Break’s Over, Part 7: There’s Joy in Repetition

At some point, I’m gonna have to apologize to the neighbors. My guitar work might be driving them crazy.

No, not for what you’re thinking. I do my best to be a considerate neighbor. Up to this point, my guitar work has mostly been acoustic. when I do plug in, I don’t push my amps (which are only five and 12 watts to begin with) past reasonable living room volume. So, volume shouldn’t be an issue. If it is, no one has said anything.

No — I need to apologize for the songs I’m playing. They’re good songs. But I’m playing them over and over and over. Assuming they can hear me, they’ve got to be tired of the endless repeat.

But this is how we learn. It takes time for something to enter the brain and remain there. One of my schoolteachers told our class that the brain has to absorb something 15 times before it is committed to memory. I don’t know how true that is, but repetition is the method I use 40-plus years after learning about it.

Sheer repetition.

I often marvel at musicians playing complex music as casually as taking a walk in the park. How on earth do they DO that?!?

Simple: they practice. A LOT.

So, here I am. Learning the songs I want to play. In this case, it’s this one:

YouTube is good for the first lesson, which is figuring out where the notes are and how they should be played. (Seriously — you can find a tutorial for just about anything you want to play on YouTube! Where were we before the internet?)

Step Two: Walk through the piece SLOWLY. Not always the easiest thing to do, as I’ve mentioned before. Then gradually increase the tempo with the aid of a metronome. I don’t know about you, but my brain tends to lock up every now and then. A chord change I’ve played a hundred times gets stuck in my head and I forget where I was going. SLOW DOWN and play it again. And again. And again. And again.

THEN I can get into Step Three: Play the song with the record/video at tempo. Then play it again. And again. And again.

I kept playing the song until it felt natural under my fingers. I played until I didn’t really need to look at the fretboard to see where I was or for the shape of the chords.

In time, I could do it! (I’d post the video I created here, but the load is proving difficult. Keep checking this post. If I find a way, the video will be here.)

Of course, this is hardly revolutionary. In fact, it’s pretty basic. Before you know it, you can literally play the song with your eyes closed. That’s a win!

Prince wrote a song called “Joy in Repetition.” I doubt we were thinking about the same thing. But it’s the phrase that popped into my head during my infinite rewind of “Kansas City.” This is also a great way to gauge your real interest in the tune. Does it get old? Then you probably don’t want to learn it. “Kansas City” has never gotten old for me. It’s a keeper!

There’s joy in repetition. There really is.


Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (cirdecsongs) My book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears, is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine book dealers. I’m currently working on my next book, The Wizard of WOO: The Life and Music of Bernie Worrell.

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