You might know that I have a real like for knitting. Of course, it doesn’t show in my knitting because I very unreasonably expect to be able to knit like a pro with no practice or experience! However, this does not blind me to the great philosophy, knowledge, or understanding that knitters have and share.
I have stolen ideas from my wonderful local knitting lady, Ellen, before and I’m going to do so again! She recently wrote about muscle memory and how people who haven’t knitted in a long while can, once they get started, knit “from memory” because their hands haven’t forgotten how, even if their mind tells them they have.
We have the same thing you know. It is called muscle memory – when your hands remember how to play a tune the rest of you is pretty sure you’ve forgotten. I’m sure you have had the experience of playing a tune you haven’t played in a long while. You sit and try to find it, and (if you’ve well learned it) it comes back out with just a little coaxing. This is your muscle memory (ok, it is a little more complicated than that – you’ll also need your auditory memory, but we’ll save that for another time).
How do you build muscle memory? You already know what I’m going to say – Practice!
But (just as the knitters would tell you) you also have to be mindful – let yourself pay attention to where you are in the world and in relation to your harp and the strings – how does your elbow feel? where are your fingers? how are you breathing?
One way to help focus on these muscle elements of playing is to practice with your eyes closed. It might be painful at first – you might be so used to looking that you might believe you can’t play without looking – but you’d be wrong! Closing your eyes really lets you focus on how your body feels. It will also make repeating those feelings (building the muscle memory) easier.
|Trust yourself to know where your harp is and where the tune is on the harp.
Of course, practice helps you develop and build that trust!
If you think you can’t go cold turkey playing without looking, I’d suggest practicing by a window at the gloaming. Let the night come while you keep playing. Eventually, you will be playing in the dark – just like if you had your eyes closed (this is also especially helpful for preparing for gigs at candle lit weddings and restaurants in grottoes!).
At first, it will be challenging. Start small – playing tunes you know extraordinarily well without looking. Eventually add more of your repertoire. Soon you’ll be able to learn tunes without looking at your harp (or your hands – trust me, they are right there at the ends of your arms, no need to watch them!). But if you keep at it you will get better and you will build strong muscle memories that will allow you to play even things you think you have forgotten!