Before we dive into how to structure a song, let’s talk about the parts that make up the song structure.
The basic parts of a song are:
Which song structure should you choose?
I understand that by using the word “should,” it sounds like I’ll be telling you what song structure you must use. I don’t want to do that.
There’s only one rule in songwriting: there are no rules.
So in this post, we’ll go over the different parts of a song you can use, how you can order them, and tips for finding the right structure.
Before we dive into how to structure a song, let’s talk about the parts that make up the song structure.
The basic parts of a song are:
This is self-explanatory — the intro is the introduction to the song. And it’s one of the most important parts.
According to Music Machinery, about 35% of listeners will skip a song within the first 30 seconds and nearly half of listeners skip a song before it’s over. That’s why your intro has to grab the listener’s ear and hold onto it.
Think of the intro as a first impression — a handshake and a hello. First impressions can stick for a long time and make or break a relationship.
Verses give the listener an idea of what the song is about. They should support the main idea (chorus) while also moving the song forward.
If the chorus is king, then the verses are the bearers of the litter.
The pre-chorus (aka the lift) is kind of like a “get ready for it!” before the chorus. It can help build anticipation, either by increasing the volume or rhythm or by pulling back and creating tension with silence. It, like the chorus, may repeat the same melody or lyrics, often ending with an unresolved melody.
The chorus should convey the main idea of the song with the most memorable melody of the song. It usually repeats itself melodically, musically, and/or lyrically — this method is sometimes called the hook, which some people use synonymously with chorus.
The chorus is what the listener is waiting for — it should be the best part of the song. If you don’t get the listener by the chorus, then you don’t get the listener at all.
How do you find a melody?
I am very free flow about that. Even when I write music or someone plays me something I don’t like to sing to it, I like to not listen to it and let it just flow, and then just start singing melodies. I just make them up.
I think that most of my songs are the first or second take that I do of the melody. I think there’s something about that, the spontaneity–I had a record called Heart to Mouth, my last record that was kind of about that very thing, when I’m singing and making up the initial melodies to a song, I just do whatever comes out. Whatever comes off the top of my head. It’s really fun for me now, I have gotten to a point where I am channeling whatever is in the ether.
A bridge helps break up the repetitiveness of a song and add an element of surprise. It should present a new angle to the main idea. It’s kind of like a rogue verse with different chords, rhythm, and melody.
A break is usually an instrumental break that allows for some breathing room. It can also help build anticipation and transition to a completely new part of the song or into another song.
Like the intro, an outro is self-explanatory — it’s the end of the song. It closes the song out, whether it’s with an instrumental part, a tag, or a brand new part.
Now we can talk about putting these parts together to structure a song. Writing a song is like digging for dinosaur bones — you find a bone, one after the other, and assemble them together to make a fossil.
So we’re going to look at the most common song structures in modern music.
Keep in mind that the order in which the different parts appear in the structure can vary. For example, you can have a Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus structure but have the order be Verse-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus. But it still has all of the elements for that structure (Verse, Chorus, and Bridge).
How can someone improve their songwriting skills?
I think really the best way and the only way is to keep writing songs. It is unbelievable what will happen if you keep writing songs; different songs are stepping stones to other songs, often.
Also, you kind of realize and find your voice as far as the way that you write. I feel like a lot of successful people have a signature to their writing. Not to say that they write the same song over and over, but there is definitely a fingerprint to it. Write a bunch of songs. Keep writing songs. Never stop.
This is probably the most commonly used structure today, especially in pop music. If you were to listen to the top 10 songs on the Billboard Top 100, most or all of them would have a VCVC structure or its close cousin, Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus.
So if you’re looking to become a Professional Songwriter, get comfortable writing in this structure.
Examples of songs with a Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus structure:
Many popular songs use a Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus structure. The bridge helps add surprise or variance to the repetitiveness of the rest of the song. It can also add a new angle to the theme or lyrics of the song while still supporting the main idea.
Examples of songs with a Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus structure:
You can seriously change the feel of a song by adding a pre-chorus. It adds a little epicness in the middle of the song, right before the payoff. The pre-chorus — thematically and musically — should hint at what’s coming in the chorus. In that way, it builds the tension right before the release.
You can use this structure with or without a bridge. If you do include a bridge, it should be on the shorter side, as should the pre-chorus.
Examples of songs with a Verse-Pre Chorus-Chorus-Verse-Pre Chorus-Chorus structure:
This structure is less common, but still prevalent in music. And if you normally write Verse-Chorus songs, you should try the Verse-Verse-Bridge-Verse structure.
Instead of having a chorus, each verse usually ends with something called a refrain. You could also call this a hook. This is basically one or two lines that repeat at the end of each verse — it has the same melody and lyrics or lyrical structure with minor adjustments for each refrain. Most of the time, the title comes from the lyrics of the refrain.
With this type of structure, you’ll want to make the melody interesting, rather than simple since you’ll be repeating it over and over again.
You can use this structure without a bridge (Verse-Verse-Verse), as Bob Dylan did with “Blowin’ In The Wind.”
Examples of songs with a Verse-Verse-Bridge-Verse structure:
So now that we’ve covered the different parts of songs and how you can arrange those parts, how do you decide? Which one of these structures will work best?
Well, that’s subjective of course.
It comes down to just trying the different structures and seeing which one fits. But here are some tips for finding the right structure for your next song.
How long does it take to get good at songwriting?
I mean, that’s a very subjective question, obviously, I think that for me, no one knows except for you what you’ve gotten better at, as far as songwriting. That’s what is interesting about it. It is a very personal journey, songwriting.
I find for myself that I have gotten better and better at trimming the fat of what I am trying to say both melodically and lyrically, so I get to the point and try not to waste any line–so every inch of the song is serving the main cohesive theme of the song. I think that that’s your job as a Songwriter: to get this epic idea into a three to four-minute period.
The first thing to pay attention to is the feeling of the song. The groove, the emotion, the vibe.
Is it an epic song? Then maybe try a Verse-Chorus structure with a bridge, like Coldplay’s “Fix You.”
Is it a mellow song? Try the Verse-Verse form with an insightful lyric as the refrain.
Do you have a lot of things to say about the main idea? Test out the structure with a verse, pre-chorus, chorus, and bridge.
The point is, note the feel of the song and find a structure that you think fits.
The idea of your song can help you choose the structure, too.
For example, if you’re writing a song with a storyline and characters, you could try the all-verses structure to help move the story along.
Or if you’re writing a break-up song, you could have the main lament in the chorus and then support that in the verses, using angles like “remember how much fun we had together?” and “think of how sad life would be if we’re not together.”
You get the point. Let the structure elevate the story of your song.
Sometimes, it just comes down to what feels right. What feels the most natural to you? Where do you sense the song going?
If you feel like the song should build, build it into a chorus or epic bridge. If you think the next section of your song should mellow out, drop down into a refrain at end of the verse.
In other words, go with your gut. Your gut is usually right.
Now for a bit of history. Wait, don’t leave. I’ll keep it short and interesting.
There’s another term we didn’t cover: strophic.
The strophic song structure goes way back: back to ancient Greece (doesn’t everything?). A strophe back then was a section of a song where a chorus of singers chanted something together.
And as time went on, more and more Songwriters started using strophes and its definition got looser and wider. Nowadays, strophe is defined as “a rhythmic system composed of two or more lines repeated as a unit,” according to Merriam-Webster.
So a song with a strophic structure, at least today, means a song built out of sections. In other words, “a song with a defined structure.”
Let’s go back to the Greeks. The ancient Greeks also gave us the term “Greek chorus,” where a handful of Actors would sing or chant together in the middle of a live performance. They would make it easy to sing and remember so the audience could join in.
This would eventually become what we know as the chorus.
And remember that term refrain? That came from the French word “refraindre,” which means “to repeat.”
Today, these terms are used to help us organize our songs, convey a clear idea, and move people with our music. We have the Greeks and French to thank for that.
Knowing the parts and possible structures of a song are helpful, but this all really boils down to “what does your gut say?” Choosing a structure comes down to your preference, as does your whole songwriting process and musical taste.
These common song structures can really help you write a focused and impactful song.
What are the different song structures?
The most common song structures are:
What is the bridge in a song?
A bridge literally helps bridge different parts of a song by adding a new element into the structure. Often, a bridge is used to separate repeating choruses or verses in a song, adding a whole new vibe to the track by taking the songwriting in a different direction.
For a more in-depth look at bridges in songs, check out our blog on the topic.
What is chorus and verse?
The chorus is the part of a song that repeats multiple times throughout the song. Choruses use the same lyrics and melody each time they appear in the song. Choruses are catchy. They’re the part of the song you’re most likely to sing along to.
Verses tell the “story” of the song. Although sometimes Songwriters repeat a verse for artistic effect near the end of the song, most often, verse lyrics are different each time while the melodies stay the same. Verses are the prelude to the chorus.
There’s this girl in the corner and she’s small, really small, and she looks like a boy, and she’s seething with emotion, with rage and love – because she’s alone, because we’re all alone, because our parents didn’t get it. She just found out faster.
Her skin is thinner because her heart is bigger. Her heart pushes against the skin, stretching it, sometimes too much.
She is a bloodletter, this girl. “A bloodletter of emotion,” she says.
I think, given the right or the wrong moment, you are too.
“I’m like a singing fucking banshee,” she says. “My music errs on the histrionic side, but that’s how I feel, you know, I try to just let it seep out because it just hurts me if I don’t. I put it all on the line, you know, I think I am possessed by the spirit of a gambler, the big wheel. I’ve put it all on red 27.” She could lose it all right now.
This is LP.
Born Italian. New York. You’ve got to understand that; the hottest blood, the toughest city, the smallest girl.
Today she is 5’ 3” and just over a hundred pounds but her sound is anthemic, maxed out. You don’t believe your ear-eyes when you see-hear, pealing from the body of one fighting with not enough, the music of so, so much. It is the music of emotional emergency, a prayer sung loud into a bottle and cast out to sea.
“When they see someone like me,” she says, “you can think, oh shit, I can be like that.”
I think of Judy Garland, Bjork, Freddie Mercury if he had to deal with being a fucking girl. From a little match, a conflagration.
“I’m like, just a very, very emotional, sensitive motherfucker. I’m just constantly worried about everything. But I’m trying to send a message to people that it’s going to be okay. They see the person who makes the music and I want them to know, like, I’m good. You know? I’m still sad, I’m still angry, but I’m good. I want them to know that.”
LP is the medicine. She is good for heartbreak, which she knows, and in a way, lives in. “I’m always scared to lose someone,” she says. “I’m very cognizant of the fact that it could all be gone in a second.”
She writes from that, sings from that. The annoyance, the grain of ocean-floor sand troubling the oyster. It’s loss. It’s always there.
Her mother died when she was a teenager. She sang too —a voice, LP remembers, that “was very operatic, kind of like Maria Callas with a Julie Andrews cleanness to her tone.”
Loss, loss. I’ve lost too.
She’ll never recover, but there is the mounting hope, the certain knowledge, hard-earned, that “you can wield suffering, which is strength and power.”
So it works like this: loss, loss, pearl.
LP is the power crawling itself out of the ashes. I’m worried about her. She doesn’t look like she’ll make it — then you hear. Then you know. “Everyone in the audience, I feel like I want to literally look them in the eye the whole time.” She sings:
my church is you
my church is love
my church includes all of the above
no questions asked
no one to judge
my church is you and always was.
The more she loses, the more we gain. The more we gain, the less she loses.
“I want everyone,” she says, “to know they can feel safe.”
Church, no church. Gay, not gay. The bloodletting’s the same.
The blood-pearls of a poet-oyster who has hit songs and record deals and plays sold out shows all over the world and goes to bed saying to herself, “I love, I love, I love, I love…”