The Basics of Song Form

     When we talk about form in music, we are referring to the song structure. Or in other words, the different sections that make up the whole song. Each section usually pertains to a moment in your storytelling and that is what we will be taking a closer look at.

     Sometimes you may struggle with the aspect of making a story that drives the listeners in an emotional way. So, this post is dedicated to show you how important the song form can be as a tool to help you in the storytelling aspect of the song. The main goal here is to help you to make sure that your message is heard.

     I will be showing you how the different song sections can be used and also the most common song structures you may come across with.

Verse

     After the Intro (introduction) section, which is usually instrumental and introduces the tone of the music, the verse is where the main context and idea is introduced and developed.

     At this point, your should already be grabbing the listener’s attention and making them want to follow the story throughout the rest of the song. But don’t forget to keep things interesting, musically speaking! As the story develops, the musical ideas for the arrangement and instrumentation should also be presented accordingly, letting the music grow with the story.

     The verses can be like the recitative in opera, which is where you present the characters and develop the narrative. In sum, this is where you will include the story details. By keeping your listeners engaged, you will leave them wanting to know what happens next in the second verses, which is where you will further develop the story.

Pre-Chorus

     The pre-chorus is a shorter section that appears between the verse and chorus, as the name implies. Usually this is a shorter section that introduces some story and/or musical nuances. Musically, you can introduce some degree of oddity and be more adventurous. On the storytelling aspect, you can use it to throw in an unexpected event or leave a question hanging.

     You don’t have to use a pre-chorus in all your songs but remember that you are heading to the chorus and that there is usually some musical preparation involved like manipulating the register, texture, rhythm and/or melody so that the transition is obvious and makes an impact. You can do this more or less dramatically as it will depend on the story you are telling.

Chorus

     The chorus is where you will be presenting the main idea, the gist, the lesson or the moral of the story, so to speak. Your lyrics should sum up the feelings or the emotional aspect of the song as a whole. Usually you wouldn’t want to be too wordy here but it will all depend on what you think you need to say. Again, the most important thing to keep in mind is to sum it up and be straight to the point. In pop songs, there are many examples where you can hear a specific word or phrase repeated throughout the chorus, restating the main idea.

     You can think of the chorus as the aria in operas where the narrative movement is paused for a moment and focus on a specific emotion or idea which is what you will want the listener to remember when the song is over.

     Musically speaking, this is usually the climax of the song, the most energetic section with a denser texture and catchier melodic line; the most memorable and singable part.

     So far, I have presented three different sections that your song can have:

  • Verse
  • Pre-Chorus
  • Chorus

     Sometimes you may see these sections represented with letters like A for the verse, B for the pre-chorus and C for the chorus. In that way you may see song structures represented like AABA, or AABCABCC. Each section is assigned a different letter and then represented in a string like the example I gave.

     These forms are very used in most popular genres and here you already have a great starting point to start telling your story with all the twists and turns you may want to use. The verse introduces and develops the story; the pre-chorus can move the story even further by thickening the plot; and the chorus that sums the main idea of the song in the most memorable way possible.

     But in the chance that you feel like you have more to say, you can always create another section in the song and offer the listener yet another perspective of your story.

The Bridge

     The bridge section is probably the part of your song that will only be appear once. This contrasting section, both lyrically and musically, usually appears after the second chorus. You can use this section to present a different idea like some sort of closure to the story you are telling; a different perspective; or a secret. Remember, it is a unique happening and it should be treated as such both musically and lyrically.


     In a previous post about microform, I suggested that you could use a binary form, for example, to organize the way you develop your melodies and/or rhythms. So, you have this concept of macroform, as in the way the song as a whole is organized, and microform. By now I think you see how important it is to properly handle form in music because it is the main structure that will support your musical and lyrical ideas.

     I hope that now you have a better sense of how you can use the different sections of a song to tell your story and you should remember that one informs the other. In other words, what you want to say in your story will affect the song structure you work with, and vice-versa.

     Do you have any other ways of thinking about a song’s form? Leave a comment below!

Happy Composing!

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