Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Song Structure I: Types and Epic Examples

In songwriting, song structure and arrangement are crucial in shaping the listener’s experience. They are the backbone of any composition, providing a framework that guides the listener through the narrative and emotional journey of the song. This is why this article is the first part of a series of articles on songwriting.

Understanding and mastering these elements can significantly enhance the impact of your music; so this article explores the concept of song structures, the different types, and epic examples of each.

What’s in a song structure?

A song structure, also known as song form, is the blueprint of how a song is organized; it typically includes a combination of different sections, each with its purpose and characteristics. Here are the common components found in a song structure:

  • Intro. This section opens the song and sets the mood; it can be instrumental or include vocals and is usually shorter than other sections.
  • Verse. This part is where the story or main message of the song is developed; the melody often stays the same for each verse, but the lyrics advance the narrative.
  • Build-up. This transition between the verse and the chorus builds anticipation for the chorus.
  • Chorus. The chorus is the most memorable and repeated section; it usually contains the main theme or hook and has a higher energy level.
  • Bridge. It often appears after the second chorus and offers a different melody, lyrics, or both, before returning to the familiar sections.
  • Breakdown. This is an instrumental or vocal section; it can create a moment of tension before the final chorus or outro.
  • Outro. Like the intro, it can be instrumental or include vocals, and bring the song to an end.

Song Structure Types

Understanding the song structure and the different types helps you have a clear framework and, in turn, make the most of your creativity.

Verse-Chorus Structure

The verse-chorus structure is one of the most prevalent in popular music. It typically follows the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus pattern; this structure is effective because it balances repetition and variation, making it more likely to stick.

To effectively use the verse-chorus structure, ensure your verses build up to the chorus (lyrically and musically). The chorus should be the climax, delivering a strong, catchy hook that resonates with listeners.

Verse-Chorus Structure: Example Songs

These songs illustrate the versatility and effectiveness of the verse-chorus form in creating memorable and impactful music.

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana

Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus – Bridge – Chorus

The song starts with a memorable guitar riff, leading into the verse, followed by the explosive chorus.

“Rolling in the Deep” by Adele

Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus – Bridge – Chorus

Adele’s powerful vocals drive the song through its emotional verses and catchy chorus.

“Wonderwall” by Oasis

Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus – Bridge – Chorus

The song combines melancholic verses with a sing-along chorus.

“Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey

Verse – Pre-Chorus – Chorus – Verse – Pre-Chorus – Chorus – Bridge – Chorus

An anthem with a memorable chorus that captures the spirit of hope and perseverance.

AABA Structure

The AABA structure, i.e. the 32-bar form, is a classic format in many jazz and early pop songs. It consists of two initial sections (A), a contrasting section (B), and a return to the initial section (A).

  • The A Section typically shares the same melody and harmonic structure but may have different lyrics.
  • The B Section, also¬†known as the bridge or middle eight, contrasts in melody, harmony, and often lyrical content.

The AABA structure is effective for creating a sense of familiarity and surprise. The return to the A section after the B section brings a sense of resolution and cohesion to the song.

AABA Structure: Example Songs

“Yesterday” by The Beatles

The song begins with an A section (“Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away…”) and repeats this section with slight lyrical variations. The B section (“Why she had to go, I don’t know, she wouldn’t say…”) introduces a contrasting melody and lyrics, before returning to the A section for a familiar and cohesive resolution.

“Over the Rainbow” by Judy Garland

This iconic song from “The Wizard of Oz” starts with the A section (“Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high…”), which repeats. The B section (“Someday I’ll wish upon a star…”) is the contrast before the final return to A.

“I Got Rhythm” by George Gershwin

This jazz standard follows the AABA form, starting with the A section (“I got rhythm, I got music…”), repeating it, then moving to a contrasting B section (“Old man trouble, I don’t mind him…”), before returning to the final A section.

“Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton

This poignant ballad begins with the A section (“Would it be the same if I saw you in heaven?”), repeats it, then moves to a contrasting B section (“Time can bring you down, time can bend your knees”), before returning to the final A section.

Through-Composed Structure

A through-composed song does not repeat sections; instead, it continuously introduces new music and lyrics. This structure is less common in popular music but is usually found in classical and art songs.

Although it’s effective for storytelling, it can be challenging to offer a unique and immersive listening experience.

Through-Composed Structure: Song Examples

“Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen

Well, of course. This iconic rock opera doesn’t repeat any sections in the traditional sense. It begins with a ballad section (“Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?…”), transitions into an operatic section (“I see a little silhouetto of a man…”), moves into a hard rock section (“So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye?…”), and concludes with a reflective coda.

“Happiness Is a Warm Gun” by The Beatles

This song from the “White Album” progresses through multiple distinct sections without repeating any of them, including “She’s not a girl who misses much,” “Mother Superior jumped the gun,” and “Happiness is a warm gun,” each with unique melodies and rhythms.

“Paranoid Android” by Radiohead

The song is composed of several distinct parts that flow into each other without returning to any previous sections. It starts with a mellow verse, moves into a heavy guitar section, transitions into a slower, atmospheric section, and concludes with a climactic ending.

“A Day in the Life” by The Beatles

This song from the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album is a prime example of through-composed structure. It combines different musical ideas and sections, starting with John Lennon’s reflective verses, transitioning into Paul McCartney’s upbeat middle section, and returning to Lennon’s narrative before ending with an orchestral crescendo.

Don’t forget that there are always exceptions to every rule, and music has many exceptions. It’s also a good idea to explore the different variations of each type of song structure.

Song Structure: It’s a wrap

Whether you’re a songwriter or not, understanding and mastering song structure and arrangement are crucial for shaping the listener’s experience. These elements form the backbone of any composition, guiding the listener through the narrative and emotional journey of the song.

Hopefully, this article has helped you understand the concept of song structure, grasp the main types, and – more importantly – enjoy the epic song examples provided. In the next article, we’ll explore bridges and transitions, as well as how to craft a dynamic arrangement.

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