How Your Brain Works: Association & Elaboration

brain neurons and connections

The best way to remember something is to make it memorable!

To that end, it is not enough to merely think of something. You also need to think about it. And two powerful ways to accomplish thinking about something are Association and Elaboration.


Your ability to remember things is greatly enhanced if you can associate them with things you already know. And the more associations, the better. Importantly, these associations should be natural and meaningful, not contrived or based on clever mnemonic tricks.

As you study music, you’ll discover that music is not a disconnected collection of isolated parts, but a richly interwoven tapestry. For example, scales and chords are just different views of the same musical stuff. Also, learning new scales and chords is easy if you relate them to scales and chords you already know.

The Takeaways: Always relate new things you are trying to learn to things you already know!


It’s easy for our brains to “forget” things if we only know them in one way. But when we elaborate on something, we explain it in more than one way or add or emphasize important details about that something. Elaboration builds confidence and security because it creates a rich network of connections that employ more than one part of our brain. Of course, the more elaborations, the better!

A common musical application of elaboration is to see a melody as more than just a sequence of letter names. We can also see the melody as Solfege syllables, rhythmic sequence, harmonic cell, visio-spatial pattern, fingering pattern, and physical choreography.

Analogies and metaphors are great examples of elaboration is action: How is this thing I am trying to learn like something else I already know?

The Takeaway: Always try to learn things in more ways than one. Your confidence will grow immensely with every new pattern and connection you discover!

learn more… How Your Brain Works: Chunking, Automatization, & Practice

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