Some cool new insight on your brain playing music

The human brain prepares skilled movements such as playing the piano, competing in athletics, or dancing by ‘zipping and unzipping’ information about the timing and order of movements ahead of the action being performed, a new study reveals.

Experts discovered that the order and timing of movements in complex sequences are separated by the brain, before being zipped and transferred into specific movement commands, or ‘muscle memory’, as the person begins the action.

They found that high-level sequencing of movement (such as order and timing) can be stored across several motor areas of the brain, often across several days of training and memorising action sequences, before being activated following a particular trigger such as a musical cue or a starting gun.


Here’s the paper itself


Interesting. Looks like you have to pay $35 to read the actual paper.

Makes me wonder if this is related to a playing problem I sometimes experience, which I call “Muscle memory considered harmful”.

I find I sometimes overlearn a chord change if I practice a single song too much. Then when I practice different song, I will play the change from the previous song out of habit.

It’s like I’ve mentally merged the two chords, with a single mental trigger causing my muscles to play both of them in sequence.

Consciously “hearing” the next chord in my head before playing it seems to help, but this is not a consistent, automatic mental habit yet.

There’s a lot more to playing music than what you can see and hear another player doing. I suspect what you think and feel while you are playing is really important, but is mostly invisible to a student or an audience.

Might be interesting to start a new topic…

“The Invisible Aspects of Playing the Guitar”

To the journal. usually if you are interested in any paper contact the writers themselves and they will send you a copy free.

As for the other bit - you’ve got to be mentally thinking about the next note or the one after that etc rather than what you are currently playing. The mechanics of playing should be almost autonomous from the mental process of what comes next

Seems interesting that the timing is more important than the notes

Or you could just read the preprint, which is likely virtually the same as the published version:

FYI, I found this by googling the title of the article.

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Thanks - didn’t realize these were available online.


I’ve definitely been out of the game too long.
I find it quite difficult to follow everything in that abstract :roll_eyes:
I found the term zip/unzipping a bit unfortunate in the context of information storage, as we’re all used to zipped computer files, where you compress a large amount of data in a smaller package.
They seem to be talking about storing information in various loci of the cortex, which are then connected to and ‘zipped’ with other impulses when required.
But what do I know?
I’d be interested to hear what practical implications these findings might have.

I read the preprint, but it was pretty tough sledding.

One thing that stuck out for me was the concept of “planning”. A while back I realized I couldn’t just do everything by muscle memory. I have to be thinking ahead to the next chord change, strumming pattern, lyric…all while executing the current part I’m playing and singing.

Never been a good multi-tasker, so this is still fairly challenging. Currently, I seem to do it a measure at a time…once I’ve landed the first chord in the new measure, I can consciously think about the next measure.

When I screw up, it’s usually because I’ve neglected to do this.

So, if I understand the paper, this planning step takes place in a certain part of the brain, while the timing and execution of the planned action is queued up and executed by other parts.

I suspect there are a lot of other implications for learning and playing music from this research, but that’s the one I came up with.

yeah that sounds about right.

I’ve found actually reading through the sheet music/tab on screen or via guitar pro ahead of what I am playing works well, its harder to mentally plan ahead without a prompt