How Fingers Learn To Play Guitar: The Power of Muscle Memory
Your fingers have this amazing ability, as does every muscle in your body, to “remember”anything they do. We all use this ability of the muscles in different ways in various things we do in life. We’re all familiar with how a carpenter will take a few practice swings with a hammer before striking a nail.
He will slowly bring the hammer to the nail head, guiding his arm and the hammer along the path he wants them to take when he swings fast. Then, after a few practice swings, he’ll let it fly.
The muscles “remember” the path they took at the slow speed They will have no trouble repeating the exact movements necessary to take that path again.
The same process occurs in practicing an instrument. The person practicing performs various movements with the fingers directed to a certain result. If the movements are done slowly and accurately with no extra tension in the muscles involved, the fingers will do them easily at a fast speed.
Why does the carpenter swing the hammer slowly? Because that is the only way to have the mind control the fingers and make them do what we want. It is the only way to keep tension to a minimum, or eliminated entirely.
What the carpenter is really doing is allowing his muscles to experience the exact movements and adjustments that are necessary to hit the nail accurately. Remember this: Whatever your fingers experience doing slowly in a state of total relaxation, they will be able to do very quickly. However, we must do enough absolutely correct repetitions of that action. That is where playing guitar well takes more work than hammering a nail!
This ability of the muscles and nervous system of our body to remember and repeat movements they have already experienced is the foundation of how we learn to play the guitar. It is called Muscle Memory. It’s important to realize that this is not some special secret thing only some people have or some people use.
We use muscle memory all the time in daily life. When we practice we must respect the power of muscle memory. The great players understand these things, and they practice like they understand them. You can too! When you do, you will see yourself getting better on guitar than you ever thought possible!
Now you know the most important thing you must know in order to practice guitar and see results. You know that your fingers, and all muscles, learn by remembering whatever they do. And just as importantly, they remember how they did it.
How Muscle Memory Works Against You
If your muscles are in a state of tension while they are being used, whether you feel the tension or not, your muscles will always operate with that tension. Controlling the fingers will be difficult and at times impossible. And I must tell you, having taught thousands of people in my life, virtually all students (who are not already professionals) have tension, often great tension, that they are playing with without knowing it.
Now you know the most important thing you need to know to practice guitar. I want to tell you the most important thing you need to do, right now, to start getting better on guitar. If you do this one thing, you will have taken a major step forward on the road to real guitar ability, even excellence if you willing to work for it.