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How Many Repetitions Is Enough to Learn a Song? Here's What Science Says

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This article originally appeared on The Bulletproof Musician.

 

You know those happy moments in the practice room when you experience a tiny breakthrough, and after having struggled for a while, you can finally play a passage exactly like you want? Feels like cause for celebration, right?

Well, as a kid, I would reward myself for my achievement by putting my violin down and taking a practice break. Sometimes stretching into the next day…

This seemed like a reasonable enough thing to do at the time. Of course, now that I have kids, this sort of thing drives me nuts. I mean, you get through your Tae Kwon Do pattern without incident just once, and you’re ready to move on? What?!

But how important is it really to practice beyond this point? Sure, we can always do more, but might it be that learning to the point of proficiency is enough sometimes.

Why Some Musicians Seem to Be Memorization 'Naturals' (And How to Become More of One Yourself)

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This article originally appeared on The Bulletproof Musician.

 

Ah, the dreaded memory slip. We’ve all experienced at least one in our lifetimes. And spent many a sleepless night playing and replaying music in our heads in an effort to reassure ourselves that we actually do have everything memorized. Or spent most of a performance fearing that we’re going to forget what comes next, or get stuck in an endless loop. It may not literally be life or death, but it can certainly feel that way at times.

But then there are those for whom memorization seems to happen naturally. Easily. Almost without trying. What’s up with that? Do they know something we don’t? Or are their brains just wired differently than ours?

The Most Important Part of a Performance (That You're Probably Not Practicing)

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This article originally appeared on The Bulletproof Musician.

 

For family movie night a couple weeks ago, I picked out a movie called Rookie of the Year about a kid who, in a freak accident, develops a rocket arm and gets signed by the Chicago Cubs as a 12 year old.

If you don’t remember this movie, it’s because it was released back in 1993. Which of course, means that as far as my kids are concerned, the movie is "old." It’s got those black bars on the sides, it’s not in HD, and the fonts in the opening credits look totally dated (as in this).

So there was much moaning and groaning and refrains of “Daaaady, this is an old movie!” as we settled in. But about 10 minutes into the film, they were having a good time, and afterwards, told me how thankful they were for my spectacularly good taste in movies kept giggling about the funny parts.

Research-Tested Practice Strategies That Will Help You Learn New Pieces Faster

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This article originally appeared on Bulletproof Musician.

 

When time is short and we have lots of repertoire to learn, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and simply plow through as much as we can in a frenetic, bulldozer-y sort of way. None of this feels particularly smart or effective as we're doing it, but in the moment, the desperation kind of compels us to abandon any semblance of strategery and simply hunker down and keep our fingers moving, which feels more productive than stopping to engage in practice planning.

But is there a better way of learning music when time is limited? Are there specific strategies that can help us get to a higher level of playing more quickly? Or do we have to just dive in and maximize the number of repetitions we can get in?

The Self-Observer Discrepancy: Why You Think You Sound Worse on Stage Than You Really Do

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This article originally appeared on Bulletproof Musician.

 

I recently had to record myself on video for a project at school, and even worse, had to watch it numerous times in editing. It drove me kind of crazy. Why do I have my head angled upwards and tilted like that? What's up with that weird twitchy thing I do when speaking? Why am I talking so fast? Ack, the horror…

It's easy to nitpick and microanalyze and dwell on such details. Which feels pretty crappy. So not surprisingly, many of us avoid watching video of our performances, even though it can be a hugely helpful self-study aid. After all, video doesn't lie – so it can help us identify what elements of our performance need work. Do we look stiff? Bored? Move around too much? And how do we sound? Convincing? Dynamic and compelling? Or timid, careful, or uncertain?