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The same words, set to music, are generally easier to memorize than their non-melodic counterparts. The power of a song comes not just in the catchy tune and lyrics that we can relate to; the process of repeating different elements several times adds to the way we can easily remember songs. 

When you write a song, understanding song structure is important. This is the general structure that your song follows, and gives you almost a blueprint for arranging your song, especially if you’re a beginner.

Structure of a Song

The structure of a song refers to the way a songwriter arranges their composition. They use a combination of different sections, varying them depending on what works best. 

A typical commercial song usually has a duration of 3–4 minutes, and the different sections fill up this space.

The basic song structure generally includes: 

Intro

This is the first part of any song, and it sets the listener’s expectations by establishing important elements like the tempo, key, rhythm, and even the “feel” of the song. Usually, the intro is made up of the same chord pattern as the chorus or verse, but without any lyrics sung over it. 

Sometimes, the intro of a song may not be in the same chord pattern, nor sound in any way similar to the melody of the rest of the song. This is OK, since the goal of the intro is to stir up the listener’s interest. 

Example: Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” which features background noise from a party in the intro

Verse

The verse is what establishes the theme of the song, or tells the story. A song usually has at least two verses; the verses can have the same melody, but different lyrics. However, if you want some variation, you can also change the melody up a bit for the verses.

Example: The first verse of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In the Wind” starts with the line, “How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man?”

Pre-chorus

Not all songs have a pre-chorus, but for those that do, this part serves as the build-up towards the actual chorus. It is often much shorter than the verse and chorus. 

Example: In John Lennon’s “Imagine,” the line “Imagine all the people, living for today” serves as a pre-chorus.

Chorus

The chorus is usually the most “singable” and memorable part of a song, hence the name “chorus,” which means people who sing together. It’s also been referred to as the refrain. 

The chorus serves as the climax of the song, and often contains the song’s title. Some people like to call it the “hook,” but this term may not be fully accurate: the hook is what draws listeners in to keep listening to your song, and although it most often occurs in the chorus, sometimes it also appears in the opening verse. 

Example: Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” whose chorus starts with “Hey, I just met you…”

Bridge 

The bridge is the part of the song that helps break the monotony and repetition of the verse and chorus. It usually has a different “feel” and chord pattern from the verse and chorus, and provides a different dynamic: it can be faster or slower than the rest of the song, offering a much-needed variation. 

The bridge usually occurs only once, and toward the last part of a song. 

Example: “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys, starting from “Gotta keep those good vibrations”

Outro 

The outro is the end of the song, and it signals to your listeners that the song is coming to its end. Typically, you can do this by slowing down the tempo of the instrumentals. Other times, the outro can be a repetition of the chorus while slowly fading out. 

Example: “Hotel California” by The Eagles

What Are the Different Song Structures? 

We normally label song structures with capital letters, using the following legend: 

A – refers to the verse

B – refers to the chorus

C – refers to the bridge 

Using these letters, the most common song structures are: 

32-Bar Form or AABA (Verse – Verse – Chorus – Verse) 

This song structure dominated American popular songwriting in the first half of the 20th century. It is also known as the ballad form and the 32-bar-form, because each verse and chorus typically comes with 8 bars each, giving you a total of 32 bars. 

The 1950s and ‘60s rock songs also relied greatly on this song structure. 

Some popular songs using this structure are:

  • “Over the Rainbow” by Judy Garland
  • “Hey Jude” and “Yesterday” by the Beatles 
  • “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” by Jerome Kern 

Verse Chorus Form or ABAB (Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus)

Pop music, the blues, and rock music use this structure the most. The chorus plays the most important role in this type of song structure, as it is written in a totally different way compared to other parts of the song. 

Popular songs using this structure include: 

  • “California Girls” by The Beach Boys  
  • “Nightshift” by Commodores
  • “Angels” by Robbie Williams

Standard Form or ABABCB (Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus – Bridge – Chorus)

Many hit songs and pop songs follow this structure, also known as the Standard Form. It is essentially a variation of the verse-chorus song structure that has an added bridge. 

Popular songs using this structure include: 

  • “Girl” by The Beatles
  • “What’s Love Got to Do With It” by Tina Turner
  • “Hot N Cold” by Katy Perry 

4. Ternary form or ABA (Verse – Chorus – Verse)

This song structure is sometimes called the song form, made up of three parts, where you sing the first part (or verse), then a second section (or chorus), and then go back to the verse. Each section is normally self-contained in terms of its melody and theme. 

Children’s nursery rhymes and da capo arias in classical music usually follow this form. For example, take a look at this children’s song, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”:

Twinkle twinkle little star
How I wonder what you are

Up above the world so high
Like a diamond in the sky

Twinkle twinkle little star
How I wonder what you are

5. Strophic Form or AAA (Verse – Verse – Verse)

This type of song structure does not have a clear chorus, and instead uses a series of verses that typically have the same melody. 

Hymns are known for using the strophic form: they typically focus on different things in each verse, but the melody remains the same. More modern hymns deviate from this structure and throw in a chorus. 

One popular example of the strophic structure is “The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel.  

Understanding Song Structure 

When you understand the different song structures, you will have more choices of how to arrange your own compositions.

Don’t be afraid to experiment, and eventually deviate from the most popular structures. Remember that the structures are there to give you a guide, and not to confine you if you have something else in mind for your song. 

What are some of your favorite songs? Share them with us in the comments below!

 

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