Spaced Repetition: How to Learn Anything and Never Forget it

Posted on October 29, 2012 by


What if I told you that there was a learning technique that would allow you to learn almost anything in seconds a day and never forget it.  Would you be interested?  Can you believe that this technique has been around for almost a century yet lies in obscurity?

Spaced repetition refers to a learning technique that is built on the understanding that our memories decay over time.  By reminding yourself of a piece of information at key intervals the memory is strengthened and the amount of time it takes you to forget it is reduced.

I first learned about spaced repetition when I stumbled upon Gwern’s  Site which includes a detailed review of the literature on the subject and some of his own thoughts.  Then I was reminded of it when Quantified Self wrote an article summarizing how various QS members had used the techniques to accelerate their learning.

The more I learned the more excited I became to experiment with these techniques.  Lately I have been thinking about how I could use spaced repetition to accelerate my progress in learning guitar in three major areas: music theory, chords, and sheet notation.

Every time I pickup my music theory book I struggle to read even one paragraph because it is full of words that are foreign to me.  Every time I try to learn a song I encounter chords which I have never seen or played.  Every time I try to read a sheet of music I encounter notation which is unfamiliar to me.

Each of these deficiencies in knowledge could be remedied by downloading or creating ANKI cards that target music theory, chords or notation. Yet despite my initial excitement and my continued interest I haven’t created one flashcard or downloaded one deck.

I have read a number of articles about it, I have found and bookmarked blogs about it, I have downloaded the software.  Why haven’t I motivated myself to use it?

Here are some ideas I have come up with:

  • I never used flashcards to learn before and I suppose I have some sort of hangup about them
  • In college I always crammed knowledge before exams so it seems strange to learn this way
  • I don’t know how to use the ANKI application so it is intimidating to get started
  • I haven’t been spending much (if any) practice time on these topics
  • I don’t know what to put on the cards. In other words I don’t know what is worth memorizing

Writing this article and specifically making that list has helped me clarify what is holding me back.  More than anything this is fear of the unknown.  I am resistant to start because I don’t know anything about it.  In my experience this type of inertia can be overcome by committing to do one small action to get the ball rolling.

Within the next 24 hours I will download a deck of cards onto my phone and test the software.

If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy:
Learning the Guitar Fretboard Using Anki Flashcards
How to Cram for a Math or Engineering Exam in 24 Hours
Achieve More with Beeminder
Pushing Through a Learning Plateau

Posted in: Guitar, Learning