Muscle Memory

(This blog was originally published by Dan Leadbetter on November 23, 2015)

I’ve been playing drums for more than 40 years. It’s one of my favorite things to do actually. Not only is it a creative outlet, it’s also a good physical workout. I’ve been in several bands since college, toured Europe, opened for some of the bigger names in the world of Christian music, and love playing on our church’s worship team. So you’d think at the ripe age of 55 that I’ve hit the crest of what I’ve wanted to do from a drummer’s standpoint. Well, almost everything. There’s been one thing that has lurked in the not so far background that I’ve resisted … no, let’s really put a fine point on it … been scared to try. And that’s learning how to play double bass.

In listening to some of my favorite bands, I’ve always marveled at my favorite drummers who are who I would consider masters of double bass drumming. Neil Peart, Vinnie Paul, Lars Urlich, Carl Palmer, and Carmine Appice, to name a few, always left my jaw hanging open at how masterfully they played. So what held me back, you ask? Well, when I started learning to play drums, the set I borrowed from my Baptist youth leader didn’t have a bass pedal. So I spent the first year and a half playing without learning to add the bass drum. I had speed, and timing with my hands, but when I finally got a bass pedal, from that point on, it always seemed like my weak spot … my Achilles’s heel, if you would (pun intended). My playing was always good enough to get me into bands, but I was always self-conscience about playing bass, so I kept my rhythms very simple. So when all of us as the GAP lead team, got specific on what new ground we wanted to take, I added learning to play the double bass. So I bought a double bass pedal for my drum set.

As I was going through a ton of on-line lessons, One practice in particular stood out to me. As the instructor was going through the practice beats, he said, keep doing it at this speed everyday until it becomes muscle memory. I had to look it up. Turns out muscle memory is a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition. So by doing something over and over again, your muscles actually get trained to do it, and you really don’t have to think about it. When you are playing, it’s like your body knows instinctively what to do.

I started thinking about this not only from a drumming standpoint, but a spiritual one, as well. I find it fascinating just how little “muscle memory” I have when it comes to trusting the Lord. I notice in my life when a crisis or some unforeseen problem occurs, it’s usually not until later when I go, “Wow, I should probably pray about this.”  I seem to go through my check list of what I can do to solve the problem in the moment with first checking to the God of Heaven and Earth before I go off half-cocked.

The funny thing about muscle memory is you don’t obtain it unless you actually keep doing it over and over and over until it becomes almost second-nature. It’s not a one-and-don, it’s the constant doing of an action over and over.

As we enter into the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, my personal goal is to re-work the “muscle memory” of my spiritual life to automatically seek God first and go before him in prayer. My desire is to re-train my spirit to look to Him first for the answers, rather than my own understanding. That’s my prayer for you as well, that this season would bring you closer to the God who made you. The one who knows you better than anyone, the one that is waiting to hear from you. So join me to re-train my spiritual muscles to look toward Heaven first.