Let It Go – A Lesson in Songwriting
The song “Let It Go” from the Disney musical Frozen is a song that solves an age-old problem that songwriters face: how to repeat something, but make it get more interesting, not less interesting. So, whether you’re into Disney or not, take a moment to read this blog post and learn the crucial songwriting tricks that “Let It Go” uses.
This article is a summarised transcript of our video “Why Let It Go is a Songwriting Masterpiece”. Click here to watch the video for more details, explanations and examples.
Repetition is a fundamental element of songwriting. Listeners don’t just enjoy hearing something repeated; they need it. It’s the repeating part that draws them in, creating an emotional connection with the song. However, the challenge lies in ensuring that each repetition feels fresh and emotionally resonant rather than becoming stale or predictable.
For example, if you tell the same joke again and again using the same punch line, the joke gets increasingly less funny. Similarly, if each of your verse sections use the same words or imagery, then your song will become less interesting and get less of an emotional reaction.
This is a problem that many songwriters struggle to overcome, and it’s something that “Let It Go” solves very well.
Analysing “Let It Go”
Before we jump into some techniques we could use to overcome this problem, let’s take a look at how “Let It Go” does it.
“Let It Go” is not only the title of the song, but also its hook. In line with that, the phrase is repeated multiple times throughout the song. However, instead of becoming dull, the phrase “Let It Go” means something different each time it’s sung. Below are the different meanings of the hook throughout the song:
- Letting Go of Expectations: The first time Elsa sings “Let It Go,” she sheds the weight of other people’s expectations, revealing her true self and powers to the world. She is letting go of the person she’s expected to be.
- Letting Go of Limits: In the second instance, she lets go of her own self-imposed limitations on her powers. She’s no longer bound by rules, and she’s eager to explore the extent of her abilities. This shift in meaning helps the emotion grow and gain power, rather than lose it.
- Letting Go of Relationships and the Past: Finally, in the third iteration, we understand that Elsa is actually letting go of the past. She is severing her identity and becoming someone new.
Each time Elsa sings the same words, they take on new layers of meaning and emotion, creating a captivating story that resonates with listeners.
Technique #1: Title Strategies
The first technique we can use to create interesting repetition in a song is title strategies. This means that we should try to choose a title that can be re-colored from different angles.
Instead of looking for just any memorable or interesting phrase, look for phrases that could be approached from different angles. We can apply this thinking even as we’re brainstorming for titles by asking ourselves:
- Are there at least two angles from which I could approach this title?
- Are the two angles able to be related to the core idea of the song, but not take the same approach?
Once we’ve decided that, then we can use the different angles as different parts of our song. For example, take the phrase “No one but me”. We could approach the phrase as follows:
- All alone, there’s … “No one but me”
- No one has answers…”No one but me”
- I don’t need … “No one but me”
The 3 different meanings can all be used as different song sections, which would then serve to further deepen our song’s story.
Another important part about this process is to try and structure your thoughts in the form of a song map.
And to download a free PDF song map template, click here:
Technique #2: Trigger Lines
The second technique involves the use of trigger lines, which are the lines immediately before the repeating chorus. These lines “trigger” the meaning of the chorus into something new with each iteration. They’re called trigger lines because their proximity to the hook or chorus or title of the song triggers its meaning into that repeating thing
To give you a clearer idea of how they’re used, the trigger lines from “Let It Go” have been highlighted in the image below:
One way to use trigger lines is to reverse engineer them. First, ensure that you have your title and a song map. You also need to have a clear idea as to the different ways that you’d like to approach the title. Then, start at the end of a section and work backwards to write your trigger lines.
Sting has previously talked about this in a Sodajerker podcast. In it, he talks about reverse engineering his sections from the titles or from the important lines that he wants to put at the end of sections
Conclusion: Let It Go – A Lesson in Songwriting
Disney’s “Let It Go” demonstrates that the art of repetition in a song is not magic, but the result of carefully crafted technique. As songwriters, we should learn from songs such as these and consciously employ these techniques to create songs that people will listen to over and over again.
If you would like more details, explanations and examples, then be sure to check out the video now
Level up your songwriting with five radically practical exercises used by professional songwriters around the world: