Photo credit: Brandon Hoogenboom

This article is for two types of songwriters: those who have never written a song and those who have only just started and need some guidance. Let’s talk about song structure, the parts of a song, and how you can use them to write.

The Parts of a Song

The main parts of a song are the Intro, Verse, Pre-Chorus/Lift, Chorus, Instrumental Break, Bridge, and Outro. Obviously, not every song needs every one of these parts, but most songs have verses and a chorus (the two most important parts of a song).

Intro

According to Spotify from 2014, about 35% of listeners skip a song in the first 30 seconds. And nearly half of them will skip the song before it’s over. Despite these stats being from many years ago, this trend is probably still somewhat accurate. Our attention spans definitely haven’t gotten better, and the average song length continues to decrease.

The point is, your intro is important. If you want to increase the likelihood that people will keep listening, you need to make it interesting enough for them to stick around.

Verse

Verses present the idea of the song, usually through a story or some other writing method (see “Writing Techniques” below for more).

Verses should always support the main idea of the song. There’s a saying, “Write to your title.” This means all of the verse lyrics should point to, prepare us for, or support in some way the point of the song.

Pre-Chorus/Lift

This is where you prepare the listener for the chorus. It can be a bridge between the verse and chorus, either as a continuation of the verse or an intro to the chorus.

It usually helps build anticipation, often by changing the dynamics so it’s clear when we get to the chorus.

Chorus

The chorus should present the main idea of the song. The takeaway. The message. The big payoff. Ideally, it also has the most memorable melody. It’s the part you want stuck in people’s heads, both the melody and the lyrics. It hooks the listener, which is why it’s often called the Hook.

If you don’t win over the listener by the chorus, then you’ve lost them for good.

Bridge

The bridge is a good way to add a new angle to the big idea of the song. You can use it to expound on the main message, taking the listener deeper into it. You could think of it like another verse with different chords and melody.

“Bridge” and “Tag” are sometimes interchangeable. A tag is a repeating line that usually first appears in the chorus.

Instrumental Break

This usually comes in after the chorus, but you can put it anywhere you like honestly.

Outro

The outro is an opportunity to end the song with a lyric that makes the listener feel like they went on a journey. So you could write a spin on the opening lyric, the hook, or a new line that provides some closure. Alternatively, the outro could just be the tag, or it could be totally instrumental.

The Most Common Song Structures (and Variations)

Everything is recycled from something else. Every new song uses the same chords. Many of your favorite songs use common chords and chord progressions. And most songs follow one of the common song structures.

But this is not a bad thing. This should actually be comforting. We’re all working with the same tools. You have access to the same stuff as your favorite songwriters.

And because you’re new to songwriting, it can be really helpful to start with one of the most common song structures. So let’s look at what those oft-used song structures are…

Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus (ABAB)

This is probably the most common song structure in most genres. It’s the simplest, so it often works well in pop music.

Examples of an ABAB song structure…

“HUMBLE.” by Kendrick Lamar

“We Are The Champions” by Queen

Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus – Bridge – Chorus (ABABCB)

This is also a very common song structure, and it can be considered a variation of the ABAB structure.

Examples of an ABABCB song structure…

“Light On” by Maggie Rogers

“Set Fire To the Rain” by Adele

Verse – Pre-Chorus – Chorus – Verse – Pre-Chorus – Chorus (ABCABC)

This is very common in pop music although it’s a bit more subtle. And sometimes, a pre-chorus type section might have been written as the end of the verse before it.

Examples of an ABCABC song structure…

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana

“Imagine” by John Lennon

Verse – Verse – Bridge – Verse (AABA)

This song structure is very common in folk and singer/songwriter genres. Many times, the “Hook” is a one-liner at the end of each verse, sometimes with slightly different lyrics.

Examples of an AABA song structure…

“Peace Like a River” by Paul Simon

“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” by Hugh Martin

Writing Techniques

Before you decide what song structure to use for your next song, let’s talk about some different writing methods. Once you know these songwriting techniques, it may make it easier to choose a song structure.

Allegory

An allegory is when you tell a story that can be interpreted as meaning something other than what’s on the surface.

Examples of allegory in songs include “The Temptation of Adam” by Josh Ritter,  “The Fox, The Crow and The Cookie” by mewithoutyou, and “American Pie” by Don McLean.

Alliteration and assonance

Alliteration is when you use the same consonant sound at the beginning of words next to each other in your lyrics.

Like when Taylor Swift said, “And, baby, now we’ve got bad blood.” Or when Frank Sinatra sang, “I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king.”

Assonance is when you use similar vowel sounds near each other in your lyrics. It’s not an exact rhyme but it’s close.

Like when Edgar Allen Poe wrote in The Raven: “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary…”

Or when Eminem rapped, “His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy / There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti.”

Hyperbole

Hyperbole is when you exaggerate something in order to make a point.

Examples would include Coldplay saying, “It feels like a million miles away.” Or when Mariah Carey sang, “I can’t live without you by my side.”

Metaphors

A metaphor is when you refer to one thing by mentioning another thing.

When June Carter wrote the lyrics to “Ring of Fire” – “Love is a burning thing, and it makes a fiery ring” – she was talking about the all-consuming nature of her and Johnny Cash’s love.

And “Blackbird” by The Beatles is a metaphor for racial inequality and a call for true freedom for everyone.

Personification

Personification is when you attribute human characteristics to something nonhuman.

Like when Led Zeppelin said, “And so today, my world it smiles.” Or when Bob Marley wrote, “The high yellow moon won’t come out to play.” Or when JAY-Z rapped, “The city never sleeps, better slip you an Ambien.”

Similes

A simile is similar to a metaphor except it uses the words “like” or “as.” While a metaphor says one thing is another thing, a simile says one thing is like another thing.

Similes have been in tons of songs throughout history. Like Oasis when they said, “But her soul slides away like a ghost.” Or when John Mayer sang, “She shines like a diamond in a coal mine.” Or when Def Leppard said, “Melt like sugar, sweet and slow.”

Storytelling

This is my personal favorite type of songwriting because you can do this without being overly poetic. It’s too easy to try to sound poetic but end up sounding confusing or like you’re trying too hard. But by telling a story, you can create an emotional impact without overdoing it. People connect with and remember stories. It’s how we’re built.

The best tip I’ve heard for writing story songs is to zoom in on one moment and dissect it. Focus on the five senses involved in that moment. And show us the moment, don’t just tell us about it.

Then think about the lesson of that story – that’s your hook/chorus. Then you can express your thoughts about that lesson in verse two.

How To Find the Right Song Structure

Like almost everything in music, song structures are guidelines, not rules. You don’t have to use one of the common song structures. You can do whatever you want.

Ultimately, it all comes down to feel. What feels natural for the song you’re writing?

Here are some further guidelines to try for yourself:

  • Telling a story or using allegory: Verse – Verse – Bridge – Verse
  • Writing a pop song: Verse – Pre-Chorus – Chorus – Verse – Pre-Chorus – Chorus
  • Writing a rap song: Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus (with an optional Bridge)

Try this: write songs in each song structure to get a feel for what you like and what works for your style of songwriting.

Song Structure FAQs

What is the basic structure of a song?

There are many song structures you can use, but here are some of the most common options: 1) Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus, 2) Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus – Bridge – Chorus, 3) Verse – Pre-Chorus – Chorus – Verse – Pre-Chorus – Chorus, and 4) Verse – Verse – Bridge – Verse.

What are the six sections of a song?

The six main sections of a song are Intro, Verse, Pre-Chorus/Lift, Chorus, Bridge, Outro (you could also include Instrumental Break as a seventh section).

What is the easiest song structure?

If you’re new to songwriting, try starting with this song structure: Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus. It’s simple and will help you become familiar with the two most important parts of a song.

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