Basic Song Structures

  • James Parker
  • January 14, 2022

Whether you are a novice or an experienced songwriter, understanding the basics of song structure can help you create better songs.

Music theory is the study of how music works. It’s a field that includes the idea of scales, chords, keys and more. A song structure or musical form is a patterned way of organizing a piece of music. 

There are many different types, but they all share some basic principles. Here are some common song structures that you might want to use for your songs.

What Is Song Structure?

Song structure is the way in which a song is structured. It can refer to any musical form, including the 2-6-5-7-9-12-15-20 pattern is an example of a simple structure

Song structure can be explained in a very simple way. Imagine you have a completed musical piece. The main key is known as the tonic. The tonic chord is the chord you find at the beginning of a piece of music. The tonic is the “essence” of the song and it tells you where you should go from the start. There are also some “secondary tonalities” that you use throughout the piece to add tension or interest to the music.

These secondary tonalities are usually shapes that you find in music. These shapes make up the different parts of the song. You can create your own “polyphony” by using different chords in different keys.

The Intro

The intro section of a song is just that, a brief intro. It sets the tone and is usually a moment for the artist or band to stand apart from the other instruments.

Although it sounds simple, knowing how to write a great intro is an important step towards creating a strong song. When you start out, the first thing you should focus on is clarity. Your intro should not sound too busy. Instead, it should reflect your musical style, and you should be able to clearly hear what you are playing.

“To start a song, don’t begin with a trudge through slow chords and a rushed melody. Play a few basic chords that would make a nice transition to your other instrumentation. In some cases, having a short intro allows the listener to rest for a moment, then jump into your song.

The Verse

A verse is an instrumental section that usually starts with a chord progression and some melody and lyrics. Each verse has a specific structure, though. It is the central part of the song. It contains the basic melody and most of the lyrics.

The Pre-Chorus

The pre-chorus sets up the first verse (the chorus) for you. This section can make or break a song depending on when and where it is placed within the arrangement.

The Chorus

The chorus (or reprise) finishes the song with the same melody, lyrics and lyrics as the chorus of the previous song.

The Bridge

The bridge is a musical piece that is built to bring the music back to a calm, normal place. The bridge is designed to bring a song back into normalcy after the dramatic build up to a climax. It is what creates the next dramatic section of the song.

The bridge in a song has one characteristic, and that is repetition.

You want your songs to build in intensity, and this is a great way to build your songs in that way. As soon as you start playing the first few notes of the bridge, you want to start playing them again and again and again.

This can be a bit boring, but it is the repetition that will bring the song back to the original form. With repetition, the song is much easier to understand and relate to.

The Break

There are three common breaks, the verse, chorus, and bridge. These three musical frames of reference provide a common framework for how a song is constructed.

A verse typically lasts anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes and is where the main theme of the song is introduced. For example, this is a typical verse for a blues song:

The chorus is a break from the verse and usually lasts between 3 and 4 minutes. The chorus is a chance for the listener to have a short rest from the main theme of the song.

The bridge is a mid-song break. The bridge is a chance to add more emphasis to the main theme. In the example above, the main theme from the chorus has a longer pause between verses and a bridge that provides an opportunity for some passion and excitement in the listener’s voice.

The Outro

The outro (also known as the outro kick) is the last part of a song, usually a solo-based or full band track. In pop music, it usually occurs near the end of the song.

In the simplest form, it can be the vocal break after the last verse.

In some rock bands, it’s where the guitarist lays down a short solo. A lot of metal bands will then have a harsh growl of feedback for a minute or so before the singer comes back in.

It’s not necessary, but it’s a nice way of adding energy to the last part of a song.

What Are the Most Common Song Structures?

1. The Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus Song Structure

In the verse/chorus – verse/chorus form of the song structure, a series of two-verse melodies or songs are repeated in a predictable sequence. This structure is commonly referred to as the chorus, a bridge or bridge-chorus.

Each time, you get to enjoy the same verse and chorus, building to a huge conclusion at the end of the song.

Why does a chorus work so well?

A chorus of two songs combined in a way that gives the listener a sense of growth and change. It provides a sense of emotional progression as well as the sense that a song can lead somewhere and that something is happening.

The chorus is also familiar and memorable to most listeners. Even if you have heard this type of song many times before, the chorus still draws you in and is a part of you.

Examples of songs with a Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus Structure

  • Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”
  • The Police’s “Roxanne”
  • Hall & Oates’ “Rich Girl”
  • Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba”

2. The  Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus – Bridge – Chorus Song Structure

This is the basic structure. If you’ve ever heard any radio song, you’ll notice they have a verse, chorus and bridge. 

The trick to any structure is to use them for a reason. Using this pattern to group and organize a song can make it much easier for your listeners to understand the rhythm and the melody of your song.

Examples of Songs With a Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus Structure

  • James Ingram’s “Just Once”
  • Coldplay’s “Fix You”
  • Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl”

3. The Verse – Pre-Chorus – Chorus – Verse – Pre-Chorus – Chorus Song Structure

Most songs have at least a verse and chorus, and the verses and choruses are usually the first two pieces of music you write.

This structure typically consists of the same song structure as the AABA structure. Here is how it looks for a C AABA form.

Examples of Songs With a Verse – Pre-Chorus – Chorus – Verse – Pre-Chorus – Chorus Song Structure

  • Train’s “Drive By”
  • Katy Perry’s “Firework”
  • Keane’s “Spiralling”

4. The Verse – Verse – Bridge – Verse Song Structure

This is a very common structure. It’s not very complex. You’ve probably heard a piece of pop music that uses this structure. It could be from any genre. You’ve probably also heard some country or rock songs that use this structure.

Examples of Songs With a Verse – Verse – Bridge – Verse Song Structure

  • Evelyn Champagne King’s “Shame”
  • Rolling Stone’s ”Under My Thumb”
  • The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations”

Variations on Basic Song Structures

Just like any form of music, song structure is quite malleable. There are infinite ways to structure songs.

No Chorus

Chorus sections can be cool. They have a special emotional quality to them and can really get the listener involved.

But what if you don’t have a chorus? No problem. Many musical artists have no actual chorus in their songs. Think about a song such as “Under My Thumb” by The Rolling Stones. The main theme of the song is the song title, not some grandiose chorus line leading up to it. 

No Bridge

A bridge is a bridge, right? Not so fast.

Rather than a climactic, emotional transition from one section to another, a bridge is a musical pause or time frame.

This isn’t to say it doesn’t work as a song section, but you don’t need to use one to create a well-constructed song.

Some examples of “No Bridge”:

  • A single-verse form
  • A repeating structure
  • A reverb/delay structure
  • A repeating verse structure

These song structures have the same melody and lyrics, but the only “melody” is repeated in different order. So a chorus and verse might end at different places in the piece.

Conclusion

As you may have noticed, not every song is built the same way. Some are built with a sequence of notes or a single, repeating rhythm. The structure may be simple, like a verse, a chorus, an introductory bridge and a bridge.

Others are complex, like a piece of music you might find in a classical symphony. The song may start in the top left, then drift across the bottom, then spend a bit of time in the top right, then go back to the top left, then drift to the bottom right and back again. 

It might begin with the intro, then slowly build up to a climax, and then fade away again. Find the structure that is good for you and just stick with it. Happy Music Creating!!