Marketing and advertising studies show that we are better able to remember advertisements that we are exposed to more than once. When we see or hear something once, we are likely to forget it. But with repeated exposure, it’s more likely to stay in our brains. This also applies to melodies.
In my article “Are your songs too repetitive or not repetitive enough?” I wrote: “Some people are afraid that their melodies are too simplistic; too repetitive, but an analysis of many of today’s top hits reveals that melodic repetition is the norm. Listen to your current favorite songs and you’ll likely hear the singer repeat the beats and melodies several times in each section. »
This article will identify five ways to create memorable songs by incorporating melodic and/or rhythmic repetition into our vocal melodies. Repetition doesn’t have to be exact to be effective; in some cases, the benefits of repetition can be achieved by including melody lines or rhythms that vary slightly from each other.
Note that the voice melodies refer to the melodies sung by a singer, as opposed to the music that accompanies the singer.
Repeat a melody while changing the accompaniment chords
This exceptionally effective technique allows you to repeat lines of melody without sounding too simplistic. For example, in 3 Doors Down’s #1 Mainstream Rock and Mainstream Top 40 hit, “When I’m Gone” (written by Brad Arnold, Todd Harrell, Chris Henderson and Matt Roberts), the one-bar melodic phrase set in the first line of the chorus is repeated sixteen times with only slight variations. One might expect so many repetitions to sound monotonous, but by altering the chords that support the melody, it becomes memorable without sounding overtly repetitive.
The phenomenal of Pentatonix a cappella version of the Christmas classic “Carol of the Bells” (based on a Ukrainian folk song composed by Mykola Leontovych with lyrics by Peter J. Wilhousky) is an exceptional example of the power of this type of repetition.
Repeat 1 or 2 bar vocal melody and chord progression
When using this technique, a vocal melody comprising one or two musical measures is created. Then the melody and chord progression are repeated, creating the most simplistic form of melodic repetition. This can be heard in Lizzo’s “Good As Hell” (written by Eric Frederic and Lizzo). Each chorus begins with a catchy two-bar melody. This melody is then repeated, creating an exceptionally memorable chorus consisting of just a two-bar phrase that listeners hear multiple times throughout the song. “Good As Hell” reached #1 on Billboard‘s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, Mainstream Top 40 and Dance Club Songs.
In “A Feather’s Not a Bird” by Rosanne Cash, winner of a GRAMMY for Best American Roots Song (written by Cash and John Leventhal), the first line of the chorus melody is sung three times accompanied by a different harmonization Everytime. Note that the first three lines of the verses in this song use the repetition described in the previous category, repeating the melody and backing chords.
Repeat the vocal melody of an entire section
In this use a section can refer to any of the constituent elements of a song – verse, pre-chorus, chorus, or bridge – or any part of any of these elements. But most often it is a four-bar melodic segment that is repeated. When using this technique, a melody – which may or may not include repetition – is established. Then this melodic segment is repeated with different lyrics.
For a good example, listen to BMI’s Christian Song of the Year “Way Maker” (written by Sinach; recorded by Sinach, Mandisa and Leeland). Note that the first four bars of the vocal melody in the verses are repeated exactly in the next four bars. This approach is also used in the choruses, although the repeated melody is different from that heard in the verses.
This technique can also be heard in the reggaeton/Latin pop hit “Despacito” (written by Luis Fonsi, Erika Enders and Daddy Yankee; recorded by Luis Fonsi with Daddy Yankee). A remix featuring Justin Bieber (written by Luis Fonsi, Erika Enders, Daddy Yankee, Jason Boyd, Marty James and Justin Bieber) also achieved phenomenal worldwide success. The first four bars of the vocal melody in the verses are repeated exactly in the next four bars. Then a new four bar melody is introduced, comprising bars 9 to 12, and this second melody is repeated, comprising bars 13 to 16. This same technique is used in the chorus where the melody of the first 4 bars is repeated to include measures 5 to 8.
“Despacito” has racked up over 7 billion views on YouTube and topped the charts in 47 countries. It became the first song sung primarily in Spanish to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 since “The Macarena” (written by Monge Romero and Rafael Ruiz; performed by Los Del Rios) held that position in 1996.
Repeat the melody of part of a line
When incorporating the repeat in this way, a brief melodic segment is repeated. For a terrific example, listen to the chorus of the crossover hit “Meant to Be” (written by Bebe Rexha, David Garcia, Joshua Miller and Tyler Hubbard; recorded by Bebe Rexha with Florida/Georgia Line). The one-bar melody that accompanies the words “supposed to be” also accompanies the words “let it be” and “it will be.” This three-note melodic phrase is heard nine times in each chorus. It is also sung three more times with a slight alteration, contributing to a melody etched in listeners’ heads.
Repeating a Rhythm in the Vocal Melody While Changing the Notes
Probably the most common type of repetition heard in popular songs, this technique reiterates the rhythm of a melodic segment while incorporating different notes. Thus, the rhythm repeats itself while the pitches vary.
A good example of this technique can be heard in “Wagon Wheel” (written by Ketch Secor and Bob Dylan; recorded by Darius Rucker and by Old Crow Medicine Show). The rhythm sung in the first line of the chorus is repeated in the following line, but the three notes that end the second line are different from the three notes that complete the first line.
For two lines to have the same rhythm, the lyrics of the two lines must have the same number of syllables and the accents in the same places.
This technique was also used quite effectively in the chorus of Justin Bieber’s breakthrough hit “Baby” (written by Christopher Bridges, Christine Flores, Terius “The Dream” Nash and Tricky Stewart). Note that the identical rhythm is sung on each of the first three lines of the chorus, but the second line ends on a higher note than lines one and three.
The most effective way to create songs that listeners can’t forget is to infuse them with melodic and rhythmic repetition. The repetition does not have to be exact, although in many cases it is. There are different ways to incorporate repetition into our melodies. Using the techniques described above, we can write melodies listeners can’t forget and songs listeners want to hear over and over again.
Jason Blume is the author of 6 Steps to Successful Songwriting, This songwriting businessand Inside the songwriting (advertising books). His songs have been featured on Grammy-nominated albums and have sold over 50,000,000 copies. He has been a guest lecturer at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (co-founded by Sir Paul McCartney) and the Berklee School of Music, and has been interviewed as a songwriting expert for CNN, NPR, the BBC, rolling stone and the New York Times. For more information on his workshops, webinars, supplemental articles and more, visit www.jasonblume.com.