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Melody
writing melodies tips 1 to 3 counter-melodies & chorus/verse melodies tips 4 to 6
melodic intervals & leaps tips 7 to 9

Song Structures
basic song structure examples repeated verse and AABA
pop song structures verse/chorus & bridge
pre chorus song structures verse/prechorus/chorus bridge & coda structures

Music Arranging
orchestration & midi arranging tips 1 - 3
recording & arranging tips tips 4 - 6
more music arranging tips tips 7 - 10

Becoming a composer how to become a composer tips one to five
how to become a composer tips six through to ten
how to make a demo CD tips on making and marketing your showreel

Tuitionin composing music production schools reviews of some top music production colleges in the USA how to choose a music school factors to consider when choosing where to study music composition lessons a check-list for subjects to study within music composition


 


song structures

part one - basic song structure examples

Ever got stuck with one great musical idea and not known how to develop it? Hopefully the following will be of some use for developing your songwriting skills. We’re going to be looking at some common song structures, and how musical harmony (chords) can be used to propel the material forwards from one section to another.

All songs revolve around structure. In music, we call this “form” – the sections that make up the piece. In a song, some sections are usually repeated.

 

 



Simple Verse Structure Example
The simplest song structure is by repeating the verse, a form which is very common in traditional folk music. For example, consider the original “Scarborough Fair” lyrics:-

Where are you going? To Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.
Remember me to a bonny lass there
For once she was a true lover of mine.

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.
Without any needles or thread work'd in it,
And she shall be a true lover of mine.

Tell her to wash it in yonder well,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.
Where water ne'er sprung nor drop of rain fell,
And she shall be a true lover of mine.

Tell her to plough me an acre of land,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.
Between the sea and the salt sea strand,
And she shall be a true lover of mine.

Tell her to plough it with one ram's horn,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.
And sow it all over with one peppercorn,
And she shall be a true lover of mine.

Tell her to reap it with a sickle of leather,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.
And tie it all up with a tom tit's feather,
And she shall be a true lover of mine.

Tell her to gather it all in a sack,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.
And carry it home on a butterfly's back,
And then she shall be a true lover of mine.

It’s simply a series of repeated verses - Verse 1, Verse 2, Verse 3 etc. Notice how the words “Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme” and “true lover of mine” provide a “hook” element in the lyric that help to unify the developing narrative of the song. There are many songs in popular music history that follow this structure of repeated verse (for example, in the well-known hymn 'Amazing Grace' and the traditional celtic hymn 'Be Thou My Vision'. In the later, the words 'Be thou...' begin the first three verses and also fall on the last line of the final verse).

 

Verse with Middle Eight

Next is a development of this structure, common in ballads. This is again a series of repeated verses, but this time interrupted with a “middle eight” section, so called because the section usually lasts for eight bars in total (it can be longer than this). The form would look like this - A A B A, where is "A" is the verse section, and "B" is the middle eight. A great example of this is Sting’s “Fields of Gold”. Here's the structure (it takes the basic A A B A model and breaks it up with short instrumental sections):-

instrumental intro

verse 1

instrumental link

verse 2

verse 3

instrumental link

verse 4

middle 8

instrumental break (over verse chord pattern)

verse 5

verse 6

last line repeated

 

 

Here, after four verses, we have a middle eight section (with the words “I never made promises lightly”).  This serves as both a musical and lyrical contrast to the rest of the material. In the music, the verses modulate from Bm to D, but the middle eight starts on the sub-dominant (G). There is also a twist in the lyrics in this section, as the singer reveals that he has broken promises made to his lover. Notice also (as with “Scarborough Fair”) that elements of the second and forth lines of the verses are repeated and built on as the narrative develops (with the repetition of the words “fields of barley” and “fields of gold”).

Also notice how Sting creates short musical episodes between some (but not all) of the verses, which prevents the structure becoming too predictable. This, combined with an ingenious hook and skillfully written lyrics, make “Fields of Gold” a masterclass in songwriting.

 

Another example of this verse and middle eight structure is “Yesterday” by the Beatles.

Here the middle eight falls after just two verses, and is also repeated after verse three (effectively the structure is AABABA). The key of the work is F, - the middle eight starts on a surprising point - the seventh degree of the scale on E (E minor chord). However, we are pulled back to F within one line, via two series of droping fifths - Em, A7, Dm and then (after the Bb chord), Gm, C7, and F.

 



 

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Further Reading:-

pop song structures

Investigating song form within popular hits, such as the verse-chorus structure in "Candle In The Wind" (Elton John). This page also looks at the addition of the bridge (or "breakdown") in song, an explores how Coldplay's bridge in "Fix You" is remarkably effective in creating contrast within the material.

the pre-chorus

Examples of songs which use the pre-chorus (or "channel" as it is sometimes referred to), with analysis of how harmonic change can be used to create interest between the verse, pre-chorus and chorus sections. This page also looks at another section sometimes found within song - the "Coda".

different trains

An analysis of Steve Reich's subliminal minimalist masterpeice "Different Trains". This review explores how Reich transforms speech samples into music.

yamaha p95 review

The pros and cons of this popular weighted action keyboard by Yamaha, with a look at it's AWM sampling technology and the benefits of the instruments 64 note polyphony.

music production schools

Interested in taking your recording and composing skills to a new level? If you live in the USA you might find this review of some of the top music production colleges useful.

 

 

song structures p.1 - p.2 - p.3

 

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