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Do Guitar Players Muscles Really Have a Memory?

Jan 24, 2008
What is muscle memory and how does it work?

Is it the most challenging thing about learning to play the guitar and going from beginner to expert? Probably yes at least in the beginning.

In the world of guitars and related equipment, part of that learning process means memorizing how to use fingers, picks, and even pedals in a coordinated way to play a guitar and produce desirable sounds.

How does this memorizing phenomenon take place?

At first, you need to learn to concentrate or focus with great intensity on the subject, in this case music in order to make your fingers, hands, arms (and feet) move in just the right way.

What you're learning is a precision oriented skill, that is, how to make the guitar perform the task (make music) properly.

Scientists have discovered that there are a large number of internal brain regions which work together with the input and output brain sensors that make the mental images of the music you see in your minds eye.

Using these images, we learn to interpret the input signals, process them, and turn them into output responses of a set pattern such as the study of musical patterns. The twelve bar blues is an excellent example.

After a while, the seeing-thinking-doing disciplines gradually turns into seeing and doing because your muscles start learning how to know and remember just what you are doing, so you actually have less thinking to do as your muscles start to do these patterns instinctively.

What is the goal? Increase your speed, and how to perform the skills drills more carefully and accurately. When you start to think less and do more by instinct you start to develop muscle memory.

Of course, during the drills and practice sessions, your muscles aren't really memorizing anything (all memories are stored in your brain).

Instead, what you see with your eyes is interpreted instantly by your brain in the form of nerve signals and sends the signals to your muscles to make your fingers and hands move instinctively.

As I mentioned earlier, by making the same movements over and over in response to the same image/s such as your music lesson, the nerve to muscle connections gradually start to remember the pattern, that is, the transmission of the signals becomes more efficient and easier, and this is how the thinking part in the seeing-thinking-doing is gradually replaced by seeing and doing or by muscle memory.

And this is exactly what takes place when people spend time practicing certain exercises. At first, their body language tells you if the pupil is concentrating carefully while working hard to watch and learn.

Believe this, when you come back later (the next day) the same person is more relaxed and making the same precise movements, but now much faster! A miracle? No, hard work!

Note: As elementary as the concept of muscle memory seems to be, any skill requires development of muscle memory, surgeons have great muscle memory.

You would not want a surgeon that had never practiced an operation or procedure before cutting you open for the first time, would you? Hopefully that surgeon had a lot of practice in medical school first.

In the world of playing the guitar, muscle memory is especially important because it's the combination of precision and speed that make players truly different. And muscle memory also let's you turn your attention to the bigger picture, to go to the next step in the teachings being learned by eliminating a large part of the mental load.

But there's a major prerequisite to learning the new skills and acquiring muscle memory, you must be practicing regularly, diligently and properly.

This means lots of observation and input right from the start from your teacher (an expert and your guidance), since beginners don't always know enough about doing things properly and notice and correct their own mistakes! (If they could, they'd be experts.) What is worse is not practicing properly, you'll learn to do things wrong and eventually you'll need to forget those bad habits.

That's why we say lots of practice produces the fastest way to move towards great playing ability. And this is where players who put the most time into practicing the proper techniques and scales over and over, outperform, outplay and continue to make gratifying gains in their playing skills over people who are not as aggressive about their discipline to become a top notch player.
About the Author
Guitar Players Center is a site committed to distinguishing itself from the pack by providing our readers with real world un-biased, no holds barred guitar and gear reviews, articles and videos. From Guitar Tabs to reviews on the best Guitar Players, GPC has it all.
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