Song Structure Explained
A song’s structure is the order in which its parts are arranged – the verse, chorus, bridge, pre-chorus, intro, and outro.
In this article we will discuss the different parts of a song and show you some of the popular ways to structure your own music.
The Parts of a Song
Modern songs are made up of the following components:
The introduction or “intro” of a song comes right at the very beginning. Most of the time it does not contain any words, though that’s certainly not a hard-and-fast rule.
The role of the intro is to set-up the rest of the song by establishing the mood and building atmosphere.
A trick to writing a good introduction is to borrow the chord progression and perhaps a melody from another place in the song. You do not have to do this, but it does tie everything together in a consistent manner.
The verse is where the story of a song develops. Typically there will be two or three verses in a song.
Beyond lyrical content, there tends to be little – if any – variation between the verses.
The pre-chorus occurs just before the chorus and serves as a transition between the verse and chorus.
Like the chorus, the same pre-chorus is normally used throughout the song. While you might think this would make the song repetitive, due to the relative brevity of most pre-choruses the issue is avoided.
The chorus (also known as the refrain) is where your songs go big. This is where you will put the big, catchy idea that sums the song up, but make sure you keep it simple. If you want people to sing along to your chorus it needs to be memorable and easy to follow along.
Each chorus will generally be identical in a song, however it’s common for additional melodies and/or harmonies to be added in the final chorus.
The bridge contrasts the verse and chorus, and has a very important role in modern music: to reduce the repetitiveness of a song.
You’ve already learned that the verse and chorus tend to be very repetitive, so without a bridge the song would look like this:
Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus
By adding a bridge, we add something new to the song that breaks up the repetitive pattern.
The final part of the song is the outro. Songwriters use outros because if they ended the song on the last beat of the chorus it would be a very sudden stop.
Outros should indicate that the song will be ending soon. This is done by tapering down the overall energy by diminishing volume, removing instruments/the voice, or slowing down the tempo.
All About Song Structure
Now that you’re familiar with the parts of a song, it’s time to learn how they come together. In modern music most songs follow deviations of a standard format. That format is:
Intro / Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus / Bridge / Verse / Chorus / Outro
Songwriters change the order of these components to add variance to their music. They also remove some parts, duplicate others, or even add things like instrumental solos.
Let’s look at some popular song structures!
Common Song Structure #1: The New Standard
Katy Perry’s Roar is an example of what we call the “new standard” that’s popping up all over the place (when you get 2 billion views on a music video, you get our attention). Here’s the format:
Intro / Verse / Pre-chorus / Chorus / Verse / Pre-chorus / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus / Outro
Numb by Linkin Park follows the exact same formula.
Common Song Structure #2: Chorus First
You don’t have to lead with the verse. Putting a catchy chorus at the beginning of a song is an excellent way to quickly hook the listener.
Animals by Maroon 5 is an example of a song that opens up with the chorus first. Animals uses the following structure:
Chorus / Verse / Pre-chorus / Chorus / Verse / Pre-chorus / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus / Bridge
You can see that beyond putting the chorus first, Maroon 5 has added a second bridge at the end of the song to give it an abrupt ending.
Remember, there are no hard and fast rules in songwriting. While you may not always want to have the song end abruptly, in this song it works well.
Another song that follows a very similar structure is Counting Stars by One Republic. While it lacks a pre-chorus, it’s otherwise identical.
The structure of that song is:
Chorus / Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus / Bridge
Common Song Structure #3: Clean and Simple
You don’t always need a bridge in your music, but you do need to take care to avoid repetition. Here’s the structure for a clean and simple song:
Intro / Verse / Pre-chorus / Chorus / Verse / Pre-chorus / Chorus / Outro
I See Stars released Calm Snow using the above structure. To make it work they used substantial dynamic changes between the verse and chorus, and coupled this by adding a drum and bass beat into the second pre-chorus.
The end result is a beautiful song that in no way feels repetitive.
Should You Breakaway from Normal Structures?
Depending on how you look at it, the formulaic structure of songs is either a good or bad thing. While artistically there is something a bit tragic about the majority of songs following similar formats, as a songwriter this makes writing easier and people do enjoy the standard formats.
We think the structured approach of modern music is great. Just look at classical music, which is far less formulaic than today’s songs. This made it extremely challenging to write, harder to follow, and – at least as far as most people in the modern world seem to be concerned – less enjoyable to listen to.
Accordingly, don’t try too hard to break the mold of the established song structures. Do what your art calls you to do, but realize there is a lot of benefit to following a structure that rearranges the standard parts of a song. Most notably, it gives the listener something they can easily follow.
If you’re just starting out, we recommend you pick one of the above examples and work off that as a template.
P.S. While you can throw out all the rules, we wouldn’t recommend chaos as an appropriate structure. Having no structure at all doesn’t tend to be something listeners enjoy very much.