Song Building Blocks

When songs are written, they are based upon a song structure (song form) that uses a number of common sections. These sections are the building blocks of songs. When discussing song form these sections are assigned letters as labels, but you will be more familiar with their names such as verse, chorus and bridge.

This article looks at the common sections, what defines them, and how those sections work together to form a working, popular song.

 

Song Title

notes_on_manuscriptA song title is a very important part of a song. It is far, far more than simply the means by which someone selects your song from a list.

We don't write songs for them to exist in isolation. Songs need listeners. Song titles are just one mechanism, in a whole chain of mechanisms, intended to attract and hold onto listeners. The song title is out front, trying to attract listeners and get them inside to listen to the song. Essentially, it represents you in the music market place.

A title has to meet a number of needs. For example:

  1. A title should be easy to remember
  2. A title should tease the reader and make readers and listeners curious
  3. Ideally, a title should contain the main lyrical hook

There are other needs beside the short list above.

For help with choosing a song title, and for more details about the needs of a song title, go to our article, Creating A Song Title.

 

What Is A Hook?

A lyrical hook is basically something that grabs you in a way that makes you want more. There are good hooks, bad hooks, weak hooks and strong hooks, hooks that compliment each other, and hooks that compete.

Often a song hook will relate to the main message being conveyed to the listener, the theme or vehicle that the song uses to express that message, and the emotion that the songwriter wishes to evoke in the listener.

To help understand more about song hooks (not just lyrical hooks) then go to The Power Of Song Hooks.

 

Title / Hook Placement

There are standard locations for song hooks / titles within the lyrics of a song. This helps to make the song and it's title more memorable, which in turn helps with song popularity. Hooks / titles can be placed in other locations, but the locations below are known to be far, far better at underlining the hook / title within the listener's mind.

Occasionally titles / hooks appear within a pre-chorus or a bridge, but normally the most powerful locations are within a refrain or chorus. The exact locations are dependent on the song form being used.

 

AAA Song Form

This applies to any derived song forms. Titles are usually placed as part of the refrain, either at:

  1. The beginning of each verse / "A" section
  2. The end of each verse or "A" section.

 

AABA Song Form

This applies to any derived song forms. The title usually appears at:

  1. The beginning of each "A" section
  2. The end of each "A" section.

 

AB or Verse / Chorus Song Form

This applies to any derived song forms. The title is often:

  1. At the beginning of each chorus section
  2. At the end of each chorus section.
  3. At both the first line and the last line of the chorus

 

Song Blocks

What Is An Introduction (Intro) Section?

At the very beginning of the song, the introduction is the first hint at the mood of the song.

Common features of an Introduction section:

  1. It sets the initial scene of the song and gives the listener their first idea of what is to come.
  2. It establishes rhythm, tempo, instrumentation, dynamics, beat, key and atmosphere.
  3. Major chords give the song an up-beat feel
  4. Minor chords will portray a sad feel or feeling of loss.
  5. Often the introduction is an instrumental, usually featuring a variation of the main theme.
  6. Drums and percussion parts are sometimes used on their own to strongly establish the rhythm or groove.
  7. It can build a sense of suspense and anticipation, creating a feeling of release when the song steps down into the verse.

Arrangement wise, it isn't uncommon to have the lead singer sing the main hook of the song at a slower tempo, or a variation on the main hook may be sung by backup singers. This seeds the main melody in the mind of the listener. This can evoke a stronger reaction to the melody proper, when it appears.

In terms of chord progressions, introductions often:

  1. use one or more bars of the tonic chord
  2. Use a standard "turn around" progression for songs with a jazz or blues influence
  3. Use chord progressions from the verse, chorus, pre-chorus, bridge

 

What Is A Pre-Verse?

This isn't often used in current popular music, although it was briefly popular with the American West Coast "Surf Sound" writers of the 1960s. A pre-verse was a particular link section that was used as an interlude between the Introduction section and the first Verse section.

 

What Is A Verse?

The verse is the meat of a song. The function of the verse is to provide a context, provide background information, set the scene or tell a story, establish the vehicle by which the message of the song will be delivered, develop and evolve the story.

The verse gives listeners deeper understanding of the main message of the song and it is the main method of giving a sense of progress through a song.

The first verse establishes the meter (lyrical rhythm), the rhyme scheme for further verses, and the type of language and phrasing to be used throughout the song.

Songs commonly have a number of verses, each composed of several lines. Rhyme may or may not be used within verses, but once established a rhyme scheme works best when it is adhered to.

As the song progresses, each verse further develops the story or theme.

 

What Is A Refrain?

A refrain is a line that is repeated from verse to verse. In other words, a Refrain is NOT a section. It is fundamentally part of a verse. Usually, though not always, at the end of every verse. Often it contains the hook / title and tends to be the most memorable part of the song.

The refrain is intended to be the most memorable part of the song. It is repeated several times so that it sticks in your mind.

 

What Is A Chorus?

380_man_writing_a_songThe chorus is intended to be the most memorable part of the song. It is repeated several times so that it sticks in your mind. Several other tricks are used to help it stick.

Commonly a chorus:

  1. Contrasts with the verse, rhythmically, melodically, lyrically, harmonically and / or dynamically.
  2. A chorus is repeated at least once, both musically and lyrically. Usually several times.
  3. It is more intense, has more energy
  4. A chorus is almost always of a greater musical and emotional intensity than the verse.

Lyrically:

  1. The main message and /or concept is expressed in the chorus.
  2. The title / main hook of the song is usually included in the chorus.
  3. The chorus is often a conclusion about the main theme, or a comment about it.

The hook is often at it's best when it is a good tag line or slogan representing the song. The chorus is the best place to showcase the tag line. The chorus is repeated for good reason. Repeating anything makes it more memorable. That is why you want your tag line here. It is also why you want the Song Title to be the main hook, and why you are wise to put some effoirt into finding the right hook / title... because it ends up being used so often in the song, and anything worth devoting that much song real estate had better be good.

Take a look at our article "Creating A Song Title" for more in-depth details about choosing a suitable title.

Most songs start with an introduction and then the verse. Some songs will start with the chorus, or with an introduction based upon the chorus theme, or with the full chorus.

 

Similarities and Differences Between Refrain and Chorus

A Refrain is part of the verse that is repeated at points throughout the song, often using the main lyrical hook / title. It uses a melody and rhythm that is seen as a part of the verse melody and rhythm.

A Chorus is really a special type of refrain, grown to become a distinct section; one that often uses multiple voices, and the melody, rhythm and intensity is usually significantly different from that of the verse, making it a distinct section of at least 8 bars long.

 

Similarities
  1. Both have lines that are repeated
  2. Both often contain the title or main hook
  3. Both express the main message of the song

 

Differences
  1. A refrain tends to be a couple of lines, a chorus tends to have several lines
  2. A Refrain is part of another section, the verse, a chorus is a distinct section.
  3. The chorus is different melodically from the verse. The refrain tends to be an extension of the verse melody.
  4. The chorus rhythm is different from the verse. The refrain tends to be an extension of the verse rhythm.
  5. The chorus lyrics differ from the verse lyrics. The refrain lyrics tend to be an extension of the verse lyrics.

 

What Is A Pre-Chorus / Climb / Rise / Channel / Transitional Bridge / Verse Extension / Prime?

Known as the Climb, Rise, Pre-Chorus, Channel, Prime, or Verse Extension, this specialist type of bridge differs melodically, harmonically, rhythmically and lyrically from the verse and the chorus. Additionally, instrumentation, arrangement and production can all shift up a gear to help effect the transformation.

This section is called:

  1. A Pre-Chorus because it comes before the chorus.
  2. A Climb, Rise or Lift as the level of emotion increases.
  3. A Build as it builds intensity.
  4. A Channel because it channels the listener from verse to Chorus.
  5. A Transitional Bridge because it IS a bridge between the verse section and the chorus section.

Not all songs include this section.

Musically, it often uses subdominant or a similar transitional harmony. If both the verse and chorus use the same harmonic structure, this section is used to introduce another harmonic pattern. This helps break up the sections using the same core harmony and keeps the chorus harmonies as fresh as possible.

Lyrically, this section has been used to introduce a pivotal idea, or concept that somehow links a verse and chorus. These sections tend to be quite short. Transitional Bridges sometimes change through the song, though often they retain some repetition from previous Transitional Bridges. This, yet again, helps to introduce the feeling of movement through a song.

 

What Is An Interlude / Link Section?

An interlude is a short sequence that often re-uses themes and feel from another section of the song. Literally an interlude provides, when needed, breathing space between sections of the song. Interlude sections are almost always instrumental as they literally provide space for a singer to breathe.

 

Bridges

Bridges help add a sense progress through a song by introducing something new, something contrasting with what has gone before. Bridges introduce a contrast in mood, and a change in theme.

Other names for a bridge are Release and Boredom-Breaker

Not all Songs need a bridge.

Tension introduced by a bridge is resolved on return to the verse or chorus section.

Lyrics in a Bridge are often used to help make sense of the rest of the lyrics by answering a question posed in the title or first verse, or by twisting the meaning of the title, or changing the previously understood link between the message, the hook, and / or the verse. A Bridge can alo shift focus or bring something into focus.

 

What Is A Bridge (AABA Song Form)?

In the AABA song form, the bridge (B) is musically and lyrically different from the A section. In AABA form, the bridge provides a contrast in the song, breaking up the repetative nature of the verse melodies and rhythms before the transition to the last A section.

 

What Is A Bridge (Verse / Chorus / Bridge Song Form)?

In the Verse / Chorus / Bridge Song Form the bridge functions differently. Typically it is shorter than the verse and can either contain lyrics or a solo. Lyrically, it should offer a twist, or an explanation that helps make sense of the meaning of the verse lyrics, or on some occasions offer a stronger connection between the verses and the chorus. A bridge in this form also tends to differ in melodic, lyrical and rhythmical terms from the other sections of the song. A common place for a bridge in this song form is after the second chorus.

 

What Is A Middle-Eight?

A Middle-Eight is a specialist type of bridge section. In music theory, middle eight refers to the B section of a 32-Bar Song Form song, which is 8 Bars in length (hence middle eight). It has a significantly different melody, rhythm and harmony from the "A" section specifically, and the more generally, the whole song. It is the B in an AABA song, in an AB (Verse / Chorus) song the middle eight is usually placed after the second chorus.

Middle Eight sections usually use new chord progressions. It is called a middle 8 because it happens in the middle of the song and the length is generally 8 bars.

Middle Eights introduce a contrast with the rest of the song. Many early solos were played during the middle eight.

 

What Is A Collision?

A collision is a section where different parts of music overlap with each other. Collisions do not tend to last very long, and usually they occur towards the end of the song. It creates tension and drama which makes it ideal to use during one of the later chorus sections. A common source of collision themes to collide with the chorus theme are the middle eight and the pre-chorus melodies.

 

What Is A Solo?

Solos can be played within a middle eight section, but modern solos can be played using the chords and base melody (for melodic based solos) of any of the sections of the song, however a solo over the bridge or chorus chords is the most common.

A solo is a special section designed to showcase an instrumentalist, or sometimes more than one instrumentalist. The solo section may use the verse chords, pre-chorus chords, chorus chords or bridge chords, or in blues derived genres a solo may be played over a standard backing chord progression.

For some pop songs, the solo performer echoes the same melodies previously sung in other sections of the song, or sometimes a solo instrumentalist will directly echo a phrase sung immediately before in a question-answer format.

In blues derived or influenced pop songs, the solo performers may improvise a solo.

 

What Is An Ad Lib?

Ad Lib is short-hand for Ad Libitum, which means "at will". Literally interpreted Ad Lib means "improvised".

An Ad Lib section is usually within the coda or outro. In modern pop music the lead vocal is the only instrument that really performs an Ad Lib. Usually this takes the form of backing vocals holding down the main vocal part while the lead voice adds ornamentation in the form of vocal licks on top of that backing. This is done to really crank up the intensity of the piece. It can be used very effectively in conjunction with a collision. In a live situation a singer may choose to mention the location of the current gig, or refer to the crowd or some other customization of the lyrics.

 

What Is A Coda / Outro?

Coda is an Italian word for "tail". These are the closing lines of a song which brings it to a close. It is not uncommon for the Coda to include aspects of both Ad Lib and collision sections. The coda is an optional addition to a song.

Discuss this article in our Music Forum.

 

John Moxey

Songstuff Site Crew

 

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