Why Repetition Is Your Friend When Writing Lyrics

Written by Tommaso Zillio

Tommaso Zillio - professional guitarist and guitar teacher
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Are you a musician looking to try their hand at writing lyrics? Or perhaps someone with experience looking to add a new flavour to their writing? Whatever it may be, you have probably come to this article searching for a way to improve your writing, and I am going to share with you a super easy way you can do so.

Often times when writing lyrics for the first time, it can come off a little forced. And thats okay! You are going to have to force yourself to write at least a few set of bad lyrics before you can get in a more comfortable routine.

However, at a certain point you are going to have to differentiate your lyric writing from those old horrible essays that they made you write in school. There isn’t a certain word count that you need to reach, nor do you always necessarily need perfect grammar.

Another rule you might remember being told in school is to avoid repeating certain words. When it comes to writing a hit song, repetition is a key factor. Of course some people might scoff at you for using this trick, but as Taylor Swift would say, you just gotta shake shake shake shake, shake it off.

Repetition can be used in song writing a few different ways. These various techniques are used so often that they have also been given extremely difficult-to-pronounce Greek names that are not crucial to remember, but will definitely make you sound smart at your next party or get together. Lets check out a couple of these ways now.

The Repetition Essentials

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.

Repetition Limit

If you are writing a tune that requires a certain amount of notes to be filled, there is no technical limit to the amount of times you can use repetition in a tune. Otherwise, the unwritten rule is this:

At the start of a phrase, repeat two times: “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

If the lyrics stand alone, repeat three times: “Words, words, words” by Shakespeare “Girls, girls, girls” by Motley Crue

This goes to show how repetition works well for many different mediums of writing. It also shows how the great minds of Shakespeare and Motley Crue think alike.

Repetition Reversal

Another fun way to use repetition in your lyrics is known as a rhetorical device called Antanaclasis, or “echo” (I promise i’m not making this stuff up). This relates to the technique of repeating a word or phrase, but changing the meaning of the word in its second use.

You will find many examples of this in country tunes… “There’s bars on the corner and bars on my heart” by Tim McGraw “A high maintenance woman/Don’t want no maintenance man” by Toby Keith

Antanaclasis is also found in other genres, and can sometimes be used more subtly. Try to pick out where its being used in this lyric taken from Hotel California… “Mirrors on the ceiling The pink champagne on ice”

Its not quite as obvious here, but the Antanaclasis is placed on the word “on”, as the champagne is on ice in a contrasting way from the mirrors on the ceiling.

Whats Next?

A great thing you can do now with all this valuable new information is to go ahead and study some of your favorite songwriters and try to pick out where and how they use repetition in their own writing. It won’t take long before you start developing your own taste for this handy song writing tool.

About the Author

Tommaso Zillio is a professional guitarist and guitar teacher. Visit Tommaso’s site to know more about how to write music