It’s Like Riding a Bike … Until It’s Not

For a while now, I’ve been wanting to make a return to music – in particular, music composition, and writing scores for orchestras, and pianos, and more. Factoring this in with the enormous amount of other creative work I want to do – writing the fourth book in “The Redemption of Erâth” series and continuing work on young adult novels – means it was unlikely I was going to really make a move on this in the near future, but the dream was always there.

And – foolishly – I assumed I would remember what to do when the time came.

It’s funny – it’s been more than ten years since I last focused my energies on creating music, and whilst I’ve certainly not forgotten the basic principles of playing music, there is a surprising amount that I have forgotten – and it makes me sad.

I (obviously) devour music as a listener; whether it be classical, rock or symphonic metal, I am always, always listening to music. And in my past, I was a somewhat accomplished pianist, played bass moderately well, and knew my music theory like the back of my hand.

And while I can still pick up a bass and pluck away, or tickle the ivories in a half-assed manner, there’s a huge amount that I no longer remember. It’s funny – it’s almost like the old, “I’ve forgotten more about making music than …”.

I recently set up a kind of office in my loft, with a nice, large desktop computer screen, electric keyboard to one side, and plenty of great music-writing software. And once the setup was complete, I fired up Logic Pro, downloaded some beautiful piano samples, and tried to play.

I couldn’t remember a single song.

Isn’t that weird? I know the keyboard, I know the layout, and can play in any key – but I can’t remember how to actually play anything. A few measures at most, and the rest is just gone.

Oh well, I thought – playing was never my main gig. So I opened up my music notation software that I haven’t used in a decade, and suddenly I couldn’t remember how to use it. As in, almost every single feature and capability of the application is a mystery to me. I’m going to need to relearn it.

They say playing an instrument is like riding a bike – you never forget how to do it. And whilst to an extent that isn’t entirely wrong, it certainly isn’t entirely true. I’ve just discovered that there is a huge knowledge gap in my mind when it comes to music, and it’s bothering me greatly; I used to know my arpeggios from my appogiaturas, and now I can barely remember what an ossia is. There’s literally terminology for musical notation that I’ve completely forgotten.

I’m confident I can relearn it, and it will eventually come back to me, but it’s disturbing to see what a lack of practice can do to something you once thought of as a part of your very being.

Is there anything you used to know well, that you feel like you’ve since forgotten?

Thought of the Week: Vanilla Water

Some time ago, I set up to brew coffee in our filter coffee maker. I put a splash of vanilla in the bottom of the carafe, because that’s what we do, and I set it going. When the carafe began to fill with an extremely pale, yellowish water, I realized I had forgotten a rather important ingredient.

Another time, I thought I’d be clever and set the coffee maker up the night before, so that it would be fresh and waiting to go when we woke up. I filled it up, put the coffee in because I’d learned from my mistake, set the timer, and went to bed. I woke up in the morning to find the kitchen floor flooded with water; I had forgotten to close the lid on the coffee maker.

These are the things I deal with on a daily basis (though I doubt I’m alone). Tonight I couldn’t remember if I had taken my medication this morning, so I took a double dose. The other night I took out the garbage and forgot to leave the door unlocked; I nearly broke my leg trying to climb in through a second-storey window. I’ve also forgotten all the witty things I was going to write in this post.

You see, this topic has come up because I realized the other day that I’d forgotten to post a thought of the week last week (I had to write down that I wanted to write about this in case I forgot). I forget an awful lot of things, both minor and major. I often forget where I left my glasses, or my iPhone (thank goodness for Find My iPhone). Probably the worst thing I ever forgot was Valentine’s Day (I don’t dare forget my wife’s birthday – I have approximately sixteen reminders for this). I’ve even forgotten my son was in the back of the car and drove him to work instead of school.

I read an interesting publication a while back on the nature of forgetfulness. Apparently, walking through doors can affect this greatly. I can’t remember the number of times I’ve gone into a different room and had no idea what I went in there for (I’m trying not to think too hard about that sentence). In the study, they had participants play a simple computer game where they looked at an object in a room, then walked away from the object and were asked to recall what it was. They discovered that significantly fewer participants who walked through a doorway could recall it compared to those who didn’t leave the room, even if they walked a comparable distance away.

Similar studies have shown that memories are often grossly distorted from the actual reality of the event. One example had different subjects taste – or not taste – a piece of chocolate. Some of them were simply given the chocolate; others were told beforehand how wonderful and delicious the chocolate was going to be. Some time later, they were asked to describe the taste; those to whom the taste was described recalled the taste far better – even those who had never tasted it!

These occurrences are so frequent for me that I am becoming increasingly concerned, often to the point of doubting my own thoughts and and considerations. Things I adamantly remember – clearly, vividly, blow by blow – turn out to have never happened. I recall conversations with my wife that never took place, and forget the ones that did.

These two aspects of failing memory – false and absent recall – make me worried for my own sanity. I am already disposed of an ill mind, and these symptoms seem only to reinforce my maladies. Even now, as I have begun to reread my book for editing, I have come across entire passages I don’t recall writing.

So what am I to do? I have tried many memory aids – pieces of string, notes, reminders; often, though, by the time I find pen and paper, I have already forgotten what I intended to write. I don’t remember what the string was for. A date pops up in my calendar, and I can’t remember why. I realize this must seem mundane – perhaps normal, even – but I worry that my memory will continue to degenerate, and I will soon be unable to remember even the simplest of things. Early-onset Alzheimer’s, perhaps?

Tell me – what do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments; I just hope I remember them.