Why we love repetition in music… and stories

October 22nd, 2014 by

The excellent online resource FilmmakerIQ.com brought this to my attention recently:

How many times does the chorus repeat in your favorite song? How many times have you listened to that chorus? Repetition in music isn’t just a feature of Western pop songs, either; it’s a global phenomenon. Why? Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis walks us through the basic principles of the ‘exposure effect,’ detailing how repetition invites us into music as active participants, rather than passive listeners.

Here is the video lesson:

I’ve written songs since I was fourteen years old. Not terribly good ones apparently because I never had much success as a singer-songwriter, but certainly enough to understand the importance of song structure, refrains, repeating musical motifs, and so forth. The science in the video clip is interesting, especially the part about how repetition in a song can engender a sense of participation with a listener. As I was thinking about it, I believe this is true in stories and movies as well.

For example, this may help to explain why sequels and remakes are so popular. People like to see similar stories and characters repeat themselves in somewhat different ways.

If it’s true that the typical college senior will have read, heard or seen 10,000 stories in their lives, then that repetition might be one of the reasons why basic story form — Beginning, Middle, End or as screenwriters call it Three Act Structure — is almost an innate sensibility among people.

Repetition also comes into play with specific writing techniques:

Set Up and Payoff: Where a writer creates an open-ended scenario, then later returns to it and resolves it, such as the meaning of Rosebud in Citizen Kane.

Callback: A line of dialogue or gesture that is established, then later played out again such as “Here’s looking at you, kid” in Casablanca.

Runner: A line of dialogue or gesture that is repeated several times such as “I don’t know, it’s a mystery” in Shakespeare in Love, used four times by different characters.

Having done stand-up for two years, I experienced first-hand the value of repetition. When you do a callback, the laughs can be doubly strong because the line itself is funny in the context, but then the audience also recalls its first use, thus those who remember the original line get the second level of sell. And that is an example of active participation.

Similarly with a set up and payoff, we, as writers, invite a script reader or moviegoer to go back to the original scene, and now they can compare what they were feeling then, what they are feeling now, plus oftentimes being able to use that comparison to see how the story has changed and characters have transformed.

So repetition is a valuable feature in songs. It’s also important in screenwriting, TV, and any form of storytelling.

Simply Three: “The Christmas Song”

December 25th, 2013 by

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Carpe Diem… jazz style!

April 5th, 2013 by

Roger Ebert’s death reminds us to seize the day. And these two dudes on a NYC subway do just that in this must-see video that will bring you great joy!

Thanks to @bf4tbrainy, who also happens to be my wife Rebecca, for the link!

Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake: “History of Rap: Part 4″

March 16th, 2013 by

Via Flavorwire

History of Misheard Lyrics | Opus No. 13 [video]

November 25th, 2012 by

Something fun for you this Sunday:

What lyrics have you misheard?

“Star Wars”: Flash Mob

October 22nd, 2012 by

A big reason to smile!

Writing Music Playlist

May 22nd, 2012 by

So the other day on Twitter [you can follow me: @GoIntoTheStory], we got into a discussion about music and @MatthewMilam tweeted:

@BittrScrptReadr @GoIntoTheStory I’m surprised you guys don’t publish on your blogs a writer’s playlist.

You know what? That’s a great idea.

Me? When my butt is in the chair and I’m actually writing script pages, I can only listen to instrumental music. Here are a few of my favorites:

“The Shawshank Redemption” [soundtrack] by Thomas Newman

“The Intercontinentals” by Bill Frissell

“Le Pas Du Chat Noir” by Anouar Brahem

“Short Trip Home” by Joshua Bell, Edgar Meyer, Sam Bush, and Mike Marshall

“What Goes Around” by Shadowfax

“The Brandeburg Concertos”

Then when I need to get my ass out of the chair and… well, I can’t say dance, but at least bounce around, to shake loose the cobwebs or just get me fired up to write, here are a few of my favorites:

“Crossroads” by Cream

“Jumping Jack Flash” by the Rolling Stones

“Mississippi Queen” by Mountain

“I’m Going Down” by Freddie King

“Revolution” by The Beatles

“I’ll Stick Around” by the Foo Fighters

“Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” by Jimi Hendrix

“Rocking in the Free World” by Neil Young

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana

“Blackout of Gretely” by Gonn

What is your writing music playlist?

Star Wars Main Title Theme (Vocal Cover)

May 6th, 2012 by

From musician Nick McKaig:

Notes on the recording:

This is my tribute to the most amazing film composer ever to live, Mr. John Williams! The recording is 100% vocals and 100% my own voice, including over 90 tracks and more than 300 hours of production time. Vocals were recorded using a Blue Spark microphone and were produced in Logic Pro 9. Visuals were recorded with a Canon EOS 7D camera and produced in Adobe Premiere. May the force be with you!

Keep on singing, my friends!

HT to @DFTVYP for the link.

Jean-Luc Godard films the Rolling Stones (1968)

February 26th, 2012 by

Read on:

Sympathy for the Devil is also the title of a producer’s edit of a 1968 film by Jean-Luc Godard whose own original version is called One Plus One. The film, a depiction of the late 1960s American counterculture, also featured the Rolling Stones in the process of recording the song in the studio. On the filming, Jagger said in Rolling Stone: “… [it was] very fortuitous, because Godard wanted to do a film of us in the studio. I mean, it would never happen now, to get someone as interesting as Godard. And stuffy. We just happened to be recording that song. We could have been recording ‘My Obsession.’ But it was ‘Sympathy for the Devil,’ and it became the track that we used.”

Part 1

Part 2

Star Trek theme song played on a Musical Saw

February 24th, 2012 by