There are two types of muscle memory: one in the muscles and one in the head. Let’s start with the one stored in the muscles.
Muscle Memory In The Muscles
This is muscle memory that isn’t memory. It cell reactivity and potentiality.
Muscles are unique structures. Although every cell has a nucleus to store DNA and to make stuff (usually proteins), muscles are large cells that have many nuclei. These myonuclei manufacture the proteins needed to increase muscle mass and strength. The more myonuclei you have, the bigger the muscles can be.
When you exercise, more nuclei develop. When you stop exercising these nuclei disappear. Sort of. They don’t go away completely. They just stop manufacturing. If you start exercising again, the nuclei go back to work. The body is prepared to return to active duty. This type of “muscle memory” can last for years, under some circumstances.
Muscle Memory In The Brain
The other type of muscle memory is remembering how to ride a bicycle. This memory is not stored in the muscles. It is stored in the brain. This is called implicit memory, to differentiate it from the return-to-previous-status muscle activity.
What’s fun about implicit memory (also called procedural memory) is that it is automatic. You don’t have to consciously think about it. It is your DOING memory. Implicit memory is what you use when you are riding a bicycle, driving a car or executing a series of keyboard commands. You don’t have to think about; you just do it.
In fact, you probably can’t explain how you do these tasks. You just do them. You have learned “how” to do something, instead of learning a “what.” You use implicit memory to brush your teeth, put on your clothes and walk across the street.
When you learn a skill, you go from declarative memory to implicit memory. At first, driving a car requires your talking your way through the process. You know exactly what you are trying to do, even though you can’t you’re not very good at it. As you improve, you use less declarative memory and more implicit memory. You perform better but are less able to describe exactly how you do it.
Experts Use Implicit Memory
When you are highly efficient, when you’re an expert, you use implicit memory almost exclusively. You can drive with the radio on, people chattering and your thinking about something else. You can play a musical instrument without thinking (so it seems). You can dance and “be in the flow.”
When composer Rob Potorff gives a master class in scoring films, he encourages people to use implicit memory. He doesn’t call it that but that what he means. What Rob says is:
Your music will only have soul once it stops coming from your head and speaks thru your heart.
What he means is:
Get so good at creating music that you no longer use declarative memory. Become an expert and switch to implicit memory.
His way of saying it is more poetic. Mine is more precise. (I was going to say better but Rob would beat me up for that).
Memory is a collection of systems. Each does something different. Episodic memory stores information about your life. What you did last summer is stored in episodic memory. Semantic memory is your internal dictionary and grammar guide. Together these systems compose declarative memory, things you can declare.
Implicit memory is non-declarative. You can’t declare how you do it. Implicit memory stores the directions for doing, and stores them in a nonverbal form.
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