Song structure may be one of the most important elements of writing a great song. When used properly it propels the song forward and holds the listener's interest. When used poorly the listener tunes out.
When we talk of song structure, or song form, we're not talking about lyrical or melodic style.
We're talking about how the basic building blocks such as verse, chorus and bridge can be combined to fit together and compliment each other.
All modern commercial songs contain some or all of these basic elements. Let's take a look at each of them and explore their functions.
The intro is where you set up the feel of your song. During the intro, you introduce the groove and the overall atmosphere of the song. A carefully chosen melodic hook can be introduced as well, a brief hint at what's to come.
A good intro will grab your attention and begin to reel you in even before the lyric begins.
But be careful not to lose your listeners' attention by making your intro too long. While there will always be exceptions, a good rule of thumb is somewhere around 10 to 15 seconds.
The verse is usually the section of the song that contains most of the information and tells most of the story. Each verse might have the same or a similar melody, but will usually have different lyrics.
Use the verse to develop your story, bring your characters to life, and keep your listener engaged.
The verse should build emotionally, always leading to the chorus.
The pre-chorus is an optional short section that occurs between the verse and the chorus. It generally ramps up musically and emotionally, leading to the high point of the song, the chorus.
A dedicated pre-chorus section isn't always needed. Sometimes the writer will incorporate a lift into the last line or two of the verse.
The chorus is the part of the song that everybody remembers. It is the whole point of the song, the musical and emotional climax.
It usually contains the hook and the title, which is often repeated as the first and last line, or sometimes on every line.
The hook is the strongest line of lyric sung over the strongest line of melody. It is usually in the chorus, is nearly always the title, and is always the most memorable part of the song.
It's the part that gets stuck in your head whether you like the song or not!
When you hear the chorus, you should know exactly what the song is about. If the chorus has done its job, the listener should be singing along by the second or third listen.
The bridge or "middle eight" can be the most difficult part of the song to write. It must be completely different, both musically and lyrically, from the verse and chorus.
Not all songs have or need a bridge. But when written effectively, a bridge provides the opportunity to add another angle to the story. You can change perspective from first-person to second or third-person if you wish. You can also change from present-tense to past or future-tense.
In verse-chorus type songs the bridge will be usually be between the second and third choruses. In songs without choruses, it's usually between the second and third verses.
The instrumental break, or solo section offers a bit of breathing room and can ramp up the emotional intensity of the song.
A solo can be played over the structure of the chorus, verse or bridge, or a combination of any of the above.
The outro is the last section of the song, often a repeating chorus or variation thereof. Sometimes it's a new section altogether.
It can slowly fade into infinity, or it can be an abrupt "button" ending, wrapping the song up into a neat little package.
It's in the way these elements are arranged that determine song structure. Analyse some of the popular songs you hear on the radio today, and see if you can identify the different sections that are employed.