A Guide To Song Forms - AB Song Form and ABC Song Form
Popular songs usually follow one of the traditional song forms, or one of the song forms that are derived from those traditional song forms. These music forms are generally made up of a number of sections that may or may not be repeated within the same song. One of the main song forms is “AB” or “Verse/Chorus” Song Form, either of which names are used by songwriters. One common, modern, derived song form is “VERSE-CHORUS-BRIDGE” or ABC Song Form. Directly derived from AB Song Form, ABC Song Form is a fundamental AB derived song form, introducing a 3rd “Bridge” section.
Table of Contents
This article will explain AB Song Form or VERSE-CHORUS Song Form, ABC Song Form or VERSE-CHORUS-BRIDGE, any common derived song forms, and video examples of those song forms being used in current popular songs.
This article is focused on providing a basic understanding of AB or Verse/Chorus Song Form and it’s derivatives in the modern era, so 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.
The common building blocks are:
- PRE-CHORUS / RISE / CLIMB
- MIDDLE EIGHT
- SOLO / INSTRUMENTAL BREAK
- CODA / OUTRO
- AD LIB (OFTEN IN CODA / OUTRO)
For details about these song building blocks please read our article, “Song Building Blocks“.
Refrain Or Chorus?
A Refrain is repeated at points throughout the song, often using the main lyrical hook / title. It uses a melody and rhythm that is seen as part of the verse melody and rhythm.
A Chorus is really a special type of refrain; 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 musical section.
AB or Verse/Chorus Song Form
AB format has been the songwriting format of choice for modern popular music since the 1960s. It is often used in love songs, pop, country, rap and rock music. Unlike the AABA form or AAA, which both highlight the verse, AB format puts emphasis entirely on the chorus. Although the AB Song Form has been around since the mid-nineteenth century, most popular songs from the classic rock period forward are written in the AB Song Form.
Structure Of AB Song Form
AB Song Form consists of two or three verses that alternate with a second, distinct musical theme. This second distinct theme is a section called the chorus.
As with blues progressions, not all AB Song Form songs are found in the typical 32-bar length. Verses and choruses can be any length, however, most are four, eight, twelve, sixteen, or twenty-four bars long.
All About The Verse
In AB form, one of the main functions of the verse is to serve as a build-up to the chorus.
The first verse of an AB song sets-up the “story” for the rest of the song. Usually there are several verses made up of 8 lines with the last line preparing the listeners for the chorus.
Verses are often sung by an individual singer.
Don’t make your verses too long, it is important to try to reach the chorus quickly.
All About The Chorus
The chorus usually contains the song’s main message, major hook and title. This makes the chorus the catchiest, most memorable part of the song. The chorus contrasts, musically and rhythmically, with the verse and it is repeated several times throughout the song. This means the chorus is the part of the song that often sticks in the mind of a listener.
The title of the song is usually included in the chorus as well as the main theme. One important rule of thumb when writing the AB song is to try to get to the chorus quickly, so avoid writing verses that are too long.
In a chorus the individual singer is usually joined by one or more other singers. In fact the name “chorus” comes from the multiple voices that join the solo singer during this section.
Title Placement In AB Song Form
The title line or hook is usually a feature of the chorus. It can fall into any number of places in the chorus, including:
- First line
- First and third line
- Second and fourth line
- Last line
- The first and last line
- Every line
The first and last lines tend to be the strongest title / main hook positions.
The important part is simply to make your chorus memorable.
AB Song Form Examples
Examples of the AB Song Form built on typical eight-bar verses and choruses include:
- “Foxy Lady” (Jimi Hendrix, 1967)
- “Get Back” (Beatles, 1969)
- “Proud Mary” (Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1969, written by John Fogerty)
- “Superstition” (Stevie Wonder, 1972)
- “Candle In The Wind” (Elton John, 1973, written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin)
- “Sweet Home Alabama” (Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1974)
- “Hotel California” (Eagles, 1977, by Don Felder, Don Henley, and Glenn Frey)
- “Don’t Stop” (Fleetwood Mac, 1977, written by Christine McVie)
- “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” (The Police, 1981, written by Sting)
- “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” (Whitney Houston, 1987, written by George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam)
- “Oops, I Did It Again” (Britney Spears, 2000, written by Max Martin and Rami Yacoub)
- “Run” (Snow Patrol, 2004)
- “Somebody That I Used To Know” (Gotye, 2011)
Extending AB Form
VERSE / CHORUS / BRIDGE Song Form or ABC Song Form
The first and most obvious form derived from AB is that of VERSE / CHORUS / BRIDGE Song Form. ABC song form can be challenging because your song may become lengthy. This is made all the harder when you consider that a commercially viable song ideally should not exceed 3 minute and 30 seconds.
Structure of ABC Song Form
ABC song form is an extension of the simple AB or VERSE / CHORUS structure.
Often ABC Song Form uses this pattern:
It is identical in structure to AB song form with the exception that a bridge is inserted in the song structure. The bridge must be different from the verse, lyrically and rhytmically, and ideally it should offer the listener a reason for the chorus to be repeated.
ABC Song Form songs includes a bridge, but it usually only appears once.
A bridge can be described as a piece of music that connects two primary musical themes. In isolation, a bridge can be described as feeling “incomplete”.
The bridge gives the listener a break from the main themes of a song. Usually, but not always, a bridge will return to a chorus section. It should sound different musically from both the verse and the chorus. It can either contain lyrics or be purely instrumental.
Usually the bridge section is inserted after the second chorus. This is often the point in the song that the listener is ready for something new. Some songs may place the bridge in a different location, often for lyrical reasons.
You might choose to add a bridge to your verse/chorus song for a number of reasons:
- To break up the repetitive back and forth effect of the simple A/B, verse/chorus form.
- To extend the song’s length
- To include necessary lyrics to move the story forward out-with the verse theme.
ABC Form Examples
- “If I Were A Boy” (Beyonce, 2008, by Toby Gad and BC Jean)
- “Fix You” (Coldplay, 2005)
- “Hands Tied” (Toni Braxton, 2010, by Heather Bright, Warren Felder, Harvey Mason Jr)[/blt
Other AB Derived Song Forms
Many of the other AB Form derived examples include a variety of permutations making use of a number of the modern Song Building Blocks, as mentioned above.
Sometimes there is a section inserted between each verse and chorus. It is really a form of bridge, commonly called the pre-chorus, the rise, or the climb. It’s purpose is to build tension within the song that is usually resolved by the chorus.
Examples Of AB and ABC Derived Song Forms
- “Crush” (David Archuleta)The structure is VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS / VERSE / CHORUS / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS to fade out.
- “Rolling in the Deep” (Adele)
- “Someone Like You” (Adele)
- “Set Fire to the Rain” (Adele)
All of these Adele songs use:
VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS / VRS / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS / BRIDGE / CHORUS
- “These Days” (Foo Fighters)DOUBLE VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS / VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS / DOUBLE PRE-CHORUS (BRIDGE) / HALF VERSE / CHORUS
- “Grenade” (Bruno Mars)VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS / VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS / BRIDGE / CHORUS
- “You Belong To Me” (Taylor Swift)VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS / VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS / INSRUMENTAL BREAK / BRIDGE / CHORUS VARIATIONS
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