Parts and structures of songs

You can do whatever you want in your songs! It’s great, and it seems obvious, but sometimes it’s easy to forget and feel like there are rules. One place where it’s easy to forget this is in the shape and structure of songs.

To put it simply, your songs don’t need verses and choruses and bridges. Maybe some of your ideas will work well in that structure, but others won’t, and the struggle to force them into it will be exhausting. It will feel like you’re stuck. But you’re probably not stuck – you might just be ignoring the obvious solution to your problem.

One way to deal with this problem is to know a lot about song forms from various genres. This is great if it’s something you can do – it gives you a broad vocabulary and makes sure you won’t be stuck with the limited structures available in most pop music. But it can be just as liberating to simply allow the song to grow on its own, following the story you want to tell and the musical ideas that occur to you. You don’t have to use a structure that’s been tested in other genres – you can create your own song structures and make them work for you.

Following the song in this way can lead to subtle or dramatic changes in how your songs come out. For instance, you may find that a verse-chorus forms work well, but that you get a lot out of subtle variations in the verse form – maybe one verse has a few extra bars and uses a different chord progression. Or you may develop personal ideas about song parts. I find that I get a lot out of codas and outros, on all kinds of song forms. Going to a coda at the end of the song allows you to go somewhere musically that you might not be able to come back from, and it’s a great opportunity to add a different tone or perspective to the song’s lyrics. You might even get lucky and develop an entire new vocabulary of types of parts for your own songs.

The pop song is a powerful form, but it brings a lot of baggage. If your song tells a story, how do you keep the chorus from weighing down the narrative like so much dead weight? If your idea is much longer or shorter than 3 minutes, how do you make it feel right to the listener, and not like a song that’s been truncated or artificially extended? Even if you usually write songs with verses and choruses (I certainly do), it helps to remember the range of options that exists out there. If you don’t know what goes in the second verse, maybe it’s time for the song to move on to it’s C, D, and E sections.

So here’s a song that sometimes feels like a pop song, and was even a little bit of a hit, but abandons that structure halfway through, before picking it up again at the end: