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Effects of aging on muscle memory and learning new music
#1300993 11/07/09 10:08 AM
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When it's said that getting older negatively affects the ability to memorize music, I assume it's in reference to the process of cognitive and deliberate memorization that's essential for a reliable performance.

But what about the role of muscle memory in learning new pieces? Does anyone in the 50-plus age group find that more time and/or effort is needed to internalize passages—i.e., "get the notes into your fingers"—of new music that you're working on?

Steven

Re: Effects of aging on muscle memory and learning new music
sotto voce #1301000 11/07/09 10:20 AM
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i find that my brain is peskier than my muscles - i can rely on them.

I just finished 18 months of chemo.. and definitely noticed a brain deterioration.. fortunately it was temporary. i had to consciously apply myself and think carefully about learning new music.. studying it away from the piano was my most helpful accomodating technique.


accompanist/organist.. a non-MTNA teacher to a few

love and peace, Õun (apple in Estonian)
Re: Effects of aging on muscle memory and learning new music
sotto voce #1301007 11/07/09 10:43 AM
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Originally Posted by sotto voce
Does anyone in the 50-plus age group find that more time and/or effort is needed to internalize passages—i.e., "get the notes into your fingers"—of new music that you're working on?


It take a lot less time for me to learn a new piece now than it did when I was a youngster.

BTW I'm 73.


Joe Whitehead ------ Texas Trax
Re: Effects of aging on muscle memory and learning new music
sotto voce #1301008 11/07/09 10:48 AM
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Originally Posted by sotto voce
Does anyone in the 50-plus age group find that more time and/or effort is needed to internalize passages—i.e., "get the notes into your fingers"—of new music that you're working on?

Steven

In my experience, no. I'm reading faster and learning faster than ever before. A Bach fugue, takes me a long time to learn but I think it's because of the complexity of the fingering, not slow internalizing. If I start something much simpler, say a Mozart sonata, I internalize the muscle memory fairly quickly.

What I've noticed about memorizing is the fact that I am still doing it automatically as I did when I was younger, but have many inconsistently placed blank spots where I lose my place. If I just let my hands go and don't pay attention, the muscle memory can carry me pretty far, but as soon as I think about what I'm playing, I hit a blank spot. When I know a piece of music really well, I've noticed I'm not really reading the music as much as using it as a security blanket to catch those blank spots.



Best regards,

Deborah
Re: Effects of aging on muscle memory and learning new music
gooddog #1301059 11/07/09 11:59 AM
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It's taken for granted that musicians who are middle-aged and beyond can and do continue to improve—we know that from another current thread!—but such improvement implies continued technical advancement and continued pursuit of progressively difficult repertoire.

When I wrote of issues age-related issues associated with learning new pieces, I neglected to make clear that I meant new and challenging pieces. My basic questions could be plausibly reshaped as as Does hard music become harder to learn as you get older? and Does improvement come more slowly or with greater difficulty because of accelerating age?

My own experience is inconsistent. I've always been a skilled reader and a fast learner; I've never been a memorizer in the conscious and analytical sense, but I play better and at a higher level now than ever before. Nevertheless, there are occasions when passages in a new piece seem resistant to being tamed—often more so than other parts that would appear to have greater technical difficulty!

Of course, this could be attributable to the learning method itself—a prosaic explanation that's not age-related at all. Like many others, I tend to spend more time and effort on what I believe are the hardest passages; that can mean potentially underestimating the work required elsewhere.

So maybe it's entirely predictable that passages that haven't benefited from the amount of slow and repetitive practice as the more overtly difficult ones—because it didn't seem necessary!—might not be so easily controlled after all. And yet I can't help wondering from time to time, Why am I finding it hard to absorb this? Is it because I'm getting old?

Steven

Re: Effects of aging on muscle memory and learning new music
sotto voce #1301172 11/07/09 04:05 PM
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Originally Posted by sotto voce
Why am I finding it hard to absorb this? Is it because I'm getting old?

Steven


Maybe it's just plain hard. The music I am playing now is more difficult than what I would have attempted 5 years ago. If I go back and look at music I struggled with in the past, it now looks and feels "easy". After I master each "tier" of musical difficultly the next piece I learn of similar difficulty is not so hard and of course the music on the next "tier" presents a new challenge. So what I am saying is perhaps it's not age, but the increasing challenge of what you are playing.


Best regards,

Deborah
Re: Effects of aging on muscle memory and learning new music
gooddog #1301188 11/07/09 04:35 PM
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"Does hard music become harder to learn as you get older? and Does improvement come more slowly or with greater difficulty because of accelerating age?"

Well, Deborah beat me to it. I was going to say, "When was it ever easy?"


Clef

Re: Effects of aging on muscle memory and learning new music
Jeff Clef #1301321 11/07/09 10:51 PM
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At a masterclass not too long ago, Angela Hewitt advised students to grow their repertoire as much as possible before they hit 30...she said her experience is that she's never been able to forget most of the things that she learned while young, but she has to work hard to keep more recent additions "in her fingers."

One of the students played a Bach Toccata, and even though she recorded it not too long ago (2002), she had trouble remembering how she played it. Personally, I found that reassuring smile


Not that this is exactly what you're asking, but I thought it was interesting.

Re: Effects of aging on muscle memory and learning new music
buck2202 #1301827 11/08/09 10:18 PM
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Originally Posted by buck2202
At a masterclass not too long ago, Angela Hewitt advised students to grow their repertoire as much as possible before they hit 30...she said her experience is that she's never been able to forget most of the things that she learned while young, but she has to work hard to keep more recent additions "in her fingers."


Aw crap, I just turned 30 three weeks ago crazy


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Re: Effects of aging on muscle memory and learning new music
sotto voce #1301830 11/08/09 10:30 PM
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Originally Posted by sotto voce
When it's said that getting older negatively affects the ability to memorize music, I assume it's in reference to the process of cognitive and deliberate memorization that's essential for a reliable performance.

But what about the role of muscle memory in learning new pieces? Does anyone in the 50-plus age group find that more time and/or effort is needed to internalize passages—i.e., "get the notes into your fingers"—of new music that you're working on?

Steven


Yes, for me as an almost 50 year old, it takes me more time and effort to get the muscle memory in learning a piece.
On the other hand, I have a far better understanding of the pieces I'm playing than I did as a 20 year old. So perhaps I'm setting the bar higher for myself, with regards to how I want a piece to sound.


Piano Teacher
Re: Effects of aging on muscle memory and learning new music
Studio Joe #1301880 11/09/09 12:16 AM
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Originally Posted by Studio Joe
Originally Posted by sotto voce
Does anyone in the 50-plus age group find that more time and/or effort is needed to internalize passages—i.e., "get the notes into your fingers"—of new music that you're working on?


It take a lot less time for me to learn a new piece now than it did when I was a youngster.

BTW I'm 73.

Yes, that's also my experience. I'm 62. My muscle memory is better than ever. I haven't tried to completely memorize anything in a while, but I doubt I'd have any problems.

Incidentally, the musical part of the brain might even be the last to go. I had a relative who underwent a major stroke, and about the only thing she could remember was songs and hymns.

Last edited by exackerly; 11/09/09 12:17 AM.
Re: Effects of aging on muscle memory and learning new music
buck2202 #1302324 11/09/09 06:58 PM
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Originally Posted by buck2202
At a masterclass not too long ago, Angela Hewitt advised students to grow their repertoire as much as possible before they hit 30...she said her experience is that she's never been able to forget most of the things that she learned while young, but she has to work hard to keep more recent additions "in her fingers."

One of the students played a Bach Toccata, and even though she recorded it not too long ago (2002), she had trouble remembering how she played it. Personally, I found that reassuring smile


Not that this is exactly what you're asking, but I thought it was interesting.


Do you think Angela Hewitt practiced more hours per day as a younger person than she does today?
As a 20 year old, I practiced 3-4 hours per day. Now I'm lucky to get 2 in. Stiffness sets in along with various other aches and pains.
So to just say that muscle memory is better as a younger person may not really be accurate.


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Re: Effects of aging on muscle memory and learning new music
Barb860 #1302326 11/09/09 07:05 PM
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Much harder. I'm 72, with a 55 year hiatus between playing. So that might be why.


Steinway 1905 model A, rebuild started 2008, completed 2012
Yahama CVP-401
Will somone get my wife off the Steinway so I can play it!
Re: Effects of aging on muscle memory and learning new music
Bart Kinlein #1302333 11/09/09 07:22 PM
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I'm confused by the term muscle memory.

For years I thought muscle memory was what made it possible for me to play a piece from memory, more or less on auto-pilot, without any conscious thought.

The Wiktionary defines muscle memory as the physiological adaptation of the body to repetition of a specific physical activity, resulting in increased neuromuscular control when performing that activity again.

Are you using it in the latter sense, Steven?

Re: Effects of aging on muscle memory and learning new music
Copake #1302456 11/09/09 11:36 PM
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To me, muscle memory functions a sort of autopilot that gets me from note to note, shape to shape or figuration to figuration reliably, but I could never count on it to perform an entire piece successfully. For that, I would need to refer to the score at least occasionally—or attempt the sort of cerebral memorization that involves structural analysis of the music and mental recall of the actual notes.

For the purpose of my original post in this thread, I was suggesting that muscle memory is what one acquires in the process of learning a new piece. Initially, if sufficiently challenging, it may be daunting even to sightread; through the practice of accurate repetitions over days and weeks, our nerves and muscles "remember" the necessary movements and become trained to execute them with increasing speed.

I like Wikipedia's article:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muscle_memory

Steven

Re: Effects of aging on muscle memory and learning new music
sotto voce #1302461 11/09/09 11:52 PM
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I'm 58. I find that I can have a passage solid after working for about an hour. But try to play that same passage the next day or a few hours latter, it's just not there. That doesn't mean that I haven't accomplished anything by long deliberate practice. It means that I have to work a bit more to solidify everything. I think there are many more paths in the brains of older folks. Perhaps that slows things down a bit.


MichaelW
Re: Effects of aging on muscle memory and learning new music
SpectrumMan #1302477 11/10/09 12:55 AM
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Originally Posted by SpectrumMan
I find that I can have a passage solid after working for about an hour. But try to play that same passage the next day or a few hours latter, it's just not there.
Yet. It's just not there yet. For me, patience is the thing. I don't think I've ever mastered a difficult passage in one practice session, to tell the truth. I've always found it's the continued patient work a bit at a time over days and weeks that cracks it, not one solid session. And that hasn't changed as I've got older.


Du holde Kunst...
Re: Effects of aging on muscle memory and learning new music
currawong #1302478 11/10/09 01:03 AM
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Originally Posted by currawong
I've always found it's the continued patient work a bit at a time over days and weeks that cracks it, not one solid session. And that hasn't changed as I've got older.

Obviously you haven't discovered the expediency of practicing during a cricket match. You can get lots accomplished, even exploring the mysteries of late Beethoven or Brahms. Just keep a telly nearby so you don't miss anything.

But I have yet to miss anything. grin


Jason
Re: Effects of aging on muscle memory and learning new music
argerichfan #1302495 11/10/09 01:46 AM
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Originally Posted by argerichfan
But I have yet to miss anything. grin
Not really surprising smile

I don't have a TV in my piano room. But the idea has merit, actually! You'd have to turn the TV sound down, but I do that anyway...

And maybe I would master something in one session if I had the persistence to repeat something for hours. But I prefer little and often.


Du holde Kunst...
Re: Effects of aging on muscle memory and learning new music
SpectrumMan #1302508 11/10/09 02:15 AM
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Originally Posted by SpectrumMan
I think there are many more paths in the brains of older folks. Perhaps that slows things down a bit.
That may be a salient point. - in other words too many options to choose from.

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