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20) Song Structure (part II)

[Post #20] This post is strictly connected with the previous one in which we explored the song structure of a pop-rock song. If we move to instrumental music or to piano solo music we must keep in mind that following advices are still valid:
  1. balance between repetitions and changes;
  2. balance between anticipation and conclusion.
We said that the most important parts of a pop-rock song are:
  • Intro
  • Verse
  • Chorus (or Refrain)
  • Middle Eight (or Variation, Special etc.)
  • Bridge
  • Instrumental or Solo
  • Outro (or Coda)
  • Hook
If we analyse instrumental music we talk about sequence or alternation of themes instead of sequence or alternation of verse, bridge, chorus etc. Some parts (for example Intro, Outro, Hook or Solo) have the same function in each kind of music and what we said about them is valid here too.

For these reasons the structure of an instrumental composition depends on the number of its themes. Here some examples:
  • strophic form (one theme often repeated - AAAA);
  • binary form (two themes in contrast - ABAB or AABBAABB);
  • ternary form (ABA).
This page of Wikipedia can be useful if you want to deepen your knowledge on musical forms.

Each theme is identified by a capital letter. For this reason A, B, C are the same as theme 1, theme 2 and theme 3. If a theme is repeated but with some (even small) variations we use the same letter with apostrophe. That means that if our composition has two themes in the form A-B-A, we can write A-B-A' if the repetition of the A theme has some changes.

Let's make a a comparison. This is a typical pop-rock scheme:
Intro - Verse - Chorus - Verse - Chorus - Middle Eight - Chorus - Outro
This is is the same scheme but adapted for instrumental music, classical music, piano music etc.:
Intro - A - B - A - B - C - B - Outro (in other words: Intro - Tema 1 - Tema 2 - Tema 1 - Tema 2 - Tema 3 - Tema 2 - Outro).

However there is an important difference between pop-rock and instrumental music. The last one has often longer and/or complicated themes, that means that there are less repetitions then in a standard pop song based on short verses and chorus.
There are no rules by choosing the musical form of a compositions, these are just some examples:
This list could be endless and please keep in mind that each structure can be enhanced with Intro, Outro etc.

Below I show you the structure of some compositions of mine for piano solo.

Changing Plans

Scheme (you can see the duration of each part)
Intro: 0 - 31''
A: 31'' - 57''
Intro: 57'' - 1'25''
A: 1'25 - 1'49''
B: 1'49'' - 2'41''
B1: 1'49'' - 2'06''
B2: 2'06'' - 2'24''
B3: 2'24'' - 2'41''
A: 2'41'' - 3'05''
Outro: from 3'05'' till the end

Here we see that Intro and A are repeated twice before the B section starts (it is made of 3 sub-parts based on the same theme). Finally there is the A theme again and then the Outro (exactly alike the Intro).

Lose One

A: 0 - 50''
B: 50'' - 1'12''
A: 1'12'' - 1'57''
B: 1'57'' - 2'20''
C: 2'20'' - 2'37''
B': 2'37'' - 2'59''
Outro: from 2'59'' till the end

This scheme is similar to a pop-rock song one, with alternation between verse (A) and chorus (B), Middle Eight (C) and chorus again (B). Please note that : 1) the C is a kind of short interlude used quite identical as Outro; 2) last B is played one octave higher and for this reason is indicated with B'.

Something Else

A: 0 - 36''
A': 36'' - 56''
B: 56'' - 2'10''
A: from 2'10'' till the end

This scheme is very simple. The A works also as Intro and Outro. The section A' is the same as A but played faster, while the B part is made of one theme repeated twice.


A: 0 - 34''
A: 34'' - 1'04''
B: 1'04'' - 2'50'
B1: 1'04'' - 1'25''
B2: 1'25'' - 1'47''
B3: 1'47'' - 2'06''
B4: 2'06'' - 2'25''
B5: 2'25'' - 2'50''
A': 2'50'' - 3'29''
C: from 3'29'' till the end

Here the A theme is repeated before the big B section starts (5 sub-parts all very similar). The A theme comes back at the end of the composition with just a small change on the last bars (for this reason is written A') and the piece ends with an non thematic Coda or Outro, a theme completely different from the rest of the song (for this reason we can also write C, as I did).

Regen in Rom

A: 0 - 1'15''
B: 1'15'' - 2'02''
A: from 2'02'' till the end

Classical scheme, it is my favourite one (the ternary form A-B-A). The A is made of 4 bars repeated several times. In the middle of the composition comes the B. This second theme is also made of 8 bars repeated two times with only a very small change on the last notes. The composition ends with A (there is a very little change on the final bars and for this reason we could also write A').


Intro: 0 - 17''
A: 17'' - 1'27''
Intro: 1'27'' - 1'37''
B: 1'37'' - 2'19''
Intro: 2'19'' - 2'29''
C: 2'29'' - 3'05''
Intro: 3'05'' - 3'15''
A': from 3'15 till the end

This scheme is different from the other ones because each theme (A, B and C) is a variation of the same idea played with different accompaniment, rhythm and time; moreover between each theme there is the repetition of the very short Intro. The composition ends with a variation of the A part (for this reason A').

Sunday Bells

Intro: 0 - 36''
A: 36'' - 1'48''
A: 1'48'' - 2'59''
Outro: from 2'59'' till the end

This scheme reminds to the songs without chorus of the previous post. The Intro is a part of the A theme but without melody. The A section is pretty long and is repeated twice. The composition ends with an Outro that is exactly like the Intro.

We can now take a look at a famous piano piece. We will analyse its structure, its chord progressions and its left and right hand patterns. So we will see that a lot of things we said until now are essential to create a successful composition. Let's analyse River Flows in You by Yiruma.

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Learn To Compose And Notate Music - Beginning LevelLook InsideLearn To Compose And Notate Music - Beginning Level (By Lee Evans and Martha Baker). Evans Piano Education. 24 pages. Published by Hal Leonard (HL.9072)
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Complete IdiotLook InsideComplete Idiot"s Guide to Music Composition For composers. Reference Textbooks; Textbook - General. Complete Idiot"s Guide. Instructional and Composition. Instructional book. 264 pages. Published by Alfred Music Publishing (AP.74-1592574033)
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20) Song Structure (part II) Reviewed by Guy Grand on Thursday, August 23, 2012 Rating: 5

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