Song structure is important because it organizes our songs. Think of the most common types of song structures as universally agreed upon roadmaps for your songs. They tell us where the song is going. We’ve heard the most common structures so many times that we’re practically trained to know what section is coming next. While that might seem like a bad thing, it’s not because it brings a familiarity to our music which makes people want to hear it. It does that from the very first time we hear a song with a common structure.
The Most Common Structures
With that in mind, let’s look at the most commonly used song structures in popular music.
Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus
This one’s also known as an ABABCB structure, where A is the verse, B is the chorus and C is the bridge. This one’s extremely popular. Radiohead’s “High and Dry” is a good example of this song structure.
Verse / Pre-Chorus / Chorus / Verse / Pre-Chorus / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus
This one’s a slight variation of the first structure we looked at. The only difference here is the addition of a pre-chorus which shows up before the choruses. A good example of this structure is Katy Perry’s “Firework.” The part that starts on the words “You just gotta ignite the light… ” is the Pre-Chorus.
In both of these song structures it’s fairly common for the chorus to be repeated a second time at the very end of the song to really drive the hook of the song home to the listeners.
Verse / Verse / Bridge / Verse
This one’s a bit of a departure from the first two structures we looked at. It’s also known as an AABA structure. This time A denotes the verse, while B denotes the bridge. There’s no chorus in this type of structure. Instead, each verse usually ends (or begins) with a refrain. A refrain is a line or two that repeats throughout the song. Since it’s usually the title, the words of the refrain usually stay the same, while the rest of the verse lyrics change.
Usually, this song structure will have a lot of variation in the verse melody, since the verses repeat often. It keeps their melody from getting boring during all the repetition.
The Beatles and Billy Joel have used this song structure a lot. The song “We Can Work it Out” by the Beatles uses this structure.You can hear that the title line “We Can Work it Out” is the refrain in the verses. The section starting on “Live is very short… ” is the bridge.
Any of these structures can be modified as appropriate for your song. You may have noticed that in “We Can Work it Out” the bridge is repeated twice. This is a pretty common modification of the AABA format since a lot of times a simple verse / verse / bridge / verse structure often makes for a very short song.
Common Song Structures without Bridges
Those three song structures are the big ones. There are two others that are common as well, but they’re used less because they don’t have a bridge.
Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus
Also know as an ABAB structure, this one is a simplified version of the ABABCB structure, with the bridge omitted.
Verse / Verse / Verse
This one’s not used often because it’s hard to keep things interesting if all you have is one section being repeated. Like the AABA structure, this one also makes use of a refrain in the verses, as the central focus. Bob Dylan uses this song form in “Tangled Up in Blue.” Take note of the variation in the melodies through a typical verse of that song. It’s crucial in a song with this structure in order to keep the melody interesting.
A bridge helps to change up the sound of a song and keep it interesting. It prevents a song from simply being a repetition of one or two sections. That’s why these two song structures don’t show up as much as the first three we looked at. But you should know that they do exist in songwriting.
You can modify the common song structures to fit your song as you see fit, but it’s good to know what they are so you can use them as a starting point. Not only will they bring familiarity to your songs, but they’ll give you a good guide on how to lay out your music.