Sick of making loops? Explore the secret to good song structure with our guide to inspire musicians and producers.
Got some banging ideas for a song, but once you’re in front of a blank page or empty session in your DAW wonder where to begin? Maybe you’ve mastered making catchy loops and are starting to think they would work in a fully formed track. Either way, it’s time to think about how to structure to a song.
Whether you’re writing an EDM track or a folk song, it’s good to think about the steps that carry a listener through a track. Let’s explore some options and get you buzzing with ideas and out on the road to putting your musical parts together in a finished song.
Why is structure important in songwriting?
The human ear expects music to fall in a certain order, which is why most popular songs follow a similar arrangement, usually with repeating sections. A good structure stops the song losing its way or going on for too long. It helps to keep the listener’s attention. We humans also love repetition in music, and repeated parts will have everyone humming the hook by the end of their first listen.
What’s a standard song arrangement?
A basic song consists of verse, chorus and bridge sections in a ABABCB structure, like so: Verse (A), Chorus (B), Verse (A), Chorus (B), Bridge (C), Chorus (B). There may also be an intro and an outro.
That’s not to say all songs follow the same structure. “What A Wonderful World,” for instance, has an AABA structure with a “B section”, a bridge rather than a chorus, with different chords.
Some songs have no bridge, or start with a chorus rather than with a verse.
What should each section sound like?
Each song is different, but there’s unspoken basic formula that makes a song work.
- The intro is usually lower-key than the rest of the song, but should be attention-grabbing
- The first verse sets the thematic ideas out for the listener – lyrical or melodic themes are introduced, and the mood of the song is established. The melody will be clean and unembellished so that it becomes familiar for the listener
- The second verse can flesh out those ideas, bringing in new instruments or changing up which tracks have a major part – you could bring a guitar line into the spotlight, or dropping the mix down to just bass and kit
- The bridge gives a contrast to the verses, with contrasting chords and sometimes a new melody
- The chorus is the catchy star of the show – the big hook, a release of tension serving as the song’s climax
- The outro brings it all down again, ending the song at a quieter level perhaps with a fade-out
Why are songs structured a certain way?
The best way to get inspired for laying out your track is by listening to other songs with your critical hat on. Start thinking beyond ABABCB by analysing a song’s structure. Does it stick to a conventional pattern? If not, why not? How does the songwriter manipulate emotions by placing elements of the track in certain places?
You can use other songs as reference tracks. Drag any song into your DAW, and pop markers on each new part of the song to see how the structure plays out.
Use structure to build tension
Try starting off with an eight bar verse and an eight bar chorus. Have a go at adding a pre-chorus just before the chorus kicks in. Delaying the natural progression from verse to chorus builds suspense for the ear.
That catchy loop you’ve written? Don’t use it throughout. Instead try holding it back and using the individual elements of the loop sparingly in the track, perhaps only revealing the whole riff in the chorus. Keep the listener waiting.
Once you’ve got your head around the basics of how a song is structured, you can set out to lay out your own track. You don’t have to include everything you’ve recorded – some things won’t fit, and you’ll have to be brave and set them aside.
The important thing is to take the listener through a journey in your track, building and releasing tension, repeating melodies and elements. When you’re just getting started writing a full song, start off with your verse and chorus, and then work on tying the two together.
There’s no need to feel tied down to following a classic song structure. If you’ve written something different that works, that’s even better.
Sorted out the structure of your song, and think it sounds pretty decent? RouteNote can distribute your music for free to major streaming platforms and stores so that everyone can stream and download your track. Find out more and sign up here.