We all know that the top pop music is repetitive, and we've seen those videos of famous musical phrases that are repeated in dozens or hundreds of famous songs!
But why do we like this? Repetition isn’t just a phenomenon in Western music. You’ll find it in many forms of music across the globe. Why is this the case?
In this TED-Ed video, Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis, Professor and Director of the Music Cognition Lab at the University of Arkansas, “walks us through the basic principles of the ‘exposure effect,’ detailing how repetition invites us into music as active participants, rather than [as] passive listeners.”
Although I enjoyed watching this video, I feel that some dimensions about how we relate to music, as a set of information patterns, is missing. Repetition itself is not the only aspect to examine: the length of the repeated patterns is also important, as are their complexity and level of resemblance to a basic theme. It is true that listening to a song over and over again will make me familiar with it (or might make me like it even if I didn’t like it to begin with). Yes, the shorter the phrases, the catchier the song. But it is also true that I can also get lethally bored and hate listening to song with short, repetitive phrases. I would like to emphasise on pattern length and processing. Some people prefer music with short, repetitive bits in them (think some of the most popular pop music songs), whereas others prefer compositions with longer phrases, themes, that are elaborated and interweaved to form, yes, similar but much greater patterns with different levels of complexity (think classical music, instrumental soundtracks, and so on).
While I think this is a good start to understanding why we like repetition, I don't totally agree with the simiplicity!