I recently attended an excellent musical presentation by the renowned Australian speaker Michael Griffin. One of his key messages, that struck a chord with me, was repetition - a key component into building skills.
On the face of it, it sounds boring. How can I tell my Year 1 class when learning a new song to "Sing it again and again and again...”? Not very inspiring. However, the proof Mr Griffin supplied showed this was an undeniable key component to learning. He went on to explain how the human brain had roughly 87 billion brain cells and learning is facilitated by building links between these cells (through repetition). The more you reinforce the links, the more amazing the results. He evidenced a piano piece that contained 87 notes to play within 10 seconds as proof that what seems impossible is achievable by repetition. The scientific evidence shows that with constant repetition the links in the brain become ‘super highways’ and this enables us humans to perform the most incredible feats. Yes, the brain is just super amazing!
Having reflected on this inspiring talk, I was left with the sticky problem of applying more repetition into my teaching without boring the children to death. The answer, I think, is two-fold.
Firstly, I needed to inspire the children to really want to achieve their goals and secondly I needed to be sneaky! If I could dress this repetition up in fun and interesting ways, that dupe them into thinking they’re not doing the same thing again and again, I might just be able to hold their interest and get them to achieve some amazing results.
‘The Mars Bar Challenge’ is a great example of this. In this activity, I want my students to be able to hold a solo part within a complicated sol-fa round. In order to achieve this they need to repeat the original melody many times so that it is ingrained before they attempt to sing it in solo parts within the round.
Notice my sneaky use of a chocolate treat in the title as an incentive to achieve this result! When practicing the melody we learnt it in a variety of different ways: in small chunks, linking the chunks together, sing as two teams in competition, sing in pairs, sing solos, sing with and without a piano accompaniment, sing loudly, sing softly, sing with actions etc... Here we have many different activities but in essence, they are designed to repeat the same musical phrase again and again and again until it can be sung ‘without thought’.
Well, how did it work? Through repetition, the classes achieved a 100% pass rate.
Hooray for the children! But… boo for my bank balance! Repetition is key to progress but music must also be fun.
Music and Drama Specialist