Basic composition


Jul 20, 2017
South Dakota
You know there is quite a lot in this section but no one ever covered the most basic the actually composition of a song or tune. chorus bridge etc. I was thinking about it and I certainly don’t know the ins and outs of the music of structures. I tend to put things together that just sound ok on my noodling. So let me fire this off with an initial question or two. What Basic structures do you like the best? is there more than one acceptable or common way perhaps there are some uncommon but interesting ways to have your structure?

FYI obviously I have had no formal music training other than a couple instrument lessons. So don’t beat me up to bad for the most basic of questions which I figure can actually get pretty involved. Like notes you have sown and the next thing you know there is an entire world of theory to mess with your mind! They don’t want you about that when they say the string on the guitar are eadgbe!


Country Gent
May 15, 2020
I tend to write verse/chorus songs that do not have a bridge or pre-chorus but do often have some turn-arounds as needed. The quantity and order of said verses and choruses varies by song. I have some songs that start and end on a chorus and some that start with a verse and end with verse (often a refrain of the first verse). I will sometimes try to vary the melody from verse to verse by creating a 2 verse pattern of the melody. For example, verse 1 and 3 are alike whereas verse 2 and 4 are alike but different from 1 and 3. Sometimes, just to serve the arch of the song, a single verse may have a variation in melody to punctuate a significant lyric. Sometimes, I do try to incorporate a bridge and sometimes they just come on their own. The turn-arounds I mentioned tend be musical passages that just give the lyrics a moment to rest. Almost every one of my/our songs has a musical break.

I too have no formal training in the craft. I've just written and released a lot of music and that's what works for me.


Friend of Fred
May 28, 2013
Savannah, GA
Song structure can vary a lot depending on which genre of music you are writing. Progressive Rock would have a more complicated structure that Pop for example.

I would think that the most common structures would be ABABCB (Where A=Verse, B=Chorus,C=Bridge)

Quite often a song will also have a Pre-Chorus as well.

It is generally looked favorably upon in the industry to get to your Chorus as quickly as possible and I always keep this rule in mind when arranging a tune. If there's a way to gracefully get to the Chorus a little early it is usually a good thing...especially if you have a catchy chorus.

If you don't have a catchy chorus then do whatever because nobody will care anyway 😜

Maybe it's not a helpful thing to say, however, I find that the song will almost always tell you what it wants.

Does the verse drag on?...cut it in half or move it.

Does the Chorus seem to come in too fast? Add a second verse or consider a Pre-chorus.

Do you need the Pre-chorus the second time the Chorus comes around...if you can cut it and it sounds good then axe it.

Is it a song about waiting on a crush? incorporate a long pause...the structure should support and illustrate the theme of your song.

Integrity is the key to great songwriting and every aspect of the song is a tool that can help your listener experience and feel your message.

The structure can help create a sense of longing or something that's being rushed or even something unpredictable...

Guidelines are good starting points in writing but a song always tells you what it wants to do if you listen.

Learn to let the music guide you and follow what it seems to be saying to you. A little stretch of music will bring pictures to your mind and words to your lips. Those words and images will expand into bigger vistas. Follow your muse and let her guide you. She already knows what you want to say if you will trust and surrender to her.


Feb 2, 2023
Washington USA
Maybe it's not a helpful thing to say, however, I find that the song will almost always tell you what it wants.
I think that's a very helpful thing to say. As you come up with bits, sing or play them and see where they seem to want to go. Trust your ear, first. Sure, sometimes your ear is going to lead you in a direction of, say, a Beatles tune you heard six months ago that has a similar turn, but you'll eventually figure that out and wind up in your own place. And it doesn't matter if the result rivals Lennon and McCartney: going through the process is what makes you better.

For most songs, it's almost always important the music supports and enhances the meaning behind the lyrics, so the lyrics and melody are always a guide. (This doesn't mean following obvious choices: sometimes the unexpected contrast works better than the tried and true.) For other forms of music, there are almost always similar elements that will make a composition lean in particular directions, whether melody, instrument requirements, time limitations, tempo, rhythms… Follow them, see where they go. Trust your ear, first.

I tend to think of things like song structures as tools I can use rather than rules I have to follow to do it "right." As rules, those things change constantly anyway. Back in the day the most common song structure was AABA (chorus chorus bridge chorus), eight bars each. That's typically about a minute of music: then they would do it again…and again…and maybe AGAIN if the audience was into it. (Quite a lot of the "great American songbook" matches this description.) A few days later prechoruses were the thing: you almost never hear a prechorus in pop music today. Same with solos. In a lot of pop today you arguably never hear a verse: "verses" are often just choruses with less decoration.

So I wouldn't worry about any of that. Sure, LISTEN to that stuff, UNDERSTAND how it's built. But trust your ear, first.


Country Gent
Gold Supporting Member
May 25, 2022
New York
I play for my own amusement and don’t consider myself a songwriter. I do, however, like to play with intros, outros, and especially solos. Knowing theory helps immensely. There’s a country love song in 4/4 time where I play my solo in 3/4 time. The solo swings and carries the mood. It also feels faster even though the tempo is identical in the verse and solo. I’m also a fan of playing a solo, and sometimes the outro too in a related mode. I put my solo in House of the Rising Sun in the middle, not the end and play it in the Dorian mode. The Dorian mode has a bluesy feel that stands out against a minor key blues. It also calls for an Am6 chord to close the song. The Am6 belongs with the Dorian mode solo but just hangs in space in its absence.

A Dorian mode solo can also act as an unsung bridge. I love bridges that set parts of a song apart from each other. I’m thinking that this is an instrumentalist’s perspective rather than that of a song writer, but I’ve never been a song writer.
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Silver Member
Jul 10, 2019
NE Wisconsin, US
No beating up here; I find some of the basic questions are the best. For me it boils down to ‘It depends’. If you are writing for a certain market (or audience) they will be looking for something they know and that will direct you. To me, that’s one of the reasons that a lot of pop music all sounds the same. Stray from the formula and it will sound odd. Also, the industry wants another hit just like the last one. On the other hand, breaking away from the ‘standard’ can really make a song stand out. Think of The Wreck Edmund Fitzgerald vs I Want to Hold Your Hand.

I agree with what many have said, write what works for you. I write primarily in the Folk/Americana style. It can vary in form according to where the song takes me. I am starting to add bridges and space for instrumentals (solos). I once had a verse that was the core of the song but just couldn’t get it to flow. Then I had the idea to move that verse further into the song and it all came together. When it feels right, it’s right.


Mar 4, 2022
Bristol, UK
There are no rules.

What about blasting straight in with the chorus: Help, She Loves You, Can't Buy Me Love, I Shot the Sheriff, Nowhere To Run, Paradise City, You Give Love A Bad Name.

Or you could write a song that has no chorus: Bohemian Rhapsody, All Along the Watchtower, Hey Jude, Paranoid, Stairway to Heaven, Space Oddity, Up the Junction, My Way (kind of), Baker Street (although you could argue that the saxophone break is the wordless chorus!).

Or a song with a chorus that only occurs once: Thunder Road, Wish You Were Here, Don't Stop Believin', Happiness Is a Warm Gun, Freebird

Or a song that is just a chorus repeated: If I Had Words, You Know My Name Look Up the Number, Why Don't We Do It In the Road, Walk Right Back.
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Gold Supporting Member
Oct 18, 2015
I really like when a song has a non-standard structure. (Although the strandard-structure has something very satisfying because it is so familiar.)
Basically there are some other song-sequences that stood the test of time that are quite different. Sometimes that still makes a nice surprise.

Simple children`s songs often consist of only one part that is repeated a few times. You rarely hear this in current pop-songs but sometimes in old folk-songs. It has a great sing-along-character that is very enjoyable.

Sometimes substituting a standard-song-part like the chorus with a hooky-instrumental sequence has a cool effect.

I always enjoyed songs that are "crescending" by sequencing different parts that get more and more intense without any repetition.

A lot of Jim Steinman`s stuff is very unconventionally composed. Before any climax there are parts that draw the listener back and forth. Building up tension and releasing it.

In some modern dance music the only connecting aspect is the underlying beat. Especially in some forms of ambience-music the harmonic content is often a stream-of-consciousness-thing. This can be a very nice listener-eperience, too.

All in all there is no rule to be followed.
Sometimes it is refreshing to work outside of tried and tested ways.
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Country Gent
Not mentioned yet, but worth a try: coda with different chords to end the song.
Great example: Lou Reed's Perfect Day.

Even better: same principle but the additional chord sequence is only played once at the end of the song. It seems to me that listeners will want to play the song all over again and again...
(I cannot find any example except a song I wrote long ago. But I'm sure I did not invent that and stole the idea from another song.)


Mar 4, 2022
Bristol, UK
Don't forget to throw in the occasional key change aka "Truck Driver's Gear Shift"!
It's where the key change shifts upward (a half step or whole step) and usually happens towards the latter half of the song close to the ending.

You get a bonus point if you also pull the air horn of your truck as you change gear in time with the key change.

I've thoughtfully timestamped some prime examples:

(There's actually 2 TDGSs at 2:31 and 2:38 In this song. Well played, REM!)


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