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Updated: Sep 21, 2019

I was reading a story to my 2 year old grandson last week and every time we finished he wiggled, smiled and said, AGAIN! Repetition is how he learns. Toddlers don’t know that, they just know that they LIKED something, and they want it again!

As teachers, how many times have we said "Repeat this passage 3 – 10 times a day."? Kids and adults playing video games think nothing of repeating a level numerous times to get to the next level but often practicing music doesn't involve repetition. What is the difference?

If you think of a tough passage of music like you play a video game, or a toddler’s joy, the repetition becomes natural. We want to repeat it! If a student is invested in the music (they love the song, they want to play it for someone, etc.) AND the area of repetition is small enough that they can see the light at the end of the tunnel, then repetition becomes a tool that will be used. If they don’t like the music or exercise, AND they can’t see that light, repetition is avoided.

Repetition and Rule of 3:

Rule of 3: Keep new things to groups of 3 or less.

When I incorporate this simple rule into my lessons, students are far more likely to actually do the repetition to master the new skill.

For example – Goal: learn all the major chords:

To learn all twelve major chords, split the 12 major chords into groups of 3 keys. I split them according to their chord shape: All White (C,F,G), Mountain (A,D,E), Valley (Ab, Db, Eb) and Oddball (Bb, B, F#). Choose a group to focus on for the week and play the major chords in those 3 keys. Knowing that the major chord is the root of ALL the other chords (eg. a minor chord is a major with a flattened 3rd , etc.), AND learning them will grant musical super-powers, repeating those three chords, 3 times will be easy! Throw in a little rhythm groove (GROOVIN ON THE MAJOR CHORDS) and you have the equivalent of toddler’s joy! You will notice on the video that each group is played three times (LH, RH, Hands together).

If you have more interest in the Rule of 3 check out this great article: Thomas Jefferson, Steve Jobs, and the Rule of 3

Other ways to use repetition and the rule of 3:

  • Learn 3 bars a day of a new piece and repeat them perfectly 3 times.

  • Narrow a tough passage down to 3 bars or sometimes even 3 notes and repeat!

  • Find the three most common chords in any lead sheet (usually they make up 80% of the piece). Voice these chords and play them again and again and again!

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