Muscle Memory & Instruments/Performances

I thought it would be interesting to collect images/videos that demonstrate muscle memory & interfaces, inspired by this amazing MPC clip:

It’s Jaisu from How To Make A - Jaisu - Track - YouTube


I love that in context this moment isn’t even “performance”, it’s just him changing a parameter for all the samples he’s got loaded!


Exactly, it’s about muscle memory in using a tool, not virtuoso performance!


There was a thread on Reddit recently regarding muscle memory. Didn’t get much answers (well, by Reddit’s standard) but interesting to read nonetheless: link

The best demonstration for muscle memory is spending a week drinking too much caffiene to meet internal deadlines and getting insomnia as a result, then going to another city to watch one of your favourite musicians play at a venue you love. You drive part of the way to one city, then take the megabus to the eventual destination.

For some reason there isn’t really anyone you know at the event, other than the promoter, the events manager at the venue and the musician themselves (who are all in “work” mode) so few opportunities to crash round a friend’s place without feeling like imposing. So you come back home in the early hours. The weather is now snowy/sub zero, but you are on about 48 hours + without sleep so desperately try to nap in the back of the car. But you wake up freezing and realise there is no option except to drive 1 hour plus. Given that your brain is fucked from a) no sleep , b)being totally frozen. The only logical explanation for surviving the journey home, given the complexities of operating a motor vehicle is a) mastery of grim determination against the odds and b) muscle memory.


I do like thinking about driving a car (particularly manual/shift) being a brilliant example of not only muscle memory but also physical intuition. I hope to be able to someday play my modular as intuitively as I drive my car.

Part of the issue with refining muscle memory, with modular at least, is that the layout is often temporal and ever growing and changing. Staying with a selection of familiar modules and having a patching system can help mitigate this, but there’s still no effortless, automatic sense of muscle memory (unless of course you never change a thing). But I also wonder what it’s doing to our neural pathways to be constantly learning how to navigate a new patch, or new set of modules, particularly those that are practiced and performed.

I feel very happy that I’ve played guitar for over 16 years, as expressive interaction has become hardwired with how I approach just about any instrument. I wonder what modular will do to my brain after rehashing my interface from almost any patch to the next.


This is why I don’t like the idea of rearranging my modules so much. Intimate, intuitive knowledge in a system is how you build virtuosity in navigating it.


was thinking about this as well… I started as a cellist, which is all about muscle memory from finger positions to how you hold the bow or how much pressure you apply where. the instrument is never going to change. I feel like I have seen plenty of electronic performances (not just modular) where someone has the confused spaghetti face going on while fumbling around on a table, and think the lack of muscle memory can contribute to this a lot. maybe you know what knob you are reaching for, but if it was on your left hand for 3 months before you re-arranged things for performance or spread out differently on a larger/smaller table you are more likely to confuse yourself.

best exercise I learned from a music teacher who is a friend of mine was to move into playing position and look where your hands are - if they aren’t in the right position don’t shift them, take them off the instrument, wait several seconds, visualize it, and try again. look if you need to. if its correct play for just a moment then stop, do it over again. and again and again, so on, and you’ll always start in the correct position. something I wish someone had taught me back when I first started playing. don’t see why it couldn’t be applied to electronics as well. if you can navigate a set up almost with your eyes closed suddenly playing live in a dark room might go smoother.


coming from the LZX world this hits home in a different way

you have to return your knobs and switches to their “home” positions

I find it relaxing as a post play or pre play exercise and usually take the time to clarify what I’ve just been working on in my head (oh ok this was a patch centered around the passage+mapper workflow) or what I’d like to accomplish with this session (gee I wonder what happens when I modulate the sync signal…)

I guess it isn’t strictly necessary but I put it alongside things like starting position for an instrument or home row for typing

previous to that I have patched the CL system in the dark as it just kind of feels right however next time I think I’ll close my eyes! haha


I call this “soul driving”… it’s when I “wake up” at the wheel are realize that my conscious mind has been completely absent from the process of driving, but some part of my in/subconscious mind has been taking care of the driving on its own…

It’s simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying…

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factory worker stitching the fabric case for a Chumby. Via Bunnie Huang’s brief blogpost about factory workers’ skill, from the time he was making chumby.

This guy works at the factories that sew the chumby bags. Apparently, he’s not their fastest employee. They have one who is about twice as fast, and he has been with the company for about seven years. I went to his workstation, but when I got there he was already gone to lunch because he had finished everything. And I mean, there were two enormous bins of finished cosmetics cases next to his workstation.

You find lots of great videos of this sort of thing in manufacturing videos - and cooking videos - and a great source of that is old Sesame Street documentary snippets. This one made me think of folks here:

or, how about workers removing rubber tubes, to make rubber-bands with, from their cylindrical molds:

from this video


Some people absolutely shred. By that I mean that they exhibit mastery of control and and speed over their instrument (including MIDI controllers and DAWs!) and watching them is very inspirational.

I very much like the idea of having mastery over a few instruments, especially given the dichotomy between limitations and possibilities of standalone hardware in particular.

Here are a couple very impressive videos that I’ve seen over time to share. Please feel free to share any videos of people shredding!

Hitori Tori with Renoise, Livid OHM, and Electribe

Jeff Mills on the TR-909

Shawn Wasabi on the MIDI Fighter 64 (this video kind of started me on this tip)

I would be remiss if I didn’t include Cenk


This is a fun topic! My favorite is this performance of Connor Golden on LinnStrument. It really takes advantage of the strengths of the LinnStrument:


The Kid Schurke Monotribe jams came immediately to mind.


Incredible performance, and with Roger right there watching! Real touching tune too.

Well araabMUZIK


This reminded me of this thread which also very much contributed to this!

Confession: I have slept on araabMUZIK 'til now. Am now a fan.

Nice example! This reminds me of old Akai S3000 times. I had computer connection via scsi and later the USB card, but I did most patch parameters with the dial, function keys and alphanumeric entry. Because muscle memory beats mouse. Click click, clack, drrrrrt, click, click, click drrrt, clack. Old akai interfaces where like a song you learn to reach your goals.

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The Hitori Tori vid is wild, dude knows his frequencies and his MM is on lock. Shows what extreme talent and 10,000 hours plus can yeild.

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Also the coffee-enjoying junglist Spinscott maybe didn’t know sequencers exist and instead perfected the art of finger drumming, becoming one.

Respect :palm_tree: