Muscle Memory is the brain/body’s memorization of movements. When you speak throughout the day, you are practicing (i.e training your brain and body to memorize) vocal technique!
Muscle Memory is like our “Default Mode” or “Auto-Correct”. It automatically comes in if we need to do a physical action quickly, or if we simply aren’t paying attention or aren’t wanting to do something in a new way. If we try to do something new, but gradually lose focus on what we are doing, our muscle memory creeps in and has us going back to doing that same task in the old, habitual, way.
Everyday Example: You used to type with one finger. Now you’re learning and trying to remember to type with all of them, but you find that after a while of typing you start to think about something else, really anything else, and you find yourself once again typing with one finger. That’s muscle memory coming in.
Another Everyday Example: Let’s skip a year, and let’s say you’ve faithfully practiced typing with all of your fingers, now you don’t have to think about it, because after remembering enough times, correct typing got into your muscle memory. What once was conscious focus and effort is now automatic.
Muscle Memory is a neutral thing. It can be helpful or unhelpful, depending on how aware you are of it and what you do with it.
Remember this forever in your singing, it will always help! During my Skype voice lessons and in my Austin studio, I’m always pointing out which movements in singing are that singer’s old muscle memory, and which movements in singing are new, more helpful, and can be made into muscle memory with attentive repetition.
When we learn to sing something new, something we can’t already do easily, we have to leave behind old, habitual ways of making vocal sound and learn new ways of making vocal sound. We have been speaking for a while, so we have already been practicing vocal technique for a long time, without really knowing what or how we’ve been going about making sound all our lives. Why is that?
When we speak throughout the day, we rely 100% on muscle memory, practiced at a very young age. We don’t have to think through how we make every vowel and consonant sound for every word we speak. We don’t have to even be conscious of how we speak! If, however, I asked you to speak in Japanese the entire day, that would be a very different story. Even if you mentally memorized every sound you needed to make that day, you would still stumble over the sounds because your tongue and other parts of your mouth have not memorized how to make the sounds in Japanese; they aren’t in your muscle memory.
Later on we’ll be talking about why you probably have no idea HOW to speak English, yet you can anyway, and how that influences the assumptions many people have about what is possible to learn as a singer.