Too Much Repetition? Repetition in Songs – How much is too much?
Modern worship songs are often accused of being too repetitive. Let’s take a look at some key questions around repetition.
Is repetition ever ok?
I don’t know anyone that is against all repetition. Everyone is in favor of some repetition. Let me prove it to you.
Have you ever enjoyed a song once and not wanted to sing it again the next day or the next week? Is that not repetition?
Have you never enjoyed a song so much that you hit rewind and listen to it twice in a row?
Have you ever enjoyed a song with verses and a repeated “chorus” or “refrain”? That is a repeated part. For example “It is well with my soul. It is well, It is well with my soul.” Are you really going to tell me you don’t enjoy some repetition?
As a worship team, we play the same songs at each of our two services. Isn’t that ok?
And at practice, we frequently play one song over and over again for an hour or more, just to make sure we really learn it well. I hope it’s ok with everyone that we practice, and I’m not sure we could properly practice without repetition.
And even more important than our own human opinions … what does God think? What examples do we have in the scriptures?
There is pretty clear scriptural precedent for repetition as well:
Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” (NIV 1984)
Day and night they never stop saying … sounds like quite a bit of repetition to me.
Psalm 136 (NIV1984)
1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
2 Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.
4 to him who alone does great wonders,
His love endures forever.
26 verses=26 times the response “His love endures forever”. Wouldn’t you call that repetition?
Revelation 5 (ESV)
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
Those are some pretty short songs, don’t you think? Do you think we might sing them more than once? I’m guessing that we probably will.
In addition, we are told in Psalms 1:2 (as well as other places) that a godly person meditates on God’s law day and night. Don’t you have to repeat something to meditate on it?
And when we are hiding God’s word in our heart, memorizing God’s word, don’t we have to repeat it? I sure do.
Finally, in some ways, everything is a repetition:
Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV1984)
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
So… have I proved my point? All repetition is not bad or evil in and of itself, even in songs.
Why Should We Repeat?
We should repeat because some truths are so important, they are worthy of repetition. There is no God like ours, He is Holy. Let me say it again: There is no God like ours, He is Holy. He is set apart. He is perfect. He is like no other being. He is one of a kind, unique, righteous, pure, set apart, doesn’t fit into the same category as any other being. There is no God like ours, He is Holy.
We should repeat some truths so that we don’t forget them. We can be a forgetful race.
We should repeat some truths to meditate on them and make sure that we understand the full meaning of them. God loves us. GOD loves us. God LOVES us. God loves US!
Some songs also have melodies and rhythms that are a little trickier to pick up the first time around, and sometimes it’s helpful to sing them a few times so we get the hang of the music part, so then we can enjoy expressing and meditating on the truth part! It’s funny that I often get the complaint “The songs are too difficult to learn” and “The songs are too repetitive” from the same person about the same song. Which is it, too difficult, or too repetitive. If it’s repetitive, you have lots of chances to practice, right? I’m sensing at least a little internal contradiction here.
Repetition is also a device in some ancient languages to emphasize something.
“Holy Holy Holy” is not just repeating the same phrase three times, it is also a Hebrew way of expressing the superlative, another way of saying, not just a little holy, but very, extremely, most Holy. He isn’t just Holy, or Holy, Holy, but three times in a row, the number of completeness. It doesn’t get any Holier, He is the Holiest, … He is Holy, Holy, Holy!
Is there such a thing as “Too Repetitive” then?
Yes, when it becomes “vain” or “meaningless”. If it becomes repetition for repetition’s sake. If the idea is to disengage our minds.
Matthew 6:7 (NASB)
And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.
We want to make sure we keep our minds engaged:
John 4:23-24 (ESV)
But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
1 Corinthians 14:15b (ESV)
I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.
How many times can or should we repeat things then? Who gets to decide?
We all have different maturity levels and attention spans. I can read one verse over and over and over and keep meditating on a single profound truth for quite a while. I don’t believe this is vain repetition. How long is your attention span?
We all have different tastes. Let’s be really honest here. If you don’t particularly care for a certain song, or style of music, or instrument, or singer, or whatever … and you didn’t enjoy singing it the first time, are you really going to be interested in singing it again? Especially right away? Probably not.
In the end, we all have different tolerances for repetition.
You have to trust your leaders to make those decisions.
What should you do if they seem to regularly overdo the “repetition” at your church, at least for your comfort level?
- Pray for your leaders for wisdom in this area.
- If you really can’t sing that part/song again, discipline yourself to sing or pray your own prayer quietly to the Lord, or grab your bible and read the scriptures.
- Feel free to talk to your leaders, but remember that this is a pretty fuzzy subjective thing you are talking about, not a clear black and white issue
- Keep your focus on keeping the main thing, the main thing. There are much more important battles to fight. Your music director/worship leader/pastor/…. is probably NOT trying to purposely seduce you and the rest of the congregation into some “altered state of consciousness” so that you are more susceptible to demonic influence. He/She probably just really likes this song and finds it much more meaningful than you do.
Have I missed any part of the discuss on this topic?
What other advice do you have for people who have trouble with “too much” repetition?
2 Responses to Too Much Repetition?
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Well said Jason! Excellent and thorough. Here’s a couple of thoughts I had:
1.The generation now in their seventies and beyond (plus some younger who grew up in the church and didn’t have a transistor radio to their ear), grew up in a time where information came in books and newspapers which could be closed and put down, and on the radio or television which could be turned off.
Our present world pushes information at a frantic pace. It’s easy to find ourselves on continual information overload, hence a greater need to focus on specifics, to allow the meaning not only penetrate our minds but also our hearts and wills.
2.As leaders, we are also teachers. We need to help these dear people understand why there is so much repetition in our worship: It’s because we want to hear and respond in all honesty with our whole heart and will. We want our song to move into our deepest being, not just our thoughts.
Repetition, which is meditation, helps us hear with our hearts and respond to God’s whisper allowing the Holy Spirit more room in our lives.
Thanks for your thoughtful work!
Some new worship methods are very similar to the techniques used by hypnotists or eastern mystics