The future of music

Song Structure 101: Learn Common Song Structures

August 4, 2023
song structure

We’re all aware of the importance of music in society.

Songs help us to express ourselves, and provoke emotion within us that otherwise are difficult to locate.

Song structure plays a big part in this.

Whether you’re an artist or a listener, it’s handy to know what makes up a song and why this is important.

In this article, we’ll walk through what song structure is, what the parts of the song are, some of the most common song structures, the variations in these, and which structure you should choose.

We hope this article gives you a good masterclass in song structure!

What Is Song Structure?

Put simply, song structure is the way in which a song is organized into different sections.

This can look vastly different from song to song and genre to genre.

Playing around with structure can make your song sound wildly different, so it’s worth understanding this.

The ear is used to hearing certain structures – think catchy pop songs – so some artists use this to their advantage.

However, a lot can be said for mixing up the structure and making an interesting, trailblazing tune.

What Components Make Up a Song?

An intro, an outro, verses, a chorus that is repeated, and a bridge are the basic structure of a song.

This is often set up as follows:

Intro /verse / chorus /verse / chorus / bridge / chorus / outro

In the industry, this is referred to as the ABABCB structure (A is the verse, B is the chorus, and C is the bridge).

The chorus often includes something called a pre-chorus, which we will explain soon.

So, let’s dive into the six primary parts of a song.

The intro is just what you’d imagine it to be – an introduction to a song.

Just like a movie, the introduction will likely be the catchiest part of the song.

Its main aim is to grab the listener’s attention and make them want to stay to hear more.

It shouldn’t be the peak, though.

You want to save something for the chorus!

It plays a critical part in establishing the melody and rhythm of the rest of the song, as well as the singers’ voices, and generally is slower and more low-key than the latter parts.

The intro should tie in seamlessly with the first verse.

Each verse of a song will be slightly different, and ultimately tells a story or has a message.

The second verse should build upon the first, differing from how each chorus generally has the same lyrical content.

The verses are the perfect chance to evoke emotion in your listeners, and is really your time to be creative and play around with how things feel, rather than focusing purely on catchiness.

Following a verse is the pre-chorus, sometimes called a lift, although some artists choose to emit this.

A pre-chorus can be thought of as the build-up to the chorus and bridges the gap between the verse and chorus.

It generally breaks the melodic pattern of the song and helps to create the highs and lows so that your chorus has more impact.

The chorus is probably one of the most important parts of any song.

It contains the hook, which is the catchy part that people will hear and think, “Yeah, I know this song!”.

It helps to think of the chorus as a summary of your song, and often includes the title or underlines the message you’re getting across in your verses.

It serves as the climax or peak, which is why the focus is on heightening tension beforehand.

Then comes the big release that is your chorus!

The bridge typically only occurs once in the entire song, usually between the second and third (last) chorus.

It often sounds totally different, both musically and lyrically, from the rest of the song and changes the pace.

Ultimately, the point of the bridge is to surprise the listener and break them out of the so-far repetitive nature of the tempo.

Artists will often achieve this by switching to a relative key in the same key signature, or maybe an instrumental solo.

The end of the bridge will tie seamlessly into the final chorus, building up the tension until it’s finally released with a booming chorus.

Finally, we have the outro.

The outro is all about winding down, signaling that the song is coming to an end.

Think of it as the opposite of the intro – all of the tension has been released, and now it is calming down like a car decelerating.

What Are the Most Common Song Structures?

There are many different song structures out there, but there are tried-and-tested standards that hit your listener’s ears in the right place.

The ABABCB structure, discussed above, is one of the most standardly used song structures.

Another of the most commonly used song structures, particularly in pop music, is AABA (32-bar-form).

It was first popularized in the early twentieth century by the likes of Bing Crosby and became even more popular with rock bands in the fifties and sixties. 

This form consists of two eight-bar A sections, an eight-bar B section which usually contrasts the harmony of the first section, and a final eight-bar A section which is similar to that of the first A sections.

Another popular structure is the Verse-Chorus form, particularly in the pop, rock, and blues genres.

In this form, the chorus will contrast in melody and rhythm from the verses.

Think “California Girls” by The Beach Boys or “Foxy Lady” by Jimi Hendrix.

What Are the Variations of These Song Structures?

A few trailblazing artists decided to spice up their songs by changing up these classically used structures.

As we all know, music changes over time and these variations have stood up to the test.

One of the most interesting variations is getting rid of the chorus (i.e. AABA, verse – verse – bridge – verse).

This may sound risky since the chorus is one of the pivotal parts of any song. 

Artists may make up for this by adding a refrain to the end of each verse, which is a line or two that may repeat throughout the song.

This was commonly used by the Beatles, so check out some of their tunes to see what this sounds like.

No bridge is another similar variation (AAA, verse – verse – verse).

This is one of the lesser-used variations as, if you’re not careful, it can be a little repetitive due to the lack of fluctuation in melody and rhythm.

This can be combated by ensuring the different verses use a variety of melodies and therefore can be differentiated from each other.

A song with no bridge will often make use of a refrain, as explained above.

Which Song Structure Should You Choose?

As with anything in the music-making industry, you make your own rules!

Whether you want to follow the standardized structure or create something a little different, that’s up to you.

Hit pop songs tend to follow a standard structure while jam bands prefer to experiment.

As we learned above, there are lots of variations and there’s nothing wrong with trying out new things.

If you play around, you’ll find the best song structure for your creation.

A great way to find a structure that works for you is to begin with the ABABCB structure and mix things around from there to find a unique sound that matches your brand and ideas.

Song Structure – Final Thoughts

That was a quick 101 in song structure.

Hopefully, you now understand what the most common song structures are and why they’re so popular.

This is important knowledge to have, and these structures are tried and tested in the music industry.

But remember – there are no rules when it comes to writing a song.

You can play around with well-known variations, or create a whole new structure to give you a unique sound. It really is all up to your imagination!

You may also like: How to Write a Song

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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