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Why is practice so important when learning a musical instrument?

    When people practice something, they trigger what is called action memory. The new information is reconnected in the basal ganglia, deep inside the brain. This is a very slow-learning, very conservative network that interconnects both the movement patterns and the sensory, associated stimuli, i.e. the sound of the drums or piano. In order for the brain to store and automate these movement sequences, it needs a certain number of repetitions, which works best if you repeat these sequences every day for a certain amount of time.

    But once these sequences are stored in the brain, they remain so, because it’s like writing, brushing your teeth, swimming or riding a bike. Once people know how to do these things, they never unlearn them. Even in very old people suffering from Alzheimer’s, these procedural memory contents are usually still intact. That’s why very old artists, for example, who are already over 90 years old and have dementia processes, can still play their instruments very well.

    When you notice that you are getting tired or can no longer concentrate, take a break or stop altogether. In this way, I avoid deterioration due to “over-practicing”. It is better to practice regularly than rarely and for too long. If you practice too much, you sometimes risk injury, for example in sports or dancing, even when making music. That’s why professional musicians often suffer from pain because they overload their tendons and muscles. Wind players, for example, should not practice until the embouchure is completely gone or the intonation is no longer right. Recognizing the right moment therefore needs to be learned.