photo of man holding a soprano saxophone“Ten dubious repetitions plus a single accurate one don’t equal security.”
The Musician’s Way,
p. 52

Naïve practicers might repeat a passage profusely and make error after error.

Then, on the eleventh try, when it finally comes out right, they say, “There, I’ve got it,” and move on to something else.

But ten dubious repetitions plus a single accurate one don’t equal security. Quite the opposite.

Repetition & Habits

Repetition inevitably begets habits.

If we squander ten garbled recaps while deciphering how to execute a passage, we’ve ingested chaotic tendencies that don’t disappear after the passage is understood.

In effect, the confused run-throughs implant mixed-up mental patterns that can be replaced only with tedious work.

Added to that, excessive repetition overworks the body and is a prime cause of injury.

Map before Repeating

A far better strategy is to devise interpretive and technical maps before repeating.

Then, we don’t need many repetitions to feel secure, and we can use the “three-times” formula proposed in The Musician’s Way:

  1. Execute a musical passage three times consecutively without slips (complex passages may warrant five runs).
  2. Similarly learn another passage.
  3. Progressively join individual passages into larger sections.

Above all, we should steer clear of repeated, imprecise run-throughs.

That is, if our first shot at a passage isn’t trouble free, we should isolate and solve the problems instead of just running the entire passage again.The Musician's Way book cover

Making vs. Repeating Mistakes

As we commit to accurate, expressive repetitions, let’s also be unafraid of errors.

Mistakes will happen.

Handled intelligently, miscues feed our evolution because they alert us to faults in our mental maps.

In fact, as discussed in Chapter 3 of The Musician’s Way, errors and problems can be our most valuable teachers.

But repeating mistakes is foolish.

If you ever catch yourself in a whirl of hazy repetition, stop what you’re doing and regroup.

See The Musician’s Way for comprehensive practice and performance guidelines. Read reviews.

Related posts:
Accurate from the Start
Beautiful Repetition
Honest Practice
Mindful Musicianship
Varied, Distributed, and Interleaved Practice

© 2018 Gerald Klickstein
Adapted from The Musician’s Way, p. 52
Photo © E. Kuliyev, licensed from