Song Structures for Singers

So you want to write a musical hit? Deciding upon song structure is one of the most important judgments to be made when writing a song. But what are the different parts of a song and how do you structure a song?

Song structure is the application of an organisation form to the arrangement of a song. Song structures can vary from a classic pop song structure to a looped hip-hop song structure. Learn about these different structures and create a winning song composition or full album of catchy songs.

When you’re writing a song, you’ll want to strike the balance right between repetition and contrast to ensure it’s both catchy and dynamic. The song structures used will need to remain focused throughout; here are some tips on song structures to help you achieve this. 

Song structure for singers – How is a song made?

How is a song made?

Song structures refer to the varying formations of a song. It is based on the fitting together of different musical sections, most often including a chorus, verse, bridge and hook. Song structures for singers can take changing forms and there can be exceptions to these common arrangements. 

Song structures for singers are very useful. Not only do they help you understand how a song is made, but they also provide guidelines for writing your own material. Song structures can even help you learn your songs more easily, by following the patterns laid out in them. 

Even if you never plan on doing any songwriting, knowing the terms involved in song structures is a really integral part of the professional singer’s learning journey. And it’s absolutely something you can pick up without seeking out tuition. By the end of this article, you’ll have an understanding of the anatomy of song, what all the terms mean and how they differ from one another.   

Pop song structure analysis: how do you structure a song?  

Pop songs contain some of the most straightforward, common structures, so are a good place to start in getting to grips with this concept.   

What are the parts of a song in order?  

These components are variable and can be altered to suit the sound of the song. If a bridge is used it will tend to only appear once in a song and is often at contrast with the melody and rhythm of the rest of the song.  

Because the order of a song’s parts can be so variable, you need to know the differences between each. You can’t assume a song will follow a set pattern, although certain genres will often do so.  

Parts of a song example 

Let’s take a look at some basic ingredients in song composition, with an example of how a song might play out.

What are the different parts of a song?  

#1 The intro 

This is a crucial part of song structures as you will want to get the attention and interest of the listener straight away.

The introduction sets up the song and establishes the melody, harmony and rhythm, while creating anticipation in the listener.

The best song intros of all time

According to Music Radar, these are some of the best song intros of all time:

  • I Want You Back by The Jackson 5
  • Let’s Get It On by Marvin Gaye
  • Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
  • I’m Coming Out by Diana Ross
  • Wonderwall by Oasis
  • Let’s Go Crazy by Prince
  • Papa Was A Rolling Stone by The Temptations
  • Like A Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan
  • Come Together by The Beatles
  • Pride (In The Name Of Love) by U2

#2 The verse 

What is a verse in music definition?

You may hear all these terms on a regular basis, but what do they actually mean? The verses often tell the song’s story and are sandwiched between choruses. 

According to the Artopium Musical Dictionary, a verse is:  

A solo passage from the Gradual which precedes the response. See respond. In poetry or song, a verse is a group of lines which constitutes a unit. Often there are several verses in a single text, and usually, the rhyme scheme, rhythm, and a number of poetic lines and feet are the same from verse to verse in a single text, a line or stanza 

How do you write a verse in a song?  

The verse provides listeners with more insight. It leads to the main message of the song whilst advancing the story.

Usually there are multiple verses repeated throughout a song.

How many lines is a verse in a song? 

There’s no rule to the number of lines you can have in a verse, but four lines are average – usually no longer than a minute of time for a two to a three-minute song.  

How many verses are in a song? 

It really doesn’t matter how many verses you have and will depend on how long your verses are and how many song ingredients you use (ie. if you add in a bridge or break to a two-minute song, you have less time for verses). It also depends on how long it takes to tell the song’s story and the song’s overall length.  

Verse chorus form 

This format is slightly simpler but no less effective. You’ll have heard the verse-chorus form in songs like: 

  • Candle in the Wind by Elton John 
  • Honky Tonk Woman by The Rolling Stones 
  • We Are the World by Michael Jackson 

#3 The chorus 

What is a chorus – do songs need a chorus? 

This repeats both musically and lyrically. It’s the ‘pay off’ component of the song which listeners are waiting for.  Songs need a chorus, as this is the catchy, memorable bit people sing along with. It’s usually repetitive and simple.  

If you want your song heard on the radio make sure you reach the chorus line in less than a minute – the sooner the better! This will also be beneficial at short performances or auditions when time is limited and long, drawn-out intros won’t do you any favours. 

Examples of a good chorus

Billboard rates these as the most catchy choruses:

  • Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen
  • Since U Been Gone by Kelly Clarkson
  • Mr. Brightside by The Killers
  • Ms. Jackson by OutKast

#4 The hook

What is a hook in a song? 

A hook is a musical or lyrical phrase that engages your ear. The hook is intended to catch the ear of the listener and create a connection.

How to write a hook for a song 

  • Simplify until a hook appears.
  • Take an impartial look at the existing lyrics in your song. Get rid of any superfluous words. 
  • Figure out exactly what it is you are trying to say and whether someone will understand what you are implying. 
  • Ask yourself whether people are going to think it is memorable or will they just find it annoying? 
  • Keep repeating this proves until a hook forms. 

Catchy hook examples  

Here are some songs with catchy hooks: 

  • MmmBop by Hanson 
  • Bad Romance by Lady Gaga 
  • Hound Dog by Elvis Presley 
  • Single Ladies by Beyonce 
  • Stayin’ Alive by The Bee Gees 
  • Respect by Aretha Franklin 

Is the hook the same as the chorus?  

In theory, it can be. But it describes a musical phrase which can be anywhere in the song – be that in the chorus or elsewhere, such as the intro. A song can also have more than one hook.  

The difference between hook and chorus

A ‘hook’ is an appealing musical phrase used to hook in the listener. The term hook is generally used in contemporary music, especially hip-hop, EDM, R&B and pop 

Hook vs chorus examples  

Let’s take Beyonce’s Single Ladies as an example of hooks vs choruses.  

The chorus and bridge in this song go: 

[Chorus] 

‘Cause if you like it, then you shoulda put a ring on it 

If you like it, then you shoulda put a ring on it 

Don’t be mad once you see that he want it 

If you like it, then you shoulda put a ring on it 

Whoa, oh, oh, oh, oh-oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh 

Whoa, oh, oh, oh, oh-oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh 

‘Cause if you like it, then you shoulda put a ring on it 

If you like it, then you shoulda put a ring on it 

Don’t be mad once you see that he want it 

If you like it, then you shoulda put a ring on it 

[Bridge] 

All the single ladies (All the single ladies) 

All the single ladies (All the single ladies) 

All the single ladies (All the single ladies) 

All the single ladies 

Now put your hands up 

Whoa, oh, oh, oh, oh-oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh

“Whoa, oh, oh, oh, oh-oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh” is a hook found in both the chorus and the bridge. “If you like it, then you shoulda put a ring on it” is a hook found only in the chorus and “All the single ladies” is hook found in the bridge, but not the chorus. 

So as you can see while hooks do appear in the chorus, they’re not the sum of it. Nor is it the only play a hook can be inserted. In fact, as you can see from Single Ladies, it’s even more catchy if there’s a hook in the bridge or intro/outro. 

Hooks for songs – free song lyrics 

If you’re no wordsmith don’t despair. Here are some super free websites to source and generate your lyrics without paying a penny: 

What is a hook in rap? 

Hooks are the same in rap as other music types, but often make up a larger part of the song. So if you write your own rap lyrics, be ready to pen some killer hooks. In rap we also see pre-hooks. These, like a pre-chorus, build momentum to the main hook.  

Rap song structure  

A rap song structure may be very similar to other types of songs. But here are some features that we see a lot less of in this genre. Bridges are less common, as are pre-choruses. The chorus, on the other hand, will take up a much bigger proportion of the song – nearly half in many cases.   

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#5 The bridge 

What is a bridge in a song?  

The bridge can provide a tool to break up the repetitive effect of jumping back and forth between the verse and chorus. 

The bridge can either be used to reflect on the song so far or build ready for a climax. It offers a change in style and/or tempo. It is so named because it provides a transitional bridge from one section to the next. 

Example tracks of songs with bridges in the lyrics  

There are plenty of songs about bridges (Bridge Over Troubled Water, Under the Bridge, London Bridge, Bedlam Bridge, to name but a few). But what about songs with a bridge structure? If you’d like to hear examples of this musical tool in use, try listening to some of the following, fabulous tracks with bridges, as rated by NME. 

  • Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys 
  • The Bodysnatchers by Radiohead 
  • A Day in the Life by The Beatles 
  • Girlfriend by NSYNC feat. Nelly 

What is the difference between a bridge and a pre chorus?  

A pre-chorus is a transition section to set up the main chorus – often later in the song to build intensity. The bridge, on the other hand, is a departure from the main song. It gives the piece another dimension. It may contain a pre-chorus, but its main function is not as a vehicle to build to the chorus. 

Verse chorus bridge song examples  

We’ll explain what these terms mean in more detail later on. But as a starter, let’s take a look at the most frequent pop song structures around.  

You’ll already be encountering song structure every time you switch on the radio or stream music. This is one of the most prolific ones around. Songs that take a verse, chorus, bridge format include: 

  • Fix You by Coldplay 
  • Ticket to Ride by The Beatles 
  • Summer of ‘69 by Bryan Adams 
  • Wildest Dreams by Taylor Swift 

Do songs need a bridge & how long should the bridge of a song be? 

A song definitely doesn’t need a bridge. There are thousands of examples of famous hit songs that don’t have this ingredient. But if you have a feeling that your song needs another component, or you want to transition between sections, then you can add a bridge. A bridge will usually be heard between the final verse and final chorus.  

This would be a good opportunity to 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 on how successfully they feel the melody, bridge and hook are working. 

Sometimes a bridge is called a ‘Middle 8’. This is because a bridge is often 8 bars and sits in the latter middle part of a song. Many bridges are 4 bars too – and the length is entirely up to you. 

#6 The break 

This is an instrumental or percussion section within the song which breaks up the song structure. It is optional but can be used effectively within a song to build anticipation and grab our attention. 

What’s the breakdown in a song? 

Dance music, hip hop, metal and rap make use of breakdowns or breaks in the track. A break is so-called because the sound takes a break. It’s stripped back. This might take the form of a single instrument (or two), no percussion, just percussion or just vocals. 

Flashlight by DJ Fresh feat. Ellie Goulding has a good example of a breakdown. 

You can learn more about breakdowns and how to use song structure (including intros) as part of your act, here 

#7 The outro

This is the closing segment. The song will often fade or break down to simple beats. 

Typical song structures will comprise of a series of verses – most often 2 or 3, along with a chorus, and frequently with an instrumental break towards the end of the song. 

Song composition

How to write a song  

How to write a song  

Writing your own material will undoubtedly put you ahead in the industry, so if you fancy composing your own work, it’s well worth doing. Song structure will be key, but there are plenty of tools you can use to help you if you’re feeling confused about the technicalities.   

Interesting song structures  

These are foundational structures, but there are many more components with which a musical writer can play to create interesting and diverse song structures.  

However, before creating a smash hit, the budding composer must learn the ingredients of song composition.  

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As a singer, you may hear these talked about, so it’s useful to know the terms. For example, what do you do when your musicians say – “let’s take it from the bridge?”, or “can you add in a riff?”.   

Use a song structure chart or song structures list  

If you’re new to songwriting, use a chart to map out your song. You can also choose from a list of pre-set song structures and base the composition on that. A simple verse-chorus is a good place to start. Then you can incorporate some more complex variations. 

If you write instinctively then you won’t need these resources at the beginning. But it’s worth referring to them afterwards, to see how your style fits with the existing structures.  

Song structure – bars  

Music is broken down into bars. Each bar represents a segment of time, with a given number of beats. So within your song structure, you will need to break it down into bars. There are usually four beats in a bar and eight or 16 bars in a verse. Being reasonably good at maths will help with your songwriting skills!  

What is a riff in music?  

We often hear riffs talked about in relation to guitars, but a riff can be created with an instrument or vocals. A riff is a short musical rhythm phrase often heard behind a solo, or for setting up a chord or harmony transition. They’re embellishments frequently heard vocally in gospel or RnB and instrumentally in rock music.  

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What is the difference between a hook and a riff? 

A hook isn’t necessarily used to transition, it’s more about catchiness. And a riff doesn’t usually contain a series of words. They serve a different purpose. One to cement the song in your head, the other as a musical flourish.  

Hooks and riffs examples  

Beyonce is definitely a queen of hooks and riffs – check out Crazy Right Now’s hooks. And I Care for amazing vocal riffs.  

Some examples of the greatest rock riffs ever include: 

  • Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple 
  • Back in Black by AC/DC 
  • Sweet Child of Mine by Guns N Roses

Related Questions 

  • What is the difference between a riff and a lick? 

The lick is a phrase, or sequence of notes commonly used in jazz or rock music and is a part of the riff. It can grow to become the whole riff, much like a hook can grow to become a whole chorus or bridge. 

  • What is a hook in an essay? 

In an essay, unlike a song, a hook is always found in the opening lines of the piece. The purpose is to grab the readers’ attention and encourage them to continue reading beyond the first paragraph.  

  • What is a refrain in a song? 

A refrain is a poetic device – a line or couple of lines that is repeated in a song. It has less variety than the chorus and may be used to play out a song. It may be used as part of chorus, verse, bridge, intro or outro. 

We hope you’ve learnt a lot and enjoyed these tips on forming song structures to help you to focus your song effectively:.   

Working on song structures and writing a song is a complex process but if you can successfully identify, form and combine these key components of song structures then you will be well on your way to creating a song worthy of performing.

Do you have any advice on song structure for singers, or write your own music? Tell us about it in the comments. 

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