Repetition is the mother of skill

English: A classical guitar (front view) Franç...
Photo credit: Wikipedia

If if you want to get good at something, like really good, then you’re going to need to do lots of that something. Then some more. And then some more. And then some more again.

It is said that to obtain mastery of a particular skill you need to spend around 10,000 hours practicing, working, honing, paring, polishing and tweaking. That’s a lot of hours! If you do the maths, breaking it down – if you want to master something like, say….ooooh the guitar, in 10 years, you’ve got to be putting in 1000 hours of practice each year. That equates to around 83 hours per month or around 19 hours per week. Bugger! Best get practicing!

Whatever the truth is behind the “10,000 hours” thing, what we can take from this is that, fundamentally, if we want to progress, to develop and to become better and better, continually improving on the instrument, there is one thing that we need to do.


Actually I lie. There are two things.

(1) Practice.

(2) Do it regularly and consistently.

To coin a couple of well-worn phrases, we are what we repeatedly do and repetition is the mother of skill.

The behaviours and actions that we repeatedly carry out (which we of course have absolute choice about carrying out) indicate the things that we value, and so we come to embody those action. You may want to ask yourself, do your practice behaviours and actions indicate that you value your practice?  Do they indicate that you do the practice?! Are you happy that your actions reflect what you’re repeatedly (or otherwise) doing?

And what is it you’re repeating? Regularly and consistently practicing? And what, within your practice are you repeating? The same mistakes, just playing though, repeating and embedding “same old”? Or really listening to how you’re playing and practicing in new and improved ways of playing? Teasing out that technical knot and practicing in and repeating that awesome new left or right hand fingering, that dynamic, that movement of the phrase?

If repetition is the mother of skill, what are your repetitive actions giving life to?


5 thoughts on “Repetition is the mother of skill

  1. Hi Nicole
    Yep, hard to get away from repetition, but it is HOW one repeats which is the key.
    One MUST pause between repetitions and think briefly what needs to happen and almost verbalise what you want to happen and what needs to happen (based on assessment of the last repeat) to enable improvement from repetition to repetition, otherwise you are just repeating the mistake. I think also placing limits on how many repeats you actually do in one practice block focuses the mind more and steers away from mindless repetition (the enemy of efficient and useful musical practice).
    Just a wee bit of wisdom from an old hand at tertiary teaching!!
    thanks Nicole

  2. If repetition is the mother of success it is also potentially the father of distress!!
    I make these comments as a physiotherapist/kinesiologist who has focused on the treatment of musicians for many years[ and as a passionate classical guitarist for 40+ years!

    I think what we must guide our students away from at all costs is the notion that just “putting the hours in” [with scales, arpeggios etc] is useful in any way. Practice without PRESENCE is the cause of most of the problems I end up treating musicians for! The problem is, of course, that if we end up doing mindless practice [and I appreciate that is not what you are advocating at all] we can end up programming in to the motor centre of our brain all manner of unwanted and potentially harmful tension patterns. These wired-in, tension patterns are the natural and legitimate result of persistent practice! Whenever such tension patterns sneak in under the radar they inevitably cause mischief either musically or physiologically.
    And here I can speak from personal experience as well as professional experience, in having had to rehabilitate myself from one of the worst outcomes of poor practice habits – focal dystonia. I am certain that this was caused, not by too little practice [ I am a diligent and passionate student!] but by too much practice that had insufficient AWARENESS. And this in someone who knew the territory well!! The only good to come out of this for me is the steepness of learning curve and the digestion of humility.
    My counsel is very simple. AWARENESS first and last. Repetition only behind AWARENESS….. KNOW what you are doing rather than focusing on repeating what you THINK you know.
    Best wishes, Cliff Woodward,

    ps Nicole I really admire what you are doing with this site – I think it is a very brave thing to do and I appreciate that it costs a considerable time and effort to keep doing it. Well done.

    1. Quite right Cliff!
      I always work with my students on raising their awareness and thinking about the HOW and the WHY of what they’re doing (as well as the WHAT and the WHEN). And I’m certainly sharing my learnings in Alexander Technique (and my own steep learning curve with physical tension and pain that I’m sure you’re aware of as a reader of this blog!!) with my students – absolutely, absolutely key for me is a focus on developing good postural and movement habits right from the get go.

      I wrote couple of wee pieces around this previously 😉

      Thanks very much for your comment and thanks for reading the blog!


      1. In fact Cliff, you’ve inspired me for my next blog post to write a little piece just outlining my own journey to date with practice – going from actually doing it, to doing it in the wrong way, developing strain injury and tensions, through to developing, understanding and learning more efficient and effective practice methods and releasing that tension, playing pain free, learning to relax and go with the flow in performance situations and sharing that journey and experiences with others. Awesome! Thanks for the inspiration Cliff!!


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