used to know by heart. As the drummer kicked off the beat to the first one, I realized in a panic that I didn’t know what my first note was or how the song even began.

It was incredibly uncomfortable to feel so lost in the music.

The interesting thing is that I was not alone that night. In just about all of the old “chestnuts” that we pulled out, someone in the band — or more than one of us — didn’t know this note, or that chord, or where the break happened, or how to make the transition, or the order of the solos. We kept looking around at each other, asking: how could we have forgotten? Someone please help!

And we laughed.

But as a teacher, it reminded me something important. We take it for granted that our students are accumulating knowledge and experience, and that at any moment, they should be able to tap into the past work for the present assignment. Except, that doesn’t always happen, and we teachers get frustrated. Didn’t we already cover this? we wonder. The reality, though, is that without exposure and reminders, things get lost.

It was a humbling experience, floundering in a setting where I can usually thrive. I didn’t like that feeling, even in the company of friends who were not judging me for my missed notes, or wrong notes. My brain was working harder at retrieving information than it usually does acquiring it. I made a mental note about that process, and then got back to work re-learning my saxophone solos.

I’m still learning.

Peace (in reflection),

  1. “The reality, though, is that without exposure and reminders, things get lost.” That’s so true and such an important reminder!

    I like the image of your band stumbling over a missed word or beat and laughing! Sounds like a great group!

  2. Kevin, this is a powerful piece and a reminder that if we do not USE IT, we LOSE IT. ALL OF US….kids, teachers, young uns and older uns too!

  3. So important for us to remember. I often think our expectations for our students are higher than the ones we have for ourselves. Thank you for sharing your story and allowing us to remember that learning is a process and we need to give our students time and space to learn.

  4. An important reminder, Kevin. Especially given that you have probably played these songs for years and years, and we are asking ten-year-olds to be fluent and proficient with strategies they have only used for a few weeks or months! Thank you!

  5. So true. I find myself sometimes getting frustrated with my students because they don’t get something I know we’ve done before, but if they don’t revisit and practice again they don’t remember it.

  6. Sometimes we ‘flounder’ when we least expect it. It happens to the best of us. When it does, it does teach us valuable lessons, doesn’t it?

  7. Every year when I start teaching new things in math I have to remind myself not to believe the kids when they claim their teacher didn’t teach them anything the year before. 🙂

  8. I need to post this line from your piece on my heart: The reality, though, is that without exposure and reminders, things get lost.

    It is so easy to forget that.

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