Deep Dive into Song Structures

A few years ago, I found myself stuck in a rut with my writing, so I decided to experiment with different types of song structures. I was amazed that this not only helped get my creative juices flowing again, but also greatly improved my songwriting skills.

This is a guest post by multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and top rated AirGigs pro Katie Marie

If you find yourself in a similar situation or just fancy a change, try incorporating one of the structures listed below into your next writing session. Don’t worry about choosing the ‘best’ song structure. Give yourself the space to experiment, have fun and figure out what works for you.

Anatomy of a Song

Most songs incorporate the follow elements:

Some songs also have a pre-chorus between each verse and chorus (which I am a huge fan of), and we’ll talk about that more in a little bit.

The Purpose of Each Section

Each section plays a significant role, so before we look at different song structures, let’s understand exactly how each of these sections works within the song.

Fairly self-explanatory, we are introducing people to our song. Intros need to be short, and we want to grab the listener’s attention as soon as the song starts playing.

The purpose of the first verse is to set the scene and tell the story that will lead people into your chorus. My weakness has always been second verses. I can write a first verse and chorus very quickly and often get stuck on Verse 2 as it takes time for me to figure out how to continue the narrative. You want to make sure that the second verse is as strong as the first. I always ask myself ‘what else?’ or ‘how can I put another spin on this verse that is similar to the first one but still interesting to the listener?’.

Pre-choruses are designed to catapult your listener into the chorus in a powerful way. They also work as a great bridge to connect the verse to the chorus. These tend to be short, only a line or two and when creating a pre-chorus, the melody / chords you choose are as
important as the lyrics. One of my all-time favorite examples of a great pre-chorus in action is I Wanna Dance with Somebody by Whitney Houston. It’s only a couple of lines, but you can hear how powerfully it pushes the listener into the chorus.

The main part of your song! This needs to really be powerful, both melodically and lyrically. Don’t be afraid of repetition here, as this is definitely a good thing when it comes to choruses. You want something that is truly memorable so that by the time the song finishes, not only does the listener remember your chorus but they can’t wait to hear it again.

I also enjoy incorporating a bridge into my songs. It gives me the opportunity to go somewhere else with the story that perhaps I haven’t touched upon in either the verse or chorus. I find bridges are a great way to create dynamics within a song. For example, if the whole song is high energy, then I will bring everything right down to the bare minimum in the bridge, which then pushes the listener into the final chorus in a powerful way, making the song dynamically more interesting.

Some people write specific outros that are different to any other part of the song, while others make the intro and outro the same. I like to make a chorus part of the outro. Often when writing music for TV, I will have two choruses at the end of the song and while singing the original lyrics and melody on those choruses, I will then layer another vocal line over the top (something simple like a line of lyrics or
literally oooos and ahhhhs).

Song Structures

Now that we have a better understanding of the different components, let’s dive into some song structures.

In popular music, these are the most commonly used song structures:

Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus
Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus – Bridge – Chorus

Another variation of this is:

Verse – Pre-chorus – Chorus – Verse – Pre-chorus – Chorus
Verse – Pre-chorus – Chorus – Verse – Pre-chorus – Chorus – Bridge – Chorus – Chorus

Another structure that has been used successfully in pop music is:
Verse – Verse – Bridge – Verse

In this structure, instead of having a chorus, the main title of the song will usually appear at the end of each the verse (sometimes it also appears in the first line). I like this structure because it makes the song feel more compact and it gets to the hook very quickly. An example of this type of structure is It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me by Billy Joel.

Here’s a structure you’re sure to be familiar with:

Chorus – Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus – Chorus

Some people love opening a song with either an instrumental version of the chorus or a whole chorus complete with vocal. (Dancing Queen by ABBA uses the first half of the chorus as their intro and then brings the vocals in halfway through, which works incredibly well). This structure is extremely effective as you’re hitting the listener with the most powerful part of your song right up front, but make sure that the first verse is also very strong so that it doesn’t feel weak after the chorus hits.

More unusual structures include:

Verse – Verse – Verse – Verse

You might be well wondering how on earth a structure like this could possibly work but check out Annie’s Song by John Denver. (Also, did you know that none of the lines in that song rhyme?).

Another example of a song that doesn’t feature any choruses is Bohemian Rapsody by Queen.

Chorus – Chorus – Chorus – Chorus

For the opposite of the ‘verse only’ structure, check out Love Me Do by The Beatles which I only realized recently uses multiple choruses and one bridge!

What are your favorite song structures? Do you have any good examples of songs that utilize these structures well? List them below in the comments!

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