ON REPEAT: How Music Plays the Mind

Winner of the 2014 Wallace Berry Award
Winner, ASCAP Deems Taylor/Virgil Thomson Award

What is it about the music you love that makes you want to hear it again?

Why do we crave a "hook" that returns, again and again, within the same piece?

And how does a song end up getting stuck in your head?

Whether it's a motif repeated throughout a composition, a sample looped under an electronic dance beat, a passage replayed incessantly by a musician in a practice room-or an "earworm" burrowing through your mind like a broken record-repetition is nearly as integral to music as the notes themselves. Its centrality has been acknowledged by everyone from evolutionary biologist W. Tecumseh Fitch, who has called it a "design feature" of music, to the composer Arnold Schoenberg who admitted that "intelligibility in music seems to be impossible without repetition." And yet, stunningly little is actually understood about repetition and its role in music.

On Repeat offers the first in-depth inquiry into music's repetitive nature, focusing not on a particular style, or body of work, but on repertoire from across time periods and cultures. Author Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis draws on a diverse array of fields including music theory, psycholinguistics, neuroscience, and cognitive psychology, to look head-on at the underlying perceptual mechanisms associated with repetition. Her work sheds light on a range of issues from repetition's use as a compositional tool to its role in characterizing our behavior as listeners, and then moves beyond music to consider related implications for repetition in language, learning, and communication.

Written in engaging prose, and enlivening otherwise complex concepts for the specialist and non-specialist alike, On Repeat will captivate scholars and students across numerous disciplines from music theory and history, to psychology and neuroscience-and anyone fascinated by the puzzle of repetition in music. 

A volume of overwhelming significance, originality, and rigor.
SOCIETY FOR MUSIC THEORY
A signal musical and intellectual achievement.
MUSIC & LETTERS
Exploring the integral role of repetition and ‘hooks’ in music and language.
TOP TEN SCIENCE AND TECH BOOKS OF DECEMBER, The Guardian
Margulis tells a compelling story about how we process the world and construct our musical discourses...On Repeat is an exciting new examination of a very old subject. It is eminently readable and intriguing, having much to offer the academic musician, the experimental psychologist, or the interested lay reader. The book represents a significant advance in our understanding of the deep questions behind the variegated phenomena of musical repetition.
MUSIC THEORY ONLINE
The engaging, entertaining style of On Repeat makes it a pleasure to read… an important contribution to the field of music cognition, and should be of interest to scholars throughout the field
MUSIC PERCEPTION
Margulis addresses one of the great puzzles about music: why does it repeat so much? This simple question provides a wedge into a range of issues underlying musical understanding and appreciation. On Repeat is a consequential book written in engaging and non-technical language.
FRED LERDAHL, Fritz Reiner Professor of Music, Columbia University.
Most music repeats itself a lot — an awful lot, actually. In On Repeat Elizabeth Margulis takes a firm grasp of this obvious fact and moves it out from under our noses, giving it the thoughtful consideration it deserves. With knowledge and illustrations ranging from neuroscience to music analysis, and leavened with her personal experiences as a listener and pianist, Margulis shows that music’s repetitiveness, far from being a flaw or lapse, is essential for us to hear, remember, move, feel, and delight in music, especially the music we know and love the best.
JUSTIN LONDON, Professor of Music, Carleton College
and author of Hearing in Time: Psychological Aspects of Musical Meter