Robert Estrin - piano expert

The Danger of Looping Music in Practice

How and when repeating musical passages is really useful

In this video, Robert talks about the common practice of repeating a musical passage over and over again. Is that really helpful in your instrumental practice?

Released on September 29, 2021

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Welcome to Today, the subject is why looping sections doesn't work in piano practice. Now it seems counterintuitive since you want to repeat things over and over to solidify them. And I see many times students struggling, looping something over and over again and not really getting anywhere. And why doesn't this work? Well, it comes down to the simple fact that practicing has some physiological component to it, but primarily practicing is a thought process. Let's say, for example, you're working on Fur Elise. Everything's going fine, but then you get to this section. And you can't play it up the speed or it's sloppy, or it's not even. So you start practicing it.

And you just keep repeating and trying to make it better. Well, what's the problem with this, is you've turned yourself into a robot. You're just a machine playing it over and over again, without giving yourself the time to even listen to what you're doing, because you're not stopping long enough to make a judgment. Is that the way you want to play it? Yes. Great. Let's see if you can do it that way again. Is that not the way you want to play it? What do you want to make different the next time? So instead play the phrase. I heard some unevenness in the right hand there. So now I say let's try it a little slower. And I go, okay, well that's good. But the right hand is really where the problem is. Let me do the right hand alone.

And you do that again, stopping each time. And I say, well, the first part's good, but let me listen to that second part. I don't just keep looping it either. I listen each and every time. And I listened to that and said, well, that was pretty good. Let me try it again. But to just do this, my mind could be anywhere. It doesn't give you the time to listen. It's not a thought process anymore. It's just a mechanical motion. Well, you might get a little exercise out of your hands, but are you going to get any real value? Are you going to clean it up? Are you going to make it more even? Are you going to do anything with it different from just repeating the same thing again and again? No, it's just going to repeat the same thing.

So if it happens to be exactly the way you want to play it, great, but if it isn't, you're cementing your performance in such a way that your hand now knows how to play it the way you don't want it because you never stop to listen. You have to listen each and every phrase you repeat so that you can determine whether that is, is what you want. And if it's not what you want, specifically what to listen for the next time to make it the way you want it to sound or find some solution. If there's a certain note in there that isn't coming out, Maybe that note, so then maybe stop on that note, or maybe stop before the note, or whatever practice technique you have. Give yourself the time to listen to each repetition of a phrase rather than mindlessly loop it over and over again, because that accomplishes very little.

Other than just getting some exercise in your hands, you're not really refining your music when you're just repeating it over and over in a loop fashion. So avoid those loop situations, unless it's so perfect that you want to loop it again and again, perfectly. At that stage, there's nothing wrong with it, but make sure it's the sound you're after, because you're going to cement it into your hand. And if it isn't exactly what you want, it's going to be 10 times harder to undo what your hand has learned. That motor memory is very strong and takes great intentional work to undo motor memory that's ingrained in your hand. So looping can be dangerous, be sure that you are mindful taking time between repetitions when you're practicing sections of music. That's the lesson for today. Robert Estrin here at, your online piano resource with tens of thousands of subscribers. Going to hit a hundred thousand this year here, right on YouTube and living pianos has more subscribers than ever. Thank you all for joining me. See you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

kathleen carroll * VSM MEMBER * on September 30, 2021 @8:48 am PST
lThank you, Robert. I get it!
Robert Estrin on September 30, 2021 @9:55 am PST
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