Song structure: what is it, and why is it important?

Hello my friendly friends! Tyler Preston here, back with another lesson for you.

In this lesson we’re going to discuss song structure: what are the basic components of strong structure? And how do we use them as songwriters? Let’s get to it.

Now, the simplest type of song is a two-part song that uses an alternative verse and chorus structure.

And the most basic form of that would be a song which uses the same chord progression for both the verse and chorus. A great example of this would be the song Wagon Wheel by Old Crow Medicine Show, which is built on a repetitive 8 bar progression that goes like this:

| G – – – | D – – – | Em – – – | C – – – |

|G – – – | D – – – | C – – – | C – – -|

To create distinction between the verse and the chorus, the band uses dynamic variation (ie, plays quieter during the verses and louder during the choruses). They also incorporate harmony during the chorus to accentuate this dynamic variation.

The verses contain the lyrics that move the story of the song forward, while the chorus is a refrain that sort of sums up the feeling of the song.

So that’s your most basic type of song structure— just a verse, followed by a chorus, then rinse and repeat.

But most songs are more complicated than that. So let’s go ahead and review a more common pop song structure to give you an idea of what the the basic fundamental framework .

Basic pop song structure goes like this.

Intro – Verse – Prechorus – Chorus – Verse – Chorus – Bridge – Chorus

You also might tack an outro of some kind onto the end or maybe do a double chorus— there are a lot of ways to skin the songwriting cat.

So let’s go ahead and talk about each of these sections, how they differ from one another, and how to use them musically.

The intro of your song

The intro for your song is typically going to be a quick lick, or a repetitive chord progression, or maybe a vamp. (A vamp is when you use two chords and just go back and forth between them or even one chord.)

The intro should be 10 to 20 seconds long, and the goal of the intro is to alert the listener that the song is happening, give them a catchy little musical introduction to the tune, and warm up the band on the way into the first verse.

It’s important to avoid going too long with your intro, or letting it become boring. The number one problem I see with new songwriters is that they write an intro rhat’s the same chord progression as the verse—which is not a bad decision—but then they’ll play it over and over and over again. Before you know it, the progression is starting to sound stale, we’re 45 seconds into the tune, and we still haven’t heard the first lyrics. That’s a big no-no.

You have approximately 15 seconds (30 seconds tops) before you need to get into your first verse, and your intro should just be a quick little chordy strummity-strum warm up that gets us there.

The first verse

Ok, so we’ve made it through the intro and we’re into the first verse. What now?

Well, your verse is usually going to be either four or eight lines of lyrics that get the story going and advance us to the prechorus.

I typically recommend four lines, rather than eight— I think it’s better to go short than long when it comes to songwriting.

So you’re going to come up with four lines that cover eight bars of music. Each line will comprise two bars or so. Come up with a bit of melody to carry the lyric over the chords, and voila. First verse: check.

The prechorus

After the verse comes the prechorus, sometimes referred to as the middle eight by songwriters. In this section you’re going to break into a slightly different chord progression than the verse, and go ahead and use eight bars to develop more momentum, and a sense of forward movement that is going to lead us into your chorus.

The chorus

Your chorus is the big, loud singalong section of your song.

Now, we could talk all day about how to write a great chorus.

But for now, the biggest thing you should keep in mind as you write your chorus is that you want to highlight your tattoo line.

The tattoo line is the the line of the song that you can imagine a fan tattooing on their arm. If you prefer, you can call it the t-shirt line— like the line that would get printed on a t-shirt.

Either way, whatever you call it, this line is the hook of the song, and you want to work it into your chorus as many times as possible, within reason.

Some courses will just repeat this line over and over again. Others will feature it either at the beginning or the end of the chorus. Others will repeat it a couple times within. It all depends on the song.

The second verse and chorus

Following the first chorus, we basically rinse and repeat the intro, verse, prechorus, and chorus…. with new lyrics in the verse and prechorus, of course.

After that, it’s time to take it to the bridge.

The bridge

The bridge is the tertiary movement of the song where you’re going to break out of the standard verse-prechorus-chorus repetition and take the song in a different direction.

Typically a songwriter will introduce a new chord or rhythm at the bridge to change up the vibe. After repeating a satisfying verse-chorus structure twice through, the listener is now ready for something fresh, something to catch their ear anew, and the bridge is where you’re going to serve this up.

The goal of the bridge is to create an emotional climax that takes the listener to the peak of the song, and then returns them to the final chorus for resolution and to wrap up the song.

So in recap, the most basic song structure just goes:

verse-chorus verse-chorus verse-chorus

While the slightly more complicated, albeit entirely typical pop song structure goes:

Intro – Verse – Prechorus – Chorus – Verse – Chorus – Bridge – Chorus – Outro

Obvously there’s more to it— there’s always more to it. But that’s it for today’s lesson.

As always: if you enjoyed this post, please share it with a friend, and if you have any questions or comments, feel free to hit me up on Twitter @MrTyler Preston, or shoot me an email at tyler@tylerpreston.com .

And until next time my friendly friends: good luck, have fun, and happy strumming!

Tyler Preston

Tyler Preston

National touring singer-songwriter & music teacher. I'm a country boy at heart, but I paid my dues singin' the blues. Find me on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.