Is your lyric writing in a bit of a rut? When you listen to the radio, do you find yourself wondering what sets their writing apart from yours? Well I am here to share with you a simple and fun trick that many professionals often use in their songs.
Do you remember being in school and being forced to write those dreadful essays? Do you remember being told you had to write your sentences in a certain format, you needed to have a clear conclusion, and to avoid repeating words at all costs?
Fortunately, many of us don't need to write those essays anymore. Even better, we don't need to adhere to any of those rules when in comes to writing music (especially when it comes to repetition). In fact, this is an unfortunate mistake many novice musicians will make when writing lyrics for the first time.
Repetition is an amazing tool that is used often in popular music. It can add to the melodic and rhythmic value of a song, and it's also what makes them super catchy. Not convinced? Thats fine. A wise lady by the name of T. Swift once advised that "the haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate".
Words can be repeated in a variety of ways to add interest to your lyrics. Not only are these techniques found in many popular tunes, but they have also been given official fancy Greek names to make you sound like a real intellectual at your next family function. Here are some of the ways that you can make your songwriting better.
To repeat a phrase or word over and over as Swift does in much of her writing, is known in rhetoric as "Epizeuxis" (don't worry, I can't pronounce that word either). This refers to words being used in immediate succession and is one of the most common uses of repetition. So common that I bet you if you search around on the radio right now, you will find at least one song (or more) that uses it.
The tune "Shake It Off" is almost entirely crafted using Epizeuxis, as well as many of her other tunes including "I knew you were trouble", "Out of the woods", and many others.
While I'm definitely no T. Swift whiz (that would hurt my brand here...), this just demonstrates how often this method is used, and also how often a single person can get away with using this method.
While there's always a time and a place for any amount of repetition to be used, for instance when you need a certain amount of beats filled in a measure, there is a general rule that you can follow.
Repeat twice if the repetition happens at the beginning of the phrase: "Tiger Tiger burning bright" "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" "Rage, rage against the dying of the light"
Repeat three times for single word repetition: "Girls, girls, girls" - Motley Crue "Words, words, words" - Shakespeare
While perhaps I did just write this whole thing as a reason to use a line from Motley Crue and Shakespeare in the same article :-) it also demonstrates how this method works in both lyric writing and literature.
Theres another trick for using repetition in your writing that goes by the greek word Antanaclasis (don't worry, you won't be tested on this later). This describes the repetition of a phrase or word that changes meaning the second time that it is used.
You will hear Antanaclasis often being used in country music: "A high maintenance woman don't want no maintenance man" - Toby Keith "There's bars on the corner and bars on my heart" - Tim McGraw
Antanaclasis is used in other genres as well. Can you find it in this line from Hotel California?: "Mirrors on the ceiling/The pink champagne on ice"
If you didn't catch that, the Antanaclasis is found in the word "on". Mirrors are on the ceiling in a different way that the champagne is on ice.
Now that you know about this handy lyric writing technique, take some time to look through your most beloved songs and songwriters and see if you can find the various ways they use repetition in their music. Before long, you will begin to recognize ways you can include it in your own writing. Have fun with it!
Tommaso Zillio is a professional prog rock/metal guitarist and composer based in Edmonton, AB, Canada.
Tommaso is currently working on an instrumental CD, and an instructional series on fretboard visualization and exotic scales. He is your go-to guy for any and all music theory-related questions.