One Stop Rock Star

Ezra is a rock star. And so are you!

Song Form

Posted by onestoprockstar on July 29, 2007

Just like the parts of lyrics, there are so many exceptions to the rules of song form that it is better to call these structures tendencies, not rules. This is only to help you if you’re not sure how to structure your song. If you’ve already written lyrics that don’t match these forms and you’re certain your lyrics are good as they are, excellent. If you have a whole bunch of verses and a chorus and bridge written out, but you’re not sure how to lay them out, then these structures can help you. 

Form structure can be simplified into three main structures: one with a chorus and bridge, one with just a chorus, one with a hook.  

With Chorus and Bridge:
Intro or Chorus
Verse 1
Verse 2
Chorus
Verse 3
(Instrumental)
Chorus
Bridge
(Verse 1, 3, or 4 or Instrumental)
Chorus + Extension 

With Chorus Only:
Intro or Chorus
Verse 1
Verse 2
Chorus
Verse 3
(Instrumental or Verse 4)
Chorus
Verse 1, 3, or 4
Chorus + Extension

With Hook:
Verse 1 with Hook
Verse 2 with Hook
Bridge
Verse 3 with Hook
(Verse 4 with Hook or Instrumental)
Bridge
Verse 1, 3, or 4 with Hook
Ending or Extension

A song with a chorus starts out with either an instrumental intro or with the chorus. If it does start out with an instrumental intro, then the music is usually the last four measures from the music of the chorus.  That way, it naturally leads into the verse just as the chorus normally leads into the verse later in the song. 

After two verses is the chorus, and then Verse 3. That’s the most common aspect of songs. If there’s a chorus in the song, you’ll hear two verses, then the chorus, then Verse 3. From there, you have the choice of playing or not playing another verse before the next chorus.  

Rule of thumb: If your verses are long or slow, do verse 3 and then the chorus. If your verses are short or fast, do a third and fourth verse, and then the chorus. If you’re still not sure, trust your ear. Do what sounds right in terms of pacing.  

If there’s a bridge in your song, and you choose to do a third and fourth verse, let the fourth verse be an instrumental version of the verse music as the above example shows. If there is no bridge in your song, your fourth verse can either be an instrumental or with lyrics.

Let your final verse be either the same as the first or last verse. Or let it be a new verse entirely. In the example of a song with a chorus but no bridge, you can have the verse order be any of the possible options shown above. But if Verse 4 comes straight after Verse 3, don’t let your fourth verse be a repeat of Verse 3.  

I know this sounds confusing, but the whole point is to do one of the following: If you want to let the first verse be seen in a new light, let your final verse be the same as Verse 1. For example, in my song “In This Room,” notice how the first verse has more meaning when it’s repeated at the end of the song. 

I’m sitting in this room. I’m playing this piano.
And you’re listening to these words
As I sing you this song.
And there’s an empty space in this room. 

You know how my heart feels
While you are in this room.
But I can’t reveal my love,
‘Cause it will not be returned.
So we just act the same in this room. 

Chorus: You’re just across the room
You’re just a few feet away
And you know what’s in my heart.
But you won’t hold my hand,
And you won’t say you love me.
Yeah, what am I supposed to do?
Whenever I’m near you we’re miles apart. 

You’re in my every song.
You’re in my every thought.
But you will still pretend
That you don’t know how I feel.
You’ll say that you like this tune in this room. 

Chorus 

I’m sitting in this room. I’m playing this piano.
And you’re listening to these words
As I sing you this song.
And there’s an empty space…in this room. 

One can argue that this song is actually a song with a hook instead of a chorus. After all, what I labeled as “chorus” could actually be seen as a repeated bridge. Notice the words aren’t too repetitive in the “chorus” so it’s not exactly catchy. It does repeat the words, “You’re just” and “you won’t,” but other than that, the real catch phrase is in the verses: “in this room.”

So there is a blur here between a song with a chorus and a song with a hook. This blurred form is the same as the form used in the Beatle’s song “Yesterday.” The point is, repeating the first verse is good when shedding new emotions on the first verse. If, however, you want to emphasize your final feelings, let the final verse be the same as the previous verse. Such was done in “Can’t Buy Me Love.”

Verse 3:
Say you don’t need no diamond ring
And I’ll be satisfied.
Tell me that you want those kind of things
That money just can’t buy.
For I don’t care too much for money,
For money can’t buy me love.

Instrumental 

Chorus:
Can’t buy me love. Everybody tells me so.
Can’t buy me love. No, no, no. No. 

Verse 3:
Say you don’t need no diamond ring
And I’ll be satisfied.
Tell me that you want those kind of things
That money just can’t buy.
For I don’t care too much for money,
For money can’t buy me love.

Chorus:
Can’t buy me love. Love.
Can’t buy me love. 

Notice that the chorus before the repeated verse 3 is different from the final/regular chorus. This is because if all the choruses were exactly the same, it would’ve sounded too repetitive. (Yes, it is possible to be too repetitive in a song.) So by altering the chorus a bit, there’s fresh music, fresh lyrics, and the song doesn’t get monotonous. If there’s a good deal of time between choruses, you don’t have to worry about sounding too repetitive. Also, there are melodic and harmonic ways of making the chorus sound fresh and new without changing the lyrics. More on how to use melodic and harmonic changes for making the chorus sound new will come later. 

So repeating the previous verse is good for emphasis. But if you don’t need to restate or emphasize anything, let your final verse be a new verse. That is, use new lyrics. Below are some examples of forms.    

Can’t Buy Me Love          
Chorus
Verse 1
Verse 2
Chorus
Verse 3
Chorus
Instrumental
Chorus
Verse 3
Chorus + Extension

When I’m 64 / Yesterday
Verse 1 with hook
Verse 2 with hook
Bridge
Verse 3 with hook
Bridge
Verse 4 with hook
Ending/ Ext.

Strawberry Fields
Chorus
Verse
Chorus
Verse
Chorus
Verse
Chorus + Extension

I Want Love  (Elton John/Bernie Taupin)
Intro
Verse 1
Verse 2
Chorus
Verse 3
Chorus
Bridge
Instrumental finishes with Verse 3 words
Chorus
Chorus
Ending (Intro music)

Your Song  (Elton John/Bernie Taupin)
Intro
Verse
Verse
Chorus
Instrumental (Intro music)
Verse
Verse
Chorus + Extension
Ending

Crocodile Rock (Elton John/Bernie Taupin)
Intro
Verse 1
Verse 2
Chorus
Verse 3
Verse 4
Chorus
Verse 5
Verse 6
Chorus + Ext 

Great! We’ve covered song form, now it’s time for the good stuff: tips and tricks on how to make the lyrics sound incredible.

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