It’s good to know how songs are put together, structurally speaking. Not only does knowing basic song structure help you to work on a song in “pieces” or “parts,” but it also helps you, hopefully, to communicate with other musicians in terms of working together on songs. I have to use the word “hopefully” here because many people use different terms for songs – sometimes correctly and sometimes indiscriminately. It’s more often out of personal experience than anything else, really.
Essentially, songs can be broken down into the following parts:
INTRO (or “Introduction”)
PRE-CHORUS (or “Climb”)
CHORUS (or “Refrain”)
BRIDGE (or “Middle Eight”)
CODA (or “Outro”)
You’re undoubtedly already familiar with most of these terms, especially if you’ve read Unearthing the Structure here on the Guitar Noise website.
It’s important to understand that all songs aren’t structured the same, but are rather pieced together from these various parts. Many songs don’t have an introduction, for example. Some don’t have choruses or bridges (or both) or codas (or all three) and many don’t have pre-choruses.
The “pre-chorus,” by the way, is a fairly recent term in the history of songwriting. Essentially it is a very short musical and / or lyrical phrase that helps lead to the chorus. Often the lyrics will be the same for each pre-chorus, but they can vary from pre-chorus to pre-chorus as well.
And the pre-chorus is an excellent example of how different songwriters look at how songs are assembled. Take the Beatles’ song “Revolution,” for instance. There’s a short intro (the opening guitar line, complete with a vocal scream) and then you get right to the verse. Songwriters nowadays would label the part where the music changes from the blues shuffle to the staccato chords (the lyric line in the first verse being “…but when you talk about destruction don’t you know you can count me out…”) as the pre-chorus. But not all that long ago, it would have been considered just a section of the verse.
The bridge of a song also tends to fall into gray areas when it comes to being labeled. Part of this is because a song can have more than one bridge and while other parts of a song will usually be structurally identical each time you come across them, it’s possible to have a song with two completely different bridges in terms of music and lyrics.
Even verses and choruses can have slight modifications within a single song. For example, each verse of Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken” is slightly different from the other. But to call any of these verses something other than a “verse” is more confusing!
Getting used to song structures and working to get better at identifying parts of songs is fun. It simply involves listening for repeating chord progressions and patterns as well as listening to the melodies and also lyrics for repeated phrases. In other words, just listen to a lot of music!
But also read music books, which often label the song parts whereas most tab and chord sheets won’t.