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Songwriting Tip: Understanding the Most Common Song Structures

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Jul 30, 2014 @03:18 PM

Understanding the Most Common Song Structures

by Anthony Ceseri

Writing Songs With Guitar

When I first started writing songs, I went through a phase where I had no regard for song structure. I thought to myself “Everyone writes a verse then a chorus, then another verse and another chorus. That’s so bland. I want to be different!”


So I wrote a few songs that would start with one section, then go to new section, then a third new section, then a fourth and so on. You couldn’t even label these sections as verses or choruses because they’d show up once and be gone from the song after that.


What I didn’t realize at the time, was my songs were chaotic. And as a result no one wanted to hear them again after the first time. There was nothing to pull them in. There weren’t memorable.

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. It does that from the very first time we hear a song with a common structure.

 


The Most Common Structures

With that in mind, let’s look at the most commonly used song structures in popular music.


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 is 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 usually 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. It 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. If you listen to the song, you can hear that 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.

 


Common Song Structures without Bridges

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


Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus

Also know as an ABAB structure, this one is a simplified version of the ABABCB structure, with the bridge omitted.


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. 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 through a typical verse. It’s crucial in a song with this structure in order to keep the melody interesting.

 

 

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 two song structures don’t show up as much as the first three we looked at. But you should know that they do exist in songwriting.

 


The Role of Each Section

Song structure is a bit more than arranging a song’s sections in a certain way. It’s also important to understand that each section typically has a role to fulfill. If you know the role of each section in your song, you’ll be better prepared to modify a song structure, as you see fit.


Verse

Lyrically, the verses of your song will move your story forward. The chorus or refrain is likely to have the same words each time, so the verse is your chance to keep your ideas moving along.


Chorus

Think of your chorus as the big idea for what your song’s all about. That’s partly why your title is most likely to show up in your chorus. Your title also sums up what the song’s about. Melodically, the chorus will be the catchiest part of your song. This is what people will have stuck in their head long after your song is over. That’s another reason it’s good to have your title in the chorus. When people get your chorus stuck in their head, they’ll easily know what your song is called and can find it later when they want to hear it again.


Pre-Chorus

The pre-chorus is an add-on before the chorus. It usually repeats the same lyrics each time, the same way a chorus does. Musically, a lot of times it creates a nice build up to what’s coming in the chorus. Katy Perry’s “Firework” was a good example of that.


Bridge

The bridge is a departure from what we’ve heard in a song, previously. This goes for both the lyrics and the music. Lyrically it’s an opportunity for a new perspective. Musically, it’s a chance to offer the listener something they haven’t heard before to keep the song interesting.


Refrain

In the AABA, or AAA structures, the refrain is the line that draws all the attention in your verses. It’s usually at the beginning or end of each verse and is often the title of the song.


Hook

The hook doesn’t necessarily refer to a specific section of a song, except to say it’s the catchiest part of a song. Most of the time, it will be your chorus, if your song has one. If your song doesn’t have a chorus your hook will most likely be your refrain. As hit songwriter, Clay Drayton, says “A fish knows the hook… Once it’s in you, it’s hard to get it out.”

 

Those are the basics of song structure. You can modify the common song structure to fit your song as you see fit, but it’s good to know what they are so you can use them as a starting point. Not only will they bring familiarity to your songs, but they’ll give you a good guide on how to lay out your music.


Anthony Ceseri is a songwriter and performer who has traveled the country in pursuit of the best songwriting advice and information available. From classes and workshops at Berklee College of Music in Boston, to Taxi’s Road Rally in Los Angeles, Anthony has learned from the most well-respected professional songwriters, producers and performers in the industry. For a lot more songwriting information, grab your FREE EBook here: http://successforyoursongs.com/freeoffer/

For Information on the USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Anthony Ceseri, songwrite, song structures

Songwriting Tip: A Strong Opening Line Is Important

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Sep 18, 2013 @11:27 AM

Songwriting Tip: A Strong Opening Line Is Important When Writing Lyrics
By Anthony Ceseri
Songwriting Tip: A Strong Opening Line Is Important
Having a powerful opening line is an important gateway into the lyrics of your song. A great lyrical introduction is an awesome way to get listeners interested in your story right off the bat. Plus, if it’s boring, you run the risk of losing them. People have really short attention spans these days, so effectively grabbing their attention early is crucial.
Having said that, I better get to my point… and make it quick! I recently revisited a great example of a strong opening line in the song “Round Here” by Counting Crows. The first line of the song says:
 
Step out the front door like a ghost into a fog,
Where no one notices the contrast of white on white
 
This is a great intro for a few reasons. The first is it’s really visual. Any time you engage the senses, you’re probably doing a good job of inviting people into your story. This line does that by engaging your sense of sight. It’s easy to picture a ghost and a fog as described here. Immediately, we set a stage of what this lyric will look like in our heads. And it’s effective.
It’s even fun to try and visualize the slight contrast that might actually be there between what we envision a ghost to look like and a thick fog.
In addition to that, this is a fantastic simile. There’s a comparison being made between someone who feels they just aren’t being noticed by the world, and a ghost in a fog. The element that ties these two thoughts together to make it an effective simile, is the idea that no one can see this person. It works very well.
This opening line is also very intriguing. After hearing it, I already want to know more because it’s so interesting. Had the first line had the same idea, but been said more simplistically and generically, I wouldn’t care as much. What if the song had opened with a line like this:
 
Step out the front door
Feeling like no one can see me
 
Eh. Suddenly I just don’t care as much anymore. I mean, it’s basically saying the same thing as the real first line, but in a bland, non-descriptive and generic way. Maybe I’d listen carefully to the rest of the lyrics. But maybe I wouldn’t. The “ghost into a fog line” is infinitely stronger and makes me want to stick around for more.
You can see how putting a really strong line up front is a great way to get your listeners excited about your story right off the bat. Granted, you want to keep them interested as your story continues along, but that first line can be crucial to getting their attention. Good imagery with a strong simile or metaphor, like we saw in the opening line of “Round Here,” is an awesome way to get your song rolling.
For a lot more useful songwriting information, grab my free eBook here: http://successforyoursongs.com/freeoffer/ 
For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, visit: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Anthony Ceseri, songwrite, lyric writing, Strong Opening Line, intro

Songwriting Tip: Tying the Mood of Your Song to Your Lyrics

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Jul 22, 2013 @12:00 PM

 

Tying the Mood of Your Song to Your Lyrics for a Better Listening Experience

By Anthony Ceseri

Anthony Ceseri, songwriter

Songs are usually the most effective when the lyrics tie into the mood of the music. You may have heard a simplistic example of this by being taught that songs about happy things should be played in a major key, while more depressing songs are more appropriate to be in a minor key. This is certainly a valid thought, but tying your words to your music doesn’t have to be limited to that. There’s a whole world of opportunity for creating prosody in your music by marrying your song’s mood to its lyrics and overall idea.

There’s a great example of this in the song “Walking on Broken Glass” by Annie Lennox. The title of this song is a cool visual that relates the idea of heartbreak to walking on broken glass. In itself it’s a nice lyric because not only is the idea of walking on broken glass easy to visualize, but it’s something you can feel when you hear it described. The sensation of hard glass against your bare feet is easy to imagine, so it’s good imagery. It does a good job of bringing you into the scene of the story.

On the other hand, underneath those lyrics is a musical bed (or the arrangement of musical instruments being played under the melody) that has a very staccato feel to it, for a lot of the song. The synthesizer and piano is played in a very chopped up and broken fashion. If you’re not familiar with the song, or need a refresher, you can hear it here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y25stK5ymlA

The connection that’s made between the lyrics and the music is that while the lyrics are discussing someone walking on broken glass, the music has a melody that sits on a broken up, staccato musical arrangement underneath it. You can almost think of the melody as the lead character while the musical bed underneath is the broken glass, if you wanted to think of this connection in terms of an analogy.

Sure, there are moments in this song where the music isn’t staccato and broken. But most of the times when the phrase “Walking on broken glass” is sung, it’s attached to a “broken” musical bed underneath. This is a nice gesture and sets an appropriate mood for the song. So not only are the descriptive lyrics helping to pull us into the story, but so is the feel of the musical accompaniment.

The only critique I can make here about how to music ties to the meaning of the song, is that this song is in a major key. You can hear it in the “happy” sound of the music. However, the lyrics are about heartbreak, so perhaps this song could have benefited from music that sounded a bit more melancholy.

But that aside, this song shows us a good lesson in prosody and tying our songs mood to what the words are saying through the use of a staccato sound attached to the concept of “broken glass.” I recommend trying to create moves like this in your own music whenever possible. It’ll help create a fulfilling listening experience for your audience.

For a lot more useful songwriting information, grab my free EBook here: http://successforyoursongs.com/freeoffer/

 

For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, visit: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, mood, Songwriting Tip, Lyrics, Anthony Ceseri