Why You Should Avoid Muscle Memory (at first)

You may have been there. Playing a piece we know REALLY well and yet, without warning, we suddenly go blank. Usually at the worst possible time. Like in a performance.  We have no idea what comes next.

Here’s the number one way to prevent that sinking feeling.

Don’t Rely on Muscle Memory

Of course, we all want to train our fingers to be able to just play a piece. It’s logical.


Muscle (or tactile) memory – fingers flying around while we’re zoning out – is the least reliable form of memory.

It’s going to let us down just when we least expect it. And that’s most likely to be when we’re under more pressure than usual to get things right – like in a performance.

You just can’t trust it.

There are Other, More Trustworthy Ways to Memorize Music

You may not be aware of it, but when you start learning a piece, you use a combination of several different memory techniques.

  • Aural Memory – How it sounds. Melody and harmony.
  • Visual MemoryImages, real and imagined. The dots on the page. Fret positions. Finger shapes on the neck.
  • Theoretical Memory – Anything named or labeled.  The relationships between things.  Anything we know with our brains.
  • Kinesthetic Memory – “Muscle Memory.”  When our hand can play without our thinking about it.

To avoid memory lapses, reduce your reliance on muscle memory by focusing on these other aspects right from the start.

We are human.  And repetition, in time, ingrains into habit. It’s only natural. Tactile memory WILL happen.

We just want to delay it.

So how do we stop our muscles from jumping in and automatically remembering?

How to Stop Your Muscle Memory Muscle-ing In

Mindless Repetition is Out

Slow practice keeps us engaged and focused.

Avoid leaning on your unreliable friend, muscle memory.

Train and be mindful of the other types of memory – aural, visual, and theoretical – RIGHT FROM THE BEGINNING.

You’ll avoid much of the polishing and fixing that’s often needed further down the road.  And your memory will be supported by far more powerful and well-rounded learning.

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

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