How Muscle Memory is Used in Music?

You’ve probably experienced this before: you glue your eyes to the TV or make your way to a theater as you anticipate a performance from a local singer. But as soon as they open their mouths to sing the first note, you’re already cringing. And it’s not because they have a terrible voice- their voice is probably just fine. It’s because they are singing off-key. That aside, if you’re an aspiring musician, you can click here for an affordable music school in Sunnyvale.

Now, it’s not a big deal if off-key singing happens occasionally. But if it keeps recurring, it can be pretty frustrating- for you and the upcoming singer. After all, they are probably trying their best. So what’s the problem?

More often than not, the issue is that the singer is not using muscle memory correctly. Muscle memory is procedural memory that allows us to perform specific tasks without thinking about them. It is essential for hitting the right notes when singing or playing an instrument.

If a singer doesn’t have good muscle memory, they will constantly have to stop and think about which note to sing next. In turn, this can disrupt the flow of their performance. Let’s briefly consider ways to develop muscle memory and how your brain facilitates the process- from a musical standpoint.

How to Develop Muscle Memory

Practice, practice, and then some…Yes! The best way to develop good muscle memory for singing or playing your favorite instrument is through regular practice. For instance, the more you sing, the better your muscle memory will be. Alternatively, you can use a metronome when you practice. A metronome is a tool that helps keep tempo, or the speed of the beat, even.

When you use a metronome, start slowly and gradually increase the speed. Doing so helps your body adjust to singing at a consistent pace. And as you practice, pay attention to how your body feels when you sing, as this can make it easier to maintain a steady tempo. Simply put, there’s no substitute for practice.

The Link Between Muscle Memory and String Musicians 

Muscle memory is also essential for string musicians- violists, cellists, and bass players come to mind. When you play a string instrument, you need to be able to move your fingers quickly and accurately to create the sound you want.

Making the correct finger movements can be complicated if you don’t have good muscle memory. This can lead to playing wrong notes or not being in sync with the rest of the musicians- if you’re playing as a quintet or ensemble. 

What’s more, string musicians can’t rely on frets. Frets are the raised lines on the fingerboard of a string instrument dividing the instrument into semitones. They help players know where to place their fingers. Not having frets means string musicians need to have excellent muscle memory to play the correct note accurately.

Through rigorous practice sessions, string musicians can develop strong muscle memory, allowing them to know exactly where their fingers need to go. The aim is to be in a position to do as expected while playing an instrument without overthinking. It also explains why music teachers are keen to insist that you put a lot of effort into practice.

The Brain Takes Center Stage

Have you ever noticed that you can sometimes play a song perfectly even if you haven’t practiced it yet? That’s because your brain is good at remembering how to do things you’ve done a lot- that’s muscle memory at work.

When you listen to music, your brain remembers the sound of the notes and the order they go in. So when you hear a song again later, your brain can help you remember how to play it. Of course, the importance of practice cannot be understated if you want to be a good musician. But it’s good to know that your brain is also working hard to help you.

What’s more, our brains help us create procedural memory without even realizing it. This memory allows us to do things automatically, like bike riding or tying our shoes. And it turns out that the memory patterns required for creating this type of memory happen unconsciously.

For a string musician, anchoring your fingers as you practice and hitting a note in a concerto allows your brain to change. And as it does, it develops new fibers (aka white matter) and grey matter- a network of cells and neurons. While at it, stronger connections emerge between your brain and the muscles used to learn a specific musical skill.

Once the connections form, you can perform flawlessly without giving it much thought. Hence, muscle memory can turn an off-key performance into a beautiful masterpiece. But, it all takes practice, lots of it. And who knows, the artist we referred to initially might just hack it in the foreseeable future. Then, they can deliver a moving performance and hopefully take a well-deserved bow.

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