Song Structure and Its Basic Elements
A key part of the song-writing process is song structure. This is the way in which certain sections of a song are arranged and organized. Most songs have at least two distinct sections which differ from each other both musically and lyrically. These sections can be known as Verse, Chorus, or Bridge sections, or can also be known more simply as A and B sections.
So how do we write in different song structures? Well, first we must understand the basic elements that exist in all songs.
The Elements of Song Structure
Melody is what is sung by the singer. The same melody can be repeated throughout the song. This is what is known as a section. The melody collaborates with the lyric to help tell the story of the song.
While lyrics can also be repeated, they have the ability to differ more from section to section. A hook is a line or so of lyric that is the main idea of the song. Whether it a musical theatre number or a pop song, lyrics will inform the structure of the song.
The accompaniment exists underneath the melody line. It can change in rhythm when sections are repeated, but often will stay the same harmonically. Sometimes more instruments are added or taken away depending on the context and structure of the song.
Every song tells a story. This can be as simple or as detailed as the songwriter wants it to be. Both the music and the words of a song help to tell the story. A song’s structure helps to organize these ideas, and the way in which they’re expressed to the song’s audience.
An AABA is traditionally a 32-bar song with an 8-bar ‘A’ section that is repeated two times, then an 8-bar B section, followed by another A section. The A section can develop over the course of the song, but should be recognizable as being more or less the same melody. The B section should be a completely different animal musically and lyrically. It is almost an anti-thesis to the A section’s question or goal.
It’s helpful when songwriting to think of each section as having it’s own over-arching thought. The A’s are all variations on this thought, while the ‘B’ is the opposite thought.
Here’s an example of what that means. Let’s imagine a love song that a character could be singing to another character.
The first A, would be the character saying how much they love the other character. The thought would be: I love you.
The second A would be the character reiterating this thought but perhaps a little stronger. The thought transforms into: I really lovely you.
The B section would be the character maybe doubting themselves a little bit, showing that they know the other character’s flows. The thought is: I hate you.
And the last A: shows the character concluding this journey through their emotions and reaching some sort of conclusion. The thought resolves as: but, I love you.
The ‘hook’ of the song is usually in the A section.
An example of an AABA is “Yesterday” by The Beatles.
A Verse-Chorus is a song structure that can have 4 distinct sections of music: a Verse, a Pre-Chorus, a Chorus and a Bridge. There is also the possibility of adding an intro and/or outro if needed. In order for a song to be classified as a Verse-Chorus it must, at least, have a Verse and Chorus section.
Unlike an AABA, songwriters can play around with the running order of the sections. For example, they can write a song that has the structure: Verse-Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus. But they can also use a different structure like: Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus-Verse. As long as there is clearly a Verse and a Chorus the song is still a Verse-Chorus.
Like an AABA, this song structure works with repeated material that can allow for thoughts and ideas to be developed further. The Verses usually share similar thoughts as do Choruses. Verse usually set up the premise or exposition for the song while the chorus states the moral of the story.
There is also the possibility of using a Bridge in these songs. A Bridge functions similarly to the B section in an AABA. It represents some sort of flip or apprehension, and can be used to show the character at some sort of crossroad (whether that be physical, psychological and/or emotional).
The hook of the song is usually in the Chorus section.
An example of a Verse-Chorus is “Blame It on the Boogie” by The Jacksons.
Other Types of Song Structure
A Strophic song structure is when there is only one section in a song that is repeated multiple times. This is very common in traditional folk music, or songs like “Amazing Grace”.
Extended Sequences are usually found in musical theatre. They can have many sections and are used to tell stories that exist in either multiple locations, a long period of time, or both.