Foghorn Leghorn was one of my favorite cartoon characters when I was a kid. I can still hear him repeating himself, “What’s the big… I say, what’s the big idea chasin’ my worm?”. His stammering is one of the things that made him so memorable.
As it relates to music, repetition is an important tool for establishing motifs and hooks. It’s important in all songs, but arguably moreso in songs that are to be sung BY crowds (congregations), than in songs to be sung TO crowds. Repetition helps make a lyric or melody memorable. Case in point, when we want to memorize something – a speech, a phone number, etc, – we generally repeat it over and over until we know it “by heart.”
It has been said that memory affects the music-listening experience so profoundly that it would not be hyperbole to say that without memory there would be no music. As dozens of theorists and philosophers have noted…music is based on repetition. Music works because we remember the tones we have just heard and are relating them to the ones that are just now being played. Those groups of tones (or words) might come up later in the piece in a variation or transposition that tickles our memory system at the same time as it activates our emotional centers…Repetition, when done skillfully by a master composer, is emotionally satisfying to our brains, and makes the listening experience pleasurable.
Repeating The Title – If you incorporate your title in the main hook of your song, it strengthens the identification your song and usually makes for a finer hook. Examples: Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” (Stewart, Harrell, Nash, Knowles), Deliroius’ “I Could Sing Of Your Love Forever” (Smith).
Repeating The Melody – It may sound obvious, but keep your verse melody the same in every verse. Also, your chorus melody should not change each time the chorus is repeated. I actually see this problem a lot with young writers. Not necessarily that they don’t write the same melody for each verse or each chorus (although I’ve seen that too), but that they don’t sing it the same way each time. If you’re a worship leader, then stick to the melody when you’re leading. It’s extremely important. You’re leading not performing. And besides, you need to actually sing your hooks for them to do their job. Even the great mainstream performers understand the power of delivering a song the way people learned it from radio. If you want to take creative liberties when singing, then do so at the end of your song after the verse or chorus has already been repeated several times and the listener has digested the hook.
Repeat The Important Words or Phrases – Sometimes, “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” can be a great hook. But repetition is a useful device that can drive home the important elements of your lyric. Don’t waste it. Remember that the repeated words and phrases are the ones that people will take home with them. These are the lines they will be singing in their cars and in their showers. These are the lines that will come to mind when they are on vacation, lying on the beach. If you’re writing a song of encouragement or a song that builds faith, then repeat the encouraging words you want people to remember during times of need (Great Is Thy Faithfulness). If you have an important message to deliver in your song, then it’s “worth repeating”.