Repetition and Music

Repetition is an essential feature of the form and structure of music. Much of the delight of music comes from repetition. This may come from the repeating of key rhythms, notes or phrases or from more complex forms such as theme and variation in classical music.

Repetition is also the foundation of music practice; without it we’d never learn new music.

Since I began learning to play guitar in the summer of 2009, I’ve played the blues scales up and down the neck countless times. I still repeat them every day, but have reached a point where playing them is almost automatic. I can play them fairly reliably with my eyes closed and can always hear when I miss a note.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve also played a few short Delta blues pieces many, many times. I’ve memorized them and when I’ve been practicing them consistently (I sometimes neglect them to practice other things), I can play them reliably. So far they are the only music I feel I’m close to internalizing. There are times when I feel I’ve made them mine in a sense.

Even after playing for more than three years, I can’t get used to how much practice and repetition it takes to learn music deeply–to internalize it. I often feel like I’ve played a piece so many times that I “ought” to have mastered it by now. How many more times do I need to repeat it? There is no way to know in advance. I just have to stick with it until it becomes “second nature.” Fortunately, I enjoy playing the music, so the repetition isn’t an onerous task.

I’ve been playing in an ensemble since July 2011. I’m getting better at playing the songs in our repertoire, and even though I’ve memorized most of them, I’m still a long way from internalizing them. At times I feel frustrated that I haven’t mastered them yet. Then I think of how much I’ve already learned and that reassures me that in time I’ll learn this too. As a breadmaker, I’ve learned that you can’t hurry the dough. It rises in its own sweet time.

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