There are so many truly great songs that have been written throughout history. It is an almost impossible task to quantify what makes a song truly great and why some songs become major successes and are written into the musical history books, while others slip into mediocrity the moment they are released into the world.
One of the major factors that determine how well a song is written, how well a song is received, and its success is the use or misuse of repetition. So why do songwriters use repetition?
Repetition is found everywhere in music and is one of the most important aspects of songwriting. It is almost impossible to write a song without repeating something. If repetition is used in the right way, it makes a good song a great song. Repetition makes the listener comfortable and the song relatable. Repetition is important.
Repetition is found everywhere in music and even in some places that you may not have thought of.
Repetition is considered one of the most important tools in the arsenal of a songwriter, and it can determine the entire outcome of the song.
Using repetition well is a practiced skill, and it takes years of experience to master.
The use of repetition can make a song good, great, or terrible. There are ways to use it well, and instances where repetition can be a nuisance.
Repetition can be a mighty asset to your musical expression or a severe hindrance to the musical experience.
Song Structure Repetition
The type of repetition that most people refer to when they talk about how repetitive a song is is song structure repetition.
The structure of a song is the order that the different sections of a song are played in. Nearly all songs can be broken up into sections, and the order of these sections usually repeats, especially in modern pop music.
Most songs use a fairly repetitive structure. Songs usually have at least one section that repeats, usually the chorus, and the structure of the song itself repeats throughout.
This repetition is useful because it helps the listener follow the song and allows for strategically placed hooks that cause the song to build and recede as it progresses.
This repetitive song structure makes the listener comfortable with the song and allows them to easily follow the story that the particular song is telling.
When sections themselves are repeated from earlier in the song, it legitimizes that section. It creates a sense of suspense as the listener looks forward to their favorite section to come back around.
The only repetitions that become tiresome are repetitions of sections or song parts, such as a very repetitive chorus. Other repetition in songs often goes unnoticed. Some people would, conceivably, even go as far as to say that there is no song without repetition of some form.
Song sections can have repetitive elements within them, but not every aspect of the section has to be the same. The instrument and musical line of the section may be repeated throughout the song, while the lyrics of the song change completely.
This is a very commonly used songwriting device that lets the listener know that the section of the song is a progression from the previous section of the same type while moving the story forward with fresh lyrics.
Repetitive Elements Within The Song
Another common use of repetition is within the actual music of the song.
This type of repetition is not usually a problem for most people, and without it, many would say that there is no song at all.
Musical lines repeat within the song to create a sense of direction, to establish important musical fundamentals such as the key, tempo, and rhythm of the song, and to solidify a foundation that other intricate parts of the music can be layered on top of.
This repetition can come from a repeating chord progression or riff, an established rhythm, a beautiful ear-catching melody, or even a well-woven harmonic line sung by a background choir.
There are many forms of repetitive elements within a song, and without them, there would not be much of a song to listen to.
Is Repetition Necessary?
Some songs do not repeat, and others repeat constantly.
Repetition is not the bench-mark of a great song, but it does go a long way to make the song memorable.
If s song is completely different in every section, it will be very difficult to remember, and it can even be confusing.
However, many great songs have been written using very little or no repetition at all, being skillfully crafted by an experienced songwriter.
Some songs have music that repeats throughout but new lyrics for every section.
The repetition of the instruments behind the lyrics provides a good base to use the lyrics and vocal melody over, making the song feel familiar throughout while staying fresh and progressing the story.
There is some form of repetition in every song, though, it is impossible to do away with it entirely. Songs will always have some elements that repeat themselves to some extent, such as the beat and rhythms within the song.
These elements may change, and they may even change very quickly, but they do repeat on some level, so yes, repetition in some form is always necessary.
Repetition makes a song comfortable, and when a person is able to predict or know what is coming next in the song, they respond better to the ques of the song, and they anticipate builds and changes better.
Suspense within a piece of music is more effective if it has repetition to break and lead back into.
Without repetition, if a new section or musical idea is introduced into the song, it will stick out and feel completely out of place.
If a completely new phrase or line is introduced into the piece, repeating the phrase or line makes it a part of the song and not some stand-out after-thought.
For example, if the chorus of a song does not repeat, there is no opportunity for a big anthemic hook that captures the ears of the listener and inspires them to keep listening, and a big dramatic section right in the middle of a song with no direction would feel very out of place. Repeating this section will legitimize it and make it part of the piece.
If a melody is constantly changing, there seems to be no direction or reason for the melody to continue. If a melody repeats and resolves well, it moves the music forward and provides clarity and stability, as well as definitive direction and motion.
If a rhythm does not repeat, a song would feel very disjointed, having no anchor in a storm of complex chord phrasings and erratic melodic sequences. Repeated rhythms provide a solid foundation to build on and maintain a sense of structure and grounding that would otherwise be lost.
A repeating chord progression establishes and confirms the key of a piece and gives context to melody lines and well-crafted solos. Without a repeating chord progression in any section of a song, it would feel like an endless rush of musical options, all tussling for their space to be heard with no direction or resolution.
A repeating chord progression legitimizes the structure of the song and establishes the core fundamentals of what the song is, how it feels, and what the direction of the piece direction is.
In short, the repetition within music is a fundamental necessity that provides clarity, direction, legitimacy, comfort, and feel to a piece of music, and it is a necessary part of good songwriting.
The way a song, sections within a song, or the instruments within a song repeat can make a piece of music wonderful, cause it to feel messy, or can even make a song sound like a poppy cliché.
The way a song repeats and the songwriter’s use of repetition is one of the fundamentally most important parts of songwriting.
Repetition is a craft, and using it well can mean the difference between a good song and a great song.
If a piece of music is too repetitive, it can become annoying very quickly. If a piece of music does not repeat enough, it can feel disjointed, lost, and without direction.
The extent to which a song, a section of a song, or a line within a section of a song repeats is entirely up to the songwriter.
Repetition is a tool that can be used by songwriters to evoke a feeling, tension, and purpose within a piece of music and should be used wisely.