Understanding the Most Common Song Structures


in Composition

When you write a full song, you’ll need to decide on a song structure for that song. Your song structure will help you take the chords you’ve come up with and organize them into sections.

There are really only a handful of common song structures used in popular music. So one thing you can do, before you even start to lay out the chords of your song, is you can look at the song structures of other songs you like, and use that as your song’s skeleton. Otherwise, you can just be aware of the common song structures, which we’ll look at in a moment.

Song Structure

Song structure is important because it organizes our songs. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel in order to be creative. Think of the most common types of song structures as universally agreed upon roadmaps for your songs.

They tell us where the song is going. We’ve heard the most common structures so many times that we’re practically trained to know what section is coming next. While that might seem like a bad thing, it’s not because it brings a familiarity to our music which makes people want to hear it, if you’re doing everything else right too.

I’ll list a few common song structures and how the different sections of a song fit into each structure. I’ll also list some hit songs that use each structure, as an example. I’d recommend listening to those songs to see what their song structure does, as you read along.

Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus

This one’s also known as an ABABCB structure, where A is the verse, B is the chorus and C is the bridge. This one’s extremely popular. Radiohead’s “High and Dry” is a good example of this song structure.

Verse / Pre-Chorus / Chorus / Verse / Pre-Chorus / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus

This one’s a slight variation of the first structure we looked at. The only difference here is the addition of a pre-chorus which shows up before the choruses. A good example of this structure is Katy Perry’s “Firework.” The part that starts on the words “You just gotta ignite the light…” is the Pre-Chorus.

In both of these song structures it’s fairly common for the chorus to be repeated a second time at the very end of the song to really drive the hook of the song home to the listeners.

Verse / Verse / Bridge / Verse

This one’s a bit of a departure from the first two structures we looked at. It’s also known as an AABA structure. This time A denotes the verse, while B denotes the bridge. There’s no chorus in this type of structure. Instead, each verse usually ends (or begins) with a refrain.

A refrain is a line or two that repeats throughout the song. Since it’s usually the title, the words of the refrain typically stay the same, while the rest of the verse lyrics change.

A lot of times this song structure will have a lot of variation in the verse melody, since the verses repeat often. That variation keeps their melody from getting boring during all the repetition.

The Beatles and Billy Joel have used this song structure a lot. The song “We Can Work it Out” by the Beatles uses this structure. The title line “We Can Work it Out” is the refrain in the verses. The section starting on “Live is very short…” is the bridge.

Any of these structures can be modified as appropriate for your song. You may have noticed that in “We Can Work it Out,” the bridge is repeated twice. This is a pretty common modification of the AABA format since a lot of times a simple verse / verse / bridge / verse structure often makes for a very short song.

Those three song structures are the big ones. There are two others that are also common, but they’re used less because they don’t have a bridge.

Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus

Also known as an ABAB structure, this one is a simplified version of the ABABCB structure. The only difference is there’s no bridge. The verse and chorus may be repeated more than twice. “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye is a good example of this type of song structure.

Verse / Verse / Verse

This one’s also know as an AAA structure. It’s not used often because it’s hard to keep things interesting if all you have is one section being repeated over and over. Like the AABA structure, this one also makes use of a refrain in the verses, as the central focus.

Bob Dylan uses this song form in “Tangled Up in Blue.” Take note of the variation in the melodies throughout a typical verse in that song. An interesting melody is crucial in a song with this structure in order to keep the melody from getting boring.

A bridge helps to change up the sound of a song and keep it interesting. It prevents a song from simply being a repetition of one or two sections. That’s why these last two song structures don’t show up as much as the first three we looked at, but you should know they exist in songwriting.

Now that you have an understanding of some of the most common types of song structures, you can use them to start sculpting your song.

For more songwriting techniques, you can download Anthony's free EBook here:


MLW Note:

I've posted a review of Anthony's new eBook here: How to Write Songs That Sell Review

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