Rehearsal Tip: Make Repetition Meaningful

Let’s face it: sometimes your students just need to repeat difficult sections over and over and over again. Unfortunately, doing it the same way every time has some issues:

  1. It gets boring really quickly
  2. It may not be the way every student learns best
  3. It makes your students not believe you when you say, “Last Time!”
  4. And #3 opens you up for sarcasm and hilarious music teacher jokes

To help, here are some ways to make repeating the same line or phrase fun and engaging for every student.

Watch the Beat

This simple technique gives you a lot of control and forces your students to focus. Simply tell them to watch your hand and stay with your beat. Then slow it down and speed it up, while they follow.

Watching the beat is also effective if they’re struggling with a particular interval or section since you can conduct them quickly over the parts they know and then slow it down for the parts they are struggling with. You can also make all kinds of emotive faces as they are successful…or not!

For example, think of the song, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. The first part of the melody is fairly simple, just an arpeggio. But the descending line on “troubles will be out of sight” is particularly chromatic and can be challenging for many students. The easy stuff can be conducted quickly, with the slower beats reserved for the more difficult descending line.

Just Those…

The “Just Those…” or “Mix It Up” technique works well for all ages and can also create lighthearted moments. You start by saying “Okay, now this time, just those who _______”

Fill in the blank with things like:

have brown eyes are wearing red socks have an older sibling
walk to school hate broccoli saw the new Spiderman movie
like ice cream have a June birthday showered this morning
have pierced ears are __ years old had eggs for breakfast

The list can go on and on! Not only do the students love being the center of attention, but you can also pinpoint the sections or individuals that might be struggling and give them an extra round or two…without anyone knowing that’s what you’re doing.

For example, imagine a handful of students who aren’t engaged and need to be re-focused. Tap into your knowledge of what they’re into. Then select them over and over again: “Just those who play football at recess – just those who play video games at home –just those who got Legos for Christmas…”

Just be aware that some of your students may not have binary pronouns, so try to use gender-neutral identifiers, if you choose to use gender as a descriptor at all.

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This one is always enjoyable, and easy to hand-off to a student as well. Simply cut out an octagon and turn it into a STOP sign on one side, and GO on the other. Instruct your students that when the sign says STOP they hum the melody, or play with just tongue, air, and fingers. When the sign is turned to GO they sing or play out loud. 

Musical Variation Dice

My students love this one, too! Simply grab a square tissue box, cover it with white paper, and make each side a different way to sing/play. I use graphics as well but you don’t have to. There are six sides, so you can choose six different tempi, volume, articulations, styles, or a mix of any of those. 

When teaching elementary, I used:

Loud as a Lion Soft as a Lamb High as a Bird
Low as a Lizard Slow as a Turtle Fast as a Cheetah

I get to roll the dice first, then pass it off to students. They love the thrill of not knowing how they’re going to sing it next.

When teaching middle school, I used two dice: one with dynamic levels, the other with articulations. You can also create a spinner instead of using dice if you like. Any way you prefer is the right way to go.

Stay Standing

This one gamifies repetition, and lets students practice integrity and self-assessment. The concept is easy: everyone starts standing. If you make a mistake in the lyrics or the notes then you sit down. Once you sit down you need to continue learning by doing tongue/air/fingers, humming, or lip-syncing along.

Each round you take it faster and faster until you have just a couple of students standing. 

You’ll want to be prepared to mitigate conflicts if students aren’t honest. Give it a try. If your class struggles with “But Mrs. Janson…Bobby messed up and didn’t sit down!” then maybe save it for another opportunity. 

Salt and Pepper

This technique is perfect for vocalists and any instrumental sections that can be played by memory, including scales and drills. 

The rule is with each repetition students have to move so that they are next to someone new. Just like you’re mixing up salt and pepper over and over again!

For example, have them sing the melody, then say “Salt and Pepper…Go!” To keep things moving I like to tell them they have a count-down from 3 to find a new spot. Then it’s 3-2-1, play or sing it again next to someone else. Rotate until their behavior starts to degrade or they’ve stood or sat by everyone else in the room one time. Not only can this be really fun, it gets students out of their own headspace, which we know is great for learning. 

No Lecture Required

One of my favorite mentors used to say that if students weren’t playing it right, it didn’t always indicate a lecture was required. Often students can self-correct if we just give them the chance to play it again. 

I hope these ideas give you a new spark of ideas for integrating meaningful –and fun – repetition into your rehearsals.

Elisa Janson Jones

An experienced K8 music educator, Elisa Janson Jones specializes in helping music educators build, manage, and grow thriving school music programs and have long and happy careers. She holds a bachelor of music from Brigham Young University and a master of business administration from Western Governors University. Elisa uses her vast and diverse skillset to help nonprofits, businesses, and music educators around the world. She serves as conductor of her local community band, a columnist for SBO Magazine, and maintains a private lesson studio. Elisa is a nationally-recognized speaker, the host and producer of the Music Ed Mentor Podcast, founder of the International Music Education Summit, and author of The Music Educator’s Guide to Thrive.

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