11 The Major System

The Major System is the ultimate Memory System. It has been used and continually improved upon for more than 300 years, since the middle of the seventeenth century, when it was introduced by Stanislaus Mink von Wennsshein. Von Wennsshein's basic construction was modified in the early eighteenth century by Dr Richard Grey, an Englishman. The Major System was devised to enable the master memorisers of the time to break the bonds of the previously excellent but more limited systems. These master memorisers wanted a system that would enable them to memorise a list of items not only longer than ten but as long as they wanted. At the same time they wanted this system to enable them to remember numbers and dates and to order and structure memory in hundreds and thousands of detailed ways.

The basic concept of the system is that it makes use of a different consonant or consonant sound for each number from 0 to 9 in a special code:

The Major System's Special Code

The vowels a, e, i, o, u and the letters h, w and y do not have numbers associated with them and are used simply as 'blanks' in the Key Memory Image Words you will soon be creating.

To save you the trouble of remembering these by rote, there are some simple remembering devices:

0 The letter 5, or z, is the first sound of the word zero; 0 is the last letter.

1 The letters d and t have one downstroke.

2 The letter n has two downstrokes.

3 The letter m has three downstrokes.

4 The letter r is the last letter in the word four.

5 The letter l can be thought of as either the Roman numeral for 50 or a hand with five spread fingers, the index finger and thumb forming an L shape.

6 The letterj is the mirror image of 6.

7 The letter k, when seen as a capital, contains two number 7s.

8 The letter f when handwritten, has two loops, similar to the number 8.

9 The letters b and p are the mirror image of 9.

As with the Number-Rhyme and Number-Shape Systems, your task is to create a Key Image Word that can be immediately and permanently linked with the number it represents. Take, for example, the number 1. You have to think of a Key Image Word that is a good visual image and that contains only d, t or th and a vowel sound. Examples include doe, tea, toe and the. When recalling the word chosen for number 1, let us say tea, you would know that it could represent only the number 1 because the consonant letter in the word represents no other number, and vowels do not count as numbers in this system.

Try another example: the number 34. In this case the number 3 is represented by the letter m, and 4 is represented by the letter r. Examples of possible words include mare, more, moor and mire. In selecting the 'best' word for this number, you once again make use of the alphabet order to assist both in choice of word and in recall: in other words, the letters you have to choose are m and r, so you simply mentally run through the vowels a-e-i-o-u using the first vowel that enables you to make an adequate Memory Word. The case in question is easily solved, since a fits between m and r to direct you toward the word mare.

The advantage of using this alphabet-order system is that, should a word in the Major System ever be forgotten, it can actually be 'worked out' from the basic information. All you have to do is place the letters of the number in their correct order and then 'slot in', in order, the vowels. As soon as you touch the correct combination, your Key Memory Image Word will immediately come to mind.

First, letting the letter d represent in each case the '1' of the number, try to complete the words for numbers 10 to 19, using the alphabet-order system for these numbers, in the Initial Major System Exercise below.

Don't worry if this exercise proves a little difficult, because immediately following is a complete list of Memory Words for the numbers 1 to 100. Don't just accept them: check each one carefully, changing any that you find difficult to visualise or for which you have a better substitute.

Initial Major System Exercise

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