How to Use Balance to Trigger Faster Learning (a Fun Guitar Practice Trick)

We all want to learn well. It would be lovely to retain everything from every practice. But learning is a process. Some days we do better than others.

Here’s a fun trick you can use to trigger the brain chemicals that lead to lasting learning. Use at your own risk!

How We Learn – The Brain Chemistry of Learning

Most of the time, when we learn, our bodies produce three important chemicals. These are called neuromodulators.

When we find something difficult (like guitar practice), our brains release epinephrine. This is the same as adrenaline but in the brain instead of the body. This keeps us alert.

Next, we release acetylcholine. This helps us focus. It narrows our attention and helps us zero in on the task at hand.

Then, using this alert focus, we make some small progress. And when we do, we release dopamine. This motivates us to want to stay with the challenge and make more progress.

And this is the loop that we call learning.

The Survival System

The primary goal of our body is to stay alive and safe. The deepest and oldest parts of our brain work to keep us alive.

And when our existence is threatened, we immediately go into learning mode. Our brains release torrents of chemicals that can help us to deal with the situation and stay alive.

This is one of the reasons extreme sports are said to be so addictive. With genuine physical threat of injury or death, the “brain cocktail” is strong. And that feels good.

Using Balance to Trigger the Survival System

Dr. Andrew Huberman is a tenured professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology at Stanford University School of Medicine. He suggests that one of the biggest threats to our safety is loss of balance. If we lose our sense of balance, we cannot function normally in the world.

Without balance, we may not be able to defend ourselves. We cannot run from danger. We risk falling and injuring ourselves.

So one way to trigger a flood of learning chemicals is to simulate loss of balance. When we feel off-balance, our brains release all the learning neuromodulators mentioned above.

To feel off-balance, we can stand on one foot and roll our heads and eyes around. We can swing our arms and rotate our torsos.

2 Minutes of “The Drunken Sailor” and Then Guitar Practice

At the beginning of guitar practice, we can play “the drunken sailor” to trigger faster learning. We can set the timer, then make ourselves feel off-balance.

Then, when we sit to practice, we already have the chemicals present to learn quickly. We have paved the way for beneficial guitar practice.

Please Don’t Hurt Yourself

Of course, safety is job one. The goal is to feel off-balance, but not to fall down or crash into the furniture.

It may help to play with your sense of balance in a hallway or next to a wall, so you can reach out for support if needed.

And slippery socks or wet floors should be avoided. This process is only useful if we stay safe and can focus in practice.

But when done safely, this is a fun way to prime the pump for a quality session of deep 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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