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Peaking and Repeating

During a private lesson last October, a student had just finished his marching band season. I asked him how he felt to be done with the grueling rehearsal schedule and massive time commitment.


“Good, I’m just glad that was the last competition. It feels like we peaked at the right time.”

Embracing repetition

Having done marching band myself I’ve heard this idea of peaking many times. For those unfamiliar, peaking is a concept in which a given piece, show, or program is on a sort of graph which improves steadily until it drops precipitously for some reason. As if it's inevitable that you cannot continually perform a single work at a high level. I used to believe this as a truism. After all, as an artist, motivation and inspiration wax and wane for any number of reasons. Having matured and grown as a musician in many ways since my high school marching band days, I’ve come to embrace multiple opportunities to perform the same piece of music. Instead of dreading the repetition, I welcome what I’ll learn from the latest performance I may have missed.

Repetition is a powerful tool. Sometimes it can seem undesirable because it may lead to stagnation. However, I find the exact opposite to be true. Playing the same material dozens or if we’re lucky, hundreds of times helps develop musicality, maturity, and artistry. Carter McLean, drummer for Broadway’s Lion King admitted during an appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers that he has played “over 5,000” performances of the show. After 21 years of playing the show, his playing is still world-class and fresh. 

Fresh rebirth

Many of my students want to move on from a piece as soon as they can play from the beginning to the end. I find this is often reinforced by educators who want their students to play more advanced material (whatever that means) quicker and quicker so they can obtain some arbitrary level of proficiency. I have succumbed to this mentality from time to time in my practice and teaching. It’s very easy to think, “Well when I can play that thing then I’ll be really good.” This is rarely the case. Instead of trying to instantly move to the next thing, I try to understand what I have already performed in a fresh way. This slower approach to learning forgoes instant success in favor of long-term understanding and development. This goes the same for performance. After every performance, we can think of moments that could’ve gone better. That is a perfect opportunity to learn from your performance so you’re more equipped for the piece next time. However, if we shelve a work after the first performance that opportunity is lost.

Understanding, Flexibility, and Listening

Here is a list of skills I find in repeatedly performing repertoire:


Understanding: When performing, I find new feelings and experiences that I cannot recreate in the practice room. This applies to the piece as well. You never know what life the piece takes on in the presence of an audience


Flexibility: Creating a single interpretation of a piece should not be your goal as a performer. Instead, I find ways to change my performance based on the experience I want to craft for an audience. If I wanted to play like a recording, I’d direct them to the recording.


Listening: Despite the changes in venue or instruments, pieces can also reveal themselves in different ways simply because we are listening to them differently as we perform. Embrace the newness of the sound as it can keep you motivated for the next performance.

Approaching a piece this way can be difficult if you have no performances. However, recording, analyzing, or writing about a piece can help bridge the gap between performance opportunities. Not only are you continuing to improve as a musician, but you are also building a repertoire that is more easily accessible should you need it in the future. In the even longer term, what you choose to play consistently can define your voice and your personal style.

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