Lesson: Song Structure Basics

by Mark Bacino
Posted Jan 7, 2014 at 12:49am

Song structure (or lack thereof) can definitely prove to be a source of considerable frustration, especially for new writers. You might have a great collection of hooks or parts, but how you string them together can really make or break a tune.

While there are certainly no “rules” as to how a writer should structure their tunes, there are some tried-and-true classic structures (especially in the pop tradition) and variations on the like that just plain work, building excitement and keeping the listener’s attention. Why not look at these workhorse structures from songs past and incorporate them into our own work -- or at least use them as a springboard for our own variations on the theme?

For our first song, I thought it apropos to kick things off with something from the masters. Check out this iconic Beatles’ cut for one example of classic pop song structure. As you listen, follow along with the break-out below.

On the surface, this may seem like a simple song with a seemingly simple structure, but don’t be fooled; there’s a lot going on within its streamlined frame:

INTRO
The tune kicks off with an instrumental melodic figure for an intro that eases us into the song but piques our interest.
VERSE
CHORUS
Vocals make their first entrance in the verse, slightly upping the ante, then a powerful, building first chorus grabs us and seals the deal.
INTRO
This is where things get a little sneaky. The instrumental intro is brought back into play to bring the dynamics down a hair from the high of the chorus and to help set up verse two -- BUT, notice this intro is half the length of the original at the head of the song. It’s like they want to take things down and vent off a little steam from that chorus, but not for too long so as to not lose our attention.
VERSE
CHORUS
INTRO
The previous three-section pattern repeats itself to really reinforce the hooks. Then, just when you think you know all there is to know about this jam …

BRIDGE
A totally fresh, palate-cleansing musical section makes its entrance into the song, giving us a bit of a sonic vacation before sending us back to the main motifs.
INTRO
VERSE
CHORUS
OUTRO
The tune barrels its way home here with a chorus that turns around on its tail as the original intro figure weaves itself back into the picture, raising the excitement level before morphing into a totally unique little coda.

Two minutes and five seconds of lean, mean pop song structure perfection.

So, the next time you finish a new tune, take a few minutes and really zero in on its structure. Try listing the sections down on paper like above. Sometimes this simple visualization of your construct will lend you some perspective. Ask yourself if the structure you’ve created is helping to build the song in a concise and exciting way -- or are some sections just weighing things down?

Build it (well) and they will come. More song structure discussion coming soon!!

Mark Bacino is a singer/songwriter based in New York City. When not crafting his own melodic brand of retro-pop, Mark can be found producing fellow artists or composing for television/advertising via his Queens English Recording Co. Mark also is the founder of intro.verse.chorus, a website for songwriters dedicated to the exploration of that wonderfully elusive activity known as songwriting. Visit Mark on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.