Repetition of Ideas

I’m doing another video this month on the pentatonic scale – so I felt like discussing some quick and easy ways to turn a scale into a piece of music. One very easy way to make something sound musical is repetition.

Of course, if you play the same thing again and again it can get boring very quickly – but on the other hand, repetition is a completely integral part of music. Any sequence of sounds that is completely random cannot possibly be music – any pop song must establish a melody or an idea that the listener can remember, and expect to be repeated. This is still absolutely true in e.g. classical or jazz music (although the expectations may be played around with more later in the piece!).

So, as an improvising or composing guitar player, you shouldn’t be afraid or embarrassed to repeat ideas. This can be done by repeating the same lick a few times – like in the following simple pentatonic lick (over an E7 or E minor chord):



Repetition can be made more interesting by playing around with the timing. In the next example, a three-note phrase is repeated, but the emphasized note (falling on the four beats of the bar) is different each time:


This can be called rhythmic displacement, if you want to give it a fancy name!

A more general approach to repetition is to set up an idea by playing it a few times, then play around with it a bit – play something similar, but change either the notes you play or the timing in which you play them. Then play something completely different for a while, but come back to your idea later on – the listener will recognise the idea, and get a kick out of meeting it again!

This is a pretty wide-ranging concept – so I leave it up to you to try it out as much as you can, and discover some fun stuff. Enjoy!


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