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The Anatomy of a Song

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This post focuses on the various parts of a song and many typical ways in which they are arranged.

Over time several tendencies in songwriting have emerged as far as the arrangement of music is concerned. It all comes largely from classical music, which often is composed with attention to variations in musical ‘motifs’.

The Components of a Song

Not all of these components are necessary, but these are some of the common parts of a song’s arrangement (in pop music, at least):

  • Intro – obviously an introduction part is an introduction to the song, often transitioning from a previous song or whetting the listener’s musical appetite for the body of the song. Be aware that intros are looked down upon by many jaded folks in the music industry. You shouldn’t necessarily pay them any mind, but they’ll say that intros add time to the track and will bore critical listeners such as prospective A&R, reviewers and producers.
  • Verse – a verse is usually the place where conceptual movement happens in the lyrics, meaning that it is the body where the story is told. Musically, the verse is usually moderate in energy and is used to contrast with the chorus. Verses are often characterized by a repetitive motif or chord progression but not necessarily a ‘hook’.
  • Prechorus – many songwriters like to include a transition between verses and the chorus. They’re usually short, consisting of one or two measures, and typically involve chord changes (sometimes called turnarounds) to ease movement from the key signature of the verse and the key signature of the chorus (if they are different, of course).
  • Chorus – the chorus is almost always where the main ‘hook’ of the song is. It’s the part that people will naturally find themselves singing over again. As a result, it usually has a trademark musical or lyrical motif that is catchy, repeated verbatim from chorus to chorus. It’s pretty common practice these days to copy & paste choruses throughout a song for even greater consistency. Whether this suits your music and your compositional values is up to you to decide. It’s usually the most energetic part of the music.
  • Bridge – a bridge is a dramatically different portion of the song. It’s a chance to ease off from the repetition of the verse and chorus motifs. Often it’s overall lower in energy, but sometimes, in the case of a ‘breakdown’ can elevate the energy even higher. A verse often modulates the key of the song temporarily and should contrast rhythmically with the rest of the composition. Almost always the bridge transitions into a prechorus or a chorus for a nice emotional resolution.
  • Outro – an outro is a way to wrap up a composition, to ease the listener into silence or into the next song. Outros are more accepted in the industry because, presumably, the listener has already heard the song by the time they make it to the outro, meaning you’ve already hooked them.

Describing the Arrangement

One way that classical music developed to describe music is to give each section of the song a letter name, usually descending alphabetically (A, B, C…). A typical pop song may have three verses (we’ll dub them section A), four choruses (B), a bridge (C), and an outro (D). So ABABACBD would be verse, chorus, verse, chorus, verse, bridge, chorus, outtro. See? This is more or less a way of describing the arrangements of songs. Some songs are really simple… AABAB. Some are really complex… ABCDBCDBEBF (with intro, verse, prechorus, chorus, bridge, and outro *whew*).