Posted by Elizabeth Devereux
Repetition is necessary to learning any skill well. We learn how to speak our mother tongue by repeating what we hear around us over and over in infancy; we learn to crawl, walk, run, ride a bike by making repeated efforts (and repeated failures!) to do so. Rote learning–memorizing through repetition–can help us internalize our multiplication tables, basic arithmetic, the periodic table, Latin noun declensions, and, in music, the circle of fifths and the order of sharps and flats.
Our brains are such sponges before we hit the age of 12 or 13 that we should be sure to use our spongey brains to sop up helpful info! [I still remember the pledge of allegiance to the flag and Longfellow’s poem, the Ride of Paul Revere, even though we memorized those in my 1st grade class and I haven’t recited them regularly since that year! The utility of these two could be called into question, of course, since I still struggle to recite my 7’s and 9’s of the times tables…]
While rote memorization is a helpful, and I would argue necessary, component of learning almost any skill well, IT IS ONLY ONE COMPONENT OF LEARNING! We must be sure that we do not go on autopilot in our learning, whether it’s while reading a novel, studying our chemistry, or practicing our violin!
The most important part of repeating a measure or two of difficult music many times is STAYING AWARE while we repeat the measure.
If you are making a slight mistake each time you repeat the measure, then you are practicing the mistake, rather than practicing the corrected version of the mistake! Similarly, if you make the same mistake two times in a row, then it will likely take at least twice as many times (that’s AT LEAST 4 times for a mistake made 2X in a row, AT LEAST 8 times for a mistake made 4X in a row…) of playing the spot correctly to ensure that you avoid making the mistake in the future! That starts adding up to a lot of time, if you’re not practicing carefully.
STAY AWARE, my musician friends, and repeat away! Avoid turning into a musical parrot (especially a masochistic musical parrot)…
And, please, sometimes give yourself a break from repeating the hardest stuff possible, and repeat some of the easy stuff that you play beautifully and with ease…
WOW, it’s fun to be able to play something well, isn’t it?