Song Form - The Great Puzzle

Once a songwriter is familiar with the various components of song and how they function, the challenge becomes fitting them together to form a cohesive song. Every song is different, and what worked for one may not work for another. It is a little like a puzzle whose pieces fit in a different order each time you put them together.

Edge Pieces First
Music is an artistic puzzle, and no solution is ever necessarily right or wrong. Over time, however, songwriters have learned that certain combinations of verses, choruses, and other song sections seem to work the best. These orders are called song forms. Different song forms lend themselves to different types of songs, and can be used to create predictable results. Listed below are some of the most common song forms, along with an example or two of each:

A = One section that does not repeat. Frere Jacque, The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot. This form usually has the feel of an old English air.

AA = Two sections that repeat the same melody using different lyrics. This Land is your Land by Woodie Guthrie, Skip to My Lou.

AAA = Three sections that share the same melody with different lyrics. Annie’s Song by John Denver. Many traditional blues songs also use this form. In this case, the last line of each section is usually the title/hook.

AABA = Three sections that all share the same melody with a bridge to provide a break. Heavy Cloud, No Rain by Sting.

ABAB = Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus. Wind Beneath My Wings by Henley and Silbar.

ABABCB = Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus. Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now by Warren and Hammond; That’s the Way It Is by Martin, Lundin, and Carlsson.

Middle Pieces Next
In modern popular music, the ABAB or ABABCB forms are the most popular. The verse sections in these forms may also contain a build, or pre-chorus section, that transitions into the chorus. Either form may also incorporate a third verse or instrumental secion. In ABABCB form this usually occurs after the bridge, or “C” section. If you choose to add a third verse, make sure it is adding new information that further develops the story and doesn’t make the song seem longish.

View the Complete Picture
Some songwriters feel that using standard song forms is giving in to commercialism. While it is true that many great songs eschew standard song form, it also true that most successful songs adhere to them. The purpose of your song dictates the kind of song you should write. If you prefer to write songs outside the conventions of song form because you will be performing them yourself, or for satisfy your artistic ambitions, by all means do it! If, on the other hand, broad commercial appeal is your goal, sticking to standard songs forms is your best chance for success.

Conventional song forms are not a limitation. Any gifted songwriter can be just as creative within their framework as without. Spend some time learning to understand the various forms and how they work. Once you are armed with this understanding, your gut will tell you when it’s appropriate to take that left turn instead of the normal right!

*Photo by emdot.


Post a Comment