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Repetition in Music Education

It’s true that repetition is a fundamental part of music education, especially for young learners. The trick is finding the right kind of teacher and well-structured lessons because not all repetition is good.

Just as too much, too little, or the wrong kind of sleep can take a toll on the body, ill-structured repetition in music classes can deliver poor results. On the other hand, when classes are arranged in the right way, and when instructors know how to leverage the immense power of the human memory, children and young adults can acquire skills at a rapid pace.

It’s important for parents to have a full understanding of both the right and wrong ways to use memory in music classes. Here are four of the core techniques that can help young learners absorb lessons and gain mastery over each new concept they are exposed to:

  • Proper Repetition: Forget about rote repetition, the endless, continual recitation of a large chunk of material for the purpose of “burning it into” the mind. It’s a high-effort strategy that delivers few rewards. Yes, people can and do learn things by rote, but the technique wastes a huge amount of time.

    Fortunately, there are numerous other ways of memorizing that are much faster, more fun, and deliver longer-lasting result. Proper repetition is a teaching approach that introduces songs to children several times in one session but not in a robotic, sequential way.

    It’s a fact that children absorb new information very efficiently when they are exposed to it multiple times in a fun, interesting way. When music teachers introduce a new song or game, they might demonstrate it a few times and then have the children do it four of five more times throughout the class, with plenty of other activities in between.
  • Layering: Layering is a memory-training technique that really gets the job done. It works by adding small amounts of information with each new repetition. If you ever learned a multi-verse song by adding a line or two each time you sang it, then you’re already familiar with the power of layered memorization.
  • Timed Reinforcement: Regular reinforcement of learned material is a method commonly used for teaching foreign languages. When the human brain hears a new word, song, or idea, we begin to forget it almost from the second it enters our consciousness.

    But, our ability to make the data permanent is possible with regular reinforcement. In fact, it helps to give the brain cells a rest and let them forget the new information for a day or so before reintroducing it. This sort of structured “learn and partially forget” system is one of the most effective ways to gain long-term memory power, and it works for learning to play an instrument, sing new songs, acquire a foreign language, or master just about any kind of subject matter.
  • Regular Mental “Workouts”: The body’s muscles appear to respond well to regular workouts. The good news is that our brains seem to operate the same way. Music students who get in the habit of regularly reviewing all the songs they’ve learned to sing or play can build strong mental acuity and eventually store huge amounts of information with ease.

    This kind of practice is how some of the old-time folk musicians could recall as many as 500 piano, guitar, or violin pieces at will, without even making an effort. They had learned to turn their minds into permanent archives of vast amounts of helpful information.

Memory Myths, Mistakes, and Misconceptions

Like so many other subjects, the field of memorization comes with its own pitfalls. Most of these are nothing more than popular misconceptions that have crept into the public consciousness through the years. Fortunately, these errors are easy to spot if you know what to look for.

Here’s a short list of “memory myths” that can help parents, teachers, and older children be on the lookout for dead-end techniques and counter-productive ways of practicing and leaning.

  • “More is Better” Nearly all research in the field of human memory points to the same general conclusion: it’s much more beneficial to do a small amount of memorization at a time, rather than a lot of it. The old idea of “more memorization is better” does not hold. Better to learn drop by drop than mound by mound.
  • “Practice Makes Perfect” Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. This concept is most apparent in the fields of music and dance. Unless mistakes are corrected early on, by a competent teacher, students simply embed the wrong methods into their memories. That’s why music learning is best done via lessons from a third party rather than alone, especially in the early stages.
  • “The Mind is a Lock-Box” The human mind is not a lock-box that takes something and and maintains it in an unaltered state forever. Instead, our brains appear to be more like sponges, with the ability to hold large amounts of data, subject to continual “leakage.” Unless the leaked material is replaced with a fresh supply of data (via regular practice) it can float away.

    The one exception to this principle is when something eventually leaves the sponge-part of your memories and goes into our long-term storage unit, which is akin to a lock-box. However, viewing the memory as some sort of “safe” that never needs to be refreshed is an incorrect way of looking at it.
  • “Memory is about Intelligence” A long-held myth is that very intelligent people have excellent memories and people of average intelligence have average memory capacity. On the contrary, our mental memory capacity seems to be wholly unrelated to intelligence.

    Just about anyone, of any intelligence level, can train their memory to do wondrous things, hold huge amounts of worthwhile information, and display amazing feats of recall. Likewise, anyone of any age can learn to play an sing music in a relatively short amount of time. That means the benefits of music are available to us all, no matter how adept we are in other academic fields.

Music and Memory Work Together

One of the subtle benefits of early music education is that it helps children develop lifelong habits that benefit their overall brain health. That’s because, in addition to things like language-learning, regular socialization, eating well, getting enough sleep, and staying fit, taking part in music classes can help to keep the mind sharp for a lifetime.

The practice of memorization got a negative reputation in the latter part of the last century because the practice was so often identified solely with rote learning, one of the least effective ways of using the human memory. Now, educators and researchers are reacquainting themselves with the dozens of effective, positive, healthful ways of employing the human brain’s ability to recall information after first learning it.

Music and memory seem to work together in an almost magical way. How many times do you find yourself humming a melody you encountered 10 years ago, yet the tune feels as fresh as if you had just heard it yesterday? Human beings have relied on song, rhythmic cadence, sung patterns, and structured melodies for millennia. It’s why we learned our ABC’s via song (one you’ll never forget, no matter how long you live).

The Right Kind of Learning

The human memory is a powerful thing, but when it’s not put to good use, the results of music learning can be chaotic at best. However, in the hands of a capable instructor, online or in person, a child’s ability to remember melodies, techniques, information, entire songs, and instrumentation are vastly enhanced.

At Prodigies Music, we understand how to keep a learner’s mind fresh, interested, and resilient by employing age-old memory techniques. In most cases, our students don’t even realize they’re “memorizing” anything while their minds are taking in new data, patterns, and other valuable input.

Learning how to play, write, and perform music can go a long way toward strengthening a child’s mind and making stronger for all sorts of non-music related tasks as well. Put your child on the road to a powerful mind and positive attitude today by exploring some of the many Prodigies Music courses. Kids love music. All they need is a chance to get familiar with it.

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