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Why we love repetition in music - Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis

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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.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis
  • Director Andrew Zimbelman
  • Producer Andrea Sertz Jew, Nathan Jew
  • Composer Joshua Smoak, Alex Admiral Collier
  • Narrator Addison Anderson

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Additional Resources for you to Explore
Using this tonematrix and the magic of looping, you can create music just by clicking squares. See what you can create!

This Aeon Magazine article probes further into the mysterious relationship between music and repetition. Do you think music can exist without repetition? How would you feel about a song that didn’t have some type of repetition?

If that’s not enough, On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind, by Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis, is an entire book that examines the psychology of repetition in music. Listen to this NPR story on Dr. Margulis with excerpts from her work on the “mere exposure effect.” In what other areas can the “mere exposure effect” be applied?

In 1995, Diana Deutsch determined that a phrase repeated over and over begins to sound as if it was sung not spoken. Read about and listen to Diana Deutsch’s Speech to Song Illusion effect here.

Philip Glass on finding repetition in his music.

Why songs have choruses.

From Pitchfork, Ten Meditations on Repetition in Music, With Soundtrack.

If you’re interested in learning more about music cognition, try these blogs:

Henkjan Honing’s Music Matters
Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis’s Looking at Listening
Victoria Williamson’s Music Psychology Blog
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TED-Ed Animation lessons feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis
  • Director Andrew Zimbelman
  • Producer Andrea Sertz Jew, Nathan Jew
  • Composer Joshua Smoak, Alex Admiral Collier
  • Narrator Addison Anderson

Share

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