None of us likes to think that we require any “structure” to our writing…that we just pour out our thoughts and feelings, resulting in a perfect song. That may be true on a personal level…however, chaos is a pretty difficult thing for others to listen to! In listening to newer writers, I occasionally come across a song that seems to have no structure at all, with little or no thought paid to what the listener might be going through 🙂 So as much as you might want to rail against the idea of “rules”, there is one thing to consider. A house still needs a door to go in and out of, it still needs a window or two and some solid walls so it won’t fall down. This, metaphorically speaking, is what song form is all about. It is a framework, a sense of meaningful structure, that makes the song listenable.
Before we tackle the subject of song form…let’s talk about different songwriting terms and what they mean. Most people understand the idea of a verse and a chorus. In an earlier article entitled Song Structure, I discuss in more detail the purpose of each part of a song. But I will briefly go through them here again in order to introduce the idea of song form.
The purpose of a verse is to tell the story or describe the feeling, etc. The chorus is the focal point of the song, the central theme, if you will. A bridge is a kind of fresh perspective, a small part that may consist of only music, or both lyrics and music, usually placed after the second chorus. These are the main parts that are used when describing song form. Song form is no big mystery, just a new term to some people 🙂 You may have seen or heard about a song having an ABAB form, or ABABC, etc. What does this mean?
The oldest song form, is often referred to as folk, where there was no chorus, or any other part, for that matter. Verses are always labeled A. So, in describing a folk song form, or any song that has only verses, the song form is AAAA.
A lot of songs these days follow the next type of song form, which includes a chorus. The chorus is labeled B, so a verse, chorus, verse, chorus type of song is ABAB. Simple, isn’t it?
Now we come to song forms including a bridge, which is labeled C. So here’s a simple form with a bridge: AABABCB. What we have here is a verse, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus.
You will likely find that there are many variations of these forms. For instance, some songs start with the chorus, some have more than one bridge, etc. If you evaluate songs by some of your favourite artists, you’ll find all kinds of variations. But most songwriters don’t start writing by coming up with a song form first…this usually reveals itself as the song is being written. It is, however, a quick and easy language to use when discussing the process with other writers.
Understanding song form is an interesting way to further your education on the craft of songwriting…if you sit down and experiment with different song forms, you may find all kinds of possibilities you didn’t know existed before. Are you stuck in a song form rut, and even more importantly, did you know you were? 🙂 As songwriters, we are always on the hunt for fresh ideas, and changing song forms can be a way to accomplish that.