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Repetition and Play

January 7, 2013

When you repeat a word, you say it having already said it one time, so the meaning is changed. Repeat it five times, and you have layered it upon the other repetitions. Repeat it five times, but say it quieter each time so the fifth repetition is inaudible. People will think they hear the last utterance clearly. Repetition can bring us to greater awareness, allowing us to see old things in new ways.

DSCN2945 If you want someone to remember a tune it must usually be repeated at least three times. The call and response pattern from liturgical services and many folk traditions from around the world, exploits this kind of repetition. In a longer musical plan, repetition creates a sense of the familiar, a place to return to after exploring new musical vistas. The hook in popular music is another way repetition is used it is a rhythmic/melodic fragment invoking a strong memory. sometimes it swirls around in our head whether we want it to or not.

When practising a musical instrument, repetition is how we build skills. Repeating movements helps them to become comfortable and as our comfort grows the effort to execute these movements diminishes. We get more done with less effort and are able to think further and further ahead.

There are so many details in a piece of music that require our awareness and control. How each phrase is structured and how it connects to the next one, how different sections create moods, and are related to each other even if they are contrasting. What speed is the right one to get a passage to speak most clearly, and what sections need small increases or decreases in volume.  It is through repetition that we can come to know all these things about the music we study. Repetition is a way of revealing more and deeper truths about music. Every note has its place and it is our job to make that clear.

In much of the common practice repertoire phrases areOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA the same length  – often 4 measures. I like to invite my students to see this as an opportunity to introduce a bit of change into that regularity – slight slow downs and accelerandos introduce a sense of play into the music. In this way we implicate ourselves as interpreters, and we can bring a fresh approach to the music every time we play it.

Repetition allows us to be changed by the music we play as our soul makes room for new ideas, we grow and are enriched by the process.

Nasruddin got so drunk one night at the tavern that he got into a  fight with a drunk, and came home with scratches and bruises all over his face. When he arrived home, in the middle of the night, he looked into the mirror and thought, “Uh oh, tomorrow morning is going to be difficult!” How will I hide these marks? My wife will know what happened and she will forbid me from going to the tavern for a long time.
So he searched in the medicine chest, found some ointment and put it on his wounds and scratches. This done, he hoped that by morning things would not be so bad and staggered to the bed.
Early in the morning, still snoring away, his wife shouted from the bathroom, “Who put so much ointment on the mirror?”

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