Hello, welcome to this week’s harmonica lesson. Today, I will be explaining to you how muscle memory works and why it is important to practice things slowly on the harmonica.
The overwhelming desire to play faster
A lot of you will be in the good habit of practising things with a metronome. This is great, you should keep it up. However, be mindful that you are not speeding up the tempo before you can play it perfectly. Often, people will speed up and practice playing at the edge of their technique. They believe that repetition will make it perfect. This is false.
Your brain is like a recorder which allows you to learn new skills by repeating them until they become patterned into your subconscious. However, there is a big problem with the system; there is no judgement in muscle memory.
What do I mean by no judgement? Well, your brain will learn how to do the motion exactly as you are doing it even if you are not doing it perfectly. So, if you are practising mistakes your brain will learn how to make mistakes every single time you play. Muscle memory records everything!
Technique isn’t something you should have to think about. This is why it is very important to practice very slowly so your brain knows how to do it perfectly subconsciously.
Speeding up mistakes just concentrates them
When you play something slowly and there is a small mistake every couple of seconds, it doesn’t sound so bad. However, if you speed up to twice the speed you will be making twice as many mistakes in the same period of time. This sounds very sloppy. So, if you can’t play something perfectly at 60 BPM then you shouldn’t be trying to play it any faster than that until you can. You might even need to slow it down more than that.
Find the tempo where you can play something perfectly without making mistakes. Stay at this tempo for a while until you can’t remember the last time you made a mistake. Then, and only then try speeding up a little bit. Establish this new tempo as your new comfort zone. You might have to repeat this process for weeks, months or even years until you obtain the tempo you wish. When you do finally hit your target, it will sound perfect. Details matter!
Fixing bad habits
We all have bad habits as musicians. This is totally normal. But, you can fix them. However, you need to take the right approach to do so.
The habit is the result of a repeated action which strengthens neuronal pathways in your brain. The stronger the habit, the stronger this pathway is. So, when you are trying to fix the habit, you are actually trying to create a new habit. However, if you try to fix it quickly your brain doesn’t have time to process it and when you come to playing live, you will just fall back onto the old reliable habit. This is why you need to practice very slowly so that your brain learns every aspect of the new habit and breaks the old one.
I still practice really slowly everyday
My daily practice sessions are still very slow. The reason for this is so that when I do get up on stage, my technique is good enough to do what I want it to without thinking.