How Music Works
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Writing Songs

Writing Songs

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(9.10)  Song Structure

Very few pieces of music are a continuous progression of harmony and melody for the entire duration.  Usually harmony and melody will develop within a section of the song, before returning to a home point at the end of the section.

The structure of a song is the way in which its sections have been arranged, usually with repetition, to create the total work.  An appropriate song structure will create an effective musical experience for the listener, and two main aspects should be considered.

1.  Balance of Repetition and Variety - Repeating sections is a good way to build the familiarity of your musical themes, but too much feels limited and quickly becomes stale.  Different sections should contrast with each other, while still sounding compatible.

2.  Musical Dynamic of the Whole Song - You are telling a story, even with instrumental music.  Create a sense of anticipation that builds to a satisfying conclusion as the song unfolds, with each section drawing the listener strongly to the next.

Bearing these in mind, you are pretty much free to create any song structure that seems to fit your musical ideas.  But there are two basic types of structures that are used by the vast majority of popular songs.

Songs in an AABA structure are based on the contrast between two different sections.  Section A provides the basic musical theme, and is initially played twice, each time with different lyrics.  Usually the title of the song will be in the first or last line of Section A.

Section B is musically different, containing different chords, and bringing a sense of release from the musical themes of Section A.  It often provides lyrical contrast too, developing a additional path to the storyline, or giving insight into a different part of the picture.

The arrival of Section B, and its eventual return to another Section A, should sound inevitable, to create a cohesive, satisying musical package.

Songs in a Verse/Chorus structure also have some contrast between the two sections, but there are several differences.

Where a Section A in an AABA song will tend to stand alone quite well, a Verse will almost always feel incomplete without its Chorus.  Unlike a Section B, the Chorus does not take a new musical direction, rather it is the climax to which the Verse builds.

The Chorus contains the main message and the title of the song, often in a simple repetitive format, providing a sense of lyrical as well as musical completion.  It should create an urge in the listener to sing along, and is usually repeated several times at the end of the song.

Because there is not a great deal of contrast between the Verse and Chorus, additional sections, such as those described below, are often added to achieve variety.

Middle Eight and Bridge sections present alternate musical themes to the main sections of the song.  While they are most strongly needed in the Verse/Chorus format, they also appear in AABA songs for additional contrast.

A Middle Eight section (named because it is usually eight bars long) is a relatively brief diversion, typically appearing only once in a song before leading back to a Chorus.

A Bridge plays a similar role to a Section B for a Verse/Chorus song, providing a distinctly different lyrical and musical space.  It can lead to a verse, chorus or back to itself.

A Solo is usually a repeat of a Section A, Section B, Verse or Chorus but played instrumentally instead of sung.  It is very effective in a climax or post-climax role, and provides clear constrast, even when it is musically similar to the other sections.

 

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