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Learning To Play Piano: Tips For Building Muscle Memory

Just like anything you do in life, the more you do it, the easier it gets. Muscle Memory can stay with you for a very long time. Muscle memory is similar to computer programming and it is like your movements are programmed so when you begin to play piano; you do not have to actively think as much as you recall the motor memory in your fingers. This is why experienced pianists who have practiced a lot have their muscle memory already developed, and thus they can perform without thinking. 

Muscle memory doesn’t actually record or retain a memory in your muscle, but rather, in the nerves and neural pathways associated with that muscle. In fact, skilled pianists use their motor network less than inexperienced pianist when it comes to complex hand movements. Just like running or walking, the piano player's movements become programmed and you they longer think, they just do! Essentially, when you repetitively practice a movement, you are changing the way your brain reacts to these movements resulting in quicker, repeated motions. Muscle memory remains for a very long time and this is why you don’t forget how to ride a bicycle. Even if you take a break from certain activity, such as piano playing, as you get back to it your muscle memory will be quickly regained. 

Learning vs. Practicing: Correct and Consistent Practice is Important!

The term ‘Practice makes a man perfect’ is true but the phrase becomes perfectly true when you add Correct and consistent practice makes perfect. This memory is built with repetition of a particular activity and the more you do of something; stronger will be its memory within your nerves and brains. But the memory you build doesn’t know whether you are doing something good or bad. This means that if you practice a piece while making mistakes over and over again; there will be chances that you will become really good at making those mistakes.

Apart from practicing, your attitude, urge towards learning as well as your sense of being able to perform can work positively for your muscle memory. This means that factor of confidence would also affect your muscle memory. Here’s a really nice way to break down how you learn to play an instrument. Since muscle memory is built through strict repetition, the process of building up your muscle memory is actually the learning phase. Until you play something consistently correct, only then is it safe to say you’re practicing it. You must practice something in order to build muscle memory, meaning that muscle memory is only developed once you’re in the practicing phase.

Tips For Improving Muscle Memory

Building good muscle memory is not difficult however the key behind it is to have your focus on the quality of your work rather than quantity. It would be a waste of time and effort to practice carelessly where you might be repeating your mistakes over and over again and training your muscles in the wrong way. Some tips that would aid in building good muscle memory for pianists:

  • Practice at a slow pace and do not rush while practicing. Slowly and gradually work to increase speed once you have gained complete hands on a part at its slow pace.
  • You must not focus on learning the entire piece of music in a few hours. It is more effective to break up your musical piece in parts and pay attention to learning one part at a time.
  • Always be mindful of mistakes and if you are making mistakes; make sure you correct them during the phase of learning. Muscle memories once developed are difficult to reverse so focus on building good memories. Make sure you are practicing correctly and not teaching your muscles memories that will be difficult to UN-learn.
  • Practicing twice a day and with shorter intervals between practice sessions, greatly increases your muscle memory! 
  • Once you have some proficiency, perfect that newly learnt skill in a random environment. You can even set some distractions in your environment to further strengthen your muscle memory for that particular repetitive session. It may sound 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.
  • Be diligent, consistent and work with patience and concentration. Do the work and reap the reward. 
  • 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.

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