Rusher or Repeater: What's Your Musical Learning Style?


Are you a rusher or a repeater?

Every musician and music student I know leans one way or the other, and I think understanding your tendency can help you better structure your practice and improve your skills.

So which one are you?

If you love sinking your teeth into a new piece but squirm when you have to perfect something you already know, you might be a rusher.  Rushers have many strengths: they are curious, they love to explore, and they are often strong sight readers.  But they’ll sometimes balk at being asked to repeat a piece, and need a push to work toward perfecting something already familiar.  

Repeaters, on the other hand, bask in the familiar.  If, during your practice, you catch yourself playing the same pieces over and over again, or if you need a push to tackle unfamiliar music, you might be a repeater.  Repeaters also have strengths, such as patience, high boredom thresholds, and a desire to comprehend deeply.  But they’ll need a push to tackle things outside of their comfort zones.

Recognize yourself? It’s a continuum, so most people fall somewhere in the middle of the extremes.  But I can definitely pick out my own tendency (I’m a repeater) and that of most of my students.

How does knowing your tendency help you improve your playing?  Here are some suggestions to help you work with, or through, who you are.

If you’re a rusher…

1.  Chanel your curiosity. Continue to explore, but set a duration and focus for your exploration: A month for bass repertoire, e.g., or a month for Handel, or a month for sixteenth-century divisions. Having a repertoire focus will help you carry from one piece into the next, even if you’re still cycling through them quickly.

2. Try an exercise.  Exercises and etudes, by definition, are designed to be repeated. Tackling one at a time, for an extended period, can be a good opportunity to flex your repetition muscles. (The ability to repeat takes time to develop, just like any other skill.)   

3. Perform.  There’s nothing like a performance to motivate you to work more deeply on something. This can be a “performance” during a lesson (teachers are great counterweights for both rushers and repeaters), an informal performance for your friends or family, or a public outing.  Having the deadline ahead of you will help you dig deep.

4. Commit in chunks.  Pick one piece to really work through- and then, with the rest of your daily practice time, cut yourself some slack follow your curiosity where it leads! 

If you’re a repeater….

Listen. Sometimes repeaters repeat because they’re not sure what else to play.  Broadening your listening (through CDs, Youtube, streaming services, online music libraries like Naxos etc.) can help you discover new and beautiful music.

Find a project. Repeaters tend to enjoy structure….so use a structured project to help you step outside of what you know.  Tackle all 12 Telemann Fantasias, or work your way through an anthology, or commit to learning three sonatas by composers who were heretofore unknown to you…the possibilities are endless. 

Shore up your reading.  Being a repeater often goes hand in hand with weak sight reading skills.  It’s a chicken and egg scenario: if you aren’t the best reader to begin with, you are more inclined to play what you know, which in turn means you aren’t getting as many opportunities to practice reading new work.  Carve out time to deliberately practice your sight reading- it’s the only way to improve.

Start small.  Commit to 10 minutes of reading or exploration per session, and then let yourself play what you love.

Happy practicing!

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© 2016 Anne Timberlake