November 2015

The Write Stuff: Be In-Formed

Understanding the concept and applications of song form in popular music.

National Standards: 1, 4, 7, 8, 9

Prepare: Have the class read The Write Stuff: Be In-Formed (page 22 of the student edition). The article explains the basic elements of song form, and how they can and have been used to have different effects in popular songs.

Key points in the article:

  • The basic elements of song form are the verses, chorus, and bridge.
  • Verses give opportunity to make variations, tell a story, and establish the theme of the song. The chorus should strong melodically and carry the central message, and the bridge, typically appearing once, often adds new depth to the song.
  • How the different song elements are fit together can lead to exciting material. For example, starting with the chorus can create an exciting effect.
  • What can be the most important to songwriting is the right amount of contrast in dynamics, rhythm, instrumentation, etc. Listen to your favorite songs and find out what you like about them.

Begin: Ask the class how they would describe a typical verse, chorus, and bridge. Discussion topics may include:

  • Length and lyrical content of the chorus
  • Verse melody and instrumentation
  • How the bridge relates to the rest of the song

Develop: Share the following official music video for Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” with the class, and tell them to keep song structure in mind:

What is the song’s structure?
verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, chorus, bridge, chorus, chorus

Now play this video of the Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance”:

The song begins on the chorus. How does this effect the listener?

  • The chorus becomes the focus of the song, with less emphasis on the story
  • The genre of the song is defined at the beginning with the chorus dance rhythms and instrumentation
  • The energy of the chorus adds excitement to the song’s opening

Share Sting’s “Love Is Stronger than Justice,” an example of building to the chorus by starting out with two verses:

Apply: Have the class take a short quiz on song form based on the article here.

Answer Key

Note: Answers appear in random order. Correct answers are below, in bold.

1. Select the three basic elements of song form:
-chorus
-bridge
-verses

-pre-chorus
-hook
-outro

2. What is the role of the verse in a song? Check all that apply:
-The verse creates opportunity to build on theme, with changes in instrumentation
-The verse is typically heard first, introducing the listener to the song
-The verse establishes the story behind the song

-The verse repeats the central theme of the song, with catchy melody
-The verse typically creates tension and new perspective on the song
-The verse is written to be the song’s main hook

3. What role does the chorus serve in the song? Check all that apply:
-The chorus is often the most repeated song element
-The chorus provides the song’s central theme
-The chorus is sometimes placed at the beginning of a song to add excitement
-The chorus is written to have a melody that the listener will remember

-The chorus is added towards the end of the song, to further momentum
-The chorus introduces the story and characters of a song

4. What role does the bridge play in a song? Check all that apply:
-The bridge introduces a new depth to a song, often appearing after the second chorus
-The bridge can sometimes create tension or new perspective into the song’s plot

-The bridge sets up the song’s story
-The bridge is typically repeated throughout the song

5. Which songs have a structure that starts with the chorus?
-“Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon
-“She Loves You” by the Beatles

-“Learn to Fly” by the Foo Fighters
-“Gravity” by Sara Bareilles
-“Happy” by Pharrell Williams

6. Which of the following songs are examples of building excitement progressively through verses?
-“Vertigo” by U2
-“Not Ready to Make Nice” by the Dixie Chicks

-“Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon
-“Learn to Fly” by the Foo Fighters
-“Happy” by Pharrell Williams

7. What is said in the article to be one of the most important things to keep in mind in songwriting?
-Contrast
-Lyrics
-Instrumentation

Message with correct answer:
The right amount of contrast in elements like dynamics, rhythm, and instrumentation can turn an average song into a great one.