6 types of song structure I was surfing YouTube the other day and ran across a seminar by Ralph Murphy, a legendary songwriter. One of the most useful takeaways I got was his list of 6 most popular song forms (or song structures) when songwriting.

(I’ve changed up the order a bit based on personal preference but they are all there.)

  1. Song Form 1 = verse – chorus – verse – chorus – bridge – chorus – end
    • This is the most common song structure.
    • The bridge should express the “what if?” or the opportunity of the song’s story
  2. Song Form 2 = verse – chorus – verse – chorus – music – chorus – end
    • common in rock, dance and country but lacks a bridge or “middle 8”
  3. Song Form 3 = verse – lift/pre-chorus – chorus – bridge – lift/pre-chorus or chorus
    • this is the song structure that has the most #1 hits
    • the pre-chorus should be 2-6 lines that precede the title line
    • the pre-chorus expresses the “and, if, but, maybe” of the song
    • bridge should be just about 2 lines but not much more
  4. Song Form 4 = (a) beginning – (b) now – (c) what if? – (d) down the road
    • no chorus
    • 1st or last line or each section is the title line many times
    • sense of passage of time is usually essential with this song structure
  5. Song Form 5 = chorus – verse – chorus – music – bridge – chorus – end
    • this song structure is called a rondo… or at least is similar to a rondo
    • great for dance record songs
    • lots of Western Swing songs are written in this song form
  6. Song Form 6 = preamble – followed by song in various structures
    • the preamble sets up the premise for the song or introduces the song
    • think Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer

It’s a long video and some people don’t seem to be buying his view. But it’s worth a watch…

The Role of Each Section:

Song structure is a bit more than arranging a song’s sections in a certain way. It’s also important to understand that each section typically has a role to fulfill. If you know the role of each section in your song, you’ll be better prepared to modify a song structure, as you see fit.

Verse

Lyrically, the verses of your song will move your story forward. The chorus or refrain is likely to have the same words each time, so the verse is your chance to keep your ideas moving along.

Chorus

Think of your chorus as the big idea for what your song’s all about. That’s partly why your title is most likely to show up in your chorus. Your title also sums up what the song’s about. Melodically, the chorus will be the catchiest part of your song. This is what people will have stuck in their head long after your song is over. That’s another reason it’s good to have your title in the chorus. When people get your chorus stuck in their head, they’ll easily know what your song is called and can find it later when they want to hear it again.

Pre-Chorus

The pre-chorus is an add-on before the chorus. It usually repeats the same lyrics each time, the same way a chorus does. Musically, a lot of times it creates a nice build up to what’s coming in the chorus. Katy Perry’s “Firework” was a good example of that.

Bridge

The bridge is a departure from what we’ve heard in a song, previously. This goes for both the lyrics and the music. Lyrically it’s an opportunity for a new perspective. Musically, it’s a chance to offer the listener something they haven’t heard before to keep the song interesting.

Refrain

In the AABA, or AAA structures, the refrain is the line that draws all the attention in your verses. It’s usually at the beginning or end of each verse and is often the title of the song.

Hook

The hook doesn’t necessarily refer to a specific section of a song, except to say it’s the catchiest part of a song. Most of the time, it will be your chorus, if your song has one. If your song doesn’t have a chorus your hook will most likely be your refrain. As hit songwriter, Clay Drayton, says “A fish knows the hook… Once it’s in you, it’s hard to get it out.”

Those are the basics of song structure. You can modify the common song structure to fit your song as you see fit, but it’s good to know what they are so you can use them as a starting point. Not only will they bring familiarity to your songs, but they’ll give you a good guide on how to lay out your music.