Piano time

Parts of a song – song structure explained

By BBC Maestro

Our favourite songs vary in genre and style, yet they share a common thread—they stick with us even after the music fades. The magic of songs may be in their rhythm and melody, but it’s the familiar patterns they follow that make them truly memorable.

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What is song structure? 

Song structure is essentially how a song is organised, so if you want to write or produce a song yourself, you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ll delve into the different parts of a song and what makes them essential.

Most songs are made up of various sections arranged within a specific framework. Without a clear structure, a song can lack direction, so it can be particularly helpful to have an idea of the essential components and how they fit into a conventional song structure. 

Song in a book

Parts of a song

Intro (optional):

Most songs start with a short intro of around four to eight bars. In musical terms, the intro establishes the song’s key elements like key, rhythm, tempo, and melody and sets the tone for the rest of the piece. 

A well-crafted intro is crucial for drawing the listener in. As Mark Ronson notes in his BBC Maestro course on music production, the distinctive ‘do-do-do, do-do-do’ that opens Uptown Funk not only signals the start of something exciting but also “glues the rest of the song together.” 

Verse:

The verse is where lyrics and melody come together to tell the song’s story. Although less memorable and climactic than later sections, the verse is a canvas for lyrical expression and introduces the emotional narrative of the music. 

In Let It Be by The Beatles, the clever tactic of repetition used throughout makes it a song that is hard to forget. The first verse calls to a particular moment – ‘When I find myself in times of trouble…’ and ends with ‘Let it be.’ As you move through the song, each verse harks back to a moment – ‘And when the broken-hearted people’ or ‘And when the night is…’’ and ends with ‘’let it be.’’ 

Featuring motifs like this can make the song’s overall message far more memorable. A good verse should evoke emotions and set the stage for what’s to come. 

Pre-chorus (optional):

For added momentum, songwriters may choose to include a pre-chorus. The pre-chorus serves as a bridge between the verse and the chorus, ensuring a smooth transition between sections and heightening the song’s drama. 

Taylor Swift’s Love Story is a great example, where the pre-chorus effectively builds tension and anticipation before transitioning into the chorus.

Bridge (optional):

The bridge of a song is a transitional verse that introduces new elements to the song, usually through a key change or different chord progressions. 

Look at Jeff Buckley’s Grace as an example – it sets up the song for a return to the chorus while building up emotion. An effective bridge should add variety and contrast to the song, making the final return to the chorus all the more satisfying for the listener. 

Outro (or coda):

To leave a lasting impression, some songs conclude with an outro or coda. This part often delivers a final hook or introduces unique elements. 

Some songs choose to end with a fade-out, an effect where the song gradually gets quieter and quieter, as seen in The Beatles Hey Jude. This fading effect gives the impression of the song continuing even after it’s over. Conversely, songs like Uptown Funk end in a full stop, giving a sense of finality and completion.

Song structure examples

Having dissected individual song sections, let’s explore how they combine to form song structures, examining some commonly used types:

ACAC

In the realm of pop and rock music, the Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus (ACAC) variation takes centre stage. Comprising a repeated eight-bar verse and chorus, this structure is not only catchy and accessible but also radio-friendly. A prime example is Back to Black by Amy Winehouse.

ACACBC

ACAC’s equally popular counterpart is the Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus (ACACBC) variation. The inclusion of a bridge amplifies the emotional impact of the song, making it a preferred choice among contemporary songwriters. Examples of this structure include Back for Good by Take That and Someone Like You by Adele. 

AABA

The Verse-Verse-Bridge-Verse (AABA) variation, commonly known as the 32-bar form, held prominence in early 20th-century American pop music. Abandoning the traditional chorus for a refrain that either starts or ends the verse, this type of structure allows for dynamic musical storytelling. Noteworthy instances include We Can Work It Out by The Beatles and Still Rock and Roll to Me by Billy Joel.

How to find the right song structure

Choosing the right structure for a song ultimately depends on the songwriter’s creative intent and the specific needs of the song. We’ve looked at some common structures in action, but, as Gary Barlow puts it, “songs can evolve in many unexpected directions,” so go and find the right one for yours.


Music, as an art form, has endless structural possibilities, so if you want to learn more about songwriting, take a look a Gary Barlow’s Songwriting course for a deep dive into melody, chords and lyrics. If it’s the recording process you’re interested in, Mark Ronson’s course, Music Production, covers everything from vocal performances to mixing. 

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