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Three Things to Know About Muscle Memory
Lots of skills are like riding a bicycle if you practice enough—your body just seems to remember. Read on to learn exactly how that happens.
1. It’s not really your muscles that remember. Once you've fully mastered playing a new song or any other physical skill, it may feel like your hands are spookily working on their own. Really, you're observing subconscious communication between two different parts of your brain. Muscle memory happens when the cerebrum, the brain’s thought center, communicates with the cerebellum, the brain’s skill center, to accomplish a task. The more you perform a task, the more efficiently those parts of your brain communicate, creating the more-permanent pathways that make up long-term memory. That’s how actions can eventually become second nature.
2.Good practice makes perfect. Muscle memory helps a skill become easier through lots of repetition, but if your repetition is full of mistakes, those will get memorized too. So when it comes to learning an instrument, a good rule is to start slowly and to divide a task into sections, mastering each one before moving on.
3. Innate talents counts—but practice wins. Some people are more naturally talented at certain skills that require muscle memory, but they still require practice to be able to perform consistently. Prodigies may be able to think their way through learning something new more quickly, but whether you're onstage or on the sports field, you don't want to have to think your way through the situation every time. Developing your muscle memory helps you trust the physical patterns you've internalized to do the heavy lifting, freeing up conscious thought to add emotional shading to a song or make a scary face at the opposing team.