The Power of Repetition

by Mary Dawson

Anyone with children probably already knows more than they ever wanted to know about repetition!

I remember well curling up on the bed with my two little boys to read them their nightly bedtime story. Although they had a shelf full of books, there were three or four whose binding literally fell apart from sheer overuse! I swear I could read the picture book of David and Goliath in my sleep! As an overworked mother of toddlers, I was usually more tired than they were at the end of the day and there were many nights that I literally could not remember finishing the book because I had dozed off somewhere between David choosing the stones and the giant finally "cashing in his chips." And it was a rare evening that one of the boys didn't ask me to "please just read the story one more time." I didn't realize it then, but I was being introduced to one of the most ancient and effective learning tools ever devised by man -- the powerful principle of repetition.

It's almost an innate phenomenon. Human beings somehow need to see, hear and do things again and again in order to acquire any kind of growth or self-improvement. Repetition is essential whether it involves memorizing our multiplication tables, learning to drive a car, or developing "six-pack abs" (in the gym we call them "reps"). When it comes to songwriting, however, I frequently encounter writers who endeavor earnestly not to be repetitious in their songs. Such writers usually express a desire to create songs that are "fresh" and "unique." This may be a noble goal but the reality is that such writers usually end up with songs that are somewhat like maps with no markings leaving their listeners lost and confused.

At the bottom line, I believe, a hit songwriter is someone who is trying to teach the whole world his/her song -- and remember, most of the world is made up of "non-musical people." They are not really looking for "fresh" as much as they are looking for "familiar" -- a melody and lyric that they can remember and hum or whistle in the shower. If you, the songwriter, are not using the powerful principle of repetition to teach the listening audience your song, you may find that you wind up with a catalog of "fresh and creative" numbers that never see the light of day!

In previous articles here on Writers Write, I have explored the important matter of song form in creating hits. We have looked closely at the three main commercial song forms which have dominated popular music over the last century and we have paid special attention to the strategic way the hook (usually also the title) is placed in parallel places several times throughout the song. In fact, we have established that repetition is one of the primary and most essential characteristics of any hook. If a line isn't repeated, you just thought it was the hook! In the AAA Song the hook/title usually occurs at the end of each verse to form a refrain. In the AABA Song, the hook/title may occur either at the first line or last line of each A Section, and of course, in the Verse-Chorus Song, the hook/title ideally occurs at the beginning and the end of each chorus, and perhaps in the middle of the chorus as well. In each Song Form the most memorable lyrical line (lyrical hook) and the most memorable melodic line (musical hook) should occur simultaneously and repeatedly. Why? To imprint that phrase indelibly on the listener's mind! To teach the listener the song!

Savvy songwriters know instinctively how to use both melodic and lyrical repetition effectively without allowing it to become monotonous or annoying. Let's take a look of some of the more subtle ways a writer can use repetition to make a song memorable. Are you beginning to realize the power of repetition and the many ways it can be used? Join us again next month for more ideas and techniques in using this amazing learning tool to our advantage as songwriters. And if you are still a little bit shaky about using what we've discussed here today, you know what you can do about it, don't you?


1We've Only Just Begun by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols
©Irving Music/BMI
2Here I Grow Again by Mary Dawson and Bruce Greer
All Rights Reserved/Used by Permission

**From her earliest childhood years writing simple songs and poems with her father, through her twelve years as an overseas missionary, to her present, multi-faceted career as an author, lyricist/songwriter and conference speaker, Mary has always been adept at using words to communicate her heart to others. She is the President of CQK Records & Music of Dallas, Texas, a company which creates and produces songs in a panorama of musical styles for a variety of audiences, She is also the host of "I Write the Songs," a nationally syndicated radio talk show, especially created to inspire and instruct the more than 25 million aspiring songwriters in the U.S. "I Write the Songs" is broadcast over the Internet. Mary is a frequent public speaker and seminar lecturer on songwriting. She is a regular columnist for Independent Songwriter Web Magazine. Mary's commitment to discovering and mentoring talented new songwriters has given her extensive experience in song analysis through adjudicating songwriting competitions and conducting songwriting workshops across the country and around the world. Because of her role as president of an independent music company, she is also well qualified to instruct aspiring songwriters on the various business aspects of the music industry. She is married and a mother of four. She resides in the Dallas area.

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