Song Structure

Song structure consists of repeated sections of verse (melody) and chorus (different melody) interwoven, but what exactly is it?

Last updated: 28-November-2020

Parts of a Song – What Works

According to Derek Thompson in his excellent book, “Hit Makers”, to keep interest in a song, it follows a specific pattern that works. Consider the letters in the following representing segments of a song.

BBBBC-BBBC-BBC-BC-D pattern worked on rats to keep their interest.

BBC-BC-D is the last part of this that is indicative of modern music arrangement.

Verse, Verse, Chorus – Verse, Chorus – Bridge is what it translates to in music language.

Friedemann Findeisen in his excellent book, “The Addiction Formula” and online tutorials, outlines the structure of modern songs as follows:

Intro-Verse-(Pre)-Chorus-Verse-(Pre)-Chorus-Verse-Bridge-Chorus
Note that you only have to write three (3) main segments: Verse, Chorus, Bridge

How long for each? Here’s the listing:

  • Intro = 4 bars
  • Verse 1 = 16 bars
  • Pre-Chorus 1 = 4 bars
  • Chorus 1 = 8 bars
  • Verse 2 = 8 bars
  • Pre-Chorus 2 = 4 bars
  • Chorus 2 = 8 bars
  • Bridge = 8 bars
  • Chorus 3 = 8 bars
  • Outro = 4 bars

Make your choruses big and verses small. To make your chorus big, don’t make it bigger, make what comes before it smaller. Note that big and small here do not refer to length. Follow the length in the above.

  1. Dynamics and arrangement – make choruses louder by putting in new instruments, or make verses softer by taking out an instrument.
  2. Pitch – sing higher in chorus and lower in the verses.
  3. Lyrics – more in the verses and less in the choruses.

Add one element at a time. Start with only one instrument like a guitar or keyboard.

Structure and Instruments
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Song Length

My experience says that people do not seem to like songs that are too long. Too long is anything over 5 minutes, generally. I tried long ones of 7 minutes or more when I was starting out, and now I like to keep my songs shorter.

I shoot for around 3 minutes. This allows me to produce more songs in a shorter period of time. Shorter songs have fewer complications to them. The short song leaves the listener wanting more sometimes, and that is not such a bad thing. I can give them that “more” in another, similar song or a continuation (think “part 2” or “reprise”) of the same one, later as a separate tune.

Keep in mind that several forms of music such as ambient, drone, and tape-loop music do not fit this length criteria or song structure.

Beats per Minute

The beats per minute (BPM) of a song can vary depending on the material you are trying to convey. Ambient music can be slow while pop music can be moderate to fast. Techno and electronica can be among the fastest as can be metal. That being said, here are some ideas I have about the BPM.

Around the 90 BPM mark, music starts to have a “groove” to it. Couple this with a bit of swing in the drums to simulate a “lazy drummer” type of vibe, and you get something that is catchy.