Ever wished you could play guitar with your eyes closed? Well, did you realize that with enough of the right kind of practice, almost anyone can build the muscle memory to do it?! Muscle memory is the proficiency level you get to after practicing a particular motor skill so much that it becomes second nature to you. This will be marked by a near perfect understanding between your brain and your fingers.
You will not have to think about your strokes. for a guitar player, you just have to switch the right tune in your head and your fingers will follow.
Muscle Memory & Technique
Like many other hobbies or tasks you perform repeatedly, things like typing, handwriting, painting, or riding a bicycle can be performed with greater efficiency. This is because your brain has recorded these as muscle memory.
Similarly, the longer you play guitar, the greater your chances of mastering, or developing a muscle memory for it.
However, it's important to keep in mind that the wrong technique can also be built into a muscle memory when practiced repetitively enough, so practice simply is not enough to create muscle memory.
In order to achieve this feat, you require perfect practice; which means consistently practicing the right things the right way. But before we can get to the 5 essential tips on how to create muscle memory, the first thing you will require is:
Muscle memory for guitar is an object of proper hand coordination. It does not matter if you are right or left handed, you will need both your hands to work in perfect harmony to be any good with the guitar. Your right hand must know what the left will do next, and vice versa. It is not practical to try and memorize a song if you have not mastered the art of proper hand coordination and synchronization.
When you first start to learn guitar, it is advisable to get your weaker hand familiarized with the instrument first. To avoid the risk of mastering the wrong technique, know that your weaker hand should do the fretting while the stronger, more natural one should do the picking. The reason being that picking is a more complex skill. You will need to exercise your weaker hand first and build its strength before you focus on developing muscle memory.
In order to create muscle memory, you will also require a lot of:
Concentration is central to mastering everything you will do when playing guitar, including speed and rhythm. It is the glue that binds it all together.
Ensure that your practice environment has as less distractions as possible. To set the right mood, learners and professionals alike have trusted the metronome as a handy aid for concentration and practice in general.
The metronome’s swinging pendulum and ticking sound gives your eyes and ears something to focus on. It blocks out all the sounds, visions, and thoughts that may compete for your brain’s attention. You can use the tool’s ticks to pace your reps for the bite sized parts of the song, or to regulate your playing speed.
Remember, it takes an average of 10,000 hours of slow practice to master something and between 3,000 to 5,000 repetitions to develop "muscle memory".
5 Tips to Remember
Creating muscle memory will not happen overnight, but by applying to following 5 tips, you should be able reach your goal of playing without thinking about it.
1. Learn songs in bite-sized parts
It is easier to learn a new song in small bits than trying to master it as a whole. The brain memorizes things better with bite-sized pieces repeated in regular but short practice sessions.
Break the song into bite-sized parts and practice them slowly. As you play, keep your eyes on your fingers to make mental notes of every movement.
Repeat the sequence until you feel you can turn your eyes away from your fingers and still play without misplacing your strums. Master all the parts before practicing the song as a whole.
2. Play slowly to improve faster
It is understandable that you want to play like a guitarists you admire. But the fastest way to memorize a tune is to play it as slowly as possible when you first learn it. You will cover less ground when you play slowly, but you will master more of the song. The key to building muscle memory is in slow repetition.
3. Practice with and without your guitar
The beauty with muscle memory is that it can be built with physical as well mental practice. This means you can practice your tunes, in your head, while doing regular chores. This trick is particularly useful for exercising your fretting hand and works best when used for practicing chords you have already learned.
Just close your eyes and imagine yourself playing a song. This does not always work as effectively as physical practice but it does allow you time to exercise your muscle memory, especially if you do not have enough time for regular practice.
4. Think faster than you play
A great way to build your muscle memory for playing guitar is to think ahead when playing. Before you even complete a fretting, picking, or strumming, note your brain must already be on the next note.
This may take a bit of practice getting used to, but it trains your brain to easily remember a song right from the time you start learning it. Every movement becomes hard-wired in the brain so you can quickly learn to play with your brain and be less reliant on your eyes.
5. Aim for shorter practice sessions
Spending long periods of time practicing the same skill or technique is not particularly beneficial. You will likely remember just the first and last ten minutes of a 2-hour practice session with the rest being just a blur.
Long practice sessions result in unrealistic expectations as you will expect your brain to learn more out of your sessions than it is capable of doing. It is best to break your sessions into smaller, evenly spaced, and more intensive 30 minute sessions.
And don't forget, many aspiring musicians also find interleaved practice to be very beneficial.
Parting Tip: Be patient
Muscle memory is not built overnight. It takes dedication and real effort to perfect your craft. More than just practicing the right technique from the start, and more than setting realistic targets, you should remain patient.
Muscle memory for playing guitar, as for any other musical instrument, takes thousands of hours of practice to achieve, so stay focused on your long term goal as you achieve many smaller ones along the way.
About the Author: Helen Baker
I am a freelance teacher and writer based in Ann Arbor, MI. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Music, I spent some time teaching English in Paris and, thereafter, returned to Ann Arbor where I was involved both in the media and academics. Currently I am a stay at home mom, working as a freelance writer and teacher. I love all my guitars and I also have an affinity towards old grand pianos. I love singing, traveling, reading, writing, watching films and spending quality time with my husband.