May 25, 2020  

How to Structure a Song: Part 2

In our previous post, How to Structure a Song: Part 1, we looked at the different types of building blocks featured in many classic tunes heard on the radio or in a club. This time around we’re going to take a look at the practicalities of putting those building blocks together to create a tune. If you’d like to learn more about singing and songwriting we can help. We teach both Singing and Singing and Songwriting in LA and London. Plus, get 25% off LA courses by signing up before our latest offer ends on 15th June with code: LA25.

There are many ways to put sections together and though it is useful to have a rough idea of which form you will use when you put your chord sequence together, you may well still need to tweak your final structure as the song progresses. The key, as we already mentioned, is a good balance and making sure that there is always something new happening to keep the listener interested.

Although not all songs follow the Verse – Chorus approach, it is fair to say that a majority of pop songs still use some variations of this form. Many pop songs are written with a structure similar to this.

ABCABCDC

This is a very popular form that has many advantages as it keeps a good balance over the whole song. The verses tell the story, the pre-chorus or bridge often have similar lyrics and leave room to introduce a hook, then you hit the chorus for the big hook. This is a great structure to keep the energy in a song as you introduce new parts often, then the middle 8 can break the repetition.

Here is a detailed breakdown of two songs using this structure. You notice that both structures are very similar with few exceptions. Some sections are shorter in ‘Stronger’ as the song is at a slower tempo, you need to keep the flow and energy.

ABCABCBC

Here is another variation of the structure above but with the Middle 8 replaced by the pre-chorus. Straight to the point as the pre-chorus is a strong moment in the song. Here again, as the form before, you will notice that most sections are 8 bars in length.

Intro – 4 bars
Verse 1 – 8 bars
Pre-chorus – 8 bars
Chorus 1 – 8 bars
Instrumental – 4 bars
Verse 2- 8 bars
Pre-chorus – 8 bars
Chorus 2 – 8 bars
Pre-chorus – 8 bars
Chorus 3 – 8 bars
Chorus outro – 16 bars
Outro fade

ABAB or ABABAB

These type of structures essentially have two sections, Verse and chorus. Typically the verse will move the story along while the chorus will summarise the story.

It can be difficult to maintain interest when using these type of structures, you have to make sure that each verse keeps the listener interested, either with interesting lyrics or new musical elements. Often a good technique when using 3 verses is to make the 3rd verse shorter. Actually having the last verse shorter is often used whether you have 2 or 3.

Let’s now look at the structure of the song: The Fear

Intro – 4 bars
Verse 1 – 16 bars
Chorus 1 – 16 bars
Instrumental – 4 bars
Verse 2 – 16 bars
Chorus 2 – 16 bars
Instrumental – 8 bars
Verse 3 – 8 bars
Chorus 3 – 16 bars
Outro – 8 bars

But some songs don’t use a verse/bridge/chorus structure in the way we described until now. Here are some examples:

‘There She Goes’ by The La’s. Notice that the whole song feels like one long chorus. In fact, the song follows a form more like this: AABABABABCBABA

It looks quite repetitious when written down like this, but our interest in the song is maintained by the band alternating between sung A and B sections and instrumental versions of the same. This can make for a very exciting, up-tempo feel. Notice how this song, which is actually quite ‘downbeat’ in its lyrical subject, feels happy, alive and fresh. This kind of structure is very common in instrumental dance music, such as Trance for instance.

‘Yesterday’ by The Beatles. This song follows a form like this: AABABA

Sometimes, avoiding the verse/chorus structure and using a structure such as this can be a very good way of conveying a simple, strong lyrical message. There’s no escaping the fact that this is a song about regret, sadness and heartbreak, all subjects that have been done to death through the years. But, ‘Yesterday’ still catches our ears and hearts whenever we hear it.

‘Can’t get you out of my head’ by Kylie Minogue.

No verse, no chorus but plenty of hooks and repetitions. The song has 2 main sections A (la, la, la) and B (I just can’t get you out of my head), both very strong, but none of them are a chorus as defined traditionally as it implies having a verse which we don’t have here. The structure follows this pattern: ABABCDACDAA. This kind of structure often works well with dance tracks.

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