You will notice patterns in song structure and song writing the deeper you go.
Different genres and decades may have different influences, but the fundamental song structure remains the same. While you might find some elements that have been lost, others may be replaced with newer ones. However, the core elements will still be present in different order.
Sometimes songs have two verses. Some songs might have a four bar intro that leads straight to a chorus. Some songs will have a pre-chorus, or a bridge, while pop songs may not.
Your personal goals will vary depending on what style you choose or the emotional impact that you want to make. You will be able to listen critically to a song and find more arrangements for your music.
These are the basic and essential parts of a song:
- Solo / Bridge
While not all songs will have all these parts, and they will be arranged in different order, this is what you’ll find in 95%. Songwriting is much simpler than you might think.
You’ll discover other genres of music, such as classical overtures and progressive rock music medleys, and you’ll be able to find more songs that break all the rules. It all comes back to the six main rules.
A song’s structure is made up of its individual parts. Each part will be one of these building blocks called sections. Songwriting can be viewed as a sectional process, where a song is made up of a small number of sections that are often repeated.
It all comes down to the order of the sections that create musical forms. There are only so many of them, however.
- Bar form (AAB Form)
- 32-bar form (AABA Form)
- Verse-chorus Form (ABAB format)
- Ternary form (ABA Form)
- strophic form (AAA Form)
- 12-bar blues form (AAA Form)
- Through-composed (ABCD, etc.)
Through-composed can be used for both classical music and art songs. It was only mentioned so that you would be aware of its existence, but it is not relevant to us.
The above examples show that A is for the verse and B is for the chorus. They aren’t limited to these two sections. We will explore them further and show you how they fit together. Continue reading to find out how each piece works and its purpose.
Song Structure Broken Down: The Parts of a song
Let’s look at the individual pieces of a typical non-pop song. Knowing the purpose and function for each piece will help you write mature songs. They can include some or all of them, and they aren’t restricted to the order in which they appear.
You don’t want your song to start at its full potential. Listeners should have the opportunity to get to know you and your style.
This is the purpose of an introduction. It is supposed to prepare the user for the adventure and help them to plan. Music should be like a movie, novel or movie. It should have a clear start and build up, a thrilling climax and a closing act that debriefs the user and returns them to their original state.
In general, intros are low-key and do not feature all the instruments of the song. The intro will allow a backing musician to play the melody and ease the listener into it.
However, some genres, such as the Dubstep have developed the use of the intro. They create a huge crescendo that leads to the first verse in a dramatic fashion and can take up to a minute to listen.
In most music styles, intros are typically between four and eight measures long. The goal of an intro is to set the beat, the tempo, foreshadow and introduce the lead melody and the voice of the singer.
You can show the user your concept idea but not the entire show. When the beat drops and the rhythm section kicks in, they will feel excited leading them to the first verse.
The intro usually is very simple and moves around the tonic chord, which is the home chord with root scale degree of key. It builds up to an interesting cadence that ends on the dominant or tonic chord.
It’s a great idea to base your song on the “turnaround”, which I’ll discuss further down. This will save you time and add complexity to your song.
To help the listener get the idea, it’s a smart move to introduce the main melody as a riff by one of the instruments. This will make the verse easy to remember upon first hearing.
We’ll save those for another article.
Many feel that verses in a song are just there to give the brain some rest before moving on with the chorus. This is what the big industry bosses know, and that’s why most rap songs have the best R&B pop singer on the chorus.
This is how you can entice most non-committed listeners. This “make the chorus sing and forget the verses” approach can cost you huge opportunities.
Pink Floyd put it best:
You can’t have pudding if your meat isn’t eaten.
Pop music is marketed to children and teens, so it’s not surprising that pop music is pushed and promoted to them. These are the same people that want to eat dessert first and ruin the meal.
However, you don’t need to ask your listener for a delay in their satisfaction. It is important to entertain and develop the story through the verses.
Some of the most talented songwriters have been able to create verses that change the meaning of each verse. Verses can be truly mind-blowing.
This is your chance to express the emotions and intellect of your listener. The meat and potatoes are what sustain the listener and prepare them for the next chorus.
One great way to approach a verse is to see it as two sections of eight bars, each with its own stanza. This allows you to keep things fresh and unique while still being unified.
There are many melodies, chord progressions and harmonizations you can use to drive your listener higher and higher, until they get hooked with the chorus. You don’t have to use the ABAB rhymes.
The verse can be thought of as a way to prolong your tonic. Prolongation allows you to move around the tonic note while not actually playing it. However, it still reinforces it as the stable home for the song. Although this is a complex technique, once you get the hang of it you will be able to make great use of it.
But don’t just start… Don’t force them to sing the chorus! The pre-chorus accomplishes some goals and it’s time for you to tease them.
I would even go so far as to say that 99 percent of songs don’t use a prechorus. This is sad because it allows you to increase the impact of the chorus by delaying them for just two bars before they hit.
This is sometimes called the turnaround build, channel or transitional bridge. The point is to always note the end of each section while moving on to the next.
This is a sign that there’s a transition coming. The chorus is a great opportunity to grab the attention of the listener, as if to say, “hey, perk-up, it’s finally time!”
Breaking patterns can be done by using interesting drum beats and harmonies. You should pay attention to the song, no matter what you do.
Blues Traveler says so:
Because the Hook will bring you back
I ain’t tellin’ you no lie
The Hook will bring you back
That is what you can count on
This is where the trick lies: create a connection between verse and chorus using the subdominant chord. If you are skilled enough in music theory, look up tricks using secondary dominants.
This will make it unique and interesting, but not overwhelming the most important parts of the song. These sections are what I refer to as “ear candy”.
The chorus is an essential component of song structure. It’s also known as the refrain (inaccurately). It is the part of a song repeated between verses, which returns the song to a baseline.
It allows the listener to relax in familiar territory due to repetitions of rhythm, melody, and vocals. It can be a melody or a lyrical phrase used several times throughout the song.
The verses and choruses should be sonic offset. This means that a verse may be more calm and build to a climactic chorus, which can have a greater impact. Or the chorus may be dynamically reduced in intensity, which helps highlight the lyrics. There are many options.
Listen to Owl City’s Fireflies to get a unique look at the chorus. This album is on our list of Best Mixed Albums. Pay attention to how the role changes as the song progresses. Below is the video. https://www.youtube.com/embed/psuRGfAaju4?feature=oembed
Do so with thoughtful thought, no matter what you choose. Because of its repetition and memorability, this is undoubtedly the most important part.
BRIDGE / SOLO
Led Zeppelin posed the question to us while we were merrily listening to James Brown.
Is there a confounded bridge?
The bridge (or transition), is used to create a sense of novelty in the song and provide a contrast to other parts of the song.
Just as the listener expects the start of another tiresome verse, they are surprised by a completely different bridge. This is especially true in the “middle 8” style. It jars them awake again and grabs their attention. How does this happen?
To achieve this goal, it is common to switch to a relative keyboard that has the same key signature. If you are playing A-Minor, you might switch to C Major in the bridge.
You can create an emotional contrast by changing the melody or chord progression. You can also do nothing, but give 8-16 measures to a guitarist, pianist or flutist. You can also do a solo.
Soloists should be able to improvise and, if necessary, can use the lead melody as a guide.
You should not allow the synthesizer or guitar solo to continue for too long (unless your playing some type of Heavy Metal music). Many listeners will try to hold their breath while the soloist plays, out of respect and reverence.
LedgerNote does not condone this behavior. Before you attempt to worship the Rock Gods this way, please consult your doctor.
You’ll never be able to list all the different ways you can handle the outro. It will also be called a coda or a tag. However, it is usually an expanded cadence in either the last two bars of four measures.
While some bands make it complicated and go crazy, others just add a fade out (boring!). A repeating chorus. Some people slow down the tempo with a ritardando. There are many options!
It is important to clearly indicate that the song is about to end. While some bands prefer a smooth, linear digital fade out or a sinusoidal one, I don’t like any that can’t be reproduced live.
It is possible to create a rhythmic break that abruptly ends, repeat the chorus in low key, repeat the intro or repeat the first verse. As long as the main point is being made, you can get very creative.
You also have the opportunity to vamp on the “ostinato,” which is a little bit of rhythm or melody that you use throughout the song.
It could be a part of the harmony, a quick cadence or an interesting guitar lick. It’s a great way to draw attention to something that might otherwise go unappreciated.
You may have heard it a few times, but it is still a cool trick. It is only used in the outro. It may be used in the outro with a completely new melody or a familiar melody but with different lyrics. If enough time is allowed, this can be repeated several times to create new ear candy.
The Song Structure is the Sum of the Parts
Now you are familiar with the different elements of a song’s structure. The type of song you choose to include and exclude depends on your intended audience. It is one thing to know about them, but it is quite another to use them. These songwriting tips will help you!
You can analyze what songs you hear as you drive, listen to music on the radio or stream online. Label each song. You will begin to see different structures that can help you highlight the purpose of your song.
Use what you have heard to create your own songs. As you listen, you’ll be able to learn and create your own song structures. Both will help you on your journey.