How Many Repetitions Do You Need To Do?
In October of 2015 a new study showed that if you repeat a task (correctly) twice a many times as it took you to repeat it (correctly) in order to learn the task, you will shorten your learning time. This seems pretty obvious (i.e., you learn something faster if you study it more). However, when we add in our other learning tools (e.g., interleaved practice, spaced, practice, generation, etc.), we can really start developing a solid formula for finding out how many times it takes to really improve a task.
If it took you want to learn a short musical phrase on guitar, for example, here's how you can go about it:
1) Start by picking a very short music phrase (e.g., 1-4 measures).
2) If you have a recording of the music, listen to it a few times in order to remember what the phrase is suppose to sound like. It turns out, not surprisingly, that listening to the music you want to play also helps you learn it faster!
3) Play through your phrase correctly. This means slowly, precisely, and with as little tension as possible. Apply deliberate practice techniques (i.e., precise error correction using trial and error) when necessary.
4) Start counting (and writing down) how many times you need to play the phrase before you have it memorized and can play the phrase CORRECTLY without the music. TRY NOT TO REPEAT MORE THAN 5-10 TIMES. Correct repetition aimed at achieving specific proficiency standards are key, not mindless repetition. You or your teacher will set the standards.
5) After 5-10 times, do something else (e.g., another piece of music, another music phrase, go for a run, have lunch, etc.). This employs both Spaced Practice and Interleaved practice.
6) Go back to your phrase and keep repeating using the steps above (no more than 10 times). Keep counting and writing down how many times you repeat.
7) Once memorized, take another break and do something else.
8) Count how many times it took you to memorize (i.e., learn) the phrase and double it. This is the number of times you need to repeat the phrase correctly in order to significantly improve your skill acquisition. For example, if it took you 15 repetitions to memorize the phrase, you will need to repeat the phrase correctly 30 times in order to gain a significant increase in playing ability. That said, you still need to employ spaced and interleaved practice into your routine.
NOTE 1: Do NOT simply repeat the phrase 30 times in one sitting. That will get the information encoded into SHORT term memory and we want it encoded into LONG term memory. Plus you'll probably hurt yourself by not taking breaks. So, repeat the phrase (correctly) in sets of ONLY 5-10 CORRECT repetitions and take breaks after every set. When you get to 30 correct repetitions, you will have significantly increases your ability to play that phrase. (Notice that all of your repetitions need to be CORRECT. If there are any mistakes you need to use Deliberate Practice techniques to overcome the difficulties.
NOTE 2: You need to make sure you are playing precisely and with minimal tension. If you are not precise and not relaxed, this will NOT work. Also, you should not expect unrealistic gains in skill, but you should expect improvement. If you're doing this correctly, you'll notice faster improvement than what you may have noticed with other practice methods.
NOTE 3: If you are unsure about proper technique, posture, etc. FIND A TEACHER! I cannot stressthe importance of having a good treacher present to help you correct errors and execute technique corretly in order to express the music the way you want. If you're looking for a qualified teacher to help you improve, email us!