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"Pìoban Suas" (Pipes Up)! - Muscle Memory: Music’s Secret Weapon

Updated: Jul 9

What is muscle memory anyway?


You want your children to play with unfettered joy. Picking any tune on their instrument of choice and wailing away with total abandon. But how does that level of mastery occur you wonder as you hear Chopsticks for the 384th time?


Why it is due to music muscle memory. The 3 M’s of mastery. The foundation of skill. The building blocks of expertise.

But it is a bit of a false title as it has nothing to do with muscles themselves. Muscle memory is really nerves associated with the muscle. When the path for the nerve is modified in the brain the magic begins.


Think of a small rut in the road. As each wagon passes over it day after day the rut becomes deeper and easier to follow. Eventually you don’t even have to steer as the rut takes over that task.


That is how the nerve/brain process works. The more you practice in a certain way they more powerful the path becomes and it is easier to follow without conscious thought. There are a hundred decisions a minute to make when driving your car, but the vast majority you make without consciously thinking about them.


Music is the perfect medium for this kind of learning. Experienced musicians play complex thing without concentrating on them which frees them up to develop more refined skills.


A Warning:

Practice can only begin after learning the piece. Repetitive practice of a wrong technique just means it is easier to play it wrong. You must learn the right way precisely and THEN practice relentlessly.

This is why music teachers are so important. They first let the child LEARN and then they encourage practice. It is like Jim Rohn always said: “You can motive a silly person, but then you just have a more motivated silly person going the wrong way.”


Great advice from joytunes.com:

  1. Practicing twice a day and with shorter intervals between practice sessions, greatly increases your muscle memory!

  2. Practice slowly. This is the best way for your brain and muscles to learn.

  3. Set a timer or alarm and put it away from your field of vision so you aren’t focused on time and when the session will be over.

  4. The TV method. Sounds unconventional but in reality, well-rehearsed repetitive actions are actually practiced better with TV on in the background (low to no volume). This strictly works the muscle memory in a distracting environment.