Have you ever watched a really good guitar player (or any musician) and just thought, how the heck do they do that? A good musician can make playing the hardest thing in the world look absolutely effortless. You might think they are just outrageously talented, or they are born with it, or they practiced for at least 10,000 hours. Although talent and practice do play a role, that's not what's really going on when you watch a good musician play. There is another force at play and it's something that any human being can develop. What is this magical force that makes playing effortless? Well the answer is "Muscle Memory"- a inherent ability that all human beings can develop if it is programmed correctly. In this article you'll learn exactly how to program your brain and your fingers to have Muscle Memory when it comes to playing guitar. Developing this superpower will make learning and playing effortless and easy! Before we dive in, let's take a closer look at what muscle memory actually is.
What is Muscle Memory?
Muscle Memory is defined as: the ability to reproduce a particular movement without conscious thought, acquired as a result of frequent repetition of that movement. In a nutshell, Muscle Memory is a way to program the brain to do certain motions by using repetition. With enough repetition the motion becomes automatic. Are you a decent typist? If so, you're relying on muscle memory to type each word. You've done it enough that your fingers automatically know exactly where the letters on the keyboard are you can form sentences without much thought as to what you're fingers are actually doing. The funny thing about Muscle Memory is that it isn't very appropriately named. Meaning there are actually no "memory" in the muscles themselves, it all occurs within your brain. Once the information or memory is repeated enough, it is stored in the subconscious and becomes active without much conscious thought or effort. The key to being able to play ANY instrument is Muscle Memory, once developed becomes like a super power for musicians.
How Do You Develop Muscle Memory?
Well it's actually very simple, practice. I know it's not a very sexy answer and it doesn't sound like much fun on it's own but actually if you do it correctly you can develop muscle memory very quickly and practicing can be a lot of fun. The key is repetition at a slow pace with incremental increases in speed. The reason why many beginner or intermediate musicians fail to develop muscle memory get stuck, is because they are not practicing correctly. A lot of time people get distracted and want to learn a new song or get bored. Well guess what, that's why your brain is not retaining the memory of the movements you need to master, and that's why you're getting stuck. In order to play anything, easy or hard, you need to have sufficient muscle memory to make the movements effortless. Otherwise it's just going to be too damn hard. The good news is that every single human being on the planet can develop Muscle Memory for playing an instrument, it's just in our DNA. And if you develop it correctly the results are literally guaranteed - By Science!!! Let's talk about some practice tips for guitar that will have you developing your muscle memory quickly!
Your New Practice Routine:
Among my beginner students and other aspiring guitar players I speak with, many of them face the same challenge that holds them back - and that is being able to change between their open chords quickly and effortlessly. As you now know, Muscle Memory can be applied to any practice - but for this example let's apply that to our open chord changes. First let me list off the 8 main chords that are present in just about any popular song, you absolutely NEED TO KNOW these chords as a guitar player.
E Major - A Major
E Minor - A Minor
C Major - F Major
G Major -D Major
Okay, now let's figure out a way to practice them correctly and get make our chord switches effortless. First, I want you to pair the chords into sets of two as I have displayed them above. We're going to switch back and forth between each set of two chords and we're going to use a metronome to help us keep time. What's a metronome you ask? It's a handy tool that "clicks" at a certain speed to help musicians keep perfect time. I highly recommend downloading the free app call "Pro Metronome" from the app store to get one on your smart phone. Go download it now! Alternatively, you could Google the word "Metronome" and see one pop up right there in Google search. Okay, got your Metronome ready?
Good, now let's set it to a nice slow speed of 50 BPM. In the Pro Metronome app just turn the wheel in center to change the speed, displayed in the top left hand corner so that it says 50. On Google, just slide the selector until the number reads 50.
Alright, now let's practice (correctly). We are going to start by playing the chords as Whole Notes. That means you're going to strum the chord just one time. After you strum, you're going to let 3 more beats or "clicks" go by. While those 3 other clicks are going by, you're going to be moving your fingers to the next chord and getting read to strum again. This method gives you time to move between chords, but also gives you a time limit and forces to start getting to the chord relatively quickly. We're going to do this practice method for each of the chord pairs above. Here's a visual representation of what you should be playing. The clicks are the beats and strum is what chord you strum on which beat.
BEATS: 1 2 3 4 - 1 2 3 4
STRUM: E A
Go back and forth at least 10-20 times and repeat for all chord pairs listed above.
If you do this with consistency and repetition I GUARANTEE you will get quick at those chord changes and the motions will begin to become effortless. If 50 BPM (beats per minute) is becomes to easy for you, start increasing the speed. I encourage all my students to get up to 120 BPM or more for each chord change. Once you've done that you're ready for phase 2. Which will entail strumming each chord 4 times at 50 BPM then working your way up to 120 BPM. Here's a visual representation for you:
BEATS: 1 2 3 4 - 1 2 3 4
STRUM: E E E E - A A A A
Repeat for all chord pairs shown above!
That's it, you've begun to unlock your musical superpowers! Keep up that steady focused practice and I guarantee it will pay off big time!!