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19) Song Structure (part I)

[Post #19] The structure of a song is the musical form of a piece, the parts of a composition that joined together make a complete song.
In addition to the advices I wrote in this post two other important things must be always keep in mind:
  1. balance between repetitions and changes. The use of repetitions will help the listeners to understand your composition and makes the song familiar. But too much repetitions cold be boring. The use of variations and changes makes the music more dynamic and highlights the differences in the parts. Again, too much variations could be confusing for the listeners.
  2. Balance between anticipation and conclusion. This is not so easy to explain. Think about a book and on how you guess about its possible conclusion. Here again you must be ware, for example if the anticipation is too strong the conclusion could be unsatisfying or fail, instead of being the top of your music.
Let's see now the elements of a composition. We start from pop-rock songs because this music is very familiar to everybody and for this reason easier to understand. Then we will see that there are really a lot of similarities with instrumental music or piano solo music.

The most important elements of a song are:
  • Introduction (Intro)
  • Verse
  • Chorus (or Refrain)
  • Middle Eight (or Variation, Special etc.)
  • Bridge
  • Instrumental or Solo
  • Outro (or Coda)
  • Hook

  • It appears only at the beginning of a song and introduce its style, rhythm etc.
  • Sometimes it also appears as Outro, in this case the composition ends exactly as it begins, as a circle.
  • It is not used in each song and if a song has an Intro it could be made of a short drums fill, a guitar or piano riff, a hook (see below), a part of the song (verse or chorus, sometimes light changed in rhythm or sound), or a theme completely different from the rest of the piece (to surprise the audience).
  • Is the quietest part of the song and makes a contrast with the refrain.
  • Sometimes there is a bridge between verse and chorus . 
  • The verse shows the style of the song and will be often repeated twice before the first chorus comes.
  • It is very often made of 8 bars with simple chord sequences as the one chord progressions (some example here, here or here) or the two chords circle progressions (as analysed in these posts: post 1 - post 2 - post 3 - post 4). 
  • Sometimes you find in the verse some progressions that are a little bit complicated, I explained some example here and here.
  • It is the part of the song that we always remember.
  • It is put in contrast with the verse and here the song reaches its top. 
  • This part will be often repeated, sometimes with only small variations. 
  • It is very often made of 8 bars with chord progressions based on the examples described in this post and in this one.
  • The chorus includes often the hook.
Middle Eight
  • As the name says it is usually made of 8 bars. 
  • It appears only once in a song (in the middle) and it is usually followed by the chorus, less often by the verse or a solo.
  • It introduces something new in the song and breaks the typical alternation between Verse and Chorus.
  • It can be sung or instrumental. 
  • In this part the most used chord progressions are the same used for the verses but, as there are no fixed rules, sometimes the Middle Eight progression are more complex.
  • The Bridge is a short musical link between verse and chorus.
  • If verse and chorus are very different you can use a bridge to reduce the musical jump.
  • As Intro and Outro, the bridge is not always present in a song.
  • In this part the most used chord progressions are the same used for the verses, sometimes only two chord circle progressions.
Instrumental / Solo
  • It can be a repetition of another song part but without lyrics (verse, chorus etc.) or a completely new song part. 
  • It is used to make a kind of musical change in the song, breaking the alternation between verse and chorus.
  • The last verse is often replaced by an instrumental part or a solo, it leads then to the final chorus and eventually to the Outro.
  • What we said about the Intro is also here valid.
  • This part is usually used in live performances as the studio recordings quite always end with fade-outs.
  • It is not really a part of the song. 
  • Hook and chorus are sometimes the same, but generally we can say that the hook is the part of the song we easily remember, it could be even only a short riff. 
  • Some famous hooks are the guitar riffs of Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple or of Sweet Child of Mine by Guns'n'Roses, or the bass riff of Another One Bites the Dust by Queen etc.
  • Sometimes the hook precedes the verse and follows the chorus, it is then a kind of repeated Intro.
Now we analyse the structure of two milestones of pop-music history (click to enlarge the images): Summer of '69 by Bryan Adams and Billie Jean by Michael Jackson.
If we listen to Summer of '69 (looking at scheme above) we can see that:
  1. There is a very short Intro, just a couple of chords, a kind of short verse.
  2. There is no bridge between verse and chorus.
  3. The first chorus comes after 2 verses.
  4. After each chorus you can listen to an hook on which sometimes there are some lyrics.
  5. After the second hook there is a Middle Eight, maybe to avoid too much repetition.
Here the analysis of Billie Jean:
  1. There is a longer Intro, here will be introduced the rhythm of the song and the chords of the verse.
  2. There are always 2 verses followed by bridge and then the chorus.
  3. The Outro includes a short instrumental part (based on the chorus) then 2 other chorus. This is another way to avoid too much repetition.
Once again: these are not rules but only suggestions in fact if you listen to Yesterday by Beatles, Losing My Religion by REM or Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin you will see that these are examples of worldwide hits without chorus. Just to say that, even if some structures are more used then others, there is no trick, it is the composer that should choose the best solution for his song.

In the next post we will see how all this informations works for the instrumental music or the piano solo music. 

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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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19) Song Structure (part I) Reviewed by Guy Grand on Tuesday, August 21, 2012 Rating: 5

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