Some guitarists can just rip through a solo so effortlessly it seems like the music is flowing right through them.
How can they play so fluently without thinking about each and every note and which finger goes where on what string? ...it's called muscle memory!
Muscle memory is established through repetition. It is an acquired skill that occurs when material is practiced for such a long time that it becomes second nature, like walking or doing simple math, (i.e., 2+2=4). If you struggle to hit the right notes on guitar whenever you take your eyes off your hands, you need to improve your muscle memory.
1. Practice is the Key
The more you do something, the quicker your brain can instruct your muscles to carry out the task. Take typing, for instance. We all start out with the hunt-and-peck method, but in time, we can lay down an unconscious stream of letters, words and symbols. Learning to play guitar without watching your fingers' every move utilizes the same process. You develop a "feel" for playing by playing a lot. Practice not only makes everything nearly perfect, it makes the movements permanent.
2. Learn slow, forget slow
Just like any exercise regimen, building muscle memory requires slow repetition. This requires an endless amount of, mindless repetition, preferably with a metronome. Cycling through your licks, riffs, chord progressions and entire songs over and over at a slow speed (until you can play them cleanly), will do wonders. When you develop your abilities to a high level, gradually increase the tempo on your metronome.
3. Shorter practice sessions
There is an optimal amount of time to spend on any given tune or technical exercise per practice session. You'll learn your material more thoroughly by returning to it several times instead of trying to crunch too much in a marathon guitar practice session once per week. Practice daily and even twice a day when possible. Work in shorter time frames for more effective sessions. Make sure you stop your practice period before you begin to tire and get sloppy in your execution.Perfect practice equals perfect playing, sloppy practice equals sloppy playing.
4. Good and bad habits
Muscles remember mistakes in the exact same way they remember correct technique, and they do this very fast. This means you need to get things right the first time, be sure to get it perfect. When you repeat mistakes again and again, (due to rushing too fast too soon), you build in a muscle memory response with every mistake, (which makes your mistakes even harder to overcome later on). Let me say it again: "Perfect practice makes perfect playing."
5. Learn in Chunks
Don't rush yourself to learn an entire piece of music in just one sitting. Break the song up into manageable parts and concentrate on learning one part really well per session. Practice that section of music slowly, watching your hands, until you've got it down perfect. Then, speed things up; little by little, until you can play at full speed without watching your hands. Work on the next part in the same way. Then put the two parts together and work on them in the same practice session. Add one song part at time after you have mastered them.
6. Memory resides in the brain
Muscle memory doesn't reside in the muscles as we might have been led to believe; instead, as with all memory, it lives in the brain. Muscle memory is memory "for" muscles, rather than memory "in" muscles. Repetition creates new neural pathways in the brain, which literally becomes hardwired over hours of repetition to perform the practiced activity. The brain no longer has to work hard to make it happen, so the activity feels easy to you. You just do it automatically, without having to think about it.
7. Learning rhythm is about internal timing
When learning new rhythms, like a new strum pattern, simplifying and slowing down the part to understand the duration is the most helpful. Learning rhythms involves the mysterious process of "feel." It demands that you loosen up and feeling the music. Once you get the rhythm pattern down, you'll have plenty of time to form your muscle memory as you strum that pattern over and over and over and over.be sure to count in, and tap your foot. Remember, the key to achieving accurate rhythm is "internalizing" the time.
Building muscle memory is a process that demands patience and persistence. The more you try to rush the process, the greater your chances are that bad habits and ultimately frustration will set in. Many of the most gifted players have been developing their muscle memory since they first picked up the guitar at an early age.
Some researchers believe it takes between 1000 and 30,000 repetitions of an activity for it to become second nature to you. When building muscle memory, commit to it for the long haul. Your ability as a player will grow by leaps and bounds from it.
9. Believe in yourself
Players who carry massive self-doubt and repeat things like, "I'll never be able to do __________" in their minds will simply not reach the heights of a player who believes in their ability. Personal belief in anything is often the dividing line that separates those who "can" do something and those who "can't." There's an old saying... "If you say you can do something, or you say you can't, you're right."
Players who have a better practice environment tend to accomplish more than those who do not. Having a study area that is welcoming and inviting to you will go a long way with supporting your studies. It's hard to study in a room that's a total mess, or that is dingy and unwelcoming. Your practice room should be well lit, set up with your favorite gear and the room should be well organized with what you need to study at arms reach. A nice work environment will help you reach playing goals easier and you'll feel more comfortable in as well. Remember, you'll be working in that space for many long hours, make sure it's a place that you enjoy being in.
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