You know what they say about rules? Actually they say lots of things about rules but here’s two – rules were made to be broken, and you have to know what the rules are before you can break them. While Judge Dredd may not agree with the first, the second is certainly true and nevermore so than in writing a song.
The song structure may not be the first thing you think about when you start writing. You probably work on the verse or chorus, or maybe you have a good riff that you want to expand into a song aur single link pe jo banaye hai usne,,,uska keyword ea use karo. So you get that down and then you start to think about the other parts – the intro, how many verses, middle eight, do you want an instrumental, the ending…
Some song genres have a fairly rigid format, others are more flexible, and you need to know where you can bend the rules and why you may not want to do so in order to make your song stand out from the others. Let’s look at the sections you’ll find in most songs and the part they play in song construction.
Intro. Yes, this leads you into the song. It may be two, four or eight bars long or longer. Some songs don’t have any intro at all. A pop song intro will often be reminiscent of the chorus or the hook. In a club song, it’s often a good idea to have eight bars of rhythm to help the DJ to mix match your song. They say that music publishers typically only listen to the first 20 seconds of a song before deciding whether to reject it so if you’re sending material to a publisher, keep the intro short and get into the song as quickly as possible. Save the 5 minute intros for the CD version.
Verse. This is the preamble to the chorus. It sets the scene, certainly lyrically, and as the verses progress they often tell a story or recount episodes from a situation although that’s by no means essential. They are typically eight or sixteen bars long and melodically not usually as strong as the chorus although, again, that’s by no means essential. However, it often seems as if the songwriter ran out of ideas when writing the verse. One of the strengths of The Beatles’ songs is that verses and choruses are equally strong and most people could hum or sing their way through most Beatles hits. Not so with many songs where the verses are little more than fillers to get you to the chorus.
Chorus. This the bit everyone remembers, whistles and sings along to. It should be the strongest part of the song and generally is or contains the hook. It’s usually eight or sixteen bars long.
Middle eight. As a song progresses, there’s a danger of boredom setting for the listener. The middle eight offers them a break and typically comes after a couple of verses and choruses. Some people think of it as an alternative verse and that’s one way to look at it. It often modulates to a different key or introduces a new chord progression and it usually doesn’t include the song title. However, all too often it’s simply an excuse for waffling on for a few bars. Although it’s called the middle eight it could be four or sixteen bars long.
Bridge. Many people use the terms ‘middle eight’ and ‘bridge’ synonymously and so popular is this usage that it would be churlish to disagree. However, among those who prefer to note the difference, a bridge is a short section used to bridge the gap between verse and chorus. It may only be two or four bars long and it’s often used when the verse and chorus are so different from each other that a ‘joining’ phrase helps bring them together.
Instrumental. This is part of the song without any vocals. Yeah, okay. It’s often an instrumental version of the verse or chorus, it may be an improvised variation on one of these, or it may be an entirely different tune and set of chords altogether. Sometimes it fits into a song where a vocal middle eight would otherwise go.
Breakdown/Break. This term has been high jacked from songs from the early 1900s when it was common to either to reduce the instrumentation or stop it altogether while a tap dancer would strut his stuff. The term ‘break’ is still sometimes used to indicate an instrumental section. ‘Breakdown’ is now most commonly used in dance music for the section where the percussion breaks down or is reduced, and it may be the dance equivalent of the middle eight.