How to unlock the power of your muscle memory

How to unlock the power of your muscle memory

Are you the kind of person who can learn things quickly and remember them very well for a short time (perhaps for an exam), but would struggle to recall anything in detail a month later? Or are you the type who takes longer to learn something, but still remembers it years afterwards?

And how does your memory impact on your singing?

We use the front part of the brain for last minute cramming. It’s about taking in and regurgitating information. Singing is more about recalling a feeling. If you feel certain pitches in certain places, you’ll experience where the pitch is and you know that you can go back to that feeling again.

Finding the power of your muscle memory

Somebody I taught once said to me, “I’m listening for a feeling… I know that probably sounds weird.” I can understand why she thought it sounded odd – because what kind of sound does a feeling have? But there is a tangible inner memory that your body can recall: that place it operates from when it’s you’re working at your best capacity. There’s a tangible sense, there’s a tangible flow and a tangible energy around it.

Because when you’re learning a musical instrument or singing, you’re using a different type of memory: your muscle memory.

Take tennis players. When tennis players are playing at the top of their game, they might not be able to remember what they did in those moves and in all those moments during their practise. But all those shots that they did and didn’t make, all the small adjustments that they did took them bit by bit to a place of working out energetic balance in what they were doing to get from here to there.

Navigating towards the sound you want

Singing is very much like that. Sometimes we see something we want to achieve, say, a new song, or a particular area of the voice that we want to work in, and we see a kind of vague picture of the end result. It has a feeling. We’d like it to sound like this. We’d like it to feel like that. It’s as if we’re standing on the jetty and we can see Paradise Island that we’re trying to reach.

But we just don’t sometimes realise how far away it is. We judge we need this much fuel, but then we get halfway and realised that our perspective was off and we really need this much fuel.

When we become more experienced we become like the good captain of a ship, who can look at the waters after they have sailed the same seas back and forth for years, and even when the sea seems calm, can feel the direction of the wind and know that there’s a storm brewing. When we are learning, some ‘storms’ that come up are not necessarily very obvious to us. We suddenly reach something that we just haven’t got the skill to do and we need to learn how to navigate towards it – and train our muscle memory as we go.

Are you missing this key element?

Our early experiences of learning can condition us to learn with a cramming mentality. When I had to sit exams I would use my photographic memory. I could imagine a picture of the pages in my mind, go into the exam and start to write them down.

But when you learn in that way all you’ve got is information. You’re missing a key element: implementation. When you’re learning to use an instrument (including your voice!) you need to add the element of daily practise so that you can store the information in your muscle memory and recall it at any time, at will.

Think about your PIN number. Can you easily repeat your PIN out loud, or do you need to move your fingers to recall it? If you’re in the second camp, that’s your muscle memory at work.

When you need to rewire your muscle memory

But what if you’ve inadvertently stored the wrong information in your muscle memory? You’ll be playing that misinformation out, and not getting the results you want. Sometimes it’s a case of rewiring your muscle memory: you need to search out new information at that point to retrain, the neuro pathway.

You need to find the right techniques and exercises to practise on a regular basis so you can store the right information in your muscle memory – and start moving closer to being able to recapture that feeling time and time again.

Looking for more support, guidance and encouragement with your singing practise? Join us over at the Online Singing Academy.

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