Introduction: How to Learn Anything Fast
I am interested in learning and memory, so I have been reading books on the topic. I want to learn the 10 key skills needed for future jobs in the shortest time possible. But, I also want to help people in the Strategic Reading Challenge Facebook group to learn them as well. I do not watch television, but I have been watching YouTube videos of the television show, The Voice, and it struck me that the coaches, who are singers, know a lot of songs. How did they learn all the songs? Do singers have special learning techniques they use to memorize lyrics and tunes? What about actors, how do they learn scripts in the shortest time possible? If we study these entertainer we may be able to pick up tips on how learn anything fast?
This is the second post in the series on learning and memory. The first post was a review and summary of Effortless Learning by Tony Roe.
Have you read?
With the burning questions I had about artists learning large amounts of information quickly, I decided to do some research to see if I could discover tips I could borrow and adapt that will make learning skills easier. My research uncovered many learning strategies that singers and actors use, but some were too involved to ask a professional to use. Other strategies would not work when learning most skills. Surprisingly, many of these entertainers use some kind of memorization technique to learn songs and scripts. I did not find any technique I wanted to borrow and adapt, but I kept on looking.
Professor Helga Noice Studies How Actors Memorize Their Lines
Eventually I came across an article that mentioned a study Helga Noice, a professor of psychology at Elmhurst College in Illinois conducted. She spent over 20 years investigating the question, how actors memorize their lines. Her findings will help anyone who has to remember large amounts of information. Noice discovered that most actors do not memorize their lines the way you would expect them to, which was a surprising find.
Instead, they read the script over and over again, looking for that one line that ties the story together. They refer to it as a “throughline”. Actors pay close attention to the script to get insights into who characters are; the situations and relationships; why they do what they do, what they say, and why they say what they say. This makes perfect sense to me since the best actors become the character’s persona. And as they go through the script over and over at the micro level, trying to get to the heart and soul of it, memorization automatically happens.
What Actors Can Teach Us About Memory and Learning
“Actors pay minute attention to every snatch of dialogue because each word offers a hint of the speaker’s motivations and desires. As they engage in this “micro-level” processing of the material, Noice notes, memorization of the lines just happens: “At no time did the actors attempt to memorize the words directly, but rather tried to discern why the character would use those particular words to express that particular thought.”
Acting is not simply reciting the script. Actors bring emotion, feelings, and movement that complement the words in the script. There are three things at play here – deep processing, physical movement, and emotional associations.
When I read what actors do to memorize scripts, I had an aha moment. To learn a skill, you have to understand the structure of the skill, which holds everything together. Why are you reading the book? What is the author’s purpose for writing the book? To get the most from reading book, your purpose for reading must align with the authors’ purpose for writing the book. The primary idea in the book explains the secondary and peripheral ideas. To acquire knowledge, take ownership of primary ideas, because they are the key to understanding the other ideas.
If you read the above paragraph carefully, you will notice parallels with what actors do to learn a script.
Learning the Words to a Song Quickly
I listened to Tessanne Chin sing “Try” for her blind audition on Season 5 of the Voice, then I researched who the original artist of the song was. I listened to P!NK sing her song, then I listened to Tessanne singing “Try” again after receiving coaching from Adam Levine. By doing this repeatedly, one day, shortly after, I was singing along, when I realized that I knew the words to “Try”.
It is interesting how I learned to sing “Try” this way. My research revealed that many singers use this technique to learn another artist’s song. But the order is different. When they are learning the song, they are not just learning the lyrics. They have to learn the rhythm and other technical details.
How 3 Steps to Learning Songs Quickly Can Be Used for Reading Books
I found a solution to learning a song that translates well to reading a book.
- Listen and Copy: “Put two versions of the song you want to learn onto your phone or CD or whatever you use to listen to, and the first version needs to be the actual song with the artist singing the lyrics. Then straight after that song you want to listen to the backing track of that song. When we sing along WITH the artist, we don’t really memorize the lyrics because the artist is constantly reminding us of what they are. Having the backing track forces you to memorize the lyrics yourself.”
- Read through the Lyrics and Work Out What They Mean: “What is the song really about and what is the artist trying to say? Imagine yourself walking through the song and having it play out in your mind. If the lyrics say ‘come on lets party tonight’ then imagine yourself getting dressed up to go out to a party. It will help you to remember your lyrics because most songs follow a story line.”
- Try a Written Method of Learning to Kickstart Your Memory: “People learn in a variety of ways. Some people prefer to listen, some people need things visually in front of them to learn, while some people need to write the lyrics out themselves in order for them to get stuck in your brain. Throughout our school years, we do a lot of learning this way, the teachers will regurgitate a bunch of info, we write it out either by hand or on the computer and then it goes into our brain. You can do the same thing with learning lyrics. Instead of downloading lyrics online, take the time to write them out and you’ll probably find that you start remembering them.”
This is my interpretation of the information above. Pre-scan the book to get a general sense of what the book is about. This means that you read the Table of Contents, Index, Preface, Introduction, and if you are interested in sections based on what you see in the Table of Contents, dip into the book and read a page here and there. After you do this, you will know if you want to read the book.
As you are reading the book and taking notes, think about what the author is saying. Why does she say what she says? Why does she say it the way she says it? Ares there any hidden meaning in the text? What implications do the text have for you? How can you summarize what the author is saying without changing her intent and meaning?
When you have finished reading the book, review and revise your notes. Pick out the primary idea and the supporting secondary and peripheral ideas. If you like drawing mind maps, map out your notes. This action helps you to remember the information.
Final Thoughts: How to Learn Anything Fast
I think there are strategies that you can adapt from actors and singers to learn anything efficiently and effectively. You can follow the above to learn anything fast. In other posts in the series, I will review several books on learning and memory. And I am confident that you will find a strategy that works for you.