Are you a budding songwriter wanting to break into the music mainstream? Do you want to unlock the secrets of award-winning pop composers like Ed Sheeran, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift?
Coming up with a pop song structure is the first step for those learning how to write a pop song. It requires well-structured chords, hooks and lyrics. Those behind the catchiest songs also know how to create a killer chorus and unforgettable melodies.
Our step by step guide will show you exactly how to do it. We’ll also offer plenty of ideas to help you create a tune that’s chart, stream and radio-ready.
Pop song structure ideas
Pop song structure refers to the fitting together of different musical sections. It should be catchy and linger in someone’s mind. Pop songs tend to be shorter and bring in choruses far quicker than other genres of music. This is because the chorus is the most catchy part of the song and pop songwriters want the listener to hear it as soon as possible.
Good pop songs should stand out regardless of the production behind them. Whether it’s sung with a piano or has a fully produced studio instrumental behind it, the core of the song should be simple and easy to remember. Sometimes production can add even more hooks and melodies through other instruments. This will only enhance your pop song further.
What is the typical structure of a pop song?
The pop song structure can take varying forms but will typically involve a verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus structure.
A 3-minute pop song at 120 bpm will have 360 bars. However, this can vary significantly from song to song depending on its structure and tempo. There is no fixed limit for how many bars make up an individual section either so this can change a lot.
A verse is usually between 8 or 16 bars. Sometimes verses can be really short, around 4 bars, in order to bring the chorus in sooner. A shorter verse is usually more effective with a pre-chorus section because otherwise, the song will be really short. You can also cut down a second verse to around half of the first. This is especially the case if your verse is longer, around 16 bars, because the listener may not be as engaged the second time around.
If you’re not planning to write a pop song, but a tune for another genre, or are unsure what type of music you’ll be writing, you can discover more on general song structure here. It also goes into more depth on some of the terms we’ll touch on in this article.
Song structure examples
Introduction – The intro is a crucial part of the pop song structure as you will want to get the attention and interest of the listener straight away.
Verse – A verse provides listeners with more insight. It leads to the main message of the song whilst advancing the story.
Pre-chorus – A pre-chorus fits in between the verse and chorus, changing the mood to build up anticipation for the chorus.
Chorus – The chorus repeats both musically and lyrically. It is the ‘pay off’ component of the song which listeners tend to be waiting for.
Verse, pre-chorus & chorus – The verse, pre-chorus and chorus typically repeat with an added arrangement. The second verse can be shorter than the first so that you get to the chorus quicker.
Bridge – The bridge can provide a tool to break up the repetitive effect of jumping back and forth between the verse and chorus.
Break – An instrumental break is an instrumental or percussion section within the song which breaks up the pop song structure. It is optional but can be used effectively within a song to build anticipation and grab our attention.
Final chorus – A song will start to wrap up with the last chorus after a bridge or break. It could be repeated twice at the end, sometimes including a drop chorus to contrast with a big ending.
Outro – The outro is the closing segment. The song will often fade or break down to a simple beat or melody.
How to write a pop song that sells
First, you must choose what kind of song you want to write. Even within pop, you have plenty of options from which to choose. Will it be a big ballad, slow and gentle, fast and dancey, or low key. This can always change as you’re writing it but it’s good to have an idea in your mind from the start. Then start to come up with different ideas for different sections and start looking at piecing it together.
It’s best to sit down with a piano to start writing your pop song. You’ll be able to create chords with one hand and experiment with melodies on the other. It doesn’t have to be a massive grand piano. You can use a keyboard or keyboard controller that can play the piano through your computer. This will typically be through a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). If you want to know more about DAWs then you might want to do some research on home recording studios.
What makes a pop song successful?
A catchy song is one that sticks in the minds of its listeners. And that’s the song that sells, both directly to fans and to companies who might pay to use your tunes. The catchiness of a song is dependent on how easy it is to remember and how it makes someone feel. The song doesn’t even have to be played for it to get stuck in someone’s head and even humming it can cause it to spread from one person to another.
The chorus is the most important part of a song. This is the catchy part that repeats throughout the song and sticks in the listeners head. This is why you should focus on the chorus right from the start. Writing a good chorus is a whole art form in itself. A good chorus should be simple enough to stick in someone’s head but also musically engaging enough to not get bored of it. It should also have a lift that separates it from the verse. This lift can be created through turnaround chords in the pre-chorus, as well as sticking to simple chord progressions.
Hit pop song formulas
The best place to start is by listening to the kind of music you enjoy most. Even if you don’t listen to a lot of pop music, go for the most catchy songs you know. It’s best to have a listen to songs that are charting right now. Therefore, if you want a serious career as a pop songwriter then you’ll need to stay on top of current trends. Once you’ve found some good songs then try and work out the chords, structures and the formulas the songwriter has used. Break it down section by section.
The opening of a pop song is almost as important as the chorus. Some might argue that it’s more important because this is what the listener will hear first. You can’t expect someone to listen to your whole song if they haven’t been impressed by the first ten seconds. Having a weak opening could mean that someone won’t bother waiting for the chorus, which makes all your hard work for nothing.
Here are some of the catchiest, hottest tunes of 2020.
What makes a pop song great?
In addition to the chorus, the hook is what makes a pop song great. It will keep the listener coming back to the song and make it unforgettable, even after a single listen. Listening to other hooks is a great way to get a better understanding of what makes them so catchy. Spend a day with a pop radio station on and at the end of it, think about what song is still in your head. A hook needs to work well with the chords underneath it so if you’ve heard a great hook, try and get a feel for the chord progression. Try playing different chords under the same hook and see if it is still as catchy as it was before.
Pop song template and structure chart
Use a song structure chart is an effective way to learn how to write a pop song. You’ll get a really good idea of how long your sections are going to be and how they flow. Here are some types of pop song structure that work really well.
Typical pop song
Verse | Chorus | Verse | Chorus | Bridge | Chorus
Pop song with pre-chorus
Verse | Pre-chorus | Chorus | Verse | Pre-chorus | Chorus | Bridge | Chorus
Opening chorus pop song
Chorus | Verse | Chorus | Verse | Chorus | Bridge | Chorus
Pop song with an instrumental
Verse | Chorus | Verse | Chorus | Instrumental/Solo | Chorus
A/B pop song
Verse | Chorus | Verse | Chorus | Verse | Chorus |
Drop chorus pop song
Verse | Chorus | Verse | Chorus | Bridge | Drop Chorus | Chorus
How do you write a pop song step by step?
Here are the steps to writing a pop number. They don’t necessarily have to be in this order. Inspiration may flow in different places of the song at different times. But you will need to cover all of these bases, and you can follow this order if it works for you.
#1 Come up with a hook. Even if you do come up with a great first hook, create some more so you can compare them to each other.
#2 Write your opening chord progression. You don’t have the time to write a fancy instrumental introduction to ease the listener into the song. Open with hooks, whether they’re with your voice or an instrument, but your voice should come in as soon as possible.
#3 Write strong opening lyrics. These are important because they set the tone of the whole song. It can be good to get your song title in the opening line but this isn’t essential. A strong hook with a memorable opening line will hold a listener’s attention straight away and keep them engaged throughout the song. If you can’t think of a great opening line, write a few ideas down and get on with the rest of the song. You might find it easier to come back to it after you’ve written more lyrics.
#4 Create chords for your other sections. Laying out the structure you want for your song is a good way to work out your chord progressions. If you have your chorus and opening, simply lay out your structure and work through it. You want your chords to flow but also vary from one section to another. A great tip is to use turnaround chords at the end of a section. This will make it feel like a section is naturally going from one to another and can make a chorus sound bigger. They are common in jazz but are easily applied to pop songwriting, helping your songs sound more professional and sophisticated.
#5 Pen that catchy chorus. More on this shortly.
#6 Write lyrics for the rest of the song. They should be relatable, easy to remember and paint a picture in the listener’s mind. It’s good to think of your song as having a beginning, middle and end with your lyrics.
#7 Get another songwriter to listen to your work and take an objective look at your song. This way they can give their fresh-eared opinion.
#8 Add production. Write the bones of your song first and then start adding production around it. As you add in more layers, you may get inspiration for more hooks and melodies to include or edit.
How do you write a pop song melody?
The catchiness of a song is usually dependent on its melodic hooks. It is far easier for someone to get a melody stuck in their head than a chord progression, which is why pop music tends to be so hook focused. Writing hook and melodies is a tough skill to master so it’s good to get as much practice as you can. Good melodies tend to have a restricted range of notes. This makes it easier for others to sing and helps it become more catchy.
Amy Winehouse is a great example of a singer who writes good melodies. Her vocal range rarely goes past an octave and her songs are very easy for others to pick up. Collaborating with other writers can also help these processes happen much more quickly. You will also gain insight into how others work and learn tips from them.
How to write a chorus
Stick to your instincts and break down choruses from other songs to see what makes them so catchy. They will typically be memorable and the standout section of the song. There are usually far fewer lyrics in a chorus because you want it to be as easy as possible for the listener to remember it. If you’ve written some progressions then take your favourite and use that as a foundation for the chorus. Alternatively, you can start with the hook and then build the chords around that. A great chorus tends to have multiple hooks. Use your favourite hook and chord progression as the opening of your chorus and then use some of your other hooks to finish it off. You could also save your best hook for the second half of the chorus and use the others to build up to it.
Pop song lyrics
Writing a pop song is much more than chords and melodies. Lyrics are just as important in creating a catchy song. This is where storytelling comes in. This will be one of your most effective weapons in constructing great lyrics. Writing any kind of song can be seen as creating a story with words to music and a great story can linger in a listeners mind as much as a hook. Musical theatre takes this to the extreme as the story of the songs is acted out in front of an audience. Pop songs need to be much simpler and less on the nose. However, basic storytelling principles still apply when writing pop song lyrics.
Hopefully, you’re now ready to stop reading and start writing. Practising writing melodies, choruses and fully structured pop songs are the best way to get better. Writing a song is a complex process but if you can successfully identify, form and combine these key pop song structures then you’ll be well on your way to creating a hit song. Or if you’ve already penned a winning tune, find out what to do next, in this article.
How do you write a pop song in your bedroom?
The same way! If you don’t have a piano in your bedroom, guitars are also a great option for songwriters. They can be a bit more convenient to fit into small spaces compared to keys and are great for testing your songs. Grab some pen and paper or take memos on your phone.
Can a chorus be 4 bars?
4 bars is short if the tempo’s fast. It could work ok for songs around 80-100bpm but for over 110 around 8 bars are better. 4 bars could work well for the first chorus if you want to create an impact on the second chorus. Or shorten it the second time and cut to the bridge. That’ll make the transition more surprising, increasing the impact of the final chorus.
How many times should a chorus be repeated?
A chorus tends to repeat multiple times at the end of a song, till it fades out. It’s less common for a first chorus to repeat but sometimes a second chorus will. Repeating is most effective when you use a drop chorus. After the bridge, bring in the drop and build-up to the final chorus. You could repeat it again for the fade.
Have you written a successful pop song? How did you structure it? Share your thoughts and links to your work in the comments below.