By Faith Hibbs-Clark, CMFA Founder
When it comes to memorization, one style of learning does not fit all. Acting teachers often teach their students the memorization technique that works best for them. This is why the teacher's technique for memorization will work for some students in class but not all. If you have ever felt like the memorization technique your acting teacher and other students in your class use is just not working for you, it's not your fault. There is nothing wrong with you!
1) Understand How Memorization Works in Your Brain
So what is the neuroscience behind memorization? You have two types of memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory. Short-term memory is like saving something to your iCloud, and long-term memory is like downloading it to your hard drive. Short-term memory is flimsy and vulnerable to your own anxieties & fear. If you memorize and only commit the words to your short-term memory, you are at high risk of forgetting your lines if you start to feel anxiety in an audition. Fear constricts the blood vessels in your brain, and that makes it harder to recall the information. If you have ever experienced "audition amnesia," you know this to be true.
2) Determine your Brain's Learning Style
Determine what your learning style is and use memorization tactics that work with that style. For example, if you are an auditory learner, you might record your lines and play them on a loop while driving in your car or while you are sleeping. If you are a visual learner, you might want to practice with your eyes closed and create a “mind mansion” where each room is associated with the delivery of a particular line. If you are a tactile learner, you might run your finger over each word as you memorize it. There are many ways to memorize, but the most effective ways will be those that are connected to your individual learning style.
3) Practice Perfectly Until it Becomes Muscle Memory
Your brain will memorize mistakes, so don't allow yourself to make any. Instead, make sure that you are saying the words correctly. Some directors don't care if you change the words a little, as long as it doesn't change the meaning of the scene, but others want it to be exact. Your job as an actor is to try to memorize the words as they are written. If someone is testing you, or you are testing yourself, don't allow even the slightest mistake. As you are practicing, fix errors immediately; otherwise, your brain will also memorize the mistake. With practice, you can commit the lines to muscle memory.
What is muscle memory? It is not a muscle at all, but it can be trained like one. Memories are not stored in your muscles, but we use this term to indicate when things are able to be repeated easily without thinking much about it. Sometimes, we can do things without thinking about it at all. It is a "subconscious" ability that can be triggered as needed. When people "play by ear" without music sheets, they are doing this by muscle memory. You can easily adapt this to your work as an actor.
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