Sleep and how it helps musicians learn stuff

A little while ago, I posted on Facebook about how I can practice playing a sequence of notes on the bass, and not quite get it, but the next day it will just “run” perfectly.
I’ve never had the opportunity to develop such a specific thing before personally, but I knew that it worked, being an amateur brain scientist. (I’m into skills acquisition and how memory works)
I wasn’t sure exactly how the brain processed this improved skill. I figured that information would turn up at some point.

A few days ago, I was listening to a fantastic book called “Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker. I read constantly, but realised that audiobooks let me “read” while on the bus, doing the washing or mowing the lawn.

In it, he talks about how a pianist spoke to him after a presentation on Sleep. He detailed to him about how he struggled with playing new pieces at night, which he could just play without effort in the morning after a good night’s sleep.

This blew the authors mind, so he set about discovering how this happens.
When you have access to MRI Brain scanners, you can see what goes on.

Your brain has a relatively low capacity area for storing learned skills in working memory. As you practice, the skills get “stored” there. At night, electrical activity at one specific stage of sleep, pulses in cycles, while connecting your skills storage are to main memory. This pulsing of electrical activity transfers learned skills.
Once skills are stored in main memory, they can be recalled from this area without effort.

This mechanism works with ALL learned things, which is why sleep is so important to consolidate learning.

So I expect that quite a few people here will have noticed that they magically improve overnight, seemingly without any explanation.

Don’t judge yourself too harshly with new stuff on the same day. Slow and precise is the way to go. Your brain knows what to do with this learning and will even be able to winnow the imperfections to an extent.

I totally recommend this book and the use of good quality sleep to improve your bass playing.


This is a phenomenon that I’m actually quite familiar with. :slight_smile:


Yes, I read that somewhere quite some time ago, and I can attest it’s absolutely spot on. I study and practice frequently before bed, and am amazed at how it just seems to just fallen into place in my brain when I awaken the next morning.


Ah man this is soooo weird!

I was agonising last night over wether to start a topic on this as I get this all the time but I thought everyone would just think I had lost the plot and have me sectioned to the nearest secure hospital.

Ah I’m so relieved that it’s a thing. Or maybe a bit disappointed that I don’t have some kind of ‘sleep superpower’ :slight_smile:


Now if only someone would tell me how to get better sleep…


There’s a follow up course for that. Bed 2 Badass


:rofl: :rofl: :rofl:


Actually I think it’s Badass 2 Bed, but ok.


Hmmmm I don’t know. Let me think for a sec…

Isn’t the whole idea that you study and practice, and go to bed, then wake up and it has all sunk in? You became a badass in your sleep.

Wouldn’t that make it “Bed 2 Badass”?


It also kinda works without sleeping. I could not figure out a new concept in my tone chords course. “I don’t understand, how are you coming up with these notes?”. So in disgust I quit for the day. Later that day, without having thought about it, I knew what the answer was. Sure enough, the next day practicing I had it figured out. Just took some time to process.


That was my thought process!

And when you graduate the course you become a certified Bedass


Comprehension happens in waking hours, as does the process of learning which fills the “learning buffer” But comprehension and recalling from long term memory are different things.
You “getting it” like the penny dropping is a thing that happens while you’re awake, but not necessarily thinking about it directly. It’s a conscious occurrence.

The process happening the next day is the automatic recall part which sleep is involved in.

Like your example with chords, I design things for manufacture, (like a headless bass bridge, which are simple things). I throw all the previous designs I can find pictures of together, and look at them randomly over a few days, then go on to something else.
Then I’ll see something totally unrelated and all of a sudden, how I should design something comes almost totally together.

I realised what an idiot I was, and how I should make the bridge after looking at a locking bar retract on a security door.

The link between lack of sleep after learning has also been significantly demonstrated to prevent the ability to retain learned skills. Basically, you have that next sleep period only, to get what you learned that day into memory.
If you don’t get that particular type of sleep to process the learning buffer in the hypothalamus, that learning is gone. Overwritten, if you like and sleep later processes the new days learning. It can make practice a complete and utter waste of time.

Typically, what happens when I talk about an entire book, someone comes up with a question or a statement that would be answered or explained if they read it.

I recommend that you all practice bass, then get at least eight hours sleep. And read that book when you can. You may decide to adjust your sleep habits for other reasons as I did.


Man. I can’t remember the last time I got eight hours sleep.