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Start With Something That's True

Drive Emotion With Repetition In Lyrics

Repetition is a songwriting device you can use in both your melody and your lyrics, but we’ll focus primarily on the use of this rhetorical device in your lyrics.

Why repeat things in a line? I mean the chorus repeats, isn’t that enough?

Maybe – but maybe not. The chorus is evidence of the power of repetition! So how do you use it more often without sounding, well, repetitious?

Small doses and skillful execution are the secret to leveraging this device.

Why use it?

Repetition can help you (1) increase the emotion of a line or verse, (2) create rhythmic contrast or (3) sustain the momentum of your melody.


The Four Primary Types of Repetition Used in Lyrics


1  Anaphora – repetition of a phrase at the beginning of a line

2  Epistrophe – repetition of a phrase at the end of a line

3  Antanaclasis – repetition of a word or phrase to effect a different meaning

4  Epizeuxis – repetition of a single word (great for hooks)


Repetition: Anaphora
1  SONG:  George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm”


The thing to note here is how Gershwin sets up the repetition, breaks it, then utilizes it again.

He connects the verse to the rest of the song in his last phrase of the first verse “How do I get that way? Look what I’ve got:”

He then proceeds to use the repetition to reinforce the main idea of the song. Notice how Mark Strand does the same in his poem “From A Litany” just below.

Worth pointing out is how Gershwin breaks up the repetition with the line “Who could ask for anything more?” This is a concept that would normally be reserved for a bridge. In other words, looking at the song’s main idea from another perspective. While it’s a rhetorical question – it wouldn’t be in a bridge.

By breaking up the chorus, he leverages the power of repetition at the beginning of each line, doesn’t sacrifice the pace of the song and allows the listener a little breathing room to think – hey, yeah, that’s so true!

Great use of Anaphora!


Nikki Yanofsky “I Got Rhythm”



I Got Rhythm  (Lyrics)


Days can be sunny, with never a sigh.
Don’t need what money can buy.
Birds in the tree sing their day full of song,
Why shouldn’t we sing along?
I’m chipper all the day, happy with my lot.
How did I get that way? Look at what I’ve got:

I got rhythm
I got music
I got my man
Who could ask for anything more?
I got daisies in green pastures,
I got my man
Who could ask for anything more?

Ol’Man Trouble, I don’t mind him.
You won’t find him ’round my door.
I got starlight,
I got sweet dreams,
I got my man,
Who could ask for anything more?
Who could ask for anything more?


2  SONG:  Mumford & Sons “I Will Wait”


The phrase “And I . . . ” serves to make the speaker the center point of the song, with each repetition of the phrase gaining emotional steam as it moves from statement to a declaration. Notice how it appears in the first verse – not just the chorus, connecting the repetition to the hook “I Will Wait”.

This is turn repeats, reinforcing the declarative nature of the song.

The two phrases work together to build emotion and become an anthem for the speaker by the end.


Mumford & Sons “I Will Wait”



I Will Wait   (Lyrics)


Well, I came home like a stone,
And I fell heavy into your arms.
These days of dust which we’ve known,
Will blow away with this new sun.

And I’ll kneel down, wait for now.
And I’ll kneel down, know my ground.

And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you

So break my step and relent.
Well, you forgave and I won’t forget.
Know what we’ve seen and him with less
Now in some way shake the excess.

‘Cause I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you

Now I’ll be bold as well as strong.
And use my head alongside my heart.
So tame my flesh and fix my eyes.
A tethered mind freed from the lies.

And I’ll kneel down, wait for now.
And I’ll kneel down, know my ground.

Raise my hands, paint my spirit gold.
And bow my head, keep my heart slow.

‘Cause I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you


A more subtle example is Lori McKenna’s “Stealing Kisses” which uses the anaphora “It’s late enough” to start each verse series after the chorus.


I Hope You Dance” sung by Lee Ann Womack is another great example. The songwriters Tia Sillers and Mark Sanders use the phrase “I hope” in the verses and chorus to drive the high emotional content of the song,


3  POEM:  Mark Strand “From A Litany”


Below is a poem by one of the country’s best poets, Mark Strand which uses a short phrase similar to Gershwin’s and Mumford’s approach, but throughout the poem.

Notice the set up in the first line of “I praise . . .” similar to how Gershwin and Mumford set up their recurring phrases with “I’ve got . . ” and “And I’ll . . . ” in the first verse of each song, and Gershwin more directly leading into the chorus. Pretty neat trick!


From A Litany

There is an open field I lie down in a hole I once dug and I praise the sky.
I praise the clouds that are like lungs of light.
I praise the owl that wants to inhabit me and the hawk that does not.
I praise the mouse’s fury, the wolf’s consideration.
I praise the dog that lives in the household of people and shall never be one of them.
I praise the whale that lives under the cold blankets of salt.
I praise the formations of squid, the domes of Meandra.
I praise the secrecy of doors, the openness of windows.
I praise the depth of closets,
I praise the wind, the rising generations of air.
I praise the trees on whose branches shall sit the Cock of Portugal and the Polish Cock.
I praise the palm trees of Rio and those that shall grow in London.
I praise the gardeners, the worms and he small plants that praise each other.
I praise the sweet berries of Georgetown, Maine and the song of the white-throated sparrow.
I praise the poets of Waverly Place and Eleventh Street, and the one whose bones turn to dark emeralds when he stands upright in the wind.
I praise the clocks from which I grow old in a day and young in a day.
I praise all manner of shade, that which I se and that which I do not.
I praise all roofs from the watery roof of the pond to the slate roof of the customs house.
I praise those who have made of their bodies final embassies of flesh.
I praise the failure of those with ambition, the authors of leaflets and notebooks of nothing.
I praise the moon for suffering men.
I praise the sun its tributes.
I praise the pain of revival and the bliss of decline.
I praise all for nothing because there is no price.
I praise myself for the way I have with a shovel and I praise the shovel.
I praise the motive of praise by which I shall be reborn.
I praise the morning whose sun is upon me.
I praise the evening whose son I am.

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