Is Repetition Enough?


I keep up with a piano teacher whom I admire, Fiona Berry, to see what she’s been up to lately. She has been teaching piano for 25 years, and is well-known in the world of piano competitions. Fiona recently returned home from travelling the UK, judging at a series of music festivals.

Fiona was thrilled to see how many adults were participating in the competition, but also felt their pain when they didn’t do as well as they had expected. Now Fiona was positive these hopefuls had spent many hours in their practice rooms, preparing for their big moment. But it didn’t pay off went they got on the stage. And she thinks she knows why.

When she was a child, she was told the best way to practice was repetition. “Just keep playing the tune over and over, and eventually you’ll get it right,” she was advised. And I’ve promoted that technique as well in my many newsletters about building muscle memory. I have taught that when nerves want to take over during a performance, muscle memory can save the day. But sometimes (too often?) repetition can become mindlessly playing. And mindlessly playing is NOT practice. Deliberate practice is the key to improvement and polishing a piece, not just repetition.

Fiona got to visit with some of the folks who attended the festival and these are some of the points she shared with them.

  • Don’t just play through all your pieces. Break down difficult sections into small, manageable chunks.
  • Don’t practice toooooo long at a time. Regular breaks help with retention.
  • Use mental practice when you can’t get to your instrument. (I’ve told you about this one several times.)
  • Actively listen when you play. I love to watch Stephen Seifert and Bing Futch play. You can actually see them listening and feeling the emotions of the tune as they play.
  • Start journaling about your practice time, making notes of what you need to keep on working on … before you go public with it.

If there’s any of these practice methods you aren’t currently using, perhaps you could add them to your practice routine. You may see drastic improvements rather quickly when you practice more efficiently.

Happy dulcimering,



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