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#2305066 - 07/21/14 08:30 PM My fingers know what my brain has forgotten
PatrickBl Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/25/13
Posts: 45
Loc: Gold Coast, Australia
Just a bit of a ramble and I'm sure this has been discussed before.

I've noticed that when learning a piece of music, I hit a spot where the fingers go off and do things almost of their own accord. On a good day, they hit the correct notes. This phenomenon seems to coincide with the musical product sounding halfway listenable. It also seems to free the brain to concentrate on squeezing better music out of the instrument, dynamics, emotional interpretation, etc.

I also find that when the brain decides to get involved: "I think a C# is coming up", the piece falls in a heap.

However, I note that slow practice is encouraged to really know the music. I also know that the poor old brain has to rely on a degree of muscle memory in order to actually play a piece.

So, what's the balance between the brain getting involved and leaving the fingers to do their stuff? Or do I sound like a complete twit?

Patrick
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Kawai MP7

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#2305069 - 07/21/14 08:41 PM Re: My fingers know what my brain has forgotten [Re: PatrickBl]
8 Octaves Offline

Gold Supporter until July 22 2015


Registered: 04/20/14
Posts: 439
Loc: USA
I suppose without muscle memory, it would take forever to learn music with so many notes. However, muscle memory is not reliable, so you should focus on conscious learning as well, especially if a friend asks you to play, and your muscle memory decides to go on vacation at that convenient moment.
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La musica non Ŕ mai finita, solo abbandonata.
RCM Level 6 | Concone: Etude in C major | Filtz: An Ancient Tale | Schumann: Waltz in A Minor |

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#2305070 - 07/21/14 08:43 PM Re: My fingers know what my brain has forgotten [Re: 8 Octaves]
PatrickBl Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/25/13
Posts: 45
Loc: Gold Coast, Australia
Originally Posted By: 8 Octaves
I suppose without muscle memory, it would take forever to learn music with so many notes. However, muscle memory is not reliable, so you should focus on conscious learning as well, especially if a friend asks you to play, and your muscle memory decides to go on vacation at that convenient moment.


That's a phenomenon I'm familiar with smile
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#2305074 - 07/21/14 08:52 PM Re: My fingers know what my brain has forgotten [Re: PatrickBl]
bennevis Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 5276
Have several places in each piece from which you can always (re)start from if your muscle memory fails you. They can be when the harmony changes, or the second subject starts, or the figuration changes. All you need is to remember the chord and/or the first few notes by means other than pure muscle memory at those places.

In the past few years (since I finally acquired my own piano), I've learnt and memorized over an hour's worth of new pieces, using a mixture of muscle memory, harmonic and melodic memory, figurations and chord 'patterns'. When I play my monthly recital for a small audience, I don't bring any music with me - if I get a memory lapse, I improvise my way out of it grin.

If you're good at improvising, your audience might not even realize something went wrong, because you've quickly moved to familiar ground a little further on.
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"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."

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#2305079 - 07/21/14 08:58 PM Re: My fingers know what my brain has forgotten [Re: PatrickBl]
keystring Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11731
Loc: Canada
What has been working for me in the last few years, is to start very deliberately and consciously. Know which note you are playing with which finger and stay consistent. How to get there would be another topic. Then let go to the next thing so that you have like a skeleton supporting what you are doing. And then find a balance. It is not a stupid question.

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#2305097 - 07/21/14 09:56 PM Re: My fingers know what my brain has forgotten [Re: PatrickBl]
earlofmar Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/21/13
Posts: 1642
Loc: Australia
Watching my fingers play, especially at a reasonably quick tempo is both fascinating and a little unsettling. I guess because you are at times relinquishing control from the brain to muscle memory one feels a bit "out of control". I would imagine the balance is different for each individual and would also depend on experience.
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#2305106 - 07/21/14 10:17 PM Re: My fingers know what my brain has forgotten [Re: PatrickBl]
joonsang Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/24/13
Posts: 66
Okay so the goal is to get the best sound right? well in order to do so, yes you need to at least have the piece memorized. comfort and complete familiarity of the piece is the first step.

than, take a phrase and play it in your head. or listen to a recording and find out which is the sound you like best. now, as you play that phrase, focus all your thought into hearing the sound in your head. if you can really do this you'll find a sensation like no other, where it feels like you are completely seperate from the music and only the music goes as close to the eay as you want it as possible.

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#2305236 - 07/22/14 07:44 AM Re: My fingers know what my brain has forgotten [Re: joonsang]
BrianDX Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/14/14
Posts: 776
Loc: Lewes DE
To add a bit to the discussion, I find that the more I practice the more my fingers take over, especially for the subtle parts.

An example: If I am playing a broken chord in my left hand that is doing a kind of "one two three" waltz pattern where the last two notes are staccato, initially I have to consciously remember to keep those notes sharp and crisp. However, after a bit of practice my left hand's muscle memory takes over, and I can now focus on something else that requires my immediate attention.

But just to repeat what has already been said; none of this really matters or is relevant until the piece is studied and learned properly. Until then, the brain is completely in charge.
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Groucho Marx: "Now we're getting somewhere"
2013 Yamaha C2X | 2001 Yamaha M500-F .
Current: Schein - Allemande | Faber - Lunar Eclipse, Scarborough Fair
Upcoming: Faber - Funiculý, FuniculÓ

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#2305258 - 07/22/14 09:04 AM Re: My fingers know what my brain has forgotten [Re: PatrickBl]
neuralfirings Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/29/13
Posts: 174
My theory is that this phenom is why advanced musicians can learn a "complicated" piece of music much much quicker. They've had so many years of getting patterns under their fingers. When I reach a cadenza, about half the time my fingers go "oh, I've seen this pattern before" (hint: practice your scales) and it goes off and plays. It's a good feeling when that happens.

This also helps when there are a lot of accidentals on the page too. I was learning this page of music that was written in E major (4 sharps) and the composer added more sharps as accidentals so it ended up modulating to G# major (F##, C#, G#, D#, A#, E#, B#). So in the end I had to deal with 6 sharps and 1 double sharp, half of which are accidentals. It seems really daunting but recalling patterns in the music really helps. I've listened to this piece so many times that my fingers would try to match up with what I've heard before, and then my eyes would double check the accuracy. That's for some measures, for other measures there was just a lot of squinting at the score.


Edited by neuralfirings (07/22/14 09:06 AM)

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#2305378 - 07/22/14 01:24 PM Re: My fingers know what my brain has forgotten [Re: PatrickBl]
LXXXVIIIdentes Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/04/14
Posts: 26
I would describe myself as a 'tween on the forums - an accomplished amateur in my teens, but with small hands, so I never had a stretch beyond an octave. I'm now in my seventies, with lots of osteoarthritis (not painful) in my fingers, returning to playing after decades of little practice. My brain and musical knowledge don't really belong on AB, but my fingers do! Nonetheless, three years of steady practice, now an hour a day, has freed up my fingers tremendously.

I purchased a lovely new Bechstein A190 last year, which demands to be played. It has stretched my technique far beyond what my old Kawai could, although it was a dandy instrument for me for years and better than what anyone else I knew owned. The new piano has taught my fingers so much about sound, and controlling it. Those skills were natural in my youth when my fingers were better, but I never did own a piano than that lured me to practice Liszt and Debussy as this one does.

I finally decided to swot up Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu, which I could rip off casually in my youth. It's painful to hear the flaws as I practice slowly, hands separately, building my hands further.

So I was amazed to discover two evenings ago that I could play the piece up to speed, hands together, fluently! The performance is not at all what I want, but the notes are more accurate and flow together much more easily than when I play hands separately. I don't know if it is my brain or hands remembering.

Of course, last evening, I could still do it hands together, but not as well. (I often find my first playing of a piece after a hiatus is good - but then the flaws materialize. Behaviour is always changing, isn't it?) Yes, I continue slow hands separate practice.

The combination of brain and hands is a fascinating puzzle to work with, isn't it?

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#2305438 - 07/22/14 02:45 PM Re: My fingers know what my brain has forgotten [Re: LXXXVIIIdentes]
PatrickBl Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/25/13
Posts: 45
Loc: Gold Coast, Australia
Originally Posted By: LXXXVIIIdentes
[...]

The combination of brain and hands is a fascinating puzzle to work with, isn't it?


Fascinating is right. I recently hit a spot in a piece of music in which I could not get the fingering correct, no matter how I focussed on it. A momentary lapse of concentration, and my fingers took over and supplied the correct fingering (presumably picked up from hours of scales work).

I sometimes wonder if I'm built like a dinosaur (I know it's a myth), with a little brain at the end of each finger smile
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