The Most Important Feature of Memorable Songs

Repetition in music of any genre is vital to its success. That wasn’t always the case. If you go back a few centuries, much music was “through-composed”, a term that refers to music that was one new idea after another, with very little repetition.

Through-composed music has the benefit of establishing a mood, and then keeping that mood.

Take a listen to this recorder piece by early Renaissance composer Pierre Alamire, and you can hear the gentle lulling quality that comes in part from one new idea following another. You can hear that though the various instruments are imitating each other’s melodic ideas, it’s one new idea following another, with almost no real repetition:

If someone asked you to sing any of these melodies, you’d have a hard time doing it. That’s what happens when nothing is repeated: nothing sticks.

Songwriting eBook Bundle - Gary Ewer

Get Gary’s Essential Secrets of Songwriting eBook Bundle

Once we reach the 1700s, and true for music today as well, repetition of melodies, chord progressions, lyrics, etc. becomes an important part of music.

So now listen to this hit from Tom Petty, “I Won’t Back Down.” You’ll lose count when you try to list how many times you hear something repeat either exactly or approximately. It’s an important part of the structure of good music:

Repetition’s chief benefit is memorability. It causes the music to stick in the listener’s mind. Repetition is why hooks work, why people remember songs, and why they sell.

Are you using repetition to its best effect? Does each melody of your song feature a short idea that gets repeated? In “I Won’t Back Down”, the very first line (“Well I won’t back down”) gets repeated in an approximate way to form the second line (“No I won’t back down”). The third line is new, but then the next two lines are basically repeats of the first line. It’s a great balance between new and repeated ideas.

For songwriters, most of this happens on an instinctive level. You don’t normally have to keep checking your melodies as you write, asking yourself, “Have I repeated enough in this song?”

But it’s important to note the basic concept of repetition, and its importance in good music. It’s more important to think of this question of repetition in a slightly different way: “Have I written a song with too many ideas?”

Most of the time, the verse(V)-chorus(C)-bridge(B) template ensures that we get the right amount of new versus repeated material. That V-C-B form make sure that some melodies and lyrics get heard several times, while others maybe only once.

In fact, one of the benefits of adding a bridge to your songs can be the introduction of a new melody if too much is being repeated.

It’s all a question of balance. Songs with too much repetition wind up having the same effect on your audience as songs without enough repetition: boredom.

Gary Ewer

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

Download “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” ebook bundle, and for the month of November 2015, get a FREE COPY of “Fix Your Songwriting Problems – NOW.” Eight songwriting ebooks for $37 USD (immediate download).

Posted in Song Form and tagged , , , , , , .
Ed Sheehan - Photograph

Adding an Instrumental Hook to Your Song

One way to make a song stand out and grab attention is to create an instrumental hook, one that may or may not have much to do with the song itself.

One of my favourite examples of how this can work is Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition“. The sung part of the song doesn’t really have a hook that stands out or grabs attention. That’s not a flaw, of course. Many songs don’t get built around an obvious hook.

all6_15_ad (original)The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle will take your songwriting further than you’ve ever taken it before. And for the month of November, 2015, it comes with a FREE 8th eBook, “Fix Your Songwriting Problems – NOW”. Read more..

“Superstition” is a great song all on its own, but becomes an even better song because of that catchy clavinet hook that starts the song and then sits underneath the entire tune.

The Eagles’ “Life in the Fast Lane” (Joe Walsh, Glenn Frey and Don Henley) does a similar thing. Though it’s a song with a strong chorus hook all on its own, there are several instrumental riffs and hooks that power up the song even before the first words are sung:

Instrumental riffs and hooks do wonders for supporting your song. It takes everything up a notch and makes your music multidimensional, giving the listener a lot more than just the lead vocal to listen to.

Adding instrumental hooks to your songs takes a bit of careful thought, though. Here are some tips:

  1. An instrumental hook can, but doesn’t need to, be based on melodic/rhythmic ideas from the lead vocal. You can hear a kind of relationship between the opening clavinet hook and then the vocal line in “Superstition”, but there’s no strong correlation. As long as the hook sounds supportive and interesting, it’s going to work.
  2. Don’t let an instrumental hook upstage the vocal. In “Superstition”, the fastest notes of the clavinet happen when Stevie is singing a long note, or when he’s not singing at all. There’s a danger in having a song sound too busy if everything is trying to grab listener attention at once.
  3. Try several instrumental riffs, all of different “intensities,” at different times. “Life In the Fast Lane” is a good example of this. The opening guitar riff is busy, but then backs away to allow a riff with less intensity to take over during the lead vocal.
  4. Subtlety works. In other words, don’t feel that an instrumental hook needs to be loud or overly obvious. An extremely subtle version of this is Ed Sheeran’s into to “Photograph”, which also serves as connecting material between verses. It’s subtle, because it’s all that’s needed. And it prevents the intro from simply being a strummed guitar.


  5. Don’t let an instrumental hook mask problems with your song. Songs can have some basic problems that are hard to notice when you’ve added a strong hook. But don’t let a hook be the fix for a song. An example: Let’s say your song is losing energy as it moves from verse to chorus. One solution might be to introduce a strong, up-front instrumental hook in the chorus. But that may just be masking the real problem: your chorus melody is lacking intensity. The real solution might be to rewrite the chorus with higher notes and a climactic moment. Whatever you can do to get your song working properly without a hook will make it ready for the real power that can come by finally adding in the instrumental hook.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

How to Harmonize a Melody, 2nd ed.Gary Ewer’s “How to Harmonize a Melody” is one of 8 songwriting eBooks that comes with “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle. And for the month of November, 2015, get “Fix Your Songwriting Problems – NOW” FREE of charge. Read more..

Posted in Hook and tagged , , , , , , , , , .
Rolling Stones - Paint It Black

“Paint It Black”: Connecting Song Melodies

Most songs consist of several sections that are all woven together to produce one coherent piece of music. The trick is to get all those sections to move seamlessly one to the next.

Seamlessly, in this context, doesn’t mean that you move from section to section without realizing it, of course. In that sense, it’s like walking from one room to the next in a beautiful house. You obviously know when you’re leaving one room and entering the next, but there is a crucial feeling of connection. Though each room is different, there is a pleasant aspect of similarity or homogeneity.

Music is the same. As you move from one section (verse) to the next (chorus), there is an aspect of partnership that’s very important: it “sounds” as though the verse belongs to the chorus, even if we find it difficult to say exactly what produces that sense of belonging.Continue reading

Posted in Melody and tagged , , , , , , .

If You Do Nothing Else, Remember These 4 Chord Progression Tips

There are very few songs on the Rolling Stones List of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time that made it to the list because of their stunning chord progressions. Chord progressions, when they work well, should almost disappear into the background of your song.

Occasionally it’s nice to throw a chord in there that grabs attention, but most of the time, it serves as the landscape for the rest of the components of your song.

But you can destroy a song by having a problem with your chords. There are some common blunders that you see time and again, and so here’s a list of 4 frequent problems and what you can do about them:Continue reading

Posted in Chord Progressions and tagged , , , , , , , .
Computer - Music Studio

How Music Evolves, and How Computers Can Be Both a Help and a Hindrance

Music develops and changes over time as a kind of evolution: it takes what’s happened before, copying it to a large extent, but making small changes that move in a slightly new direction. It’s what biologists call “descent with modification from a common ancestor” in their field.

We like to think that the music we’re writing is new, innovative, and a breath of completely fresh air. But in reality, music that makes it to the charts today bears a striking resemblance to music that made it a year ago. Almost always, today’s good new tunes are a demonstration of descent with modification from a common ancestor.

all6_15_ad (original)The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle will take your songwriting further than you’ve ever taken it before. And for the month of November, 2015, it comes with a FREE 8th eBook, “Fix Your Songwriting Problems – NOW”. Read more..

Continue reading

Posted in Opinion and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .

Hi, I'm Gary Ewer. This blog has been my labour of love since 2008. You'll find the five most recent songwriting articles right here on this page, and if you want to browse through the more than 1500 posts in the archive, scroll to the bottom of the page.

And if you're ready to discover the extent of your true songwriting skills, you need my eBook Bundle. Read about that here.

Please feel free to leave a comment at the end of any article. I love reading what others are thinking about music.

About Gary Ewer

Stay Connected!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Gary’s YouTube Videos

If you like seeing songwriting concepts being explained, check out Gary's YouTube Channel.

Gary's latest video: "Adding Pedal Point To Your Chord Progressions"

Read More Articles From the Archives:

A Welcome from Gary Ewer

Welcome! I've been helping songwriters improve their technique for many years on this blog, and I'm glad you've visited today. And I very much welcome your comments on anything you read here.

About Gary

Songwriting Manuals

Are you stuck in a songwriting rut? Gary's “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” manuals will get you moving again. Seven high-quality PDF documents. Take your songwriting to a new level of excellence!

Read more..

Essential Chord Progressions

Discover how chords work, and how to add chords to your song melodies.

More Info