Using Repetition in Practice

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Repetition is important when practising music. Running through each piece and technical exercises only once on each practice day can help you progress slowly, but if you use repetition during each practice you’ll be able to improve each day. This can make a huge difference to what you’re working on at your weekly lesson. For example, if it’s going to take playing a piece about 20 times to have it learned, by only playing once a day it will take more that three weeks to learn but if you play it five times each day you will have it learned it well by the next lesson.

There is a difference between repetition and correct repetition. Most students make many mistakes when first practising a piece. Practising a piece or exercise the same way every time without correcting mistakes is counterproductive. You need to aim to improve with each repetition. After playing something, it is important to take a minute to think about what you played, what mistakes you made and how to correct them.  Focus on how to further improve by playing more of the details in the music like dynamics or articulation after you are playing with the correct notes and counting.

Thinking about what to improve upon is the first step and then you need to plan how to do it. Usually, practising at a slower tempo will help you to play with fewer mistakes. Once you can play the notes and counting correctly at a  slower tempo, you can then increase the speed or working on playing other details in the music. Sometimes there is only a small section of the piece that needs more work, so you can practise that section a little extra without having to play the whole piece more times. Often it is helpful to choose one thing to focus on for each repetition.  For  example the first time you play something focus on playing the correct notes, the 2nd time focus on counting, the 3rd focus on  using the correct fingering, the 4th time try to play dynamics and the 5th see if you can play at a slightly faster tempo.  If you need help choosing what to focus on when practising ask your teacher or check your lesson notes as your teacher may have offered practice tips.

By thinking about how to improve and then using repetition in your practice, you will progress more quickly through your music each week.  If you are smart about the way you use repetition you might be able to shorten your daily practice time as the week progresses, since after each repetition your music will be easier to play and you should  be able to play through it more quickly. If you’ve varied the focus on  each reception it will help with retention for when you review your work on the next day. By the end of the week hopefully your practise time will be quick and easy!

Kama Anderson teaches piano at the Edmonton Academy of Music