OK in a nutshell, why do I vote for practice? The answer is easy – Practice lasts a lifetime where the help nature gives us in the early part of our lives doesn’t.
I have been listening to the radio over the last few days, more specifically the commentaries for the 2016 Olympics and one conversation with a coach caught my attention.
The topic, gymnastics, more specifically Simone Biles and the speed of performance she achieves.
It appears that not all are born equal and I think most of us guessed that however what I did not know is that speed of reaction is directly related to something called ‘Myelin’.
So why did this conversation catch my attention?
My interest was piqued because quite often I am asked “How do I get my fingers to move as fast as —-“ this question usually follows on from a recent viewing on YouTube by a student.
Relating back to Simone Biles and Myelin, Myelin is one of natures mechanisms that assists in allowing us to react as quick as possible and without Myelin we would probably not have survived as a species.
Now, I am not a doctor or a scientist nor do I aspire to be and so what you read here is very basic.
Myelin is a substance that surrounds the axon of some nerve cells, forming an electrical insulating layer and is essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system.
Myelin is like the plastic coating surrounding copper wire used in electrics; the plastic coating prevents the escape of current as it travels along the wire.
Myelin focuses the information travelling around our nervous system and has an effect on how quick we react.
The interesting part is that the production of Myelin sheath, called myelination or myelinogenesis decreases with age and yes you’ve guessed right as production of myelin decreases so does your speed of reaction.
Does this mean that my 40 year old student has no hope of gaining a facility on the guitar as good as or at least close to the young player on YouTube?
THERE IS HOPE.
When we are young we have quick reaction times, yes some of us more than others, what we are lacking in is experience.
As we age we have slower reaction times and hopefully more experience.
A question we are all now asking is can experience compensate for the loss of myelin and the answer is yes it can, the greater your degree of experience the less noticeable the effects of age.
At this point let me draw on stories from my youth.
When I was younger I was fortunate to buy a secondhand MGB GT
I loved this car and imagined I was the fastest on the road until the day on a straight country road I was overtaken by a TR7.
I was bereft. I was not the fastest in fact the TR7 shot off into the distance as if I was standing still. I had to do something.
Reading magazines and technical manuals I fitted a number of gadgets and made several adjustments to the engine in the hope of an increase in speed.
An increase in speed was attained however not nearly enough for my MBG GT to outpace the TR7.
At this time in my life and purely by coincidence I went on an advanced drivers course for emergency service vehicles and it was here how I learnt to read the road, to understand how a vehicle responds, basically I learnt how to really drive.
I never met the TR7 driver again however I was 100% sure that linking the capabilities of my beloved MGB GT to my newly attained driving skills the result of any future race would deliver a different outcome.
By adding gadgets to my MGB GT and by making adjustments to the engine I was attempting to improve the cars reaction time yet none of these adjustments improved me as a driver.
The advanced driving course gave me skills and experience and it was this that helped me to feel that as a driver I was now more capable of achieving my goals.
Returning to the guitar –
At 60 years of age am I able to physically move my fingers as fast as a young guitarist on YouTube?
No, sorry and it doesn’t mater how much practice I do, I wish it were different but that’s life.
At 60 years of age can I improve my playing?
Yes I can!
My practice may have to focus on different aspects of learning the guitar but yes I can definitely improve my ability as a musician.