So you are interested in making music but don't know how to make your song like a well made Ed Sheeran pop Sandwich or a Calvin Harris hit Hamburger. Well have no fear as there a number of different ways to write a song, that are usually dependant on their purpose (designed for Dj-ing, a pop song or avant-garde backing music) and once you start to analyse music you soon realise that a lot of songs you hear have similar structures or tend to use similar structures to create them.
In my previous blog I briefly touched on a technique which involved taking the structure of an existing song and using it for your own compositions. This is useful for copying another songs structure and applying it to your song however the purpose of this blog is to look at some common song forms & structures that tend to be used for vocal chart music so that you can build your own songs from scratch to feed your fans!
Before specifically looking at how music is structured I think it’s useful to define what the key components that make up a song are:
Intro & Outro
Within today's pop music the intro and outro tend to be very short mainly due to the short attention span of most listeners and desire to get to the catchier more memorable parts of a song. An intro will usually set the tone of a song, they might contain the songs main chords/melody and typically don’t contain drum or bass parts. An outro usually involves short transition or effect to signify the song has finished.
Verse lyrics give the listener information, these lyrics usually change in each verse adding to the listeners understanding of the situation/emotional theme. The chord progression and melody usually remain the same in each verse with small variations in the melody to accommodate lyric changes.
The chorus is typically the high point of contemporary chart music, often sung with more energy or at a higher pitch. The chorus melody is catchy and memorable, the lyrics sum up and focus the overall theme laid out in verses. They melody and lyric usually remain the same each time the chorus is repeated, listeners look forward to a recognisable, repeated chorus section as the chorus acts as an anchor.
The pre-chorus occurs at the end of a verse and before the chorus - providing a build up into the chorus section. It adds to the intensity of the song , creating a sense of anticipation that gives us a greater sense of emotional release when we get to the chorus.
The hook is the most memorable line in your song. It often includes the title, so often it could be called the hook/title line. It grabs attention and hauls the listener into the song, it’s the line that listeners will remember for a long time after the song is done.
The refrain is a phrase or line that occurs at the end or beginning of each verse in a Verse/Verse/Bridge/Verse song form. In this song form the refrain is also the hook. Songs that have a refrain don’t include a chorus as the refrain takes its place as the “anchor/home base” for listeners.
The Bridge/Middle 8 occurs about two-thirds of the way into a song, after the listener has heard the verse/chorus a couple of times. The bridge provides variety from the verse & chorus melodies. The bridge lyrics do not generally include the title of the song and might include a different chord progression or melody.
Below are 4 common song forms historically associated with chart music:
1) Folk Song Form - AAAA
Within this song form some or all verses contain a refrain at the beginning or end of the verse. An example of this song form is Bob Dylan's 'The times they are a changin'
Bob Dylan - The Times They Are A Changin'
2) Basic Song Form - AABA
In this form the refrain line provides a home base for listeners again the refrain line occurs at the beginning or end of every verse. This refrain usually includes the title of the song and In a pop context this form works best for ballads and mid-tempo songs. Billy Joel's song 'Just the way you are' is a good example of this.
Billy Joel - Just The Way You Are
3) Monster Hits: The Chorus Form - ABABcB
A song form with a huge hook driven chorus. The lyrics and melody of the chorus remain the same each time the chorus section is repeated, providing a home base/anchor. The most prominent and memorable line in the chorus is the hook, it appears at least once during the chorus and is often the title of the song. The chorus lyric sums up the song’s emotional theme whilst the verses develop the situation and characters.
Often the bridge provides an emotional high point, a reveal, or twist to the lyrics - acting as a strong third verse, typically before the final chorus. a few hit songs go into a third verse or half verse - depends on what feel right, instrumental bridges are not a good idea if you’re aiming for a radio hit - keep them there by writing a vocal bridge. Katy Perry's song 'I kissed a girl' is an example of this Chorus Form.
Katy Perry's - 'I kissed a girl'
4) Pre-Chorus Form - AbB
Building tension and anticipation just before chorus gives more of an emotion satisfying release & provide more impact. A pre chorus precedes the chorus and transitions listener from verse to chorus. Often taking the form of building up tension and energy that can then be released in the first line of the chorus, for example a rising melody line in your pre-chorus can raise expectations, leading to anticipation of the chorus, the more anticipation the bigger the pay off. You can come out of a bridge into either a pre-chorus or final chorus. A modern example of this pre-chorus form is the song 'Shape of you' by Ed Sheeran.
Ed Sheeran - 'Shape Of You'
These are just four common song forms that are associated with chart music that should give you a better understanding of how music is structured or it can be used as a starting point to help you write your own music.