Song form

One of the most popular structures is song form. Most popular songs follow a basic pattern:

verse1-chorus-verse2-chorus-bridge-chorus-chorus

This structure works well because there’s a fairly even balance between the familiar and the unfamiliar. Done well, there also a clear contour and direction to the song.

  1. The first verse and chorus are unfamiliar the first time we hear them, though it’s suggested that the chorus is more important than the verse because it’s usually louder, fuller, and more stable than the verse.
  2. Afterwards the second verse increases the comfort level and familiarity because it’s based on material (harmony and rhythm) that we’ve heard before in the first verse.
  3. The second chorus is usually exactly the same as the first chorus, reinforcing its relative importance and further increasing comfort (with familiarity).
  4. At this point we’ve heard two rounds of a verse followed by a chorus. Intuitively we’re expecting another verse, but instead we’re surprised by the bridge. The bridge usually introduces some fundamental differences (such as new harmony, new rhythm, or new instrumentation) which is surprising and refreshing. It’s important, however, that the bridge is “cut from the same cloth” as the rest of the song – that is, it’s not so different that it sounds like a new song. Otherwise it’d be so surprising that it’d be jarring to listen to!
  5. After the bridge, we return to a double chorus, which is a return to comfort and familiarity, reinforced by the additional repetition.

Of course, there are many variations!

  • Many songs have an introduction (an “intro”).
  • Some songs have a short section that leads into the chorus (sometimes called a “pre-chorus”).
  • Some songs have three verses.
  • Some songs have a two-part bridge (perhaps an instrumental solo followed by a sparse vocal refrain before leading into the final chorus).
  • Some songs have a chorus at the beginning.
  • Some songs only play half the chorus the first time.

This song form doesn’t have to be limited to pop music, or even vocal music though! It works just as well for instrumental electronic music, rock music, hip hop, and just about any other kind of music. Try it!

-Kim.

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    • Kontrophilia
    • October 2nd, 2010

    Hey Kim,
    Many thanks for your informative and interesting posts, these posts are 100% to the point. As I and many other readers never had a chance to have theoretical readings on music and songwriting, could you please give us some advice on how can we find these kind of materials? Which book, website, etc should we study for materials you wrote in this post?
    Best wishes for you and hope to read more on your blog…

    PS: Also please write about music psychology and music cognition as you’re very understandable writer to me. ;)

    Kontrophilia

  1. Hi Kontraphilla,

    Thanks for the kind words – I’m glad you find the posts useful!

    Most good bookstores will have some books on songwriting. I suggest you have a look for yourself, because each book has its own style and approach, and you should choose a book that works for you.

    If you’re looking for some posts relating to music cognition, check out my posts on structure:

    https://kimlajoie.wordpress.com/tag/structure/

    These are specifically about how music is arranged in time, and there are some good posts about the effects of memory – development, proportion, anticipation, etc.

    I also suggest you consider joining the Kitchen. If you do, you’ll have access to the lengthier guides I’ve written. I think you’ll be particularly interested in the two guides: ‘Texture, dynamics and structure’ and ‘Building musical structures’. The Kitchen will also give me the ability to write posts or other material specifically addressing your questions. More about the Kitchen here:

    https://kimlajoie.wordpress.com/2010/08/26/come-into-my-kitchen/

    -Kim.

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