Learning things by heart

Memorising is a traditional bardic skill and it’s a wonderful thing to do. In learning something you form a much deeper relationship with it, and it becomes part of you. It is scary – performing from memory without a safety net is a really exposed thing to do and you can fall and fail – but you really feel it when you fly. And if you sauntered onto the bard path the odds are that you crave the applause, the audience response and the glory to some degree.

There are people, and my son is one of them, who seem able to absorb vast amounts of text with very little effort. For most of us, it is a slog taking time and repetition. To learn things by heart you also have to learn how much work that takes. It’s easy to be put off and to assume you can’t do it… but it can just be a case of needing to make more effort than you expected. The more you learn by heart, the better your memory becomes and the easier it gets.

Not everyone can commit things to memory. Not everyone who can memorise finds they can perform from memory. It’s worth investing time and effort in building familiarity with material even if you do then need the safety net. It’s vitally important that bardic spaces don’t require you to memorise – that’s abelist. Further, no one should have to explain what their issues are if they don’t perform from memory.

Here are some things I’ve found helpful when trying to learn something by heart…

Little and often is better than big sessions. Go over the material every day.

Start trying to do it – or bits of it – from memory as soon as you can. It doesn’t matter how bad you are. If you just work from the paper you get used to the paper. Trying to reconstruct the piece from memory will really help you, even if you spend most of the time going ‘tum te tum’ between key words.

Play with the material. Messing about helps with learning. But also be careful because you don’t want to learn the wrong words. Comedy versions can be great, but don’t set yourself up to remember the wrong words!

Don’t worry about getting it wrong. The chances many people – or for that matter any person in your audience knows the material better than you do, are small. If you present the piece with confidence and a smile, people will be persuaded that you know it. Mistakes delivered with certainty are seldom noticed. If you need to brazen it out, that was how Granny always said it, or ‘folk process’ are always options. As a bard, a good story can be more pertinent than a disappointing and useless truth. If you go off-text you can also always say that you were in the grip of the Awen and that’s simply what turned up!

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

5 responses to “Learning things by heart

  • Mayank

    Positive reinforcement training might also help. After all, it’s all related to the brain.

  • locksley2010

    From an actor’s perspective, you have to learn the lines by rote. In most cases, yes the above applies, but if it’s Shakespeare, you HAVE to get it absolutely right. Everything else, depending on the director, allows for wiggle room and there’s always the trust of your fellow actors to help unless you can suddenly improvise a monologue to get you back on track (you’d be amazed at what you can do when adrenaline and the Awen actually mix). The bad news is there is no “quick” way to learn lines. Everyone is different and even I struggle with learning word for word, but that’s part of the work. How you do it though, is up to you. One friend of mine records all her scenes and listens back to them for example, but the learning has to be done….. just do it in a way for you.

  • M.A.

    50 years ago I had to memorize the prelude to Canterbury Tales for an English class; I can still recite the first line! The rest, alas, is lost in the fog. I still know most of “The Cremation of Sam Magee”, because I love all the internal rhyme.

    Also, rituals go much better if everyone isn’t rattling script paper; and yes, it takes work. It’s worth it.

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