Muscle Memory Saved the Day


I wear glasses some of the time. I have distance glasses that are perfect for driving (well, at least I passed the driver’s test using them). I have reading glasses. I have computer glasses. I have glasses throughout the house on side tables and in my home office. I have more glasses and back-up glasses at the office where I work.

But I still have a problem. And, as I age, it is getting worse. I can’t see the strings on the hammered dulcimer clearly anymore.

I have experimented with different strengths of “reader” glasses, but I haven’t found the strength that is just right. So, what should I do? Playing the hammered dulcimer gives me such joy. We moved (again) 2 weeks ago, and the friends who helped us move wanted to hear me play this weird-looking instrument that they had never seen before. And so I picked up my hammers and played through one of my favorite hymns flawlessly (almost).

How did that happen? Muscle memory was the key. Muscle memory helped me to let go of obsessing over “where the notes are,” and freed me to just focus on telling a story about the Lord with my music. I was able play expressively without overthinking the tune note by note. Muscle memory saved the day for that impromptu performance.

I believe muscle memory is critical for string musicians, like ourselves. Begin to practice your favorite tunes, over and over, by memory without looking at the tabs, until your fingers can find the right position on the fretboard without peeking, or until your hammers can land on the string you intended without double-checking first. You will find there are NO shortcuts. Only practice will imbed the distances between notes into your brain and muscles. But I’m convinced this brain-muscle connection is an exquisitely designed bond, and dedication to developing that connection is essential to my own future as a musician as I continue to age.

How about you?



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