To Repeat or Not to Repeat?
“Do I have to play the repeats?”
It’s a question I’m often asked by new students. Sometimes students don't even ask, but axe their repeats as a matter of course.
And I understand the impulse. Musicians, amateur and professional, tend to be type A, efficiency-minded, get-it-done individuals (I’m no exception). And (on the surface at least) repeating seems to be the epitome of inefficiency. After all, you’ve already played that music! Why would your teacher or your audience want to hear it again?
But here's the thing: Repeats aren’t superfluous drudgery. They are vital and exciting opportunities for both you and your teacher. You should most definitely play the repeats, and my veteran students know this.
1) The composer expected it. When your composer was penning whatever repeat-containing masterwork you’re tackling, he or she spelled out his or he intentions in black and white. The piece was written with repetition in mind, and if you don’t repeat, you’re leaving out 50% of the piece. Would you ever leave out every other note, or cull 50% of the staff? No, you wouldn’t! (This isn't even the most compelling reason to repeat, to my mind, but it's worth saying.)
2) Surprise and delight your listener! It may not be immediately obvious, but a repeat offers you, the interpreter, an unparalleled opportunity to give your listener pleasure. If you’re repeating, you’ve already set up a set of expectations for your listener. Playing with and overturning expectations- in this case through timing, articulation, ornamentation, etc.- is part of what makes art engaging.
3) Repeats are great data. For both you and your teacher, repeats offer a wealth of information. When I listen to a student repeating, I can tell if a note mistake the student made the first time around is a dug-in mistake or a transient one. I can tell if a student really intended that particular rhythm. I can tell if the flashy fingerwork that came off so well in iteration number one has been practiced enough to achieve consistency. And if my student has her antennae up, she’ll be able to tell many of these things, too.
Should you play the repeats? In my book, the answer is a resounding yes. Happy repetition!