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Song Construction. Basics

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allthumbs    8

I have posted this elsewhere. It will be easier to find here if there is any interest than buried in another thread.

OK. A quick down and dirty lesson in song construction as requested by Dawn.

Parts of a song. Not all sections are used all the time. There are common forms for different styles ie rock or folk etc. Some use more some use less and the rules are broken all the time.

Intro. Usually instrumental. Meant to capture your attention and give you an idea of generally where the tune is going. It can be the chorus or verse used.

Verse This is where the story lives and builds. It tells what's happening and how you feel about it.

Pre chorus. This is used to build up to the chorus if needed using different lyrics or chords before you get to the bridge. It is often left out. Use as needed. Think of it as the setup for the chorus. You can also think of it as a mini bridge

Chorus. This is the part that makes or breaks a song. This is the part that you should be humming or singing as your walking down the street. This is where the hook lives, The title of the song first line or last. It is also where the phrase or riff that repeats through out the song lives. More than one chorus in a tune are usually identical with minor variations. Your audience needs to hear it enough to be able to remember it. Think of the chorus as the part that says this is what I learned from what happened in the verses and this is what i am going to do about it. So you can think of this as the pay off.

Bridge. The bridge sometimes called middle eight ie. usually 8 bars is considered a release. Common in rock after the second chorus but not needed in a lot of other tunes. Can have words or just notes. Think of the bridge as an interlude or a break between the other sections. The bridge is also not used all the time for all songs.

Outro or Coda. Think of it as the ta da at the end of a magic act. The grand finale that tells you the show is over and went out with a bang.

Now to put the pieces together keeping in mind that these rules can be easily broken if what your doing sounds good to the ear. Frustrating isn't it.

A= verse first section

B= chorus second section

C= third section Can be bridge or chorus

D= Bridge 4th section.

B and D are interchangeable. The letters refer to different sections of a song more than function.

Intros and coda or outros are in the first section and last section.

These are the basic forms

AAA. A straight verse form Church hymns and folk songs.

AA. Two verse Broadway and show tunes from the 40s to 60s.

AABA Verse and bridge. (This is most likely where your song falls Dawn so think folk or show tune type stuff unless you choose to add more sections) Another popular form of pre pop songs.

AABABA This extended version of the above is where pop comes in. It just adds another bridge and a final verse.

ABAB Most used today for rock, pop and Gospel R&B and country. Verse chorus.

Think Alice Keys Fallin. A really clear example . ABABC. C being the outro or coda. I love that tune BTW

Now it gets complicated so you might want to put the rest of this on a shelf for a while.

ABC Verse pre chorus and chorus. Think of the pre chorus as a mini bridge.

ABABC Verse chorus using a bridge

ABCABCD. Yikes! Verse chorus using both pre chorus and bridge

ie. A- verse1, B pre chorus,C chorus, A verse2, B pre chorus, C chorus, D bridge and then final Chorus or C.

At this point you can pretty much do what you want and skip sections since the listener has had so much time to get a feel for the tune.

You could just as easily do it this way.

A-B-A-B-C-D-B-A-C-B . Confused yet. This will help same thing defined

verse, pre chorus1,verse2, pre chorus2,chorus,bridge, pre chorus3, verse3,chorus, pre chorus4.

Ouch. That gave me a headache We are definitely in the deep end of the pool. There are tons of books on this subject, as I have said before this is a very deep topic. Probably more than you needed to know Dawn. I gotta take a rest. I am sure ICjones can explain it better than I. Listen to songs and try to figure out what the sections of the songs are to get a feel for it.

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mr.banana    0

haha...for the first couple of paragraphs...it kind of sounded like you were giving advice for writing essays or maybe even story writing....well....i kind of acutally look at music that way anyway!!...music needs to be organized...its what we as humans want to hear..."organized" music...imagine a song that always had a different melody or different progression on every measure...pretty messy sounding....hmm...good job on the mini lesson "allthumbs"!

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jonrox    0

sorry if ive missed anything here, im trying to write a slow waltz(kinda like four marys if you know it), is the song structure still the same as you have mentioned or are there any pitfalls with this timming or is it same rules?

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allthumbs    8
sorry if ive missed anything here, im trying to write a slow waltz(kinda like four marys if you know it), is the song structure still the same as you have mentioned or are there any pitfalls with this timming or is it same rules?

I have consulted with Fretsource to be 100% sure. We agree that time signatures don't effect song construction. It is like painting the rooms in a house. No matter the colour, the floor plans stay the same.

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Lcjones    8

Hope you don't mind me chiming in on this....

I think if anyone spends any amount of time listening to commercial radio you will hear the "structure' of songs are almost universal. Except for variations on chorus and bridge placement, the structure is identical. Of course, it's been that way since Hector was a pup. As well, the "commercial" structure, in most cases, is pleasing to the ear and easy on the mind. And that is why it has been the norm for centuries.

However, that does not stop one from swimming upstream or against the tide. You have to understand who your listeners are. Folks like Dylan, Lightfoot, Tom Waits frequently go against the grain. They have a following that appreciates their individual assets in lyrical writing.

Anyway, don't just go with the flow because it happens to be the indoctrinated norm. That gets boring.

Les

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To LcJones, its sounds like you've been playing for a while, I have been playing for just over a year, and have been jamming with a few people recently, trying to create some good rock tunes (Incubus-band -sounding etc).

But I've been told by the drummer that because I create these songs by practicing by myself my rythm is not always right, especially on occasion when I go from verse to chorus or bridge etc., he sais I should keep everything in the 4 beat bar , he sais this is standard and that within those 4 beat bars I can do anything I like ,any advice?

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starsailor    20

Just a question, if you're writing a song is it better to write the words first and build a tune around them or vice versa, I was strumming away last night and tripped over a tune that everyone liked but now I've got to find some words to put with it, which is fun, I just wondered what everyone elses approach is or is it just a question of whats best for you.

Cheers

Chris

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Lcjones    8

Jimmy

Well, hmm. That's a really good point to bring up.

I've been a solo player for years and years. When I do play with others, I hear the song in my head and I may be off rhythm at certain points.... "to them". ;)

Rhythm is paramount to a successful song. When it comes time to setup and play with mates it's not that anyone is off, it's that you haven't spent enough time together to work out the details. I'd listen up to your drummer. He is, after all, keeping the beat. But then, everyone in the group has to be on the same page. So, it just may take an extra play or two for you all to come together. It takes practice for a band to "get tight"!

I tend to "free-wheel" when I play. I may add in an extra half measure, or hold a chord a beat or two longer than I should. But in most cases, when I'm solo, my rhythmic "mistakes" are not overly noticeable. However, when I'm playing within a group, it becomes pronounced and I have to correct myself. It's not a problem, it's an adjustment. And easily done.

So, my best advice, as the drummer "is" keeping the beat, is to work with your drummer as best you can to fix rhythm differences. He, as well as you, want to make the best music possible.

Hope that helps.

**

LC

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Lcjones    8
Just a question, if you're writing a song is it better to write the words first and build a tune around them or vice versa, I was strumming away last night and tripped over a tune that everyone liked but now I've got to find some words to put with it, which is fun, I just wondered what everyone elses approach is or is it just a question of whats best for you.

Cheers

Chris

Hey Star,

Which came first? The chicken or the egg? Lyrics or Melody?

In music. It doesn't matter which came first, lyrics or melody. Ultimately, in your writing career, what ever suits your needs at the time is what comes first. Some people write the lyrics and then find a melody that suits the lyrics. Others work just the opposite. No one way is more difficult than the other. No one way is betterr than the other. It is personal choice.

If you have discovered a unique melody and are now required to put words to it, the first thing you have to have is an idea of what you want to sing about? What mood is the melody? Soft and loving or hard and head-banging?

This is where you do your "creative thinking". Decide your topic, hunt for a hook, and then write a lyric to build to your hook.

**

LC

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starsailor    20
Hey Star,

Which came first? The chicken or the egg? Lyrics or Melody?

In music. It doesn't matter which came first, lyrics or melody. Ultimately, in your writing career, what ever suits your needs at the time is what comes first. Some people write the lyrics and then find a melody that suits the lyrics. Others work just the opposite. No one way is more difficult than the other. No one way is betterr than the other. It is personal choice.

If you have discovered a unique melody and are now required to put words to it, the first thing you have to have is an idea of what you want to sing about? What mood is the melody? Soft and loving or hard and head-banging?

This is where you do your "creative thinking". Decide your topic, hunt for a hook, and then write a lyric to build to your hook.

**

LC

Thanks for the input LC, I think the melody's unique, I've got a couple one is quite upbeat but the other one has a lot of bass and is quite morose were talking Leonard Cohen or Radiohead here, I'm quite content at the moment so I'll have to dig a bit deeper to find a lyric for that one. I used to write a lot of poetry when I was younger but I haven't done that for years. I don't think I could sit down and say I'm going to write a song I'd have to write notes as ideas pop into my head.

I read Tekkers lesson on recording and I'm going to set something up but I'm a bit nervous about posting a song in case everyone thinks it's rubbish but I suppose a lot of people have that fear of rejection. Once again thanks for getting back to me.

Cheers

Chris

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Lcjones    8

I read Tekkers lesson on recording and I'm going to set something up but I'm a bit nervous about posting a song in case everyone thinks it's rubbish but I suppose a lot of people have that fear of rejection. Once again thanks for getting back to me.

Cheers

Chris

Chris,

Tekker's got some great stuff!

I think if you read through the posts in the recording and song writing sections you'll not find *any* negativity at all. People will voice their opinions, offer advice ..... in the *spirit* of genuine helpfulness.

If you ask for an in depth critique, you will get one.

If you are going to write melodies and lyrics, the first hurdle you have to get passed is your own mental thoughts on "what will people think". This is what they will think. Some will think it stinks. Others will praise your abilities. Some will offer advice. Some will say nothing. Some will like it. Some won't like it.

So what.

In the final analysis, it's what you garner from what people say and offer. It's what you take away from it. It's up to you to learn from the information given. Getting offended or feeling like your work is not worthy is the worst thing you can do. All that does is stifle your abilities. Every writer had to start somewhere and with your background in poetry, it's not a far leap to lyric writing. Draw on your poetic days.

Lyric writing is hard work. Add melodies and it's that much harder!

But it is all worth it. Good, bad or indifferent, with each lyric you write you get better at writing a lyric.

Go, Team, Go! Sis, Boom, Bah! ;)

**

LC

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Dewy    0

On the Lyrics vs Melody first point I'd like to contribute. Indeed an age old question...

Neither came first... they are both out there floating around waiting for someone to pick them out and put them together. Sometimes you hear the melody or chord structure first... and apply lyrics later. Other times the lyrics are there waiting on your brain to process the timing and its applying the lyrics to various rhythms in the background all of the time.

So if you like something, be it lyric or melody, jot it down for future reference. Don't worry about the order.

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solidwalnut    5
To LcJones, its sounds like you've been playing for a while, I have been playing for just over a year, and have been jamming with a few people recently, trying to create some good rock tunes (Incubus-band -sounding etc).

But I've been told by the drummer that because I create these songs by practicing by myself my rythm is not always right, especially on occasion when I go from verse to chorus or bridge etc., he sais I should keep everything in the 4 beat bar , he sais this is standard and that within those 4 beat bars I can do anything I like ,any advice?

Hey Jimmy--

I hope you don't mind me piping in. Just some input from another old timer.

I've been playing with bands for years as well as the solo thing. Playing with a drummer has made me conscious of what I'm doing as far as rhythmic counting.

I'm thinking your drummer is telling you that you often make chord switches too fast or too slow and so you're giving a measure 7 or 9 beats or such like that.

Like Les says, there's nothing wrong with playing solo and being off a beat here or there, but playing together and making the music sound great is what's important.

If you're interested in understanding how to play with strict beat count (and I really suggest that if you plan on playing with bands), starting spending some extra time with this drummer. Or go get a metronome and then understand the time signature of the song you're playing. If it's 4/4, then count out 4 beats and learn to switch chords 'on time'.

EDIT: One benefit of this (that I forgot to add) is that it really shows you how to 'play in the pocket' and get tight with the band.

Steve

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starsailor    20
Chris,

Tekker's got some great stuff!

I think if you read through the posts in the recording and song writing sections you'll not find *any* negativity at all. People will voice their opinions, offer advice ..... in the *spirit* of genuine helpfulness.

If you ask for an in depth critique, you will get one.

If you are going to write melodies and lyrics, the first hurdle you have to get passed is your own mental thoughts on "what will people think". This is what they will think. Some will think it stinks. Others will praise your abilities. Some will offer advice. Some will say nothing. Some will like it. Some won't like it.

So what.

In the final analysis, it's what you garner from what people say and offer. It's what you take away from it. It's up to you to learn from the information given. Getting offended or feeling like your work is not worthy is the worst thing you can do. All that does is stifle your abilities. Every writer had to start somewhere and with your background in poetry, it's not a far leap to lyric writing. Draw on your poetic days.

Lyric writing is hard work. Add melodies and it's that much harder!

But it is all worth it. Good, bad or indifferent, with each lyric you write you get better at writing a lyric.

Go, Team, Go! Sis, Boom, Bah! ;)

**

LC

Thanks for the words of encouragement I've always been told that I worry too much about what people think but I'm getting better as I get older, I think it's because I'm stepping into the unknown a bit, I look on playing the guitar and songwriting as a new challenge which I need as I was getting a bit set in my ways, I've always loved listening to music but it has always been my ambition to create my own and I think I've wasted a lot of time and now it's time to get on with it.

Cheers

Chris

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windsong    16

Chris

I take an idea (usually) my ifes experiences and come up with a title. Then the lyrics. I star with the words and with the cords at (almost) the same time. Need to find what cord matches my voice. So it's lyrics and cords coming together at the same time, plus my spirit and imagination. This seems to work best fro me and it keeps me on the same page too. Hope this helps.:smilinguitar:

windson

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Ellenback1    0

Hardly, starsailor, would it be 'rubbish'...I've heard lots of songs in here and not once did anyone think they were rubbish....or, at least, no one said that, not to me..LOL Go ahead and take the leap, you'll feel better and even proud for being able to do so!

This is a great post, AT, honest! What I may take entirely for granted when I write has now been spelled out very clearly, by you, for everyone, although that last paragraph my eyes tended to go a little cross-eyed as I tried to follow you...but that's not YOUR fault, it's that dang method! LOL It's one of those re-read till ya get it kinda things, I'm hoping...

Elle

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starsailor    20
Chris

I take an idea (usually) my ifes experiences and come up with a title. Then the lyrics. I star with the words and with the cords at (almost) the same time. Need to find what cord matches my voice. So it's lyrics and cords coming together at the same time, plus my spirit and imagination. This seems to work best fro me and it keeps me on the same page too. Hope this helps.:smilinguitar:

windson

Hi windsong, thanks for the tips, I usually write a song and then find a tune or vice versa, I haven't ever written and composed as I've written, the latest one I'm working on is going along those lines and it is a good way of doing it, it takes a bit longer but it does seem to orrk better than trying to squeeze words into an existing tune, sometimes words have to be changed which can dilute the song and lose the message.

Hardly, starsailor, would it be 'rubbish'...I've heard lots of songs in here and not once did anyone think they were rubbish....or, at least, no one said that, not to me..LOL Go ahead and take the leap, you'll feel better and even proud for being able to do so!

Hi Ellen good to hear from you, thanks for the support, I wrote that a while back but my confidence has grown a bit since then although I still tend to hang back a bit when it comes to recording but I am better at accepting a critique than I used to be I was never very good at that, this site and the Members have helped my confidence quite a lot. Hope you're well Ellen.:)

Elle

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Hi Guys first posting! I thought i'd add my tuppence worth :)

I've found it quite interesting to try and use other less visited and ancient structures when composing songs to build a bigger picture of what i'm trying to express. Just as a song should have a beginning/middle and end, my idea is that a collection of pieces (an album or a set of songs) should have structure also.

Other less common song forms you could utilise are the rondo ABACADA (you return to a common theme to give the listener a foundation and comfortable reference point) and through composed which is different in each section ABCDEF(challenging but fun!). In blues the 8 bar and 16 bar forms are overlooked greatly in favour of the 12 bar.

As part of how you might construct the bigger picture (the album!) you could compose in Sonata form for instance. This has a complex structure and would take some time to dissect properly, but basically you have :-

1 - 1st movement - main theme or exposition (think song 1)

2 - The development - this harks back to the 1st movt but could be different in meter/rhythm/key/tonality and where new ideas/episodes are introduced (song 2)

3 - Recapitulation - the recap back to song 1 but you could essentially change the tonality and transpose the melody from major to minor or vice versa. End this with a coda which could be purely instrumental and more improvised. (song 3)

Thats just 1 idea for a structure to challenge yourself. You could use it loosely and not be too strict about the form. Other bigger forms to look at are suites, opera, partitas and the symphony! These structures are there to base ideas on, and in reality we can pull them around, chop bits off, add cadenzas etc...

There is a wealth of musical riches prior to the 20th century that could inspire your grandest pop opus. The bigger picture is the artists goal, not just the detail. Be brave and stretch the boundaries.

In this age of the "ipod on shuffle" its so easy to forget the dynamic of an album and how each piece relates to the last. Your work as a whole is the ultimate goal at the end of the day...erm, unless you just want to play a strophic/12 bar tune, (That's cool too!).

Cheers for reading :)

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