We used to have a downstairs neighbor who was a very nice, polite guy who worked in sales and, as far as we knew, had no music background. My husband told me one evening that he had run into our neighbor in the garage. “It’s nice really nice hearing Eliana practice, but it seems like she just plays the same thing over and over again!”, the neighbor had remarked. Because many non-musicians only ever see the finished product of a piece performed in concert, they don’t realize that practice often involves playing short sections of a piece many times until they are in the muscle memory. Particularly with my older students who are practicing independently, I have to sell them on the idea of playing a tricky part again and again.
I will often share the quote: “Don’t practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong.” At the bottom of their practice charts, I include the following quote from Shinichi Suzuki: “Knowledge is not skill. Knowledge plus ten thousand times is skill.”
With my students and their parents, I’m always looking for more ways to make repetition fun and interesting. So here, I compiled a list of ways to repeat a song or passage or technique. It is by no means exhaustive and I would love to hear your ideas for making repetitions fun in the comments!
Set a timer and see how many bow circles, bow hands, hard parts, etc. you can do in two minutes.
For short exercises or passages, keep the instrument and/or bow out while watching T.V. and do as many repetitions as you can during the commercial breaks.
For my avid readers, keep the instrument out and do 10 repetitions after you finish each chapter.
Also for readers, at the end of each page, play one time for each letter in the last printed word.
Play while standing on one foot.
Play while holding the bow backward at the tip instead of at the frog.
Play with your tongue sticking out.
Play while balancing a beanie baby on your head.
Play with your eyes closed.
Play while walking to the beat.
Play with the lights out, with a glow stick or other light-up toy clipped to the bow.
Play each time in a different room of the house.
Hide-and-seek: the student plays a review piece somewhere in the house and the practice parent, with eyes closed, has to follow the sound to find them.
Play a concert for your stuffed animals.
Using a deck of cards with feeling words, try to play a “sad” Allegro, “happy” Allegro, “tired” Allegro, etc.
For each time you play, add a plastic monkey to hang from the pegbox.
For each time you play, add a small plastic dinosaur or eraser to the top of the violin/viola.
For each time you play, add a domino. At the end, you get to knock them all down!
Play one time for each letter in your full name. If my students really need to practice a spot, I will make them spell my husband’s full name. He has a long Polish last name that my students have fun trying to pronounce.
The first time you play, draw a purple arch on a piece of paper, the next time, add a blue arch, etc. until you have a rainbow. Thanks to the Teach Piano Today blog for the idea!
For each time you play, move a bead over on an abacus. Right now, IKEA sells an abacus for $10, or you can buy this cool bead counter that clips onto the music stand. In a future blog post, I’ll be showing how I DIY bead counters for my students.
Using a regular deck of cards, shuffle and deal out a few cards for the number of repetitions. Jacks, Queens, and Kings are 11, 12, and 13 times.
Take a piece of paper and a bunch of post-it notes. Under each post-it, write a review piece/technique and number of repetitions.
For each time you play, add a piece to a jigsaw puzzle.
If you have a change jar, add a penny for each time (or every 10 times), once it gets to 100 pennies, swap it out for a dollar (use sparingly so you don’t end up constantly paying children to practice!).
On a nice day, drive to the park and play for 10 different people passing by.
Use a spinner app such as “Decide Now” to choose the piece or number of repetitions.
Roll the dice for the number of times.
Each time you play a section correctly, take a step forward, each time it’s incorrect, take a step back. You’re done once you get to the other side of the room. For seated instruments like cello or piano, you could use an action figure to do the “steps”.
If you own Jenga, add or take away a block to the tower for each repetition.
For artists, add another line or shape to a picture.
Pick a dot-to-dot picture and connect a dot for each repetition. They now sell dot-to-dots with as many as 1000 dots!
Get a coloring page and color in one section for each repetition.
For students learning multiplication tables in school: roll two dice and multiply them together for the number or repetitions.
Play a simple game like checkers. For each repetition, you get to move a piece.
My personal favorite technique for having a student repeat a very short passage (such bar 20 of Gossec Gavotte in Book 1) requires that the family members be good sports. I will ask the student “who is the person in your house who is not easily annoyed?” After deciding on which family member the least likely to get irritated quickly, I tell the student that they are to play the passage for that person over and over again until they throw their hands up and insist the student stop playing and go away. I encourage the student to keep track of the repetitions so we can find out where that parent/sibling’s “sanity limit” is. I once had a student practicing the 3rd and 4th measures of Song of the Wind for her dad. The next week she reported back to me “It took 300 times before he made me stop!”