Learning a new instrument is like feeling through the dark, trying to turn on a light you aren't sure exists. I'm here to tell you it exists and this is what it feels like.
We all have two different types of memory. Your short term handles new stuff. "I need eggs, milk and bread at the store". Your long term is that stuff you just know like "2+2=4" and how to ride a bike. Muscle memory resides in your long term memory and when that song you're working on makes the switch from short to long, it's like a lightbulb goes on. Here are 3 ways to know the switch is about to flip.
1. The Song Slows Down
Anytime you take on new song, that song is going to feel impossibly fast. I was teaching myself banjo awhile back and I would work my way through a tab and feel pretty good about it but when I'd turn on the recording I'd realize I was going about half speed. It was discouraging, but after more and more repetition I got so fast that when I put the recording on I actually had to slow down. The thing is, I didn't feel like I was going faster. The song felt slower. If the part starts to feel slow, the lighbulb is going on.
2. Your Body Relaxes
It's an actual physical thing you can feel. Your shoulders let down. Your jaw loosens. You can actually feel your muscles change and that not only shows the lightbulb has gone on, but it also makes it easier to play. If you feel tense, you're still in the dark.
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3. Your Mind Wanders
This is like a sign telling you you're almost there. It happens in brief glimpses. You're playing something for the hundredth time and you start thinking about what's for dinner. This should make you crash but it doesn't. In fact, what will make you crash is trying to focus on what you're doing. It's like when your dad let go of the bike without telling you and halfway down the block you realized he did and so you crashed. That lightbulb is getting brighter.
Too often I see students who settle for letting their eyes adjust to the darkness. You might be able to get by but when the light switch goes on, you become a completely different player. Press on and you'll get there. Next week I'll be posting about ways to practice, but in the meantime, keep going. Don't settle. It's pretty nice in the light.