I just noticed a strange effect recently; it’s kind of out-there, but I thought I’d describe it in tortuous detail and see if anyone else has any similar experience, to see if it’s just my personal weirdness or a phenomenon common to many humans haha.
After decades of picking from the wrist with a locked thumb (i.e. no motion whatsoever in the thumb or finger joints), I just recently experimented with adding some amount of thumb-index finger motion (while the wrist is still moving, just less because the thumb-index adds some additional movement in the same direction so I need less wrist.)
Here’s the really weird part: mentally, the tempo of the song or metronome seems to slow down maybe 25% in my perception as I play this way. Not that I lose the beat, but that suddenly… I have time to think between notes, for example at 160BPM four-notes-per-beat. That I think, “oh, on that last note the pick dug a little too deep, let me get my pick ready near this next string for the upstroke, but maybe this one I’ll do a little shallower, okay, that was better, now for the next note…” (I’m exaggerating the magnitude of the mental effect, but that’s the idea).
But then, if I switch back to wrist-only picking, sure I can move fast, but mentally, 160 BPM feels like a friggin’ blur, where I can’t really tell what’s going on and I can only hope and pray my muscle memory gets me through the group of notes, and I have to rely on mentally breaking the sequence into chunks of notes because my conscious, non-muscle-memory brain can’t keep up with the notes individually; I can only actively think about every other or every fourth note.
To be clear, I’m not saying I can physically pick faster with thumb/index movement; in fact, I’m pretty sure my top tremolo speed is slower. But what’s weird is the mental effect, that I have time to think between notes, and that does tend to make me play cleaner and more musically, and it’s more enjoyable, haha, to be that person moving that pick rather than a spectator watching my muscle memory do some blurry thing.
I’m intentionally exaggerating the effect in order to convey it in words. It’s not as huge effect as I’m describing, it’s more subtle, but it basically makes 160 BPM feel more like 120 BPM, mentally, letting me feel like everything’s that much more under control and more detailed, with fewer mistakes, which is a pretty big deal. Feels great.
I have found this very repeatable but a bit bewildering, haha. I have an out-there theory, which might be loco, but it goes like this: Smaller muscles are connected to neurons, in the arm and in the brain, that are more attuned to quicker movements. Just like how a hummingbird can do some insanely fast reactive movements compared to a giraffe. Not just that the hummingbird can move faster, but it can think faster, like, “on this next flap next millisecond, I’ll alter the wing angle to twist me a bit to the next blossom”, haha, whereas a giraffe has absolutely no need for neurons that can process or plan physical motions that fast. It’s almost like the hummingbird (though its neurons are based on the same structures and physiochemistry as the giraffe’s neurons), has neurons that just are tuned to manage movements on a faster timescale, both in the body and in the brain.
So, my crazy theory is that the fine-motion, very small muscles controlling finger motions like writing with a pencil are connected to neurons that are more attuned to slightly faster actions, i.e. on a bit faster timescale, including also the neurons in the brain that those finger peripheral nerves connect to. My brain can just think faster about those finger movements. The significantly larger bundles of muscles in my forearm driving the wrist are, in contrast, connected to neurons in my brain that think a bit slower about motion, i.e. planning it, executing it, analyzing it. By adding finger and thumb motion to partially control the pick height, angle, speed, somehow that brings into play different parts of my motor brain (sure, they are right adjacent to the parts of my brain that control my wrist) that think about motion a bit faster.
Here’s another experiment: set a metronome at 110 BPM, and try to stand up and “run” in place four steps per beat like a crazy fitness drill. I can just barely do it, but more importantly, mentally, everything feels like a rushed blur, where I can’t sense anything or process any of the individual foot sensations in each step; it’s all I can do to just keep those giant muscle groups in time. Then, with the metronome still at 110 BPM, set your hands on the table top and tap the same beat with the tips of your index fingers using your finger muscles. Of course it’s easier, and your fingers are quicker, but more than that, mentally, I find I can think so much more about how each strike feels on my fingertip, left, then right, the left, then right. I can feel the motion to raise them, then the motion to lower them, then wait for the next one. I can for example, tap the fingertips so each strike touches in a different place in a repeating sequence, no problem. Mentally, it just feels like there’s so much more time in between the strikes, even though the metronome has not changed.