How To Use Repetition In Your Songwriting Without It Becoming Boring

By Ryan Mueller

Listeners of my band often ask me about how we manage to write long songs that are exciting the whole way through, don’t overstay their welcome and feel shorter than they actually are. Our average song length is around 13 minutes, and songs that long can easily be exhausting if they aren’t structured right. This songwriting method is great at using repetition to pull listeners in for longer periods of time, and will be loads of fun for you to do!

First, let’s understand why many bands fail to use repetition in their songwriting effectively. I’ve found it’s for 2 reasons:

  1. They don’t know how to keep their listener engaged.
  2. The section being repeated isn’t interesting enough on its own to warrant serious longevity. This could be because of weak melody, basic instrumentation, no variation in tempo or dynamics, etc.

Imagine your listener has a box of chocolates, but there was only one kind of chocolate. He better LOVE that chocolate, or else he’ll just eat a few and then put the box down to find another with more variety. This is exactly like the long section of your song – it may have a cool rock chord progression, but if the other parts of it are boring then it’s only a matter of time before the whole thing overstays its welcome.

If the section of your song isn’t interesting enough on its own to have your listener make new discoveries as he keeps listening to it, you instead have to focus on directing his attention where you want it to go as the section progresses. Here are 2 important questions to ask yourself:

  1. “How can I keep playing this section for a longer time while finding new ways to make it exciting?”
  2. “How can I move this song forward, without changing to a new section altogether?”

Notice that I said “section” and not chord progression, riff, melody, etc. Saying “section” will help you to start thinking like a composer instead of just a guitar player. You’ll start looking at your song from multiple angles and will realize just how many ways you can solve your problem that aren’t related to your own instrument. Even if your genre is shred metal, the solution might not always lie with what you can do on guitar.

Let’s look at an example of how we can repeat a section of a song for a long time while keeping it interesting. In this scenario, we have a rock chord progression that will stay at one tempo, with the chords changing at the same rate the whole way through:

Where was the attention directed? How many changes were involved with the guitar? How long did this all last?

An important thing to keep in mind is that all of that was merely an example. These aren’t the only ways you can be creative with repetition in your songwriting, and you may not always find it necessary to repeat one idea for that long. You might also decide to break this apart in separate sections with other ideas in-between them, so that every time this section comes back it brings something new to be discovered.

This method of songwriting is great for creating long songs that have enough variety to stay exciting, while maintaining congruency so that it doesn’t sound like a bunch of short songs roughly mashed together. Give it a shot and be open to new ideas! You might surprise yourself with what you come up with.

About The Author:

Ryan Mueller gives guitar lessons in Etobicoke that regularly help musicians feel fulfilled by improving their guitar playing and writing their own original music.