Repetition Blindness: The #1 Mistake We Make When Practicing Music

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When we practice, especially outside of jazz schools and more structured settings, it’s easy to use the practice room as a form of escape, which it absolutely can and should be at times.

But there is a risk, and if aren’t aware of it, you can spend hours and hours of important time stagnating or barely progressing.

Maybe it’s repeating the same solo you learned two weeks ago and have played through 50x already in the same key, the same tempo, and with the same feel.

Maybe it’s realizing you don’t understand the entirety of the harmony but choose to power through on muscle memory alone instead of taking the time to put it in context or purposefully improve your ear.

Maybe it’s leaning on a familiar workflow when producing that you know needs improvement but you still haven’t done the work to make it faster in the past year.

A classic practicing mistake

The risk, which I like to call repetition blindness, is just thoughtless repetition of exercises and things you’ve been told to practice and fooling yourself into thinking it is practice. It would be, if you had hit it, extracted the value, and moved on, but instead, you’re proud of how you sound because you’ve mastered this practice technique and won’t go back to real practice, which should sound bad.

This is watered-down practice; this is mindless practice, but practice should be a purposeful extending of our existing toolsets. Yes, there is room for messing around when you want to. Yes, there is value in spaced repetition. Yes, there is a difference between performance practice and woodshed practice, but unless you know those distinctions, you’re bound to fall victim to repetition blindness.

Here’s how to make sure it doesn’t happen:

  1. Plan your practice sessions ahead of time, based on your unique goals.
  2. Build a distraction-free environment so you have space to get into “deep practice”.
  3. Prioritize practice so it happens when you have the most energy.
  4. Use a timer and build your routine into specific blocks of time, e.g. 30 minutes on major7 arpeggios through the circle of 4ths.
  5. Always remember to “reside at the edge of your abilities” and internalize the fact that in each session you should going beyond your existing skillset.

That’s it!

If you like this, then you'll love the Noted Newsletter, where a group of us talk exclusively about getting better at music.

Check it out here.

Either way, happy practicing!

Written by
Nathan Phelps
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