Musical Memory

I'm not sure what the actual name for this is, so I'll just go with 'Musical Memory.'  There will be a connection to programming.  Sort of.

I'm sure people have heard of the phenomenon called 'Photographic Memory.'  I have no idea how real or widespread this is, but I've experienced instances of what it must be like.  Unfortunately, they have been random.

The most obvious to me was one time (at band, no, that was something else) in graduate school when I was taking a final exam for one of my courses.  There was a question that I knew I should have known, but simply could not remember how to even begin to answer it, in large part because I had somehow overlooked studying for that particular question.  I let it go for a while and then came back to it, and still drew a blank.  And then, a few minutes later, I could picture in my head a presentation that one of my classmates (Rosa Mayorga (think that's the right spelling)...not sure why I remember her name) had given 3 months previously, and could remember what she had written on the blackboard.  Not her actual presentation (in terms of anything she said), but what was on the board.  Once I had that to begin with, I knew enough about the subject that I could expand on it, and/or otherwise wing it.

So what does that have to do with music?

It isn't photographic memory quite, but I can tell, from as little as 1 second of the beginning of a song, what song it is and who it is by.  Now, I'm not just talking about the songs that I really like (though obviously, there is a lot of that on my music player, a 8 GB Creative Zen V, I don't want an iPod, and I have a fantasy that there will one day be a commercial that shows silhouetted figures dancing with iPod headphones on and then cut to their strangled silhouetted bodies, but I digress), but any song that I have heard over...X number of times.  I don't know what the threshold for X is here.  More than once, less than a hundred.  And I can't prove this, and don't really care to, since that isn't the point, so just go with me on it.

This is very useful since I keep my player in shuffle mode 85% of the time, and I have a lot of crap loaded on it (you can fit a lot of WMA files in 8 GB), and sometimes, I'm just in the mood for certain songs (though not necessarily any particular ones), and so I can shuffle through the songs without looking at the display, and know which song is which.  By which I mean, I can hear one second of, say, some cut off of Brian Eno's Another Green World, determine which one it is, decide if I'm in the mood to listen to it at that moment, and if not, move on.

There are certain songs that are more difficult than others.  The very beginning of Blondie's 'Heart of Glass' and Roxy Music's ' Same Old Scene' are very similar, so I need 5-10 seconds or so to get it.  But for the most part, it is 1-2 seconds.

And in certain cases, and here's where the random part really factors in, I can tell in 1 second which verse a song is in if I cut to it (say, while switching between radio stations).  Just using an example, and why this song is one of them I don't know, I can tell within 1 second (it seems immediate to me, but there must be some delay) between the chorus and verse of U2's 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For' if it is right before the Jesus' verse (the last verse of the do know the song is about Jesus, right?).  I've sort of tried to figure out why this is.  It isn't something obvious like a guitar solo in the middle of it.  I don't recall if I have to hear a particular 1 second part of it or not.

One of the reasons this is on my mind is because I've discovered that this ability, or some form of it, is ...... 'proactive' (I know that's not the right word at all, but it gives the general flavor of what I mean).  Lindsey Buckingham has an album (that sort of gives away my age...."Daddy, what's an album?" I told someone today, I'm old enough to remember when SportsCenter was good and MTV played music videos...which indicates I'm not *that* old, but I digress) called Under The Skin and there is one particular song that I liked off of it called 'Down On Rodeo', so I was looking at the various reviews of it on Amazon to see what other people had to say about it.  One person was lamenting that the song really needed to be played by Fleetwood Mac.

And I knew he was wrong.  It was Fleetwood Mac.  Or at least, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie (I suppose having the girls singing background vocals would be a nice touch).  I was once a mediocre guitarist, so I know that in certain cases it is obvious to tell what guitarist is playing on any given track, but I have no idea how I could tell with bass and drums.  And I didn't time it, but I'm pretty sure I knew they were playing on the track almost immediately, which I was able to verify on some discography page ("It's on the web, so it must be true").

What does this have to do with programming?  Admittedly, next to nothing, except for this one thing.  I am horrible with code syntax.  Horrible.  I've probably worked with T-SQL every work day for the last 5 years at least, and just the other day, I had to ask someone for how to write specific syntax for an EXISTS clause because I just don't remember that stuff.  Without Intellisense and Google, I literally don't think I could do my job for my clients (my Google skills are, apparently, tremendous....there was once a production problem that some people were having, and they were using Google as well because they were at their wits end, and they asked for my help.  I looked at the error message they were getting, knew which parts of it needed to be cut out, which parts adjusted, went to Google, and came back with the solution in about 5 minutes.  Later on, one of the guys, a decent guy, not an amateur, asked me how I knew what to look up, and I had nothing specific to tell him.).

And I the hell is it that one part of the brain can identify patterns almost instantaneously and yet another part can't identify another?  EXISTS clauses aren't that difficult.  Why can I, in certain cases, hear the very first note of a song, and know exactly who the artist is and what the song is?  Is there some way to 'train the brain' to pass this ability around?

Just wondering.

posted on Tuesday, August 21, 2007 6:26 PM Print
# re: Musical Memory
3/26/2008 5:25 AM
Weird! :) I just googled to your site "t-sql divide zero" and started to browse your posts :) I think I have same kind of musical memory and better yet, my google skills are also out of ordinary.

I listen mp3s in car and its quite easy to shuffle to right mp3 since I normally need like couple of first notes to know what is playing... also it seems that my car mp3 players suffle is not that random since mosth of the times I have this feeling when music is changing that I know what will come next...

take care:)

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