Song forms

Options on how to structure songs


To select a structure appropriate to the artistic intent

Examples of song forms

AAA Song Form

What is the similarity between the songs “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Scarborough Fair?” Both songs are in the AAA song form. This form consists of different sections, or verses (A). It does not have a chorus or a bridge. It does however, have a refrain, which is a line (often the title) that is repeated in the same place in each of the verses, usually at the end. 

AABA Song Form

Also known as American popular song form or ballad form, the AABA song form has two opening sections/verses (A), a musically and lyrically contrasting bridge (B), and a final A section. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is a song written in traditional AABA form.

ABAC Song Form

Popular with composers of stage and movie musicals, this song form begins with an 8-bar A section, followed by an 8-bar B section. It then returns to the A section before launching into a C section that is just slightly different melodically than the previous B section. “Moon River,” written by Andy Williams and showcased in the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” is a classic ABAC song.

Verse/Chorus Song Form

This type of song form is often used in love songs, pop, country, and rock music. While the versus change, the chorus almost always remains the same musically and lyrically. Hits like Madonna’s “Material Girl” and Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” follow this form. One important rule of thumb when writing the verse/chorus song is to try to get to the chorus quickly, which means keeping the verses relatively short.

Verse/Chorus/Bridge Song Form

An extension of the verse/chorus form, verse/chorus/bridge song form typically follows a pattern of verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus. It is also one of the most challenging forms to write to because songs can become lengthy. As a general rule, a commercially viable song shouldn’t exceed the three-minute and 30-second mark. 

Other Song Forms

These are just a few examples of common song structures. There are others, such as ABAB, and ABCD, although these aren’t as commonly used as the other song forms. Try listening to some of your favourite songs. Can you identify the structure they are using? How does the structure contribute to the piece?

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