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Songwriting Tip: Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Feb 10, 2015 @02:44 PM


by Harriet Schock

Edna St. Vincent Millay once said “Life is not one damned thing after another; it’s the same damned thing over and over.” In songwriting, it may seem as if the same damned thing over and over is not only permissible but called for these days. However when it gets to the point of torture, it might be best to change the melodic phrase. And maybe even the lyric—hey live dangerously.

Yes, there is a lot of persistent repetition in pop radio presently, but I think that it often sounds “trendy” rather than just current. It’s like fashions. Yes, you see them everywhere for a while—but they don’t stay in fashion. It may start at Neiman Marcus but by the time you see it at K Mart, it’s over. So if you’re writing songs you hope might be around for a while, I would suggest you avoid the same melodic and/or lyrical phrase repeated and repeated until 1) You FINALLY get the listeners’ ATTENTION or 2) You drive them so crazy, they change the station.

Some repetition is necessary, of course, such as a repeating chorus, or a melodic motif that you repeat the rhythm of and change the notes….even an interval that repeats. For instance, think of the bridge to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” The first and third lines “Someday I’ll wish upon a star” and “Where trouble melts like lemon drops” are melodically identical. But the second and fourth lines, (“And wake up where the clouds are far” and “High above the chimney tops”) even though they have the same rhythm are on different notes from lines 1 and 3 as well as from each other. Need I say this is not a trendy song. It’s been a standard for decades. It will sound just as good decades from now.

Songs that are simply well written about things people care about will stay around for a while. If you like repetition, use it until YOU get tired of the phrase. Don’t keep repeating it because you think that’s a current way to write. Tomorrow it might not be.

Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit for Helen Reddy, "Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady" plus many songs for other artists, TV shows and films. She co-wrote the theme for “Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks,” currently showing in 30 countries. She and her band were featured in Henry Jaglom’s film “Irene In Time” performing 4 of Harriet’s songs. She also scored three other Jaglom films and starred in “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Jaglom’s most recent film, “The M Word,” features Harriet’s song “Bein’ a Girl,” performed on camera at the end of the film. Karen Black wrote the play, “Missouri Waltz,” around five of Harriet’s songs, which ran for 6 weeks at the Blank Theatre in Hollywood as well as in Macon, Georgia. In 2007, Los Angeles Women In Music honored Harriet with their Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. Harriet teaches songwriting privately, in classes and a popular online course by private email. For her performance schedule, list of credits and samples of her work or information on her book (Becoming Remarkable, for Songwriters and Those Who Love Songs), her songwriting classes and consultation, go to:

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