I am often looking for sneaky ways to help my pupils repeat difficult passages accurately. It is interesting that some think that if they have played something accurately once, then it is a done deal and “Can’t we just move on?”

Yes and no.

Yes, if I am sure they can play the section through in context, clearly understand the rhythm and can play the notes accurately with the correct fingering.

No, if they had any of the above out of place.

Anyone who has ever learned to play a piece of music to performance standard knows it is essential to reach a critical point where there is an understanding of all the elements of the piece. At this point you are not just on the edge of knowing what to play – the piece is yours. Once you have all the elements in place you need to repeat the complete piece a sufficient number of times so that it can be played at the correct speed with confidence anywhere, anytime. If you have learned it well, you would also be able to refer back to the music, starting anywhere on the page as needed. Sometimes this is necessary if a bad habit has developed and something needs reworking.

Is it my imagination that children today don’t like repeating things? Maybe this is another challenge of our modern age, born of children rapidly flitting on from one screen to another.

Accurate repetition is essential to the building process of learning a musical instrument. Through this we are training our brains to learn new patterns of doing things. Two hands doing completely different things is a complex task and initially difficult to master. If we want to keep moving on and advancing the skill, we need to have mastered particular patterns that are building blocks to other patterns. Without accurate repetition we simply can’t advance.  If something is not well learned or the repetitions are played with errors that are not corrected, frustration steps in and we see disillusionment in the learner.

I often use an abacus to help my pupils do accurate repetitions (3 in a row is best). We choose a bead colour for accurate (and another for inaccurate) and work on three accurate repetitions of a small part of the music that needs work. The smaller the chunk the better because they will master it more quickly, and then we expand this to work on the areas around it. This simple thing helps bring a focus to learning a new or difficult part of the music. It is particularly helpful for the child who doesn’t like to repeat things. In their eagerness to get the repetitions accurate they will probably discover that playing more slowly is a big help!

It is wonderful to have a pupil who comprehends the importance of repeating things correctly. And this is true not only when following instructions in a lesson, but through personal perseverance and patience in their practice at home. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, there is satisfaction in searching for and finding a solution, then working through it carefully to achieve the perfect result.

I have no doubt that this sort of focus will stand the young musician in good stead, most certainly in their ongoing musical journey, but also in all sorts of life skills, many of which require patient and accurate repetition.


4 thoughts on “Making the Most of Repetition

  1. I agree with you that repetition is an important part of learning music. As you said, being able to play to performance standard requires a lot of repetition and practice. Kids don’t like it, but they have never liked it. It is up to us as parents and teachers to show them the importance of the discipline of repetition.

    • Thanks Ava, Good point – that we still have to press on and keep encouraging the practice even when our children don’t like it. Especially true in an age where the focus seems to be what feels good and makes me happy right now. Sometimes the deepest satisfaction comes after the hard work of careful repetition in the practice process.

  2. It’s very hard to get across the benefits of repetition to pupils. The odd thing is, I expected the kids to complain about it, but I didn’t anticipate having more problems with my adult learners. I find older pupils expect to be able to master things once they understand the theory (I know that’s a G so I must be able to play it!) And they are far more likely to get irritated that they can’t play a piece after a couple of tries. It’s the adults that plead ‘Can’t we just move on’ the most!

    • It wasn’t until you pointed it out I realised I’ve experienced what you describe too. I think I’d be the same if I was taking up a completely new instrument. Good to be aware that it is something to address though.

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