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Songwriting Structure


Knowledge of songwriting structures is important for writing understandable, listener-friendly songs.  Song elements such as the verse, hook, and chorus are usually incorporated in a few standard






ways.  Using the structures below can help shape any musical ideas into an organized, tight composition.


First, how could we define the most common song elements?  The verse contains information that sets the scene, such as introduction of characters and emotional tone.  The verse leads up to the chorus, or refrain, which is generally the strongest, catchiest, and most memorable part of the song.  The chorus often contains the hook, or the central theme of the piece.  The hook is often a catchy phrase with a distinct feel, meant to be repeated and to stand at the center of the song.  Finally, the bridge is usually a departure from the other parts of the song, used to provide a release or add another dimension.


These elements are usually combined in the following most common structures:


Verse – Verse – Verse

Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus

Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus – Bridge – Chorus

Verse – Verse – Bridge – Verse


The first structure, which we could also call AAA, is an older structure.  Each verse or A section has the same melody but different lyrics.  The section is usually eight bars long.  The repeating verse structure makes for an easy sing-along type of tune, but at the same time the melody needs to be very strong so as to bear the singular repetition.


The second structure could also be called ABABAB.  This introduces the chorus into the pattern, allowing for a change from the verse.  At the same time, this structure can easily become somewhat boring, and again requires a strong melody in the verse to hold the listener’s attention.


The third structure, which we could also call ABABCB, is the most popular structure in modern popular music and on the radio.  It allows for variety by alternating between chorus and verse.  It allows for repetition of the chorus, to increase memorability and exposure to the hook.  It also allows the bridge—usually four or eight bars—to provide a further fresh section and build energy, before returning to the final chorus.


The fourth structure, or AABA, is also a fairly popular means of organization.  The first verse sets up the scene and provides an introduction, while the second verse further develops the same ideas.  The B section provides a departure from the first ideas, adding suspense, or shedding new light on the themes.  Finally the third verse serves as a return to the initial ideas and provides a conclusion.


These four structures provide the most common and most reliable ways of forming well put-together songs.  There are also possibilities for modification, such as placing the chorus first or merging and cutting the sections, which one can experiment with after understanding the fundamental concepts.  Overall these structures provide basic tools for shaping ideas and hooks into workable pieces of music.


This article was adapted in part from The Everything Songwriting Book, by C.J. Watson, and 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, by Jason Blume.



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