Humans are built for repetition. So much of what we do as living beings is rooted in repetitive structure. We have a cycle each day that we repeat: get up…do daily activities…eat…more activities…eat again…more activities…eat a third time…rest a bit…and sleep. The next day its starts again. We brush our teeth the same way each day. We shampoo, rinse, condition, rinse, and style. We put clothes in the hamper, wash them, dry them. and put them away. Over and over.
Life is built on repetition.
It’s also found in music. As a piece unfolds, you will hear certain themes repeated, over and over. There might be a chorus that keeps coming back. In many musical forms, repetition is key to getting your audience on board as the song or instrumental work moves from point A to point B. When the theme comes back, as a listener you say, “Hey! That’s familiar! I recognize that!”
Repetition in Music
Many composers will develop a theme, make subtle changes to it as it moves forward. They might bring in another theme to contrast the first. This is like a good debate. You may repeat the same ideas, but state them in different ways with different supporting facts. It’s what keeps things interesting and helps drive home the main point – or in music’s case, the main theme. You are probably familiar with Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and it’s famous four-note motive (a fancy term for a tiny theme or part of a theme). Here is what that motive looks like on the page:
Even if you don’t read music, you can see the repetition – three “beamed” black notes followed by a white note. He repeats the motive immediately at a lower pitch level. The point is still to get the musical idea inside your head.
Here is a really cool visualization of the first movement in which you can see the four-note motive getting worked out.
All of that repetition makes it very easy to spot the motive when it comes back. We connect to it. It has an impact on us as a listener.
We Learn Through Repetition
Beethoven and other composers do what educators have known for a long time – humans learn through repetition. We build strong long-term memories of facts and concepts through repeated exposure to those facts and concepts. Public speakers will tell you the old formula to a successful speech:
Tell them what you’re going to tell them.
Tell them what you told them.
Repetition is often called the mother of all learning, and for good reason.
In fact…we’ve said it before:
Repetition is good for children. In fact, it’s how they learn. A one-time experience is not enough for a neural connection to form and stabilize. Children need repeated exposure to an experience. Each time an experience is repeated the neural connection grows stronger. Think about it. Even as adults, we don’t usually learn how to do something the very first time we try it. According to Conscious Discipline, for a child to learn a new skill or concept, it takes 2,000 times in context. Whoa! That is a lot of readings of Good Night Moon!
Repeated exposure also helps children become comfortable with new objects and experiences. So, for example, in a Kindermusik class the first time we bring out a new instrument children may only want to watch it being played, but the next week they might decide to try playing it, and the next week they may try suggesting a new way to play it.
– Kindermusik Minds on Music
It’s not just kids, however. Adults benefit from repetition as well. This is one of the reasons we bring you multiple articles that tell us the same thing over and over: music benefits all the domains of child development; music benefits mental and physical health; music builds community. By bringing you multiple perspectives that remind us of the immense power of music and its special place in the human experience, we hope to hammer the point home:
Music has endless value, particularly in the life of young children and infants.
So, take the time to digest these articles. Many of them are written with the same goal in mind. They have the same themes and motives, presented with varied supporting information. We take that four-note Beethoven motive – music benefits us all – and develop it in interesting ways.