“Again!” My four year old joyfully cries, “Sing it again!” He looks at me with eager eyes and a big smile on his face. We’ve been singing “You’re a Grand Old Flag” on constant repeat for the last three days, and there’s no sign of him or his copy-cat baby sister being done any time soon. I begin the song again; he sings as many words as he remembers along with me while they wave their flags excitedly along in time with the music.

What is it about the young brain and its unquenchable thirst for repetition? We see it in all domains of a child’s life, be it a book, a food, a word, a routine, or a song. Our understanding of brain science tells us that young child’s brains are constantly creating new neural pathways and connections as they navigate their day. That means that as we support their need for repetition, we are actively helping them construct meaning of their world.

In repetition a child satisfies their brain’s biological need. With each repetition the new stimuli or experience goes from observed/passive to understood/constructive. Repetition unlocks their brain’s preprogrammed power to understand, and they can then use those new understandings to continue building new neural pathways and connections.

This incredible feat fed by repetition can sometimes feel frustrating to our developed brains. But what we may see as mind numbing monotony is extraordinarily crucial to their brain’s development. By giving time and space to this need, we are supporting their brain’s rapid development and constant drive to understand their world.

In the home and music classroom, there are numerous benefits for repetition. It allows children multiple opportunities to internalize melody, rhythm, and song structure. It transforms what was once a challenge into an attainable task. It inspires confidence for children who can become masters of the task after numerous repetitions. Language learners get repeated exposure to new vocabulary. It gives reserved children more opportunities to participate. It builds trust and relationships through repeated positive experiences.

As parents and music educators there are a meaningful ways we can harness the power of repetition. Because let’s be honest, doing the same thing in the exact same way does start to get old, even for the young brain. But in creating meaningful opportunities for repetition it keeps the experience fresh and allows the absorbent mind to do its job. As we sing a new song over and over, consider these strategies for repetition:

  • Give the children new things to listen for as you repeat the song (“Who are the characters in this song?”, “What happened at the end”, “I noticed a new word in there, what do you think it means?” etc).
  • Song games are excellent and authentic excuses for repeating songs. The joy that comes as a child gets to take their turn while the class sings for them? What an incredibly magical moment every child gets to experience in our classrooms.
  • Listening to different recordings of folk songs is another way to get in multiple repetitions. Older children can even compare recordings and listening experiences with graphic organizers.
  • Adding movement or instruments are other great ways to repeatedly sing.
  • Letting children take turns conducting you or the class as you sing together is a wonderfully meaningful experience for the entire class.
  • Making a recording of the children singing and letting them reflect and evaluate can be a powerful teaching tool as well as a reason to repeat songs (“Let’s try it again doing x y or z differently this time!”)

As we work and sing with our young friends let us remember to harness the power of musical repetition. In doing so we not only satiate their brains’ desire for repetition but we also create deep and lasting musical understanding that they can continue to build upon as they grow.