In an earlier practice tip, I touched on the concept of MUSCLE MEMORY and how important it is for musicians to develop. Today, I want to talk about steps you can take to ensure that your practicing will lead to the development of good muscle memory. Read more >>
Muscle memory is the product of REPETITION. In fact, I don’t believe there is any other way to develop muscle memory than to practice the same precise action, the same exact way, over and over. The more times you repeat any particular action the more the nerve cells in your muscle tissue will adapt to performing that action. Over the course of dozens, hundreds and ultimately thousands of repetitions a guitarist’s hands learn to instantly recall anything from chords to scales to entire pieces of music.
There are some songs I have practiced for many years which I can no longer consciously recall how to play at all. But if you put the guitar in my hands, I need only to think, “Ok, Hands. Play BLACKBIRD,” and WHOOSH they go and play ‘Blackbird’. Everyone has experienced this on some level. For example, when you want to walk across a room, you don’t consciously think “LEFT FOOT, RIGHT FOOT, LEFT FOOT…” You just think, I want to go over there and off you go. It is the very some thing with music.
The key to developing good muscle memory in your practicing is not simply to repeat whatever you are working on, but you must also repeat the material VERY SLOWLY. You see, the nerves in the hands can learn only what you give them to learn.
If you rush through an exercise or a piece of music you will play it quickly but sloppily. If you repeat this 100 times, your hands will only know how to repeat that sloppy action as quickly and sloppily as the first time. This is a waste of practice time and your playing will never improve. Only working SLOWLY will you allow you to concentrate on the repeating the exact movements you need to your hands to make. You will then be teaching your hands the right way to play whatever you are working on. Once your hands can play it perfectly at the slowest possible tempo, you will find that it is very easy to simply speed up an action that you have so thoroughly learned.
The other tip that I have for developing music memory has to do with something called BODY AWARENESS. Basically, in order to reproduce an action from muscle memory you have to kind-of listen to your hands. Again you have to practice very slowly so that you can feel the sensation as your hands play each note. You don’t want to rely on your eyes to guide your fingers from one fret to the next. Your eyes and your brain simply aren’t going to be fast enough and will become totally overwhelmed by even simple pieces and exercises. You need to learn to play based on the way your hands feel. The only way do this is to again, GO SLOW and allow yourself the time to experience that feeling over and over through each repetition.