4.2 Song Structures

Andy | August 26, 2015 | 17 Comments

For the purposes of this course, we gave decided to keep the video about song structures short, and provide more detail in the narrative below. This is because learning a song is all about having absolute familiarity of its structure and component parts, and not, necessarily, being able to define each part by its name. Having said that, it is useful to learn these component parts, so more detail is provided below:

The song structure of a song is, in basic terms, its layout broken down into component parts, some of which can be repeating.

So why do you need to understand this? I just want to play.

Well, this is simple really and, at the end of the day, it will help maintain your motivational levels and keenness to continue your journey without becoming too bored.

How? Well, we’re gonna tell you. If you have difficulty learning something there is always a temptation to put down your guitar because you are not progressing so these factors will assist you in not flushing your axe down the toilet.

• Familiarity will help you learn the song more quickly and efficiently

• You can break it down into its component part so, if you have trouble with one part, you can easily switch to another. Basically, flexibility

• It is easier to join bits together at the end when you have learnt all the components thoroughly

• It will also help you remember the song in the future as you will be able to recall the structured way in which you learnt it….piece by piece. This will prove useful when playing in front of people

Something else that can also help you understand and learn the structure is to research the song a little and find out some key facts. It may not be everyone’s taste, but we always like to know who wrote the song we are teaching, when it was released, what album it was on, whether it was a single and, if so, did it chart, and for how long, who else has covered the song (have a listen on YouTube) etc……plus anything else we can glean. These things tend to stick in your memory and help further to make the song a part of you. You can also boast about your knowledge to those with a lesser understanding than you. Lets’ call it a kind of covert one upmanship.

The Structure

All songs vary, but a typical (relatively complex) song COULD look like this; Introduction, Verse, Pre-Chorus, Chorus, Verse, Pre-Chorus, Chorus, Bridge, Verse, Chorus, Middle Eight. Solo, Chorus, Outro

Or alternatively; Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Chorus.

Remember, all songs vary and will only use selected variances.

Although the verse and chorus are the foundation of pop and rock music, let’s have a brief look at the definitions of the component song parts. Definitions can vary, but as long as together, we can identify these for the songs we are going to learn, you will have a strong platform to build on.

The introduction

• A unique section that comes at the beginning of the song

• Think of the opening guitar in Smoke on The Water by Deep Purple

The Verse(s)

• The main part of a song.

• Roughly corresponds with a poetic stanza.

• Usually follows the introduction (if there is one) – but not always

• Can be repeated

• Think of the vocals of Sweet Child of Mine by Guns ‘n Roses that follows the great guitar intro

The Chorus

• This is the element of the song that repeats at least once both musically and lyrically.

• It is almost always of greater musical and emotional intensity than the verse.

• In terms of narrative, the chorus conveys the main message or theme of the song.

• Normally the most memorable element of the song for listeners, the chorus usually contains the hook/title of the song

• Think Ticket to Ride by The Beatles

The Middle 8

• The section of a song which has a significantly  different melody from the rest of the song  usually after the second chorus

• Such sections often consist of new chords and major change in melody.

• It is called a middle 8 because it happens in the middle of the song and the length is generally 8 bars. (Don’t worry about the theory of this yet)!!!

• It can also be repeated

• Again, think Ticket to Ride where the lyrics go “I don’t know why she’s feeling so high etc….” Ride

Guitar (or other) solo

• A solo is a section designed to showcase an instrumentalist (in this case – you as a guitarist)

• We all want to be able to accomplish one – so no more explanation required except that it may take place over the music or chords of a verse, chorus, any other part of the song or even something different

• If it is a brief instrumental piece i.e. just a few notes, we will just label it “guitar”

• I will just quote one of my favourites “Reeling in the Years by Steely Dan

Outro

• Occurs at the end of a song and takes many forms – it adds intensity and interest and

– Can create new hooks

– Can involve ad libbing

– Could include another solo or more vocals

– Could involve a change of melody – breaking away from the main melody

– Could include variations on a theme from the song

– May sometimes fade out

– Think Hey Jude by The Beatles

Pre Chorus

• It can occur within a verse (where the melody significantly changes) , or at the end of a verse

• It is usually a two or four line section, rarely exceeding four bars musically, immediately preceding the chorus.

• Crafted to propel the listener, both melodically and lyrically, into the chorus.

• All pre-choruses in the same song tend to have the same melody.

• It is acceptable for each verse’s pre-chorus to repeat the same lyric or to introduce a new lyric.

• Different meanings in different countries

• A departure or a release from the rest of the song similar to the middle 8

• Think Don’t Look Back in Anger when Noel sings “so I start a revolution from my bed” and the following 6 lines!

The Bridge

• The bridge’s job is to add a new dimension to the song, take it to the next level, and lead the listener back to the chorus, title and hook, from a new angle. If that’s not enough of a challenge, the bridge needs to accomplish all of this while still managing to sound consistent with the rest of the song.

• It is similar to a pre-chorus but could appear anywhere in the song, and usually only once. Many people interchange pre-chorus and brisge.

These are only guidelines, but if you become familiar with them it will definitely help you when we move onto your first song. Bet you can’t wait!

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Comments (17)

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  1. Yves Jalbert says:

    Hello Mr. Partridge, I agree with Brian and Ronnie for a beginner the readout is good but we need more explanation and example in the video…..Thanks.

  2. Ronnie Holderfield says:

    I think it’s way too much reading for the beginner. Better get more info on the video

  3. Gary Stout says:

    4.2 Song Structures: “For the purposes of this course, we gave decided…” should that be “have” rather than “gave?”

  4. Jack Runnels says:

    Very Detailed good way to breakdown and approach learning a song
    breaking down in two smaller part makes learning easier

  5. Brian Armstrong says:

    Very heavy reading for a beginer

  6. Brian Armstrong says:

    Breaking the song Down is important but this amount of reading for a beginer is baffling. Could you not demonstrate more on video or move this section up to. A more advanced level.

  7. Paul Dennee says:

    Also, you did write about the bridge!

  8. Paul Dennee says:

    Actually it was George Harrison, not Jack!

  9. Paul Dennee says:

    This is good. What is the bridge? I heard that Eric Clapton was having trouble reading Jack Bruce’s writing on a song sheet. Eric said “what is this, badge?” Jack had written “bridge”, but after a laugh they decided to name that song “Badge”. 🙂

  10. Robin Haynes says:

    I agree that breaking the song down into its parts makes it easier to learn and remember, but I think it’s also important that understanding the structure of the song helps with phrasing. You’re not just playing a series of notes; you’re telling a story; and you need to understand the arc of the story so the pieces all make sense and fit together – even when there are no lyrics.

  11. Colin Rothery says:

    “For the purposes of this course, we gave decided” … Typo as should read HAVE not gave or remove altogether ?

  12. Anthony Gable says:

    WOW Andy…you realy broke this down in text. I’ll probably have to read this several times because this is where I’m baffled. SO…all you other new students DON’T get discouraged. When you see that you CAN play a simple song you will be Jumping up and down.. I’ve found there are a lot of AHA moments learning to play this here guitar. I have a LONG way to go but in the past 3 months I’ve had several AHA moments. STICK WITH IT.

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