A Guide to Song Forms - Song Forms Overview - Songstuff (2023)

A Guide to Song Forms - Song Forms Overview - Songstuff (1)

Song forms are often made up of multiple sections that may or may not repeat within the same song. Popular music is generally based on the use of traditional sectional song forms or song structures derived from these traditional song forms. Derivative song forms are often based on the strophic form (AAA song form), the 32-bar form (AABA song form), the verse-chorus form (AB song form), and the blues form of 12 bars (ABA song form). AAB music). Songs with a different melody and chord progression for each verse, in other words without repetitive sections (called 'through the compound form'), are much less common in Western popular music.

This article provides an overview of the different fundamental musical forms and where these musical forms are currently used in popular songs. It provides a basic understanding of common modern musical forms, although for simplicity some of the basic musical forms or classifications of musical forms have only been mentioned rather than fully explored.

song form

Song Form describes the structure of the songs in an easy to understand structure. When using song form, lyrics are assigned to different sections of a song, where repeating sections are assigned the same letter that was assigned to the first occurrence of that section. The lyrics then create a map of the music as a whole, or the musical architecture of the main characteristic of that type of music. Thinking about song form helps songwriters keep an overview of songs and how the component sections of the song are arranged.

It should be noted that the meaning of some terms such as "verse" and "chorus" have changed over the years.

conflicting terminology

There is some confusion, partly because of changes in terminology over the years, and partly because a word means different things in different contexts, such as what the word means in the context of gender, location, and what that word means to different people. .Groups of people.

"Chorus" is originally derived from the notion of "multiple voices" singing a specific section of the song, while the name "chorus" is used for musical sections where multiple voices sing together. In classical music, the voices of the masses in opera, or the voices of the masses accompanying an orchestra on any stage, are still referred to as "the choir". The second main use of the name "chorus" is the modern understanding of the section of a song called the "chorus", which may or may not be sung by multiple voices.

Chorus lines can be sung by multiple voices and, using older terminology, it is a chorus in the sense thatmay lbe performed by multiple voices, but can also be sung by a solo voice. However, a chorus is not the chorus section of the verse-chorus song form that we all know and love.

A chorus is part of a verse that is repeated from verse to verse. Usually the chorus is on the last line of the verse, but it doesn't have to be. It could just as easily be the first line of the verse, or much less often, any other line.

To make it even more confusing, "the verse" did not always mean what we now understand. "Verse" used to be the name of a32 bar intro, before getting to the main piece of music, which had a typically AABA structure (i.e. a 32-bar second section).

Conflicts in terminology stem from a variety of reasons. For example, classical musicians interpret a term one way, and popular musicians use the term to mean something different. Or just musicians in one area calling a music section a name that was already used for another music section elsewhere. The passage of time also causes changes in the meaning of a term as new generations apply the term to something new or use it in a new and derivative way.

root musical forms

There are many other terms used for musical forms and classifications of musical forms that are not a musical form, or are musical predecessors of modern musical forms, or are classifications of musical forms rather than an individual musical form. Since this article focuses on musical forms, this is not the place to explore these musical forms in detail; however, for completeness, it is worth at least informing you that there are musical forms outside of musical forms. These include:

  1. individual forms
    1. Sectional Shapes
      1. Binary form, two-part form, AB, AABB, etc.
      2. Ternary form, three-part form, ABA or ternary form is the original root of the 32-bar musical form AABA.
      3. Rondo shape. This form is based on a recurring theme that alternates with other contrasting themes such as ABACABA
      4. Medley or chain form
    2. Variational Form
    3. development form
      1. forma sonata
  2. cyclic forms
    1. Song cycle: set or group of songs intended to be played in a certain sequence. A concept album from the 1970s would be a good example of this in contemporary music.

Common musical forms and their uses.

Single Form and Sectional Form

Most modern Western popular music is a type ofsingle form, collectively known asSectional Shapes, where sectional shapes are created in a sequence of distinct sections that can be referenced by letter tags. These sections usually have a more specific name. You are probably familiar with most of them, for example:

  1. Introduction (Introduction)
  2. Code (Outside)
  3. Verso
  4. Coro
  5. Ponte

Sectional shapes include:

  1. Strophic song form or AAA
  2. AABA song form
  3. Song form AB or verse/chorus
  4. Verse/Chorus/Bridge Song Form
  5. ABAB song form
  6. ABAC song form
  7. ABCD song form
  8. 12 bar form of music
  9. 8 bar form of music
  10. 16 bar form of music
  11. Hybrid/composite forms of music

The fundamental forms of music in more detail.

strophic song form / AAA / one part

The strophic music form is also called the AAA form or one part music form. The AAA music form is one of the oldest forms of sectional music. It originates from the adaptation of poems, with composers setting the poems to music to perform for the entertainment of the royal courts of Europe.

The melody is repeated, in the form of a strophic song, and each time the melody is repeated, different words are sung to the melody. This makes it an ideal form of music for storytelling.

AAA songs are made up of several verses. Sometimes a chorus is included at the end of each verse. The chorus is a line (usually the line is also the title of the song) that is repeated in the same place on each repetition of the verse section's melody.

For details on the AAA song form, read our articleA Guide to Musical Forms - AAA Music Form.

AAB Form - 12 Bar Blues

The 12-bar form used in the AAB music form is strongly associated with the blues. Many Blues songs are in AAB format. 12 bars" refers to the number of bars of music, or measures, that make up the theme of typical Blues songs. Almost all Blues songs are written in 4/4 time, that is, there are four beats in each measure or measure with each quarter note (quarter note) equals one beat.

The fundamental structure of the 12-bar blues is three lines or subsections of four bars. Often the first 2.5 bars of each 4-bar section are vocal melody, while the last 1.5 bars contain an instrumental melodic hook that gives a sense of closure to the line.

Common variants for the 12 bar blues are the 8 bar form and the 16 bar form.

To learn more about the AAB song form, read our articleA Guide to Song Forms - AAB Song Form

AABA Song Form / American Folk Song Form

This is one of the most commonly used forms in jazz and popular music of the early to mid-20th century. The AABA format was the music form of choice for composers in American popular music's Tin Pan Alley, an East Coast songwriting scene based in New York City, in the first half of the 20th century. Tin Pan Alley composers included such great composers as Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen, Sammy Cahn, Hoagy Carmichael, Dorothy Fields, Johnny Mercer, George and Ira Gershwin.

The dominance of the AABA musical form waned during the 1960s. The rise in popularity of rock 'n' roll and the rise of groups like the Beatles changed the landscape of popular music. Before the Beatles got into other songwriting formats, they used the AABA song form heavily in many songs.

This form of music is used in many musical genres, including pop, jazz, and gospel.

For details on the AABA song form, read our articleA Guide to Musical Forms - AABA Music Form

AB song form or verse/chorus and ABC song form or verse/chorus/bridge song form

The AB format has been the preferred composition format for modern popular music since the 1960s. It is often used in love, pop, country, rap, and rock songs. Unlike the AABA or AAA form, which emphasize the verse, the AB form emphasizes the entire chorus. Although AB Song Form has been around since the mid-19th century, the most popular songs from the classic rock period onwards are written in AB Song Form.

Most popular songs from the classic rock period onwards are written in the AB song form, which has been around since the mid-19th century. The AB song form consists of two or three verses that alternate with a second musical section known as a chorus. The chorus usually contains the main message and the title of the song. It is distinguished from a bridge in that it sounds full on its own. As with blues progressions, not all songs on AB Song Form are in the typical 32-bar length. Verses and choruses can be any length, however most are four, eight, twelve, sixteen, or twenty-four bars.

The first and most obvious form derived from AB is the ABC song form, also called the VERSE/CHORUS/BRIDGE song form. This is essentially a form of AB music with the addition of another third section, a bridge.

For details about AB Song Form, ABC Song Form, and other AB-derived musical forms, read our articleA Guide to Song Shapes - AB Song Shape and ABC Song Shape.

Extended song forms and more

Extended song forms are based on one of the "whole song" root song forms. For example, the AABA song form is often extended to an AABABA song structure.

There are also less commonly used song structures such as ABAB and ABAC.

Used primarily in songs from the art song tradition in classical music, when a song is "fully composed", it means that no musical idea is repeated without variation. Also called ABCD, this form is very unusual in popular music.

For details on extended musical forms and other forms of music, including the ABCD music form (via composition), read our articleA Guide to Song Forms: Extended Common Song Forms and Much More.

Forms of composed songs.

Composite song forms are also sometimes called hybrid song forms. They use a mixture of two or more forms of music together in a song. This is a combination of two or more music form structural concepts where one base music form is used to describe the general architecture of the music, and the other music form structural concept is inserted into the base music form, replacing one of the forms. existing musicals. sections.

For details on the compound forms of songs, read our articleA Guide to Music Forms - Composed Music Forms.

music building blocks

Throughout this article several common structural elements of a song have been mentioned.

The most common building blocks are:

  2. VERSO
  3. CORO
  5. CORO
  6. ponte
  10. CODE / OTHER
  11. AD LIB (often in CODA/OTHERS)

For details on these common music building blocks, how and why they are used, please read our article, "music building blocks".

Song Form Tips for Songwriters

In general, it's a good idea to consider the genre you're writing for and choose the form of music that best suits the genre.

  1. Develop your knowledge of current songwriting trends - listen to the songs that are currently topping the Billboard charts and work on the structure that each song follows.
  2. Experiment with the form of music: Experiment with different forms of music, learning how they work and how they work together. This is a worthwhile learning exercise, even if you don't plan to do anything with the specific song.
  3. Variation – Varying the forms of music you use pays off, and it can also help you get out of a songwriting rut where the songs you create sound too similar, too predictable.
  4. Genre: Some forms of music are widely used for specific musical genres. Some are obvious, like the use of AAB in blues, but mastery of specific forms of music within a genre isn't always so easy to spot. Developing your knowledge of historical usage and current usage trends will help you select the most appropriate forms of music when writing with a target genre in mind.

Find out what form of music was used

Some forms of music are very distinctive, such as AAB, because the musical scale used in the melody is a blues scale. They are very easy to spot. Others are much less obvious.

How do you know what form of music is being used?

When you listen to a song, divide it into sections. There are several ways to discover the structure of a song:

  1. Lyrics are a good guide to the general structure of a song. look towards:
    1. The placement of repeated phrases.
    2. meter changes
    3. Changes in the rhyme scheme.
    4. How the title is used and where the song title is used
  2. Listens:
    1. 4-bar phrases, 8-bar phrases, 16-bar phrases
    2. A sense of closure or resolution (Cadence)
    3. melodic repetitions

Once you've figured out which sections the song uses, you can assign letters to the individual sections, assigning the same letters to very similar sections. The song is then mapped using these letters as section names.


Musical forms are an important aspect of songwriting. They are not a solution to all songwriting problems, but they are a very useful tool for songwriters.

There is no point in reinventing the wheel. However, what you can do is learn from generations of songwriters and use what you learn in your own creative process. Musical forms offer an ideal way to do just that.

By learning about common musical forms, you also learn a way to quickly and effectively discuss songs with other songwriters, gain a greater understanding of songs past, and gain insight into the thoughts and considerations of songwriters who have written classics and hits. current. You also understand how you can easily vary the structure of your own songs and how you can improve songs you have yet to write.

Not a bad reward for learning a few basics and some common ways to apply those concepts.

Like most learning, starting tomorrow is good, but starting today is even better.

Comment on this article on ourmusic forum.

Juan Moxey

Songstuff Website Team

About Songstuff

Songstuff launched in September 2000 and has become a comprehensive resource for musicians, attracting interest from musicians of all backgrounds and skill levels. HeSongstuff Composers and Music Communityit has become an essential and dynamic networking resource where members exchange ideas and collaborate on common projects. A big thank you and appreciation is due to the moderation team for helping the community grow into the active and creative place it has become.

Site Crew's conduct is based on their experience and contacts to conduct interviews and write quality articles on a variety of topics. Also, theSongstuff Communitymembers regularly contribute articles and Songstuff has many regular contributors from across the field of music.

Our team

The Songstuff site team is highly experienced and covers a wide range of roles in the music industry, including record label owners, music educators, professional musicians, songwriters, band managers, and other music industry professionals.

This article was written by a member of the Songstuff website team.

Songstuff home page

Get in touch with the songs.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Horacio Brakus JD

Last Updated: 02/17/2023

Views: 6541

Rating: 4 / 5 (71 voted)

Reviews: 94% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Horacio Brakus JD

Birthday: 1999-08-21

Address: Apt. 524 43384 Minnie Prairie, South Edda, MA 62804

Phone: +5931039998219

Job: Sales Strategist

Hobby: Sculling, Kitesurfing, Orienteering, Painting, Computer programming, Creative writing, Scuba diving

Introduction: My name is Horacio Brakus JD, I am a lively, splendid, jolly, vivacious, vast, cheerful, agreeable person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.