THERE’S FAR MORE THAN JUST VERSE/CHORUS
When songwriting, it’s important to be familiar with the different parts of songs beyond just verses and choruses. Sure, plenty of great songs consist of just those two parts, but with the right familiarity with bridges, pre-choruses, and tags you can bring your songwriting flexibility to the next level.
Here is a basic guide to the most common parts of songs in western pop music, meaning rock n roll, blues, R n’ B, hip hop, folk, country, etc. All the American music we know and love. We’ll start with the ones we already know and work our way to less commonly known, but effective techniques.
A verse is the partner of a hook or chorus. It serves to move away from the melody and music of the chorus and usually provides something new to contrast. Sometimes the verse is just the same music as the chorus with different lyrics. Lyrically, the verses of your song will either move your story forward or build-out on the concept of the chorus. The chorus or refrain is likely to have the same exact words each time, so the verse is your chance to keep your ideas moving along and lead the listener back to the chorus.
Think of your chorus as the big idea for what your song’s all about. That’s partly why your title is most likely to show up in your chorus. Your title also sums up what the song’s about. Melodically, the chorus will be the catchiest part of your song. This is what people will have stuck in their heads long after your song is over. That’s another reason it’s good to have your title in the chorus. When people get your chorus stuck in their head, they’ll easily know what your song is called and can find it later when they want to hear it again.
The pre-chorus is an add-on before the chorus. It usually repeats the same lyrics each time, the same way a chorus does. Musically, a lot of times it creates a nice build-up to what’s coming in the chorus.
Example: Katy Perry – Firework
The bridge is a departure from what we’ve heard in a song, previously. This goes for both the lyrics and the music. Lyrically it’s an opportunity for a new perspective. Musically, it’s a chance to offer the listener something they haven’t heard before to keep the song interesting.
Examples: James Brown – Sex Machine
The Beatles (George Harrison) – While My Guitar Gently Weeps
In the AABA, or AAA structures, the refrain is the line that draws all the attention in your song. It’s usually at the beginning or end of each verse and is often the title of the song. In other songs, the refrain can just be the chorus. But whereas a chorus has many words and lines, a refrain is just one word or one line.
Example: Pete Seeger – We Shall Overcome
Usually featuring the same chords as either the verse, the chorus, or sometimes a specially written part, the introduction is usually instrumental but it also can be sung over. In classic rock n’ roll, many intros are guitar solos/riffs. Intros can also be vocal.
Examples: Chuck Berry- Johnny B Goode
The Beach Boys – 409
The hook doesn’t necessarily refer to a specific section of a song, except to say it’s the catchiest part of a song. Most of the time, it will be your chorus, if your song has one. If your song doesn’t have a chorus your hook will most likely be your refrain.
Example: The Beatles – She Loves You
A tag is a line that is “Tagged” onto the end of a verse or song. It is usually the refrain and/or title of the song. Used most often in folk and blues music. “The Times They Are A Changin” is the title and retain of the song, and is ALSO the tag in each verse.
Example: Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A’ Changin
A riff is an instrumental (guitar/piano/bass) short melodic or chordal part that is the signature melody/part of the tune. It’s the thing people remember or think of when they think of the song.
Example: Rolling Stones – I Can’t Get No Satisfaction
Another name for the bridge. Strictly speaking, it is an instrumental break in a song for eight measures (or bars) before returning to the original part. In the history of Hip Hop, the middle 8 sections were the “Dance Breaks” that DJs in the Bronx mixed at parties that created the new art form that led to hip hop dance and rap. Now, generally, middle 8 can just refer to any bridge of any length. The Beatles wrote so much music in their (by today’s standards) short tenure, that there are youtube videos where people list their TOP 20 middle 8s just from The Beatles’ oeuvre.
Example: The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night
A FINAL WORD ON PARTS OF SONGS
Listen to some of your favorite songs and try to suss out what parts are being used. How do the artists you like vary their verses and choruses? Are their song intros varied, or formulaic? Is that a chorus or a bridge? Sometimes it’s up for debate, sometimes it’s very obvious by its feel. Once you know the different parts, the real fun begins: putting the parts in order into what we call “song structures”. Put the right parts together in your “song structure” of choice, and you’re on your way to making the music you hear in your head come to life on the page and then in the practice/recording space. Planetary Group is there to help you promote your next record or demo, either on the radio, on the concert circuit, or if you’re still working on getting your name out over social media – call (323) 952-5050 to get your name out there today!