Get Email

Enter your email address to get an email when a new video is posted.

Join 4 other subscribers

TED-Ed Why We Love Repetition in Music 4:31min

TED-Ed Why We Love Repetition in Music

How many times does the chorus repeat in your favorite song?
and take a moment to think,
How many times have you listened to it?
Chances are, you’ve heard that chorus repeated dozens, if not hundreds, of times
And it’s not just popular songs in the West that repeat a lot
Repetition is a feature that music from cultures around the world tends to share
So why does music rely so heavily on repetition?

[:35] One part of the answer depends comes from what psychologist call “the Mere Exposure Effect”
In short, people tend to prefer things they’ve been exposed to before
For example, a song comes on the radio that we don’t particularly like
But then we hear the song at the grocery store, at the movie theatre and again, on the street corner
Soon, we are tapping to the beat, singing the words, even downloading the track
This mere exposure effect doesn’t just work for songs, it also works for everything from shapes to Superbowl ads

[1:09] So what makes repetition so uniquely prevalent in music?
To investigate, psychologists asked people to listen to musical compositions that avoided exact repetition
They heard excerpts from these pieces in either their original form or in a version that had been digitally altered to include repetition
Although the original versions had been composed by some of the most respected 20th century composers, and the repetitive versions had been assembled by brute force audio editing, people rated the repetitive versions as more enjoyable, more interesting and more likely to have been composed by a human artist.

[1:43] Musical repetition is deeply compelling
Think about the Muppets’ classic; mana mana
If you’ve heard it before, it’s almost impossible after I sing mana mana not to respond do do do do
Repetition connects each bit of music irresistibly to the next bit of music that follows it
So when you hear a few notes, you’re already imagining what’s coming next

Your mind is unconsciously singing along and without noticing, you might start humming out loud
[2:12] Recent studies have shown that when people hear a segment of music repeated they are more likely to move or tap along to it
Repetition invites us into music as imagined participants rather than as passive listeners

[2:26] Research has also shown listeners shift their attention across musical repetitions, focusing on different aspects of the sound on each new listen
You might notice the melody of the phrase the first time but when it’s repeated your attention shifts to how the guitarist bends a pitch

[2:43] This also occurs in language, in something called Semantic Satiation
Repeating a word like atlas ad nauseam can you make stop thinking about what the word means and instead focus on the sounds
The odd way the l follows the t
In this way, repetition can open up new worlds of sound not accessible on first hearing
The l following the t might not be aesthetically relevant to atlas
but the guitarist’s pitch-bending might be of critical expressive importance
The speech-to-song illusion captures how simply repeating a sentence a number of times shifts listener’s attention to the pitch and the temporal aspects of the sound
so that the repeated spoken language actually begins to sound like it is being sung

[3:25] A similar effect happens with random sequences of sound
People will rate random sequences they’ve heard on a repeated loop as more musical than a random sequence they have only heard once
Repetition gives rise to a kind of orientation to sound that we think of as distinctively musical, where we’re listening along with the sound, engaging imaginatively with the note about to happen
This mode of listening ties in with our susceptibility to musical earworms, where segments of music burrow into our head, and play again and again as if stuck on repeat
Critics are often embarrassed by music’s repetitiveness, finding it childish or regressive
But repetition, far from an embarrassment, is actually a key feature that gives rise to the kind of experience we think of as musical

Language Points

i. Notice this sentence pattern:
This mere exposure effect doesn’t just work for songs, it also works for everything from shapes to Super Bowl ads

ii. Notice where intonation rises and falls over this long sentence:
Although the original versions had been composed by some of the most respected 20th century composers, and the repetitive versions had been assembled by brute force audio editing, people rated the repetitive versions as more enjoyable, more interesting and more likely to have been composed by a human artist.

iii. Notice how the speaker sets up this statement / refutation:
Statement: Critics are often embarrassed by music’s repetitiveness, finding it childish or regressive
Refutation: But repetition, far from (being) an embarrassment, is actually a key feature that gives rise to the kind of experience we think of as musical

Comments are closed.