Song Structure Explained
So you’re about to write your first song! Congratulations on taking the first step. Songwriting is a passion for many who are looking to turn that passion into a career. Songwriting is a very rewarding career where you can put your creativity into motion.
For some, songwriting comes naturally and being able to tell a story is in their blood. For others, this is something that takes practice and that’s fine! If you find yourself thinking of melodies and lyrics in your head, you probably have an interest in songwriting.
Before you start writing your first song it’s a good idea to decide what you’ll be making. If you have a favorite genre, you might want to start there. Being familiar with the genre will allow you to understand the subject matter thoroughly and in turn, aiding you in writing the lecture. Every songwriter has to start somewhere, don’t be shy and jump right in.
How to Start a Song
When you sit down to write your first song, it’s important to use a songwriting tool. Many songwriters use a piano or guitar however more and more writers are also incorporating drum machines and synthesizers into their songwriting process.
If you already play an instrument, this will make the process much easier as you probably have some sort of musical background. Many find it easiest to write lyrics as they develop the musical arrangement on their instrument. Once you’ve picked a key and chord structure, write what feels natural. Don’t worry about writing specific lyrics but instead focus on how the lyrics fit together and tell a story.
It’s important to pick your song’s topic. Many decide the topic based on mood, emotional feeling, or simply things that are naturally happening in their life. If you are going to write about a particular topic, decide how that topic makes you feel, what emotions do you feel when thinking of said topic. This will more often than not become the mood of the song.
Build a Rough Draft
It’s not necessary to have a fully written song constructed in your head before you start writing. Start by creating a four or eight-bar loop, either with your instrument or in your preferred software. This will help you keep time when writing.
Having something to write with will also allow you to work on the melody while seeing how it fits with the chord structure. Drafts are meant to be tweaked and built upon. If you get stuck on a verse and haven’t written a chorus, take a stab at it and return to the verse at a later time. Some songs take hours and others take months or longer. Remember, it’s ok to take breaks just always finish what you start.
Your main song idea can be anything in today’s music industry, chord progression, vocal melody, hook, chorus, specific baseline, drum loop, basically anything that will catch the ear of a listener.
Creating this idea is definitely the hardest part of getting started. It often requires making a decision and committing to it. Pick that main topic and work in the rest of the material around it.
Modern Day Song Structure
Although a song can technically be structured however you please, most successful commercial music content follows a standard song structure. By knowing this typical song layout, songwriters are able to make something that fits in the marketplace.
When looking at the anatomy of a song, the basic layout is as follows:
The intro is usually the easiest part of the song. During the intro, many of the important elements within the song’s musical content are showcased here. The elements consist of the tempo, key and the overall feel of the song. The elements in the intro of a song are usually the same or at least similar to the outro. Overall the intro’s main purpose is to engage the listener and encourage them to continue to listen.
The verse holds most of the meat and potatoes in regards to lyrics for the track. Typically there are two or three verses in a song and the lyrics are usually different however the melody will remain the same. With each verse, we get more depth about the song’s topic.
When looking at time structure. A traditional song is between 3 and 4 minutes long. When taking this into consideration, a standard verse is about one minute long.
The pre-chorus is definitely optional. Not every song has one however, in the majority of today’s modern music a pre-chorus is a welcome addition. The pre-chorus functions as a boost into the chorus. It usually holds some chorus elements and delightfully moves the listener from verse to chorus.
Think of this as the climax of the song, the part everyone knows and what could very well make your song the next number one. It’s imperative to get the chorus right. Many times the title of the song is repeated or at least mention in the chorus. The chorus remains the same or very close to the same lyric structure each time it repeats. A chorus will repeat multiple times throughout the song.
When exiting an intense chorus, we come across the bridge. The bridge releases tension from the repetitive chorus. In some cases, the music changes key to allow to grab more of the listener’s attention. This sudden key change is found in many genres, however, it is a staple in modern country music.
The outro often holds many of the same elements as the intro, if the song just doesn’t end following the final chorus. This is where the music continues however, the lyrics fade and we are left reflecting on what we just heard.
Writing music is something that comes over time. No one’s first song is great. Most songwriters, try to write every day and push themselves into new territories. While you listen to your favorite song, spend time analyzing and studying it.
Look at the structure and see what they did to make it captivating, how did the writer phrase their verses and choruses. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery. Every song you hear is an opportunity to learn. Remember that you got into songwriting because it’s something that was enjoyable. Don’t overthink it and have fun. There’s no mistake in music but there are happy accidents that can produce great songs.
Tie It All Together
If you are interested in learning more about the music business and how to become a successful songwriter, Dark Horse Institute’s Music Business Program is a great way to take things to the next level when you are ready.