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Song Structure Basics

song structure

Song writing is a talent that requires many skills. Aside from writing lyrics, creating melodies and playing instruments, you also need to know how to structure songs so that they are coherent works of art. In this article I outline the basics of song structure you can use to apply to the songs you write.

Musical Forms

A Musical form is identifiable pattern a musical composition can take. In music theory, musical forms use letters to generically represent similar sections. For example: ABAB would represent a piece of music that consists of 4 alternating sections. Each section with the same letter names are similar in sound and function. All sections fit together to form the complete song. In popular modern music, ABAB is more descriptively written as verse, chorus, verse, chorus.

Song sections

As mentioned above rather than using letter names, song sections are easier to refer to using more descriptive names. Below is a list of the most common types of song sections.

Intro - Usually instrumental, the Intro begins the song and builds up to the Verse.
Verse - The Verse tells the story behind the song. Lyrics and music help to build up to the Chorus.
Pre-Chorus - A Pre-Chorus is a short section that occurs after a Verse and acts as a build-up to the Chorus.
Chorus - The Chorus contains the hook which is memorable and catchy. It solidifies the meaning of the song and reiterates the meaning of the story.
Solo - A Solo showcases the skill of a single performer, usually a guitarist or saxophonist. The Solo is usually played against supporting backing music.
Bridge - The Bridge contains music that is drastically different from the rest of the song. It helps break up the monotony of the song before going back into a Chorus.
Middle 8 - A type of bridge in the middle of a song with 8 bars.
Outro - The Outro is the song's finale or ending. It can contain vocals or solo instruments. Outros usually fade out but can also end abruptly.

Common song structures

Here are some common basic song structures for a few popular styles of music.
Basic song
basic song structure
Basic Rock song with solo
basic rock song structure
Pop songs
pop song structure
Rock / Metal songs
rock and metal song structure

As an artist you are free to change these basic structures up a bit. Try adding a pre-chorus between verse and chorus sections or add longer bridge sections.

Song elements

Song elements are combined to make the actual music in the sections listed above.

Melody - The melody is the singable/hummable part of a song. It can be an instrument or voice.
Harmony / chords - This can be a combination of instruments or a single instrument like a guitar or piano. Harmony helps the melody stand out.
Rhythm or Beat / drums - The beat is the driving force of a song mostly played by drums. A bass guitar can help accentuate the beat as well as add to the total harmony of the song.
Vocals / lyrics - Vocals and lyrics are the words of the song sung to the melody.
Soundscapes - Songs can have other sounds like airplanes, waves, outer space sounds etc.

Practice structuring songs by listening

One of the best ways to practice song structure is by analyzing the songs you listen to. Take notes on your phone or on paper.
Write down things like:
* The overall structure
* How the melodies differ between verse and chorus
* How the song dynamics help to build up to section changes
* As much as you can about the construction of each of the different sections
* How the beat changes going into new sections
* How the lyrics and instruments are used in each section

With enough research you'll have a pretty good idea how to go about structuring the songs you want to write.

Need More information?

I have only touched the surface on the many elements you can use to structure a song. The basic elements are enough to get you started writing your own songs. There are of course many more advanced topics to consider. I encourage you to check out this excellent article on WikiPedia that goes into a little more detail on song structure.

More song theory

I'm wrote another lesson about songs that use only 4 chords that you should really check out. Happy song writing!

song structure basics

Posted October 29, 2015, 4:48 pm in: Guitar lessons


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