Song Form describes the structure of songs in an easy to understand framework. Thinking of song form helps song writers retain an overview of songs and how the sections of music that make up the song are organized.
Popular songs often use traditional song forms, or a form derived from a traditional song form, to structure their songs. These music forms are usually divided into sections that may or may not be repeated within the same song. One of the main song forms is "Strophic" / "AAA" / "One-Part" Song Form, any of which names are used by songwriters.
This article explains the fundamentals of Strophic / AAA / One-Part Song Form, and gives examples of Strophic / AAA / One-Part Song Form being used in popular songs.
If there are individual terms that you are unfamiliar with, please confirm the meaning of terms in our music glossary.
As this article is focused on providing a basic understanding of Strophic / AAA / One-Part Song Form in the modern era, some root musical forms or classifications of musical forms have only been referenced for completeness.
Song Building Blocks
Popular music, in particular, often uses a number of common structural song parts.
For details about common song building blocks please read our article, "Song Building Blocks".
AAA / Strophic / One-Part Song Form
AAA Song Form is also called Strophic Song Form or One-Part Song Form. The term "Strophic" originally comes from the Greek word, "strophe", literally meaning "verse." The term "One-Part" derives from the repetition of one distinct musical theme as the song progresses.
Historically, AAA is one of the earliest song forms. It dates back to the earliest adaptions of popular poems being set to music. AAA Song Form isn't used as much as it once was, in popular music, but it is still used. For example, AAA Song Form is still quite popular within both the Folk music scene and the Country music scene.
Structure Of AAA Song Form
AAA Song Form is a type of Sectional Music, where each musical theme is defined as a musical section and assigned a letter of the alphabet. Where sections are identical, or at least very close, musically, they are assigned the same letter as that of other identical sections of the song. Where a section is not identical a new letter is assigned to represent that type of musical section.
AAA Song Form is divided into sections of song called verses. Each verse of song is musically the same, in this song form, with each repetition being labeled with the letter "A". Simplicity of structure makes this song form very easy to remember. There are no other song sections to complicate the picture.
In popular music the "A" section is typically repeated 3 times, hence the name "AAA". In Folk music and Traditional music traditions many repetitions of the "A" section are not unknown. For example a Folk or Country song using an AAAAAA structure.
Structure Of The AAA Song Form Verse
Verses are usually built of eight, twelve, sixteen, or twenty-four bars, but a verse can be any length, whatever is needed to accommodate the specific lyrics of a song.
In Strophic Song Form, the melody is repeated for each of the verses. With each repetition of the melody, lyrics are sung by the singer where the lyrics change with each verse, with the exception of the refrain.
A refrain is a part of the verse. With refrains, the same words are repeated, with the same melody, at the same place within each verse, in all verses.
The refrain line is often the song title being used as the main lyrical hook (memorable phrase). The refrain is repeated, most commonly, as the last line of every verse section. The other main location of a refrain is as the first line of a verse.
The refrain line often answers, modifies the meaning, or comments on, ideas, questions and observations made within the verse, but outside the refrain.
Examples Of Strophic / AAA / One-Part Song Form
AAA Song Form is simple and repetitive making it an ideal song form to use for story telling.
In fact, one of the main benefits of AAA Song Form is the strong feeling of familiarity, which combined with the fact that AAA Song Form songs tend to be very easy to learn, makes them ideal as sing-along songs.
Many older children's rhymes and songs are based on the AAA Song Form. For example:
- "Old MacDonald" (Traditional)
- "Mary Had a Little Lamb" (Traditional)
Other examples of the song form include:
- "Amazing Grace" (Traditional)
- "Maggie May" (Rod Stewart, 1971)
- "Blowin' In The Wind" (Bob Dylan, 1962)
- "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" (Glen Campbell, 1967)
- "Gentle On My Mind" (Glen Campbell, 1968)
- "The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald" (Gordon Lightfoot, 1976)
- "I Walk the Line" (Johnny Cash, 1956)
- “The Rose” (Bette Midler, 1979, Amanda McBroom)
- "The Times They Are A Changin’" (Bob Dylan, 1965)
- "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (Simon and Garfunkel, 1969, by Paul Simon)
- "Scarborough Fair" (Simon and Garfunkel, Traditional)
Suggestions To Help Keep It Interesting
AAA form is particularly vulnerable to losing the interest of listeners. The unchanging format of AAA makes listener fatigue and boredom all too easy. Section after section following the same rhyme scheme and structure will eventually lose listeners. At any stage in song production you can take steps to remedy this.
Being fore-warned that this can be an issue, you are in a position to make the most of the benefits of AAA form and at the same time use your creativity to help combat the possible loss of interest due to it's repetitive nature.
You absolutely need to put effort into keeping them interesting for the listener.
For ideas about how to keep your song interesting, please read our article, "Keeping A Song Interesting".
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