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Are Repetitive Lyrics Necessarily Bad?

4:24 pm Songwriting

If you are writing a poem with several stanzas, you don’t want to have a lot of repetition of words and phrases from one stanza to another. With the focus entirely on the words, the poem will be carried forward only with new ideas and new formulations. The structure of a stanza typically is duplicated in the next, but that structure is now occupied by an entirely new set of words and phrases.

With song lyrics, especially for rock or pop songs, this rule does not necessarily apply. With musical elements as well as words to carry the song forward, repetition and parallel elements between verses can provide that sense of structural familiarity that listeners like at the same time as the music and arrangement provide a sense of “progress” through the song.

The presence of music and melody allows you to utilize word structures, like repetition, that would not be viable in a free-standing poem. The realization that repetition is actually desirable for certain kinds of songs can make the job of lyric writing much easier! With appropriate development and use of musical textures, the fact that large parts of the verses are the same will not even register.

Rinse and Repeat

As an example (perhaps somewhat extreme) of this, I offer my own song “I’m Thinkin’.” If you look at the lyric sheet you will notice a substantial overlap between the lyrics of the verses, even if you consider the last four lines of each (which are exactly the same) to actually be a sort of refrain or chorus.

Looking just at the first four lines of the two verses, we can see a fill-in-the-blanks template that has been “filled in” using two different sets of phrases:

I’m thinkin’ ’bout (blank)
I’m thinkin’ ’bout (blank)
I’m ready for peace and love but
I’m thinkin’ ’bout

Theoretically, you could keep writing verses with this template forever; I wrote two, one of which is sung twice! If you listen to the song, you will notice (hopefully) that the repeated “I’m thinkin’ ’bout” phrase is not only acceptable but actually becomes a verbal hook that helps make the song memorable. Using a new key and a new chord pattern for the solo helps set up a return to the first verse. (More repetition! But it’s OK, remember?)

(Please enable popups for this site if the mp3 player does not appear, or just click the mp3 link to listen.)

I’m Thinkin’ (Bendig) (mp3, chords, lyrics)
Mark Bendig: vocals, acoustic guitar, keyboard, bass, drums
Jack Burgess: lead guitar

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