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Song Forms

Rich Scott (693) · [archive]
Style: Theory/Reference · Level: Beginner · Tempo: 120
Pages: 1

Song Forms
By Rich Scott


Excerpts from the recently published Chord Progressions For Songwriters.


This lesson describes the four most commonly used song forms - the blues, AAA, verse/chorus, and AABA. Every songwriter should know these forms inside and out.

bullet.gif Blues

The standard twelve-bar blues form is divided into three four-bar phrases as shown below. Typically, the first two and a half bars of each phrase are devoted to singing, and the last one and a half bars consists of an instrumental solo that repeats, answers, or complements the vocal line. The first phrase is four bars of the I chord. The second phrase starts on the IV chord and the lyrics from the first phrase are repeated. The third phrase starts on the V chord followed by the IV chord. This is the answer phrase that lyrically and musically completes the statement that was made earlier. The last two bars of the I chord are typically replaced by any number of possible turnarounds (see the separate Turnarounds chapter of this book). Notice that the IV-I plagal/amen cadences in bars six and seven, as well as, ten and eleven reveal gospel influences.
Phrase 1			
|I / / / |I / / / |I / / / |I / / / |
Statement: Aint it hard to stumble when youve got no place to fall? [solo]

Phrase 2 |IV / / / |IV / / / |I / / / |I / / / | Repetition: Aint it hard to stumble when youve got no place to fall? [solo] Phrase 3 |V / / / |IV / / / |I / / / |I / / / || Response/Answer: In this whole wide world Ive got no place at all. [turnaround]


bullet.gif AAA Song Form Cycle

Many folk songs follow the AAA song form comprised of repeated verses that is well suited to storytelling. This is one of the oldest song forms dating back several hundred years to early court composers and musicians that adapted poems to music for royal functions. Several examples of hit songs written in the AAA song form include By The Time I Get To Phoenix (Glen Campbell - 1967), Gentle On My Mind (Glen Campbell 1968), Maggie May (Rod Stewart 1971), and The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald (Gordon Lightfoot 1976). Verses are usually built in four-bar phrases of eight, twelve, sixteen, or twenty-four bars, but can be found in any length to accommodate the specific lyrics of a song. A typical AAA folk song form is shown below.
A			
|/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |
|/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |
Main Theme

A |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / | |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / | Main Theme Repeated

A |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / | |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |

Main Theme Repeated


bullet.gif Verse/Chorus

Most popular songs from the classic rock period forward are written in the verse/chorus song form that has been around since the mid-nineteenth century (see Oh, Susanna 1849). The verse/chorus form consists of two or three verses that alternate with a second musical section referred to as the chorus. The chorus usually contains the songs main message and title. It is differentiated from a bridge in that it sounds complete on a stand-alone basis. This song form has been described as energetic and assertive. As with blues progressions, not all verse/chorus songs are found in the typical 32-bar length. Verses and choruses can be any length, however, most are four, eight, twelve, sixteen, or twenty-four bars long. Examples of the verse/chorus song form built on typical eight-bar verses and choruses include Get Back (Beatles 1969), Proud Mary (Creedence Clearwater Revival 1969), Hotel California (Eagles 1977), and Dont Stop (Fleetwood Mac 1977). A typical verse/chorus song form is shown below.
Verse 1			
|/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |
|/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |

Chorus |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / | |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |

Verse 2 |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / | |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |

Chorus |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / | |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |

Verse 3 |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / | |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |

Chorus |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / | |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |
Below are several common verse/chorus song form variations. The pre-chorus (also referred to as the climb or lift) is a short section between the verse and the chorus that increases tension by delaying the start of the chorus.
Form #1     Form #2	Form #3	    Form #4
Verse	    Chorus	Verse	    Verse
Chorus	    Verse	Verse	    Pre-Chorus
Verse	    Chorus	Chorus	    Chorus
Chorus	    Verse	Verse	    Verse
Bridge	    Chorus	Chorus	    Pre-Chorus
Chorus	    Chorus	Chorus


bullet.gif AABA Song Form

The AABA song form, favored by Tin Pan Alley songwriters during the first half of the twentieth century, is sometimes referred to as the American popular song form. This is one of the most commonly used forms in both jazz and popular music. The B section is also known as the bridge, middle eight, or release while the complete 32-bar AABA form is referred to as the chorus. Other examples of the AABA form are the standards Blue Moon (1934), Heart And Soul (1938), Somewhere Over The Rainbow (1938), Satin Doll (1953), Misty (1954), and Yesterday (1965). As with blues progressions, not all AABA songs are found in the typical 32-bar length and some songs have added or reordered sections such as in the ABAC (i.e., Heres That Rainy Day), ABCD (i.e., My Funny Valentine), an ABAB (i.e., Fly Me To The Moon) forms. The typical AABA song form that has been described as elegant is shown below.
A1			
|/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |
|/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |
Main Theme

A2 |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / | |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / | Main Theme Repeated

B |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / | |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / | Change of Theme (Contrasting)

A3 |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / | |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / |/ / / / | Return to Main Theme
bullet.gif Additional Resources

If you want to learn more about song forms, take a look at the following lessons:

Following The Trends (Songwriting Education Resource)
Song Construction (Taxi)


Song Construction - The Basic Forms - Part 2 (Taxi)
Song Construction- Choosing A Form (Taxi)
Songwriting Elegance Through Song Form: The "AAA" Song (Muse's Muse)
Songwriting Elegance Through Song Form: The AABA Song (Muse's Muse)
Songwriting Elegance Through Song Form: Introduction (Muse's Muse)
Songwriting Elegance Through Song Form: The Verse-Chorus Song (Muse's Muse)
Songwriting Elegance Through Song Form (Craftman's Corner)
Taxi Tip: Pre-Choruses & Bridges (Taxi)


00002007.gif
CPFScover6.gif This lesson is an excerpt from Chord Progressions For Songwriters 2003 by Richard J. Scott, available on-line from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

Please check out the book for more great lessons like this.