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Jackie Marano's picture

Selectivity of the Nervous System

I have found our class discussions this week about central pattern generators in the nervous system quite fascinating. We can apply such a topic to everyday tasks such as picking up a coffee mug, or somewhat less common practices, such as playing the piano. I mentioned in class that I can now view my experiences from playing the piano in a more scientific context. I mentioned that, in the past, I have played innumerable songs infinite times, and that I could cut off certain sensory 'inputs' (visual and/or auditory) and still play the exact song with reasonable accuracy. such as visual and/or auditory. I realize that the idea of 'muscle memory' is quite a hot topic in the forum, and I cannot really say whether my ability to have this specific experience is a result of nature or nurture (both my father and my brother play, and we all share this experience). I may do some additional research on this topic at some point...

I am also beginning to think that while the nervous system has multiple ways of performing some function, it definitely contains some element of selectivity with respect to its performance of these functions. For example, in high school I began practicing and working on a difficult piano piece by George Gershwin 1.5 years in advance for a school talent show. I practiced this song daily until the show. In the later portion of this 1.5 year committment, I had pretty much memorized the song for its sound (auditory), for its presence on a score of music (visual), and for the way that this song felt on the piano keys (tactile). I could do any combination with these three inputs to generate a very respectable performance of the song, and it became so easy that I didn't even have to think about it...but only when I practiced at HOME!

However, when I attended practices at school (change in environment and audience), and even the real event itself...I found that these multiple well-established 'patterns' of playing the song would temporarily disappear or 'malfunction'. My muscle memory would fade somewhat, I found that my eyes would jump from the keys to the music in confusion, and that I was not as quick to fix/realize any mistakes that I heard. While this may be explained most simply as a classic case of pre-performance nervousness or is really very interesting. It always used to annoy me that I could return home the night of a show or concert and that my central pattern generator would function perfectly.

If I practiced in front of large audiences more often, would I be training my nervous system to balance/compromise its functions differently? Probably. My anxiety would likely decrease, and then maybe my pattern generator functions would not temporarily malfunction? In this case, would I be influencing my central pattern generator? Is this even possible?


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