The Frustrating Power Of Muscle Memory Story

I forgot a chord and stubbornly had to remember it on my own. It took me a month and through many trials and tribulations I pulled through and remembered it.

Ultimate Guitar

Hey guys, just wanted to share something that happened to me today:

A few weeks ago I was fingerpicking a favorite song of mine, and suddenly, right in the middle of playing, I forgot which chord to play! Even after playing the section leading up to the forgotten chord, my fingers wouldn't make the shape that they had made hundreds of times before. This wasn't an "Oh crap - wrong chord shape!" moment. This was an ice cold finger-freezingly tremendous brain fart.

I thought that playing the song from the top would help, but after many tries and many failures, I was defeated. Whatever wires were crossed in my brain were stuck that way. So, like all vanquished souls, I went to bed.

Thankfully, this was during a practice session and no one was around to hear my error.

The next day, I thought surely my troubles were over. However, I had no such luck. My pride wouldn't allow me to simply look up the tab to my beloved song and solve my problem that way. I KNEW the chord. I had been playing this song for years! YEARS I say! The elusive chord was stashed somewhere in my head, I just had to pull it out...

Despite my best efforts, I could not play said chord (or said song, due to lack of missing piece) for a month. An entire month! It was like having a hole in my brain. It was like the feeling you get when you are... Well... It felt like this:

YouTube preview picture

So, tonight, my brain finally came through for me. I had just put new strings on my guitar and was listening for the strings to stretch out of tune, which distracted me juuuust enough for my brain to be on full autopilot as I played the song. HOORAY! It was the mother of all epiphanies! It was like I had been magically slapped in the face with a big magic face slapping remembering machine. I had done it. I had remembered the elusive brain-fart chord!

The point of my story is that my subconscious self knew how to play the song... I did not. My unconscious fingers knew how to solve a problem that my conscious brain could not solve. It was fun! The shock from the sudden remembering of the chord has (I hope) firmly cemented it into my brain forever, and I must say it was worth the wait. So, if you find yourself struggling through a long-term brain fart like I did, challenge yourself and let your fingers do the remembering for you!

Tldr: I forgot a chord then remembered it a month later because I am too stubborn to look up a tab for a song that I have played a bajillion times.

For the curious, the song is Townes Van Zandt's version of "Cocaine Blues". The chord that I forgot is this one:

**** me, right? Stupid brain...

8 comments sorted by best / new / date

    This article does bring up a good point. You can often forget something because you know it subconsciously, but not consciously and forget something because you know it consciously and not subconsciously. We're used to the latter, where we can't just play something, we still need to think explicitly. When it comes to something you've done a million times, you'll likely not know any of it explicitly, because it's all in your subconscious memory. Many of these things fall under the category of something you can do, but can't explain.
    looks like an abbreviated G7...
    very abbreviated...
    That was only the shape that I had to make with my left hand. What I was actually playing was this: |----1----- |----0----- |----0----- |----- |----- | ----3----- Which is still super abbreviated, but for a fingerpicking song, that's a quite a half note