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How to "Read with Music" in OptimaLearning
To Accelerate Learning and Strengthen Memory

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Renoir's Two Girls at the Piano
Two Girls at the Piano

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by Ivan Barzakov, Ph.D.
A key OptimaLearning® technique for learning and teaching is Reading with Music™ (RwM). When used correctly, it commits information to LONG-TERM MEMORY and makes this new knowledge more easily retrievable. Anyone can master this technique with practice. You can learn or teach complex, detailed material or lengthy, technical information more rapidly. The process is also pleasurable and reduces stress.

This is different from ordinary reading. In the Reading with Music technique, sometimes called "concert reading", your voice, with its rhythm and inflections, reflects the rhythm and moods expressed in the music. Imagine a surfer and a wave. Your voice is like a surfer and music is your wave. You are clearly reading, not singing; however, your voice is like a new instrument added to the orchestra and it serves as a counterpoint to the music.

These instructions together with the OptimaLearning Classics™, audio tapes especially created for this purpose, will speed your mastery and enjoyment of this popular memory booster.

Specialized Review

The best time to use Reading with Music (RwM) technique as a specialized review of the material you are learning is immediately before going to sleep. You can also us it once more (if you wish) right after you wake up in the morning. Not only will you be surprised how much you remember, but you will also get a very restful night's sleep.

Step One: Selecting and Organizing your Material

Highlight the key ideas, quotes and information with a highlighter pen or take clear notes on what you wish to remember. These can be short passages, key concepts, facts, graphs, formulas, definitions or vocabulary. In time you will learn to do this step while you are reading or studying the material. The important thing is to organize the material you want to remember so that you can flow with the music and will not have to stop to find or reorganize your notes or references.

You may use the technique of Reading with Music in any circumstance. But if you have the opportunity, you will learn more joyfully by creating an OptimaLearning space - a comfortable chair, sufficient and well-placed lighting, and a favorite object that brings you pleasant feelings of easy mastery.

Step Two: Selecting the Music

Music is not "created equal". Different forms of music have varying effects on our body and mind. In selecting music to use for learning, relaxation, optimal performance or creativity, we need to be aware of the deeper impact that music can have on mental clarity and health.

Learning and teaching narrative texts, vocabulary, ideas, concepts and complex material as well as storytelling and test-taking require particular music that is sequenced in precise ways. Baroque music with its contrapuntal nature, strong rhythmical statement of purpose and a projected sense of stability is particularly conducive for this type of reading.

Not just any Baroque music should be used. The selections often alternate slow with fast tempos. Learning is not necessarily confined to slow cadences. Late Italian Baroque, with its "operatic" style (Corelli, Albinoni, Scarlatti, Marcello, Vivaldi, etc.) as well as some works and excerpts form Bach, Pachelbel and Handel are specifically recommended for the Reading with Musicª technique in learning and teaching.

Of no less importance than selecting the appropriate music is its optimal sequence. Sequencing the composers, compositions, tempos, keys, pitch, instrumentation and even musical themes requires long periods of experimentation and research. At Barzak Educational Institute, we have developed a series of OptimaLearning music cassettes and CDs — the OptimaLearning Classics — to improve learning, relaxation, performance and creativity.

For quickest results we suggest that you begin by using the OptimaLearning Classics As you internalize your understanding of how music supports your desired outcomes, you can broaden your musical selections on your own. (For complete descriptions of these musical cassettes and CDs and how to obtain them, see the back of this book.)

Two OptimaLearning principles must be kept in mind while selecting music for teaching, learning, or optimal performance.

The first principle is CONTRAST AND COMPLEMENTATION. By using a contrast of selections, we make the learning environment more attractive to the brain. Variety stimulates our minds and keeps us fresh and alert. Sameness dulls our perception. Contrast within musical compositions is marked first by changes in tempo. Texture within a given movement provides additional contrast. Another contrast - often quite marked - is achieved by juxtaposing different epochs within a selected sequence, e.g., Classicism (Mozart) vs. Baroque (Vivaldi). Carefully selecting compositions that complement each other during a music listening activity will also be perceived by the brain as connecting the flow and sustaining threads in a harmonious, highly stimulating learning environment.

The second principle is VARIETY - ECONOMY - BALANCE (V-E-B). The brain thrives on a range of stimuli. The more variety one hears, the more numerous the musical hooks or cues. Music should be used, however, quite sparingly. Sometimes you do not want to play music at all. The brain loves silence as a contrast. Economical use of music maximizes its effectiveness. Always use a blend of activities, balancing mental and physical activities in the learning process. Music helps to keep a sense of anticipation and expectancy in your reading.

Step Three: Reading Aloud

You are ready to begin using RwM techniques. Sit comfortably so that you can breathe easily from your diaphragm. Turn on the music. Listen for a short time until you feel the rhythm of the selected piece.

Begin by gliding into the wave of the music and allowing your voice to "surf" with its power and momentum. Don't rush. Listen for changes in the music - rhythm and mood. Reflect these changes in your tone of voice.

Allow the music to guide your reading.

Continue to read aloud and stay relaxed. Let your voice rise up with the music, pause when the music pauses, soften with the music. Allow your voice to follow the movement of the music and change your inflections as it changes. Just flow with the music and don't worry about perfection. And don't try to memorize. Let the text simply sink in.

IMAGINE yourself as a surfer riding a wave. Your voice bends and balances itself in harmony with the wave of the music. You are reading out loud, but you are not singing. Your voice is a human instrument added to the orchestra.

VARY YOUR VOICE as the mood of the music shifts. This helps you avoid monotony. It also keeps your brain alert simultaneously to the material you are reading and to the music, thereby linking these and storing them in your long-term memory.

PAUSES are important. Always pause when the music pauses. Even if you are in the middle of a sentence, let your voice hang suspended and resume at the same level of intonation without taking a breath. Divide long sentences into shorter phrases and make deliberate pauses BETWEEN these phrases. Also pause briefly between each sentence. During the pause, listen to the changes in the music. As you become more familiar with the music, you will sense the changing moods of the music and will be able to anticipate the pauses with ease.

IMPORTANT! Read as long as you feel interested and relaxed. Take breaks as necessary.

If your voice sounds uninteresting and monotonous to you, your brain will not function well. If you feel bored, try to improve on your expressiveness and style. Bring a sense of wonderment and suspense to your voice. If you are inspired by your reading, then you are doing it right!

If you are not satisfied, practice. This is a new skill that develops more rapidly as you use it regularly. You do not have to be musically inclined. You will discover that your body and mind are responding at deeper levels.

The amount of information and complex ideas that you can commit to memory and retrieve with ease will soon astound you!

Enjoy your journey!

© 1983, 1995 Barzak Educational Institute International, All Rights Reserved.

This article appears in The Essence and Impact of OptimaLearning, 1995, published by Barzakov and Associates, Barzak Educational Institute, Novato, CA. To learn more about Reading with Music, view the instructional video available for purchase here.

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