I’m certainly not one to try to set specifics on how art should be created or performed (that defeats the purpose of art). Like many expressions of art, songwriting doesn’t have to follow strict rules, but for your music to have great appeal (if that’s what you’re looking for), it’s a good idea to understand the basic structure of the song.
There is no question that there are some incredibly creative and talented artists who take unconventional approaches to writing lyrics and melodies. I think it’s safe to say that most listeners appreciate some kind of direction and organization. This is where the song structure transforms your work from chaotic ramblings to purposeful connection.
Study your favorite artists. Think of examples of your favorite songs. You will most likely find a deliberate song structure, with a clear point and direction. Now, creative types usually don’t like the idea of rules or structure, but there is a lot of creative play within the confines of a well-crafted song (and an endless catalog of popular music proves it).
In popular music, there are four basic components to composing a song: verse, pre-chorus, chorus, and bridge. Depending on the type of song you are writing, all, some, or just one of these items may be all you need.
The verse is where you tell the story and “preview” the central idea of your song (led home by the chorus). Usually it is his lyrical introduction, revealing the themes layer by layer. This is generally where you should grab the attention of your listeners. The following verses develop the story or expand on the central idea.
The pre-chorus does not appear in all songs, but it is a very effective way to set up a dynamic transition to the chorus. The lyrics and melody usually go with the flow of the verse, but they are clearly different. Many times it will be the same lyric line, regardless of the verse, but it can also be a great expansion and a new perspective on your verses.
This is where the central idea or theme of your song takes hold, and you bring home your hook (that part of the song that stays in the listeners’ heads). Many times the lyrical lines are a bit simpler here, with a dynamic melody.
Sometimes you’ll want to insert a bridge, which usually happens later in the song (usually after the second chorus). The bridge generally has a distinctly different melody and lyrically sums up or reveals a new take on the song’s theme. Sometimes it can be just a single instrument.
Intro / Outro
Usually this has more to do with the arrangement and production than the actual writing. The introduction is the first thing a listener hears, so you’ll want to open up loud. Most of the time it is only instrumental, but lyrical lines or voices are often present depending on the style and arrangement. The outro is the end of the song. This is where you decide what the listener hears for the last time. Sometimes it’s just the chorus that fades, sometimes an abrupt stop, or whatever creative arrangement you think will have the most impact.
Common Song structures
How you write, structure and arrange your song is completely up to you. Here are some of the most common fixes:
Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus
Verse / Chorus / Verse-Chorus / Bridge / Chorus
Verse / Pre-Chorus / Chorus / Verse / Pre-Chorus / Chorus
Verse / Pre-Chorus / Chorus / Verse / Pre-Chorus / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus
You have a lot of different arrangements to play with, and you can really let your creativity thrive here. If you want a more complex arrangement, you can try something like:
Long verse / pre-chorus / chorus / short chorus / pre-chorus / chorus / bridge / chorus
The more you play and develop your arrangements, the better you will do. The biggest hurdle to jump is to get out there and get started!