Repetition is the Mother of all learning.

Get out a pencil and copy this down…

 

Repetition is the mother of all learning.

Repetition is the mother of all learning.

Repetition is the mother of all learning.

Repetition is the mother of all learning.

Repetition is the mother of all learning.

Repetition is the mother of all learning.

 

Get the point? One thing I have noticed of late is how many singers/groups fail to understand the value of basic repetition. They overlook time spent doing. They work until they get things right… and then they stop. Ever heard this quote? “An amateur practices until he gets it right; a professional practices until he can’t get it wrong.” I’ve searched around and can’t find a source for this quote, which is too bad… because it’s so powerful.

Early in life we learn the value of repetition, whether from copying times tables over and over until multiplication “clicks” in our heads to shooting the 1,001st free-throw so we’re ready for the 8th grade basketball game. Why does this concept escape so many singers?

I think singers tend to get sucked into the mindset that they are going to sing with their voice, and that any correction made in rehearsal is simply a spot-fix. We’re fixing this chord. We’re fixing this vowel. They don’t seem to understand they are fixing every chord like that one or every AH vowel. They don’t understand that every fix is one more step to improving their voice forever.

What singers need most is consistency. In order to make that happen, they must treat every bit of singing as a chance to enhance. We should not let repetition be for warm-ups, sight-reading or drills. We should build a mentality of repetition into every rehearsal.

Let’s take vowel purity as a test case. How many pure vowels are there anyway? I tend to stick to 7: EE (meet), IH (hit), EH (red), AH (father), AW (tall), OH (boat), and OOH (moon). I hear you, folks… there’s French vowels and umlaut-ed German vowels, and on and on… but really. We can base almost ALL singing off of these seven, then add variation as needed.

So, assuming we’re working from seven vowels, then every time we sing, we’re practicing our consistency producing those vowels. Around 90% of our singing is on vowels, so taking the mindset of constantly practicing vowel production always is nothing but beneficial. When a vowel is corrected in rehearsal, an OK singer will think “I need to sing taller on this note,” but a great singer will think “all my AH vowels need to be like this.”

Let’s look at another scenario – singing properly within a chord. If you are, for example, a tenor singing a fifth against the bass and make an adjustment to help that chord ring, you might think “I have to adjust on this chord.” OR… if you are really sharp, you would think “Whenever I’m singing a fifth, I have to adjust.” If you are really, really, really sharp, you’d listen to the adjustment of every chord tone in the group (brightening thirds, lifting fifths, darkening sevenths, etc.) instead of just your own – because someday you’ll be on a different chord tone yourself.

Let’s say you are working on a phrase of descending eighth notes in which chromatics are affecting your pitch accuracy. Do you work on that phrase in isolation, over and over at different speeds (slow to fast) in order to make it second nature? Maybe yes, maybe no – but you should.

Every little piece of your singing needs to be performed well and repeated successfully until it is second nature. Here are some tips to develop good habits of repetition.

Isolate smaller sections of music: Don’t sing whole songs or even half songs. Perfect a phrase or even narrow your focus to individual intervals, even notes. Strengthen the smaller pieces of music until they are stellar, and then begin stringing them back together until you have larger chunks of music in your back pocket.

Think globally, act locally: whenever you are fixing a piece of your singing, remember that similar spots are likely to occur many times in the same song, and likely countless times throughout your singing career. There’s only so many vowels, so many pitches, so many rhythms. They might come in different combinations, but if you are smart you’ll begin to see everything in patterns. I call this developing your vocal instincts.

Keep up on your yard work: If you are working on new material, break it into small parts that you improve and rebuild into larger musical chunks. If you are working on material that is farther along and seems solid, test yourself by singing the same material five times in a row into a recorder, then listening back to find areas of inconsistency. Revisit material regularly, because learning music is like doing yard work – you put a lot of time into mowing your lawn, trimming hedges, edging sidewalks, etc. so that they all look great. If you stop there and don’t revisit those chores, weeds will grow back and grass will get shaggy again. The more often you revisit material, the easier it is to keep clean.

Get over yourself: you are not so great as to avoid singing the same thing over and over again.

Mark your music more than once: when a correction is made, mark it. When you miss it again, mark it again.

Looping: If you are practicing something troublesome, don’t just do it a few times. I will sometimes make my choir sing the same short phrase up to 30 times in a row (with short suggestions interspersed) in order to lock their performance in place.

Three times for good measure: When you are working on a problem in rehearsal, don’t move on because you get it right once. Do it correctly three times in a row to make sure it sticks.

Short performances: one of the greatest things that ever happened to my group Eleventh Hour is the incorporation of short performances. They meet every day after school and sing two songs. No warm-up, no stopping, just two songs. This type of performance without the safety net of “do-overs” is something that will really strengthen a group. If you have a larger choir then every day might not be feasible, but perhaps it could be happen once a week. Any extra performing is better than none.

Build more repetition and the mindset of repetition into your singing, and you’ll reap great benefits in the long haul.

Build more repetition and the mindset of repetition into your singing, and you’ll reap great benefits in the long haul.

Build more repetition and the mindset of repetition into your singing, and you’ll reap great benefits in the long haul.

Build more repetition and the mindset of repetition into your singing, and you’ll reap great benefits in the long haul.

Build more repetition and the mindset of repetition into your singing, and you’ll reap great benefits in the long haul.

 

 

 

 

 

One comment to Repetition is the Mother of all learning.

  • Michael Klein  says:

    I wish I could copy/paste my rehearsals..it makes repetition a lot easier 🙂

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