Song Structure:
Different Types of Form

Deciding upon the type of song structure to use is an important first step in writing a new song. And it's a really exciting part of writing!

Taking the basic elements of verse, chorus and bridge, we arrange them into the best combination for the song.

That's an important thing to remember: Do what's best for the song.

Types and Variations

You could say there are four basic types of song structure, with some variations on each:

1. AAA (verse-verse-verse) Also known as the strophic form.
2. AABA (verse-verse-bridge-verse)
3. ABAB (verse-chorus-verse-chorus)
4. Blues (usually three four-bar phrases known as 12-bar blues.)

AAA

The AAA form is the oldest song structure type. With this form there can be any number of verses, but there are no choruses.

Instead, the title (or hook) is sung in the first or last line (or both), of each verse. Sometimes there is a "refrain" at the end of each verse. A refrain is a recurring phrase, or repeated line. This serves as the hook and is usually the title.

Each verse feels complete on it's own without the need to build toward a chorus. This form is excellent for "story" type songs, and was very popular with the folk music of the Sixties.

Among the songs that use this form are Bob Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind", and Bette Midler's "The Rose" (Amanda McBroom).

AABA

The AABA form is similar to AAA in that it has no chorus. What makes it different is the inclusion of a bridge section. "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" is a good example of this form.

Again, the title (also the hook) is sung in the first or last line (or both), of each verse. The verses of these songs tend to flow very nicely together.

A variation of this form might be the use of two bridges, as in "Yesterday" by The Beatles.

ABAB

The ABAB or verse-chorus form is the most popular song form today. The vast majority of pop songs you hear on the radio are verse-chorus songs.

The verses contain the details, each one adding information to the story.

The chorus tends to use more general statements, and is quickly remembered. An effective chorus should have you easily singing along by the third or even second chorus.

Maybe the reason the chorus is kept simple is to give the listener a chance to absorb the information in the verses.

Verse-Chorus Variations

There can be quite a few variations on the verse-chorus song structure:

#1#2#3#4#5
A VerseA VerseA ChorusA VerseA Verse
B ChorusB ChorusB VerseA VerseB Pre-chorus*
A VerseA VerseA ChorusB ChorusC Chorus
B ChorusB ChorusB VerseA VerseA Verse
A VerseC BridgeA ChorusB ChorusB Pre-chorus
B ChorusB ChorusB ChorusC Chorus


* A pre-chorus, also called the lift is sometimes used to build from verse to chorus. Usually about two lines in length, the pre-chorus very often uses the same lyric each time.

There can be other variations such as an instrumental break, or two choruses at the end. But keep in mind the length of the song.

Most commercial pop songs are about 3:30 to 4:00 in length. When you start adding pre-choruses and bridges, songs can quickly balloon to five or six minutes.

Remember this adage:
If you don't move quickly to the chorus
Chances are your song will bore us!

Blues

The blues generally follows a repeating AAB pattern, with the lyrics being sort of a question-question-answer.

This example is from "Mystery Train" made famous by Elvis Presley:

Train I ride sixteen coaches long
Train I ride sixteen coaches long
Well the long black train got my baby and gone
(Junior Parker, Sam Phillips)

There are variations of the blues form such as 8-bar, and 16-bar. But the most common by far is the 12-bar blues.

Experiment with some or all of these different types of song structure. It will definitely help make you a better songwriter!


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