Repeats in Music

Feb 6, 2018

Credit SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Composers often call for repeats, in their music, for whole sections of their pieces to be played twice. And the question is: what’s the point? One answer is that the repeat helps the listener remember the musical material. But more important, I think, is that the second time through a section always has different meaning, and meanings, precisely because we’ve already heard it once. A return—no matter if it’s to a person, a place, or an experience—always feels very different from a first meeting. 


Think of a second bite of cake, or a second kiss. When we’ve had the first, we know what to expect, and the anticipation of the second can add all sorts of meaning to the actual experience. And if our expectations are pleasurable, their satisfaction adds yet more levels of meaning. Not to mention the fact that after a repeat the music goes off in a different direction from the first time through. And that lends added meaning, retrospectively, to what we’ve just heard.  

This has been A Minute with Miles – a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.