An understanding of how songs are put together is really helpful. It gives you a vocabulary that makes it easier to understand musical concepts, and communicate them with others. That helps you learn (and remember) a song more “robustly”, and have more fun doing it.
Almost every TuneLing displays “annotations”, which describe the structural components of a song in simple language, some of which you probably already know. So let’s illuminate the most common terms, because you’ll see them in TuneLings a lot.
Before we begin, it’s important to understand that there are no real rules. Most of these terms can be applied subjectively, and even schooled musicologists may not always agree on their uses. For example, one might state that bars 17-24 of a song are not really a “verse”, but more of a “pre-chorus”, and another might argue the opposite. And both might be correct.
So without futher ado, here are some of the most common terms:
- Intro: The first part of song, which serves to grab the listener’s attention and prepare their ears for what’s to come. Sometimes though, an intro can sound nothing like the rest of the song! And some songs have no intro at all.
- Verse: Typically, the lyrical “meat” of a song. Most often, this is a cohesive set of lyrics – a few lines, sung with a specific melody over a specific pattern of chord changes. Most songs will have several verses, with different lyrical content in each one – though it’s also very common for verses to repeat, verbatim.
- Chorus: A section of the song that is usually musically distinct from verses, by virtue of having different melody and/or different chords. Choruses usually occur several times during a song, and usually have substantially the same lyrics each time. The chorus is usually the part of a song that is most easily remembered by the listener, which is often the songwriter’s intent.
- Pre-chorus: A pre-chorus is usually a section in between a verse and a chorus. It’s musically distinct from both, but serves as a transition from one into the next, adding its own, different character the song.
- Bridge: The most important quality of a true bridge is that it’s not the verse, and not the chorus! It’s typically a unique section of a song whose purpose is to provide contrast against the other parts. Because it’s unexpected, it grabs the listener’s attention, and keeps their mental focus on the song. Not every song has a bridge, but a truly great bridge is very frequently a component of a truly great song, and it usually (not always!) happens only once.
- Interlude, or Link: A (usually instrumental) section that bridges one part of a song to another, with its own character. Interludes are not necessarily intended to grab attention, like a bridge is – they just glue two pieces of a song together in an elegant way.
- Solo: A (generally) non-vocal section featuring a specific instrument, often playing an improvised melody. Sometimes, a solo serves the purpose of a bridge too.
- Vamp: A short section, often with one or very few chords, repeated some number of times. Sometimes a vamp is designed to go under something else, like a singer delivering a “rap”, or an instrumental solo.
- Breakdown: A section with a reduced number of instruments, often providing a simplified background temporarily, allowing something else to happen, or simply to provide contrast to denser parts of an arrangement.
- Coda or Outro, or Tag: The last part of a song. Sometimes this is a composite of parts heard earlier, but occasionally, it’s utterly different from the rest of the song.
There’s more where this came from, but the terms above cover most of what you’ll see in TuneLings, and most of what’s meaningful to songwriters.
The term “Song Structure” refers to how these parts fit together. So, as an example, a typical 3-minute pop song might have a structure similar to this:
- Verse 1
- Verse 2
- Pre-Chorus 1
- Chorus 1
- Verse 3
- Pre-Chorus 2
- Chorus 2
- Bridge (Guitar solo)
- Chorus 3
- Outro (repeat of second half of Chorus)
You’ll find these terms to be useful, as you get more familar with them. But remember – in songwriting, THERE. ARE. NO. RULES.