View Full Version : relying too much on muscle memory?

06-04-2007, 12:43 PM
First, thanks to those who answered my question about figuring out positions.

Now my new question. I'm poor at sight reading, so when learning a new song (in either piano, or guitar), I must rely a lot on muscle memory. I must go through the song over and over many times to get my hands used to & memorize the physical hand movements, and by repeating the song over and over I'm neurally programming my hands to 'do their thing' almost automatically, without having to think much about it.

I'm sure that using muscle memory as a substitute for learning to sight read is very bad (how can you muscle memorize more than a few songs?). And I'm consciously working on improving my sight reading and I'm making slow but real progress. But am I right that muscle memory is still important too; that even if you could sight read a new song perfectly the first time you saw it, you still need to build up some degree of muscle memory to become proficient & fluent at playing it? Isn't that why people practice - even those who can sight read perfectly?

thanks in advance for any thoughts.

The Doc
06-06-2007, 02:47 AM
Muscle memory is going to get programmed whether you want it to or not. You might as well utilize it. Essentially you want to memorize the piece anyways. Going into complete autopilot isn't really recommended because if you lose your place or make a mistake, you may not be able to recover without starting over at some starting checkpoint you've made when learning the piece.

Sight reading skill isn't going to come using the technique that you're using. In order to get better at it, you just have to find music and run through it without stopping. Obviously, you find music that's below your current skill level. Sightreading isn't so much about hand positions, it's about processing information on the page and sending it to your hands. So you're talking about reading ahead of what you're playing and just not stopping. Don't worry about mistakes, they're going to happen. I'd move on to a different piece once you've ran through it twice. Running through a piece more than that, and you've already picked up on the basic information and you're no longer sightreading.

Joe Pass Jr
07-31-2007, 07:45 AM
I am a guitar player but have just started learning piano and my reading is average at best so far(on piano). The principal behind reading and muscle memory applies the same on any instrument though.

Once you learn to read a particular chord on paper your fingers will hopefully (over time) get used to seeing that collection of notes and muscle memory will make a connection with the chord you 'know' and the chord you 'see'. It takes time and the more reading practice you do the faster your brain will make these sub conscious connections.

It is however important to try and force yourself not to memorize tunes when your learning to read. If you have a book of songs maybe pick a few you want to memorize and pick another few that your going to learn to play by sight. The trick I found was to only play these songs a couple times then play something else. This way you wont have the chance to remember all the parts but your hand/brain/eye connections will become more fluent every time you go back to that tune. Do it every day though, if you get lazy you can quickly loose the momentum.