I’ve decided to take a look at the various song structure types that you may want to use in your songwriting. When you start to learn about song structures, it seems to indicate there are rules to follow to ensure you get a ‘structure’ to your music.
But, before we start, let me just give you an opinion. There are no rules. There are some ideas, and there are some basic songwriting templates you can follow if you want to. But, as far as hard and fast “you must do this” rules, there are none.
So, the only rule you need to follow is that there are no rules. Does the structure work, does it sound good to you? If yes, then job done.
Where Did the Structure of Music Begin?
To identify the origins of structurally arranged music, we need to go back to where it began. It started, as just about everything did in our modern thought, in ancient Greece.
The simplest form of song structure is known as “Strophic.” A “strophe” was a song or part of a song where a group of singers sang the same melody. That melody was repeated over again. Although it likely had different text for each repetition.
These use the same melody repeated over and over, with different text for each repetition. As time moved on, it became common, especially in religious circles. It is still used today, though maybe not as much as centuries ago.
A modern-day example of a strophic structure is “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” by Peter, Paul, and Mary. You can say that the strophic structure is fixed and built out of sections that are easily defined.
Back To The Greeks
They also gave us the “chorus.” Back then, it was simply a group of actors in a play who might chant or sing a section of music.
It was made to be easy to remember so the audience could remember it and participate. That became what we call the chorus in song structure.
From Greece To France
The Greeks weren’t the only ones contributing to our musical education. The French gave us the word “refraindre” which in English means repetition or to repeat. That became a “refrain” in modern musical terminology.
These descriptive terms are used to help us organize our music. They are used in a variety of ways within the overall structure of songs, sometimes becoming the structure itself.
The Parts of a Song
The structure of a song is made up of a series of parts. You don’t have to use all the parts. Indeed, some songs might only use one part. One great example of where only part of a song is used is Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
It was taken from his iconic 1962 album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. This repeats one structural element of music over and over with different lyrical content. The format is hardly noticeable since it is the powerful lyrics that define both music and song.
The Basic Parts of The Structure of a Song
Most songs are not like “Blowin’ in The Wind,” of course. So let’s take a look at all the parts that may be included in the structure of a song.
These song structure types may be defined as:
- Intro or Introduction.
Let’s spend a few minutes discussing the parts of a song’s structure and what each is designed to do.
Intro or Introduction
To a new songwriter, this might not seem so important. Something that can be thrown together to get the “important bit” of the song started. If you are thinking like that, you need to understand you are a bit off the mark.
The intro or introduction is one of the most important parts of a song. A survey revealed that over one-third of people will turn off or skip a song if they are not “attracted” to it. And they will do that within the first 30 seconds.
The Intro Has Got To Get Their Interest
You can have the greatest guitar solo or hook ever. But, people may never get to hear it unless the intro makes them want to continue listening. Remember, you have 30 seconds to do that.
A good example that is often used is meeting someone for the first time. What is your first impression? That first impression can have a lasting effect on how you view that person.
The same applies to a song. The first time you hear it is like meeting someone for the first time. Have the first 30 seconds or so done enough to keep your interest and to keep you listening?
Sets The Tone Of The Song
The Intro is unique to the song and should set the tone and the atmosphere of what is to come. It usually has the tempo of the song included, but not always. And it is usually written in the same key as the song, but again, not always.
This is where you will usually put the main story of the song and what it is all about. On some occasions, in a song’s structure, the verse adds support to the chorus, but not always. At times, the verses can be the most powerful part of the song.
In some songs, you may find a small part of the song that serves as a brief prelude to the chorus. This is known as a pre-chorus. It is used as a “warm-up” for the chorus, which is likely to be the most important part of the song. You can say it builds anticipation.
A good example of the pre-chorus is in John Lennon’s “Imagine,” where he sings, “Imagine all the people, living for today.” It then moves into the chorus.
Historically, the chorus has had two ingredients that were considered vital to the song.
- Give you the song’s principle meaning and thus the main idea.
- Contain the most memorable melody lines.
The chorus would usually repeat itself musically and lyrically. And the chorus is often what we call a “hook.” In some ways, it is usually what the listener is waiting to hear and is often considered the best part of a song.
A quick question. Does a song have to have a chorus, or can it stand without one? We will see later.
The bridge is placed in a song to break up what sometimes is considered a slightly repetitive song structure. It can offer a new musical direction or just be an extension of a verse.
It can also be a natural extension of a verse but separate from it. That can be a surprise to the first-time listener. What separates it from the verse is that it will usually have a different chord structure and melody. And, in some cases, even a change in rhythm.
One of the most misunderstood song structure types, in my opinion. The break is usually instrumental and is placed in the structure of the song for a reason.
It is never put in the song to allow an ego-maniac guitarist to put on his silly hat and turn on 200 effects pedals. Instead, it should add to the song and its anticipation. As well as act as a transition between parts of the song. Possibly to return you to the chorus or other vital part of the music.
It can vary in its mood, pace, and style…
But, it must always contribute to the structure of the song and how the listener hears it. Possibly one of the best breaks ever in Rock music is in Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.”
If you want to learn how a break can add to a song, then “Stairway” is probably the best example you will hear. It changes style and mood as it progresses before reaching a big climax. Then, it leads us back to the vocal that now has a different rhythm which has changed during the break.
Consider The Structure of “Stairway To Heaven”
From a structural point of view, it is a good study piece. It can be divided into several sections. It includes a Strophic form in the first and second sections but without a vocal-led chorus.
The third section is the break which changes to a Rondo form. We won’t look too closely now, but as a study of how a song can be structured, it is very interesting.
Rather self-explanatory. It is the end of the song. This could be done in a variety of ways. There have even been some creative influences applied to this seemingly harmless piece of the structure.
In some cases, it is also called a “Coda.” In Jazz and Barbershop music, it is also referred to as a “tag.” Usually, the outro will play the song out, often to a fade, and might last up to 30 seconds. Sometimes a bit longer, sometimes shorter.
Can The Outro Be The Most Important Part Of The Structure of the Song?
We have already considered that in many songs, the chorus is the most important part of the song’s structure. The part of the song that many people want to listen to the most. But, as I said, there are no rules.
In the case of “Hey Jude” by the Beatles, the outro, or coda, became the focal point. It became the part of the song that most people wanted to listen to. The most important part of the song lasted more than four minutes.
The Beatles did enjoy knocking down musical barriers and norms and doing things no one else even thought of in their field.
The Most Common Song Structure Types
So, those are the most used structural parts of a song. But, how do you put them together, and in what order?
The answer is up to you as the songwriter. You can decide what goes best where and in what order. However, some basic song structures might start you off if you need a little help.
Here are some examples of basic song structures. Again these are just examples as there are no hard and fast rules.
- Intro, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus.
- Intro, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus, Outro.
- Intro, Verse, Verse, Bridge, Verse, Outro.
- Intro, Verse, Pre-Chorus, Chorus, Verse, Pre-Chorus, Chorus, Break, Chorus, Outro.
Writing Song Structures
There is a format for writing down a song’s structure that can help us to understand the song. This is achieved by giving each section a letter. It acts as a kind of visual map of the song. Intros and outros are not usually included in assigning letters.
You designate a verse as the letter ‘A,’ the bridge as a ‘B,’ and the chorus as a ‘C.’ In writing this formula down, a song can appear as:
- AABA or verse, verse, bridge, verse.
Putting The Structure Together
Once you have completed all the pieces of the song and what you want to include then, you will need to put it all together. You may find that as you are writing the song, the structures (A’s, B’s, and C’s) fall quite naturally into place.
However, there is nothing wrong with looking at the structure to see if it can be improved. What is the important part of the song? Is the “hook” getting enough attention? Let’s take a look at a common example of structuring a song.
A Very Common Structure
One of the most common structures you will find in Pop music and other genres is Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, or ACAC structure.
Writing songs for commercial purposes…
In this case, you will need to be familiar with the ACAC structure. If you are writing for yourself, it may not be so important.
An example of a simple ACAC structure that works well is Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.” It’s quite simple, but not as simple as the AAA, or verse, verse, verse structure of “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan I mentioned earlier.
When Dylan wrote that song, he thought it did not need a chorus or anything else. You don’t need to assume that every song does.
The ‘Bridge Effect’
As I mentioned, the bridge can offer an extra option for a song. It would normally be placed at least halfway through the song and could be in a format like this:
- Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, and Chorus or ACACBC.
An example of a good song that is made even better by constructive use of the bridge effect is “Every Breath You Take” by The Police. It is a popular song structure that you will find in many well-known songs.
The Chorus, Needed Or Not?
It is quite understandable to think that the Chorus will make the song. It has some truth to it, in that there have been some great chorus parts that have been the highlight of a song.
Here are some examples of a chorus that is the most memorable part of the song. There are, of course, many others.
- “She Loves You” by The Beatles – One to sing along to. With this song, it is worth remembering the point I made earlier about the importance of the Intro. In this Lennon/McCartney song, the chorus is probably the strong point of the song, and it is used as the introduction.
- “Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson – A chorus that explodes in the song.
- “What A Feeling” by Irene Cara – A great hook.
- “Hotel California” by The Eagles – Another chorus to sing along to.
As we have discussed, a pre-chorus can help to prepare for that big song-making chorus. It does that in this piece of Classic Rock from 1969, “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.”
The pre-chorus is written like this, “So kiss him (I wanna see you kiss him) – Go on and kiss him, goodbye.” And then you get the memorable chorus, which is also extended in the Outro.
Okay, so there have been some great choruses that have made the song. But, there have been some songs without a chorus at all. We have already looked at Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind. Other well-known songwriters have also used the no-chorus idea.
“I’ll Be Back” by The Beatles
This is a song that is creatively filled with mystery. It was written by John Lennon and includes some strange goings-on that proves there are no rules for song structure.
Apart from the constant changing between minor and major keys, the song has two bridges. They are not the same, and there is no chorus at all. The metric structure of the song is also rather unusual, but we won’t go into that now. But, the structure of the song would read:
- Verse, verse, and bridge 1, verse, verse and bridge 2, and verse, verse, and bridge 1, then verse to fade out.
- That would be A, A, B1, A, A, B2, A, A, B1, A, then fade out.
To add a little more intrigue…
The fade-out at the end occurs earlier than you would expect. Half a stanza early. It is a good example of John’s rules for songwriting. Or, more simply, “The rules are, there are no rules. Do what you want, do what sounds good.”
What About Unknown Songwriters?
We might almost expect well–known songwriters might to experiment. But what about those that are unknown? Here is an example of a song written without a chorus called “Why Me” by Thai singer Kannika.
This song has effectively two intros, one orchestral and one with a Rock style. It then goes into a verse followed by a bridge and then back to the verse again. The second bridge beefs up the volume and becomes a power ballad in style.
We then go to an instrumental break, back to the Rock bridge, and then finally, the verse, which returns to its opening mood. As with the two intros, there are two outros, one orchestral and one in the opening intro Rock style.
Does It Miss a Chorus
A song that is not necessarily written for commercial consumption but as the composer sees it. The structure is:
- Verse, Bridge, Verse, Bridge, Break, Bridge, Verse.
- or V, B, V, B, D, B, V, where ‘D’ is the Break.
The original song was written with a chorus. But, after a few rehearsals, it was withdrawn as it added nothing and made the song awkward. Another confirmation that there aren’t any rules when it comes to song structure types.
More Songs Without A Recognized Chorus
We have seen an album track and an independent label song without a chorus. But what about when you are trying to write a hit record? Must that have a chorus? Lennon and McCartney think not as “We Can Work It Out” demonstrates.
This has a Verse, Verse, Bridge, Verse, structure, or AABA. This is a slightly different idea here, though. The verse ends in what is known as a “Refrain.”
Similar to a “hook,” a refrain is a line or two of melody and lyrics that are repeated at the end of each verse. It often contains the title of the song.
Do Songs with No Chorus Have Any Commercial Value?
Some would argue that not having an identifiable chorus will affect commercial prospects. There is probably an element of truth in that. A chorus that people can either sing along with or is just uplifting will always be an asset to a song.
We have seen some songs that didn’t have an identifiable chorus. One was an album track, the other an independent and not a commercial success. The third was the Beatles, and everything they touched was a success. That makes it hard to make a judgment.
I suppose the answer to the question is that you don’t need to write a song with a chorus. But, if you can find a great-sounding section that fits, it will help to sell the song. Then again, there aren’t many that can write those.
How Do You Decide What Goes Where?
This is where the process becomes subjective and where personal opinions take hold. There need to be decisions made about what fits where, and if it fits at all. The structure of the song now takes center stage.
Which of the structures we looked at, and any others you can come up with, will work best for the song? And remember, you are creating the structure for the benefit of the song and no other reason.
Sometimes It All Just Clicks
You may write a song and progress through it line by line. In that situation, it might just naturally fit together. You won’t have to think too much about it; it just works.
But then, there might be occasions where you come up with a chorus first, or maybe the bridge. Then you sit down to write the verses. At that stage, where does it all fit?
Can The Idea Of The Song Help You?
Maybe the idea behind the song can help to choose the best song structure. If the song has characters and a storyline that progresses, you will need verses that string together to move the story forward.
Bob Dylan tended to write like that. Especially in his early days, as you can hear on his album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.
If the song is about lost love or a break up, then the verses will probably be shorter, and the weight of the song carried in the chorus. The chorus is usually repetitive in melody and lyrics. You can see then how the idea of the song can sometimes dictate which type of structure you need to use.
The Mood Of The Song
Is there any part of the song that generates a particular emotion when you play it back? If there is, then it may be worth considering how you can use that section of the song to good effect.
If it stirs emotions in you (and you’re used to hearing it), then how will hearing it for the first time affect the listener? This is one area where the structure of the song can make it or break it.
So, once again, the structure of the song needs to be considered carefully. A Pop song will be different from a Rock song, and both will be different from a Ballad. Getting the mood of the song translated into a structure that suits the song needs to be worked on.
It Will Take Time
Songwriters like Burt Bacharach, in days gone by, or more recently Diane Warren, have to practice and perfect their art. It will be the same for you.
Don’t think for one minute; it doesn’t take skill and understanding. And, I will say again, the structure of your song can make it or break it. You need to gain as much knowledge and appreciation of song structure as you can. Perhaps these reading materials might help.
- Songwriting Book and Journal: Lyrics Notebook with Song Structure: Verses, Hooks, Bars, and Bridges.
- How To Start A Song: How to Write A Song, Chord Progressions, Song Structure, Title, Lyrics, Tips Prompts, Guitar.
- Essential Guide to Lyric Form and Structure: Tools and Techniques for Writing Better Lyrics (Songwriting Guides).
Develop Your Own Style
Don’t try to copy other people, do it your way. Look and listen to what they have done and how they have done it, of course. But don’t try to copy them. Let your music come from you.
Does It Feel Natural?
Sometimes, when you are writing a song, it comes down to just that. How does it feel? Does it feel natural or contrived? Here are some things you can listen for after you think you have finished the song:
- Can you sense where the song is going?
- Does it need more of any of the structural pieces?
- Does the introduction make you want to carry on listening?
- Is the outro a nice end to what has gone before?
- Is there enough light and shade in how the song is structured?
- Are you happy with the finished article?
How Do You Create A Good Song Structure?
The best way is to keep working at it. It might take some time, but if you keep writing, it will usually get better. And you will begin to feel the structure that is required as the song is created.
Everything Should Be On The Table
By that, I mean to consider all the parts of the structure that we considered earlier. And, if it takes a little extra work to come up with a pre-chorus, then try it. You haven’t lost anything if it doesn’t work.
The Length of Your Song
It is important to be aware that the length of your composition might need some consideration. If you are The Beatles, then a 7-minute plus A-side on “Hey Jude” is going to be fine with the radio stations.
However, if you are lesser known, like Kannika, a 4:30 song like “Why Me” won’t be. If you are looking to write a commercial song for airplay purposes, it probably shouldn’t exceed three minutes.
Interested in Composing Songs and Music?
If so, take a look at our detailed articles on How to Write a Song, Steps to Learning Basic Songwriting, the Top Music Collaboration Websites and Apps, the Best Online Jamming Websites, and the Best Free MIDI Keyboard Software for Every Platform for more useful information and items.
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Song Structure Types – Final Thoughts
To sound professional and well-organized, your song needs structure. The listener will be expecting to hear it, even if they don’t know what it is. And although there are many different ways to structure a song, that should not make you feel it is not important.
I said early on that there are no rules, and there aren’t strict rules about how you should structure songs. But the structure you use is supposed to make the song sound good. If the song fails, then maybe it is in the structure and how you have set it up.
I can’t say it enough; keep working at it. Keep trying new ideas. In the end, it will pay dividends.
Until next time, good luck, and make yourself heard.