How much repetition is too much repetition?


#1

I always worry about how repetitive my music is. When I first started tinkering with making music it was pounded into my head that repetition is bad. IE: There has to be a change every 4 or 8 bars, there has to be a wild card element that is different every time, there needs to be some noticeable change up in the 3rd verse, the bridge needs to be completely different from the rest of the song, no one will listen if your music is repetitive, etc… But recently I’ve come across some tracks that I really like, and many others seem to like or no one would be listening, that are very repetitive yet don’t get boring or make my ears tired. For instance these songs below: the Glass Candy track is the same loop for over 3 minutes, then some new parts come in for the rest of the song, but even then for a while that same loop continues under the new parts that came in at 3:12. The Cabaret Nocturne track has more varied elements than the first, but the track is still built around a fairly repetitive core that, to me at least, is what carries the song. Rather than wearing on my ears I find the repetitive parts to be the glue of the track.

My question here is where is the line between repetition carrying a song and killing it? How do you address repetition in your music? Is saying “this is how I want it”/“I like the song this way” justified, or do you think its a cop out for when a musician couldn’t complete an idea or doesn’t have the chops to write a full piece? Did I listen to too many hard-assed elitists who think the rules of making music are set in stone and I should just make what feels right to me, or are they right and music like this is doomed to some niche audience, such as myself, that doesn’t have a proper palette for discerning “good” music from “bad”?


#2

Since I know a DJ is probably playing 3.5 minutes of my track at most–I don’t get hung up on it so much and repetition is kinda the nature of the beast so I approach it in a different way than others. There are some house and techno songs that basically do the same 16 bar pattern for 7 mins and I could, given the right overall vibe of a party, dance to all 7 mins of that track.

Really looking for minimal and repetitive phrases that work over and over is the magic in making a house track. I feel like in pop music (and I use that term really broadly here) people want some repetitive to they can sign along to with some cool shit in between.


#3

Yeah, this comes down to genre and what you as a creator (an/or your audience) like. Even going all the way back to classical music, the first movement of a symphony in the baroque period was basically a full song and then at the end they put a ritornello, which is italian for return to head, meaning to play the whole thing again.

For house or techno, groove is everything (that much is derived from funk), but the actual music that makes up that groove might only be 10 or 15 seconds. The fact is that you can play it over and over and over and it still sounds great every time (just look at Daft Punk’s first 3 albums) and it leads back into itself like a machine.

I work quickly by doing a basic loop and then arranging by addition/subtraction of elements and a few filters and effects. It’s basic and rough, and I usually need to go back on mix it up a bit more before release, but it gets me songs that I can at least enjoy working on pretty quickly. I will say pretty much none of my songs that are favorites among my fans are super repetitive. They have the best structure and keep throwing new ideas at the audience every few bars, like everyone else says. Some of those are my favorites, too, but some aren’t.


#5

…where is the line between repetition carrying a song and killing it?

The line is in your mind.

How do you address repetition in your music?

I listen to it. If I like it it stays, if I don’t - I change it.

_Is saying “this is how I want it”/“I like the song this way” justified?

The term “justify” implies a fixed set of rules. It’s up to you to decide what rules (if any) you want to use - and “justice” then relates to those rules. Generally speaking, there are no rules, though.

or do you think its a cop out for when a musician couldn’t complete an idea or doesn’t have the chops to write a full piece?

The only one who can decide whether something is a “cop out” or not, is yourself. Be honest with yourself, and trust in your ability to tell the difference.

_Did I listen to too many hard-assed elitists who think the rules of making music are set in stone?

Who knows? Nothing is “set in stone” - unless you set it yourself.

and (or?) I should just make what feels right to me?

Feelings can be useful, but you need some degree of rational thinking as well. Learning MIDI is hard if you’re flying around on MDMA all the time.

or are they right and music like this is doomed to some niche audience?

All audiences are niche audiences, some niches are just bigger than others. Worrying about fame and money inevitably leads to frustration, focus on the music instead.

…such as myself, that doesn’t have a proper palette for discerning “good” music from “bad”?

Putting yourself down like this is a bad habit. If you feel you need a different pallette, find out how to get one and go for it.


#7

Some very good tunes have been made by people hoping to get laid as well, though;)


#8

always relevant


#9

Repetition is an important part of electronic music, however it’s often down to how you create movement and progression that keeps it fresh. I know as has been mentioned that techno tends to be ultra repetitive, but for like the stuff I do, I always focus on the subtleties which can make something that is repetitive sound fresh. I always of course tend to go for some sort of breakdown and the main drop sections i’ll often split them into separate parts, add little turn arounds (little rolls on the last bar of a cycle of bars) and little things here and there to make it interesting. However, I enjoy also adding in those little details because once you do enough of them, it really does help detract from repetitive staleness rather than repetitive but great.

I’ll often have things that repeat in there at different rates of time span. Some less often than others so there is something that forms part of the central grove, but others that keep that spark. Then there’s instances which might only happen once or twice in a track. I do DnB and love to play around with various break alterations.


#10

This is the best new thread to appear in a while! Such a great question and so many great insightful responses already.

I could riff for pages on most of the comments so far… but I will spare you all from that because it would be too much (wait for it :ghost:) REPETITION! Instead I “liked” every post. Never did THAT before!

I will, however, comment on a couple gems because I can’t resist (did I mention this is a great thread?)

That never occurred to me… but it makes perfect sense! In order for repetition to work you need a great (as in catchy ear-worm) “groove” with a great “hook.” This is true in Funk, Electronic, Rock, Blues (think John Lee Hooker or Muddy Waters) and most of all Minimalism (think Philip Glass)

True… but you could replace “best” with “worst” and it would also be true… you could also replace the word “money” with “love” or many other words… all still true.

Repetition is a tool… like any other. It can be used effectively or not… in order to keep the listener interested you need to set up an expectation… and then provide a surprise. Tension and release. It’s all about timing. But first! You need a catchy ear-worm. :ear::snake::sunglasses:


#15

Music for listening and music for dancing are 2 different things, depends on what your doing


#17

I guess the best answer is … I guess.
Every track is repetitive, but gotta make it interesting


#18

Decided to clean up the garbage here. Please carry on with the conversation.


#19

It seems there is clean up happening here and there in the forum… it’s nice … it reminds me of how civilized the old forum was.

It’s still kinda civilized… if a little edgy now and then.

Lots of great people here!


#20

As @how-many-re-likcs said “back to the conversation…”

If you have one sound … like a snare hit… its next to nothing. If you have two, you have a pulse. Three or four makes a groove. So… some repetition is needed to distinguish music from random sound.

So how much repetition is too much?

As an artist once told me …”how do I know when a piece of art is done? The same way I know I’m done having sex…”


#21

It’s catchy phrase, but it doesn’t really answer the question.

How does he know when he’s done having sex?


#22

Ummmmm… when he’s had enough? :thinking:


#23

Hmm…

…when does sex actually end - or begin for that matter?

Looking for the “exact moment” sex ends (or begins), it seems to me that the idea of a clear boundary or “line” between having sex and not having sex is a kind of illusion.

And that the transition between the two states in reality is infinitely smooth, with no sharp/clear ”border” or ”line” marking it.

We are, in a way, always having sex (with everyone).

Or, to put it in other words:

Humans are, from the time of their conception until the time of their death, in a state of constant sexual activity, - whether we like it or not.

Which - if we take the statement of your friend seriously - leads us to the conclusion, that a piece of art is never truly done.


#24

Valid point… but it addresses a slightly different premise. It’s an interesting subject all on its own, which is: “is a piece of art finished just because the artist says it is?”

Rodin, after achieving widespread acclaim, was highly criticized for “not finishing” his later pieces… there would body parts missing and thumbprints from the clay model appearing in the finished bronze. He claimed that the piece was finished because he had achieved what he set out to achieve and there was no reason to take it further. In other words he had enough

Stravinsky bashed Schoenberg with “… his music doesn’t end… it just stops.”

So there is this ongoing debate about whether an artist can declare a piece “finished” when the viewer or listener perceives it as “unfinished.”

HOWEVER! The subject at hand is “how much repetition is too much repetition?”

When having sex there comes a point (hopefully) where a certain repetition takes you blissfully away on a lovely journey. You know you are done having sex when you reach a Climax! (You know… the orgasm thingy) in other words… there is no interest in continuing the repetitive part for this particular session; just enjoy the afterglow…:heart_eyes:

And yes… it was good for me too. :ghost:


#25

Thanks:)

Your comment got me thinking about how a synth-oscillator is basically repeating the same sound-wave pattern over and over, in order to create sustained tones.

At 160 BPM, sounding a deep F note @ 44 Hz for one full bar, we hear the same pattern repeated 66 times.

If sustained for 4 minutes, as a “bass-drone”, the pattern will be repeated 10.560 times.

A sustained “soprano C” (C6 @ approximately 1046 Hz), with a similar 4 minute duration, would repeat the same pattern 251.000 times. And drone pieces are often considerable longer than that, sometimes lasting 20 minutes or more (like the Sachiko M drone posted above).

It would probably be wise to double-check my math…

…but even with shoddy math, I think it would be fair to say that to a “drone composer”- the answer to the question: “How much repetition is too much repetition?”, - would have to lie somewhere beyond “several millions of repetitions”.


#26

That’s an interesting spin! I hadn’t considered the question of wave cycles, which takes the discussion to hitherto unknown philosophical depths.

It’d probably sound like trash, but what if you modulated a waveform such that it was at least slightly different for every cycle in the song? Could it be made to sound good? Would people notice?


#27

Sytrus has a phase modulator tab thing which accomplishes this feat I think, its messed up phases of different harmonics of a waveform in addition to FM modulation creates interesting sounds, as far as layering the same tone with different phases I’d say it would sound like a delay time speed changing…I think