Listen. Rinse. Repeat: How Repetition Makes Us Enjoy Music

Above: Ravel’s famously repetitive Bolero, performed by the Vienna Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel conducting.

It’s the comfort of your old, threadbare sweater or eating your grandmother’s mashed potatoes and gravy on a winter night.

However it’s packaged, we love the familiar, things that, by simply turning up again and again, have woven themselves into the fabric of our lives.

The same goes for music: we tend to warm up more to musical works with more repetition in them, according to NPR’s health news blog, Shots.

Music psychologist Elizabeth Margulis tested this hypothesis by adding repetitions of portions of music in Luciano Berio’s Sequenza IXa for solo clarinet, “without,” as she put it, “regard to aesthetic intent.” Then she had people compare excepts from Berio’s original work with excerpts from her version with the added repetition.

People preferred the version of the piece with more repetition. Margulis says just being exposed to something again and again can help us warm up to new and foreign things – including musical works – toward which we would otherwise tend to be hostile.

Margulis says another reason we respond well to repetition is that experiencing something more frequently allows us to experience it differently and understand it more deeply.

So, go ahead, keep serving yourself the good things in life – Mozart, Mendelssohn and yes, even those yummy mashed potatoes.

Read more: Play It Again and Again, Sam (NPR)

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