Haim - Summer Girl

When In Doubt, Repeat

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Does it ever feel to you that you’re might be trying too hard to write a song? You could be right if you’re feeling that way. Most songs contain a considerable amount of repetition of one or two basic ideas.

And if you want a good example of just how far one basic musical idea can take you in a song, give “Summer Girl“, (Danielle Haim, Alana Haim, Este Haim, Rostam Batmanglij, Ariel Rechtshaid, Lou Reed) recorded by Haim, a listen.

The vast majority of the song is based on a simple 3-note melodic cell that repeats dozens of times. The lack of almost any other melodic material is not a criticism at all; it’s a great song because it pulls you in, makes you feel something, and establishes a compelling mood – the most important hallmarks of great songs.

That 3-note figure, by the way, is the same one that Tom Petty came up with for “Free Fallin'”.

I wonder if you’re the kind of songwriter who constantly wonders, once you’ve come up with a catchy line, what to follow it with. And because you find it hard to come up with a second line, you’ve got a treasure trove of unfinished songs… short melodic ideas that never went anywhere.

If “Summer Girl” shows us anything, it’s that you always have one option you can try with that musical idea: repeat it.

This is a great exercise for all songwriters to do: listen to your favourite songs, and make note of when you hear things repeating. It may surprise you how little musical material is needed to write a complete song.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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