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Practice is Changing Our Brain and We Are Always Practicing

Practice is Changing Our Brain and We Are Always Practicing

Don’t Have Time To Practice? I’ve Got Good News And 1 Question.

The Good News Is That You ARE Practicing—All The Time. The Question Is: What Are You Practicing?



When you practice guitar—or learn any new skill—you are changing the physical structure of your brain in significant ways. 

As you learn, you trigger incredible numbers of processes with complicated names resulting in dense, luxuriant and interconnected physical changes inside your skull! 

Imagine watching a jungle grow in your mind.

You sprout axons, your myelin thickens, your dendrites grow branches, you add connections between neurons—and even your number of neurons, the shape of your neurons, or even the size of different areas of your brain can change.

Your brain has changed!

This amazing attribute of the brain to change is called brain plasticity. Our brains are always changing. Brain plasticity does decrease with age, but it never stops. New neurons can be created in our brains for our entire life—even if we live to be 111. Or older.

And guess what? The mere act of using your skills and knowledge changes your brain some more! 

Our brains are always changing! And we can help them change so that we learn our new skill (like guitar playing) more deeply and swiftly.



So when you learn, your brain will change in a way that allows you to play guitar (or speak Spanish, be calmer with your kids, focus for extended periods of time, or any other skill) if you give it stimulus and space to grow, like:

  • Repetition: repeated exposure to new skills will solidify and strengthen related structures in your brain. (e.g., regular practice time like “after dinner”, regular lesson or class, monthly open mic).
  • Relatedness: connections between your new skill and other areas of your life will result in more and richer structures in your brain that support your new skill (e.g., learning to play a song you’ve always loved to listen to, making friends with someone else who is also learning guitar).
  • Resistance: your brain builds new structures fastest when it is progressively challenged by difficult but achievable tasks (e.g., practicing with a metronome at gradually faster tempos, following a step-by-step class).
  • Rest and Relaxation: Growing new skills in your brain takes time and mental space (e.g., sleeping and dreaming, avoiding distraction during learning, quiet time for your brain to process and solidify new learning.)



Whatever we do, our brain makes it easier for us to do  more of.

This doesn’t just apply to skills like playing chords or learning another language. It also applies to attributes like being kind, patient, curious or focused

That’s awesome! But there is a caveat, i.e. “use it or lose it.” 

Because if we don’t practice skills and attributes, our brain will also respond. Over time, unused neural connections and neurons are repurposed or die.

That’s right, you can literally KILL your brain cells by not using them.

It gets worse!

We can literally train our own brains to get better at unhelpful skills like being anxious, worrying, reading triggering news, having unhealthy relationship habits, and more. (Neuroscientist Judson Brewer’s books “The Craving Mind” and “Unwinding Anxiety” are useful explorations of how this works.)

There’s no way out! Our brains will change, resulting in variously deeper, new, or eroding structures related to positive and negative habits, skills and understanding.



I find the revelation that much of my skills, personality and habits are changeable to be empowering, challenging—and scary.

It’s empowering, because it increases my faith in my ability and that of my family, team, students, and humans in general to make better lives for ourselves and each other.

It’s challenging, because I realize that when I make a choice like “should I work on my blog post this morning, or should I check Twitter” I am not just choosing a one-time activity—I’m setting a trend and habit for who I want to be which is reflected in microscopic but real changes in brain.

And it is scary, because I fear that our current social media and news environment is like a real time experimental training program to change the brains of hundreds of millions of people to get “better” at being distracted, thinking in tribal and polarized ways, and being triggered and anxious. 

But since I’m practicing being empowered and proactive, I’ll finish by focusing on the takeaway, which is that I am blown away to realize that I am involved in creating a work of art called me every minute of the day, whether I’m paying attention or now.

Our brains are changing in this very instant. Let’s make sure we’re involved!


On to greatness,

Dan Emery 

Founder, NYC Guitar School


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