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In almost any discussion pertaining to music it is important to keep one thing in mind. There are no "rules". Nothing is written in stone. Much in music is largely up to interpretation.
When it comes to songwriting, there are however, formulas and patterns that have proven to be successful time and again in regards to popular music and hit songs.
Songwriting FormulasThese "formulas" can apply to chord progressions. lyric content and, basic song structure.
By understanding some elements of successful song structure you will have a better grasp on the songs that you learn to play, as well as the songs you write.
Many popular and hit songs will typically follow one of a handful of different structures. They are used with great success because songwriters know that these are song structures that listeners are comfortable with and can relate to.
Verse-Chorus-BridgeOne of the most popular and well used formulas is the Verse-Chorus-Bridge song. The overall song structure can be shown as:
This formula is exactly as it looks. The song opens with the first verse (see "Songwriting - The Verse") which leads into the first chorus (see - "Songwriting - The Chorus"). Then the second verse leads to a second chorus. At that point the song would go to a bridge, which will typically go somewhere new musically and the bridge can be sung lyrically or played as an instrumental lead (see "Songwriting - The Bridge"). From the bridge the song goes to the final chorus before ending.
Verse-ChorusAnother common song structure is the Verse-Chorus formula. This is basically the same as the previous example except that there is not a bridge. In place of a bridge there may be an instrumental solo that is played over the chords of the verse or chorus. The structure may look like this:
Verse-Lift-ChorusYet another variation of the previous formulas is the Verse-Lift-Chorus structure. (see "Songwriting - The Lift") In this type of song there is a "lift" or "pre-chorus" that follows the verse and leads the song into the chorus. An example of this formula may look like this:
A couple of lesser used formulas would be the "AABA" and the "AAA" song structures
"AABA" FormulaThe "AABA" formula does not have a chorus. It is just verses with a bridge. In this type of song the title or "hook" (see "Finding the Hook"), is typically stated in either the first or last part of the verses. An "AABA" formula may look like this:
"AAA" FormulaAnother lesser used formula is the "AAA" which, as you might guess, is simply multiple verses chained together into a song. You will see this formula quite a bit in older folk ballads, but has also been used to a limited degree in popular music. The structure would look like this:
When you sit down to write your next song, try to be aware of what structure your song is going to take, and bear in mind the ones that have proven successful if you are writing toward a commercial audience.
Keith Dean is founder of AdultGuitarLessons.com and a 30 year veteran of stage and studio. He toured extensively as a road musician throughout the US and Europe, was a former lead guitarist for Jason Aldean, and has shared stages with Little Big Town, Wild Rose, Winger, Confederate Railroad and more. He is a published songwriter, owned and operated a successful music store, and has instructed numerous students in guitar.