When we ride a bike, do sports drills, practice musical instruments or dancing steps, we create a set of memories about these repeated movements in our minds. In an article published by Oxford University, they explain that processes that result in these new skills occur mainly in the brain. The changes and revisions that are learned by the brain through the experience is learned by the brain and then transferred to the muscles. So it is not exactly your muscles remembering the movement, it is really your brain telling you what to do. There are so many regions of the brain that are associated with skill memory and they include areas in the motor cortex, the basal ganglia, and the cerebellum. The Oxford published article explains that when learning a new skill there are changes that occur in the brain that allow us to ultimately learn this new process. Studies showed that there were changes in either gray or white matter depending on the task at hand. There are also changes in the primary motor cortex, the region of the brain that is ultimately responsible for causing the initial action. Also, as you become better at skill activation in your brain when doing the skill is more focused. The activation shows the difference between novice and more professional people at the particular task. The increased repetition of these skills is what makes these changes in the brain to allow you improve and remember what you did to get better.
Sustained training over a minimum three-month period is necessary for changes at a cellular level to take place. That is also the minimum length of time for those who train three times a week to begin to feel first and then see some change in their performance and musculature.
The younger we start to train the better it is for the type of cellular muscle memory we develop. Trained muscles that have been detrained respond faster to training.
A variety of training programs that constantly challenge the muscles deliver faster cellular adaptations. So adding variation to our training routine while keeping the challenge to the muscles high delivers faster results.
Neural muscle memory:
Repetitions of complex moves are essential for enhanced neural and motor skill development. Dance and combat moves deliver some of the best neural adaptations. The development of complex neural muscle memory helps improve cognitive functions. Neural muscle memory, once formed, requires reinforcement to keep the strength of the connections up so practice is important.
Both types of muscle memory are now better understood and they form a picture where the mind and the body are closely intertwined, one feeding into the other and both changing from the connection.
Why is muscle memory important for healthy aging?
Can we teach old dog new tricks? The truth is that anyone can develop new muscle memory. Once-difficult skills can become second nature to us, as long as we focus on our own learning and repetition. This is true even as we age. It can take a little longer to reprogram our minds to retain memory of new activities, especially when we have decades of other muscle memory lingering in our neural pathways—but it’s definitely possible to build instinctive motor coordination as we grow older.
Whether we are hopping on a bike or training as an athlete, we have our brain structure to thank for the keen muscle memory and smoother, more coordinated movements. And no matter who we are, it’s never too late to start building neural pathways that can help make our life, sports, and hobbies a little more fluid and practiced.
Exercise increases the amount of blood flow to the brain, which increases the amount of oxygen and nutrients available to brain cells.
Exercise promotes the creation of new blood vessels and encourages the brain to form new neurons from stem cells in the hippocampus.
Exercise increases the production of key neurotransmitters, including serotonin, which regulate mood, sleep, cognition, memory, and learning.
Exercise also increases the production of brain proteins that are associated with enhanced cognitive function and brain plasticity.
In addition, learning a musical instrument increases gray matter volume in various brain regions, also strengthens the long-range connections between them. Additional research shows that musical training can enhance verbal memory, spatial reasoning, and literacy skills. Other benefits of practice including improving multisensory skills and executive functions, reduces stress and depression, as music has the quality to transcend reality and connecting with the real spiritual essence of this world. To learn more, go to Music Learning for Older Adults
The Practical Takeaways for Musical Instruments Practice:
Learning a little more about how your brain functions and understanding why we do what we do when we’re learning music will help you be more intentional about your choices and ultimately develop that sought-after muscle memory a little faster – allowing you to play naturally, effortlessly, and musically, rather than focusing your brain on finding the right notes and fingering.
Getting muscle memory consists of three stages – cognitive, associative and autonomous. The first phase is by far the biggest challenge. This is when you have to consciously think about every aspect of playing. There are usually several things to focus on, so remembering and executing them at once requires full mental concentration. It is a very long part of the process of getting muscle memory and persistence is the key.
The second, associative stage is far more exciting. In this stage, you are finally starting to get it. Things are starting to get smoother. As the movements are easier, there is no need to use all mental resources. Also, things you’re practicing are finally starting to sound like real music. This stage is far more encouraging and results in significantly higher practicing enthusiasm. However, the associative stage can also be tricky. As your movements are becoming easier, you may get too comfortable. In other words, your practicing could become nothing more than a repetitive session, without any focus on fixing mistakes. This leads to wrong muscle memory. Once you realize that you’re doing something wrong, it could be too late. Most experts would agree that correcting bad habits is actually far more complicated than learning.
At last, there is the final, autonomous stage. Once you become able to play with ease, it means that your muscle memory is at a very high level. Still, keep in mind that although you can carry out a certain task with ease, that doesn’t mean that your playing 100% muscle memory music. Even if your skills are amazing, there is still a small dose of conscious action. How to Improve Muscle Memory?
It is all about repeating certain movements. In music, this means nothing more than hours, days, and months of practice. The first thing you should do is to separate learning from practice. You can look at learning as a cognitive phase. Once you enter the associative stage, we can talk about practicing. A lot of practice will make your playing more and more autonomous, but keep in mind that as you are getting closer to the goal, it will require more and more work. The most important thing is to stay patient.
There are no shortcuts. So, keep in mind all the mistakes in your playing and work on them. That is the only way to avoid so-called wrong muscle memories. By far, the best advice would be to start slowly. Once you learn something, start practicing it very, very slow. Don’t rush. Increase the speed only if you’re able to play a certain pattern without any mistake. That is the only way you can avoid bad muscle memory. Also, Many musicians claim that a good way to gain muscle memory is to practice twice or more times a day. Even if this means shorter sessions, it could be very effective, due to shorter intervals between them.
Practice Every Day – Repetitions build muscle memory. Playing your instrument every single day, even if it’s only for a few minutes, will serve you better than practicing once or twice a week for hours at a time.
Be Consistent – starting slowly, with consistent temp and fingering.
Correct mistakes immediately
Make connection with ears and vocal cord (singing) while practice
Your mindset about practice - Enjoy the results as well as the process. Building new skill is challenging; moreover, music is stimulating and fun.
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