A wonderful reader of this blog wrote to me, “It is interesting that you mentioned muscle memory in your discussion. Heard it several times also during ASW [Adult String Weekend- more on this in the next post]. I am aware of muscle memory, but never had the thought that muscles are smart.”

So I’m no expert and I don’t think that muscles have brains.  But there is something in the muscles that create “motor memory”.   Per Wikipedia, “When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort. This process decreases the need for attention and creates maximum efficiency within the motor and memory systems. ”

As it’s said in Wiki, “Overall, long-term musical fine motor training allows for complex actions to be performed at a lower level of movement control, monitoring, selection, attention, and timing. This leaves room for musicians to focus attention synchronously elsewhere, such as on the artistic aspect of the performance, without having to consciously control one’s fine motor actions.

Without going into a lot of discussion on the physiology of how it all works, let’s just agree that it does work.  Repetition of a movement (shifting from one note to another and back again, for example) will create the muscle memory and you’ll be able to do the shift without a lot of thinking about it.  So you can actually go on to play the next beautiful note!   And that’s what we’re after.


3 thoughts on “P.S. Muscle Memory

  1. David B Teague says:

    Great piece. Thanks.
    A physiologist described the “muscle memory” effect this way:
    We think with the brain’s grey matter; the white matter has paths that have been learned.
    When we practice while thinking about what we are doing, we are building paths in the white matter, and when that’s done, we don’t have to think about it. We only have to “start the pattern” and it happens without our thinking about it.

  2. I think this is how we eventually can play notes, bow, listen to others, etc. all at the same time. Yep, that’s what practice is all about. I also think that we “older” players don’t build the paths as easily as it can be done by a youngster, but that doesn’t mean we don’t build them at all. Just takes a little more practice.

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