When composing , the big question arises: What is the structure of a song? and What elements do the songs have?
Although this question seems silly, we must understand that all art has a way in which it is done to be considered such, for example if we have to write a story we know that it has a beginning, middle and end, if we want to write a sonnet, this has its form … But the songs that structure have? What is the most usual form of song? How do we define what is a song and what is not?
The first thing we must be clear about is that the songs are an art very different from the rest, because it is a combination of different arts ( music + poetry) and different elements, so unlike other artist expressions the songs are freer in regarding the form and order of its elements.
For example there are songs without structure, or without lyrics, others only with verses or only with refrains, there are songs in the form of history, letter, and many more forms. However, here we will see the most frequent form of song, what is considered the song form. So what is considered the basis of a song?
The songs have a minimal basic structure of verse-chorus .
This structure is composed of different elements which each artist uses to compose the song to his liking and obtain different results. Different structures and elements generate different effects.
When writing a song we should start with the minimum structure:
Minimum structure of a song
Later, different elements are added to decorate and add tension and atmosphere.
Elements that make up a song
In general it is a unique part that appears at the beginning of the song, it is usually used as an introduction a harmony, with a melody or a phrasing, specially composed for this beginning.
The introduction serves to go “making” the song sound, that is, how to anticipate what is going to be heard. The main idea of the introduction is to capture attention, generate an environment and present a harmony. Other times, essential parts of the chorus are used, such as melody or chord progression. Sounds or sustained chords are often used to generate tension.
The average introduction lasts between 5 and 15 seconds and in some songs lasts more than a couple of minutes, of course this depends on the length of the song.
One of the most original intros is the song “Yankee Rose” by David Lee Roth , which the singer speaks with a guitar, of course played by Steve Vai.
It is where you start to develop the musical idea and mainly the lyrics of the song. A lyrical seems, we are told that it is the song, and there is already a well-established harmony. The length of the verses and their amount before the chorus varies from song to song. In general they are usually between 1 and 4 verses depending on their duration, the rhythm and the number of lines.
It is worth noting that when two or more sections of a song have basically the same music and different lyrics, those parts are considered verses of the song.
It is a passage or musical arrangement that allows a transition of harmony. The pre-chorus works to connect the verse with the chorus. When the verse and chorus share the same harmonic pattern, the pre-chorus introduces a new harmonic pattern to prevent the chorus from becoming stagnant in monotony. In conclusion the pre-chorus is used or to generate a break in a song if it shares the same harmonic pattern or to generate a union between verse and chorus
In poetry the Chorus is considered as a small group of verses that repeat themselves. In music, a verse is understood as a refrain that is repeated several times in a composition.
The main function of the chorus is to emphasize the idea of the song both in the lyrics and in the musical idea. In other words, the refrain is basically used to highlight the “refrain” or “phrase” of a song. This happens because lyrically speaking the refrain is usually more a more reflective and less narrative than the text of the verses. Frequently the refrain contrasts with the verses in rhythm, melody and harmony and also usually gives more dynamism or greater instrumentation, although you can also work with silences to achieve this break of the verses.
In other words, the refrains usually use a different melody from the verses. As for example in the song, “You’re the Inspiration” of Chicago or as in ” It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” by REM
On average the chorus appears between 60 and 90 seconds. When two or more parts of a song have basically identical music and lyrics these sections are considered refrains of the song.
The chorus is considered the most important part of the song in commercial music and many times the chorus is repeated at the beginning and end of the song.
The musical bridge or “bridge” is an interlude that connects two parts of a song, building a harmony between them. The bridge helps the song does not fall into a symmetry and predictable repetition and is usually used to carry the song to a maximum climax, at a maximum voltage and to prepare the final development of the song. In rock music, the musical bridge usually appears as the guitar solo , which usually happens after the second verse and replaces the third verse. The chorus after the musical bridge is usually the last one which is often repeated until the song is closed.
It is worth mentioning that it is considered a bridge to the musical piece different from the verse and the chorus.
One of the most successful bridges of recent times is the song “Guns N ‘Roses – November Rain»
Closing or End
One of the questions subsequent to the creation of the base of the song is how it should end. There are many forms and variants, sometimes a sudden break is often generated by a sudden silence or by a succession of chords. Undoubtedly, the most common way to close a song is the repetition of the chorus until the silence or as it is said in English in “Fade out”. Other times the repetition of the music of the intro or a variant with the same effect is used.
It is one of the most important issues not musically speaking but in terms of environment and effects. To explain it clearly, the same tension of the listener / audience does not occur, when a song ends abruptly in silence, this generates a lot more tension than when the song simply vanishes into silence. This is an element to take into account in the composition of a disc. It is worth mentioning that often the endings of the songs in the recitals usually have variations with respect to the final composition to achieve these effects of greater or lesser tension later.
“25 or 6 to 4” from Chicago is a good example of closing with original music. In classical music the closing is called “coda” .
The most used structure in a modern popular song is the following:
- Musical bridge
This type of structure is usually used in rock songs.
As well expressed at the beginning, the form of a song is freer and is subject to more experimentation so we can find different and original forms as songs with the structure of a story, a story, a letter or even built entirely by verses
Now, it is worth noting that in principle, there are two basic elements that form the backbone of the song: chorus and verses. As we have seen the lyrics develop in the verses while in the refrains is used to highlight the idea of the song expressed in a phrase or “refrain”. The intro, the pre-chorus and the bridge are optional elements, which may or may not be present, but serve to decorate the song, generate atmosphere, tension and climax or a break. The elements are not obligatory when composing a song and each musician uses them to his liking.
Once you master the basic structure, you can give yourself the pleasure of playing with your order, experiment by removing and adding elements to create your own work.