What are the different sections in a popular song and how do I write them?
Every popular song is made up of several parts or song sections, each with a purpose or function within the song. Pop songs are made of the same types of song sections and are built with a similar formula, regardless of genre or style of music.
The differences between genres is more about the subject matter of the lyrics, how the melodies are written and how the instrumental music accompanies the vocal parts and how the vocals and instruments sound.
Listen to songs you love in the genre you’re writing for great ideas to try in your own songwriting….
In this article, you’ll learn about:
- 4 Different Types of Song Sections
- How to Write Lyrics and Music for Each Type of Song Section
- How To Make Each Song Section More Interesting
- How to Assemble Your Song Sections to Create Your Finished Song
What Are Song Sections?
Each part of a song is a self contained unit, called a song section. In a popular song, each song section is typically 4 lines of lyrics and 8 bars of music.
There are numerous exceptions in every genre, so think of this as a starting point, not a rule. As you’re writing, keep an attitude of playful exploration. You can change things as you write, no idea is permanent and you can always change the song as you write. Listen to songs that you love and use them as models for your own songwriting.
What Are The Different Sections In A Popular Song?
In a contemporary popular song, there are four types of song section, each with its own purpose or function within the song: chorus, verse, pre-chorus and bridge.
What is a Chorus in a Song?
The chorus is the section that summarizes the whole point of the song. The chorus of the song is the section that everyone sings along with (when it’s a good one!). You can learn a quick and repeatable songwriting process to write the lyrics and music to a song chorus.
What is a Verse in a Song?
Verses are the sections of the song that contain the plot of the story… the beginning, middle and end of the story within the song. Typically there are two verses, occasionally the first verse is twice as long as the second verse. Because most popular songs are less than four minutes, it’s common for songs with a pre-chorus to only have two distinct verses.
A verse should be predictable for your audience, so each verse should have the same melody (with minor variations), rhyme scheme and chord progression. You can add to the arrangement for the second verse, but otherwise the music should be very similar.
What is a Pre-Chorus in a Song?
The pre-chorus is an optional song section but extremely common in contemporary pop music.. It connects the end of the verse to the beginning of the chorus and creates a smooth transition from verse to chorus lyrically and/or musically. The pre-chorus also increases the anticipation of the chorus, making the arrival of the chorus more exciting.
What is a Bridge in a Song?
The bridge provides musical and lyrical contrast to the other song sections. It prevents the predictability of the pattern of Verse, Pre-Chorus and Chorus from becoming boring. Bridges are notoriously difficult to write because you have to create a balance between novelty while still connecting the bridge to the rest of the song.
Other Song “Sections”
These three song “sections”… the introduction, ending and transition, are listed separately because they aren’t independent sections.
The introduction establishes the mood and prepares the audience for the song. Typically, it’s an instrumental variation on the chord progression of the verse (occasionally it’s part of the chorus). It’s easiest to write the introduction after the song is otherwise complete.
The song ending or outro (outro is a contraction of outroduction, a made up variation of introduction) is either the end of the chorus or a musical extension to the song. Usually a song will end with the chorus. Sometimes the last chorus is modified to provide a sense of closure, making the song sound finished. In other songs, the ending is distinct enough to hear it as a semi-independent “section”….
Additional music can be added to connect song sections, either to provide breathing room (for the performer &/or the audience) or to smoothen the musical movement from one section to the next. It usually sounds like and is analyzed as extra bars at the end of a section. If it feels like your song arrangement moves too quickly from the last lyric in a section to the next section you should consider adding a short transition… likely with a variation of the chords you’ve just used.
Some popular songs have a brief transition after the chorus to reduce the energy level for the upcoming verse.
How To Write Verses, a Chorus, a Pre-Chorus and a Bridge For Your Song:
Because each song section serves a different function in the song, the best practices for writing the verse, chorus, pre-chorus and bridge are different…
How Do I Write A Chorus?
The chorus summarizes the message of the song. If you had to condense a song to less than 30 seconds, you would be left with just the chorus.
- Put the title in the chorus.
- The chorus is often focused on emotions and how the singer feels.
- Usually the lyrics are slower, using longer note lengths than the verse.
- Music and lyrics should have more energy than the verse.
- Keep the lyrics and melody simple so people can sing along.
If you’ve written an effective chorus, the audience will be singing it with you before the song is over.
If you’re having trouble figuring out what to write about, read 5 Ideas for Songwriting Inspiration That Always Work and Songwriting Inspiration: What Do I Write My Song About?
How Do I Write a Verse?
Write the story in the verses. Use the same rhyme scheme and similar rhythmic patterns for each verse, this makes it easier to set them to a melody later.
- Tell the story of the song in the verses.
- Put the audience in the action, not just observing it.
- Use details and specific imagery that resonates with your audience.
- Verses are usually “wordier” than other sections because you’re telling a story… use faster rhythms for lyrics, more words per bar, than in the chorus.
- For each verse change the lyrics but use the same melody, rhythms, rhyme scheme and chord progressions.
- Each subsequent verse usually has more energy than the previous, this is most often a result of production… adding more instruments (and/or vocal parts) or slightly more energetic instrumental parts. The melody and chord structure should be the same.
- There are typically two verses in a contemporary popular song, sometimes the first verse is twice as long as the second verse.
For help figuring out exactly what to write: Brainstorming: How to Create More Ideas Than You Need.
How Do I Write the Second Verse?
A common songwriting problem is figuring out what to write in the second verse… you might feel like you’ve said everything in the first verse, or just be left puzzled how to complete the story in your song.
- Use the same rhyme scheme, melody, chords and rhythms in each verse.
- Change the lyrics, tell more of the story.
- Use different sounding words and different sounds for rhyming words.
- Use rhyming words with different vowel sounds.
- Find a way to go deeper into the story, or change the perspective to a higher level.
How Do I Write a Pre-Chorus?
Write a section with lyrics that connects the meaning of the verse to the chorus, and that advances the story.
- The pre-chorus is usually shorter than or the same length as the chorus.
- The lyrics, melody, chord progression are the same for each pre-chorus.
- Often the pre-chorus is more energetic each time in the song, this is usually because of the musical production… adding instrumental or vocal parts each time.
The pre-chorus essentially the same each time so the listener recognizes the pre-chorus and anticipates the chorus, increasing the impact of the chorus when it arrives.
If you have too many words in your chorus, try making it the pre-chorus. Focus on the words of the title as you write a new chorus.
Does My Song Need a Pre-Chorus?
Probably… listen to songs that you love in the genre you’re writing. If they have pre-choruses, you should write them for your songs.
I plan for a pre-chorus in the early stages of the songwriting process… even when I don’t use a pre-chorus, the ideas often end up in the song, either at the end of the verses or the start of the chorus.
The pre-chorus also gives you the chance to improve the story in your song. For example, if you are writing about “Great Love” and the verses are about how you met and the chorus is about how awesome it is to be in love… the pre-chorus could be about:
- The reasons I love you
- How we both realized we were falling in love
- All the troubles I went through before I met you
- How you make life better for me
Each pre-chorus idea creates different possibilities for the story you are telling through your song.
How Do I Write a Bridge?
Bridges are notoriously difficult to write because they are meant to sound different from the rest of the song, while still being related lyrically and musically.
- Rhyme scheme,
- Lyric rhythmic patterns,
- Length of the lyric lines,
- Speed of the lyrics,
- Speed of the notes,
- Predominant vowel or consonant sounds,
Keep the bridge the same length or shorter than the chorus.
Does My Song Need a Bridge?
Probably… listen to songs that you love in the genre you’re writing. If they have bridges, you should write them for your songs.
I plan for a bridge early in the songwriting process… in the rare occasions that I don’t use a bridge, the ideas often end up in other song sections.
What Do I Write About in the Bridge?
There are a few choices for the subject matter of the bridge, depending on what you feel the song needs to be complete:
- Finish the story of the song… think of the first verse as the beginning, the second verse as the middle and the bridge as the end of the story.
- A different perspective on the story… solve the “problem” or resolve the conflict in the story. The bridge can also act like the punch line in a joke… changing the tone or meaning of the rest of the song.
- Something different… a musical change in direction to keep things interesting, often using more rhythmic or energetic arrangement ideas. If it’s really interesting musically this doesn’t have to advance the story in the song lyrics.
- As with a pre-chorus, the choice of topic in the bridge leads to different story possibilities.
Read How to Write a Song Bridge for even more details….
How To Make Each Song Section More Interesting:
Your audience understands the song because of the patterns you create. On way your audience engages with your song, is by trying to anticipate what will happen next… the next rhyme word or how the melody will resolve. For example: each verse has the same rhyme scheme and melody so your listeners can predict when and what the next rhyming word will be and the next melody notes.
Use contrast between each song section to keep your audience engaged. As a songwriter, you can’t be too predictable… a bored audience won’t want to hear your song again and might not even stick around to the end:
- Change things in each song section:
- Change the chord progressions in each section.
- Use different chords, save a special chord for the chorus and the bridge.
- Change Key, especially in the bridge.
- Change the instrumental accompaniment patterns. Ex, guitar from finger style in the verse to power chords in the chorus.
- Harmonic Rhythms (the speed that chords change).
- Speed of the Lyrics, faster lyrics are more exciting.
- Rhythms of the lyrics.
- Predominant vowel (or consonant, or both) sounds in the lyrics.
- Change the instruments or how they’re played in a section.
- Change timbre of instruments, ex: different guitar effects, or for drums from brushes to sticks, or hi-hat to ride to crash cymbals.
- Lower energy in the verse, builds in the pre-chorus to the most energy in the chorus. The energy in the bridge is usually lower than the chorus, so the last chorus seems stronger.
How Do I Put All of My Song Sections Together?
The Basic Song Structure of a popular song together is simpler than you think. Because each song section has a function, the song structure in a typical song usually follows the same formula… (Factory Fresh: Song Analysis is a detailed analysis of how a song is put together, lyrically, musically and structurally)
Song Section Shorthand
V = Verse
PC = Pre-Chorus
C = Chorus
B = Bridge
Song Structure Fundamentals:
Verse then Chorus
V C V C
Verse then Pre-Chorus to Chorus:
V PC C V PC C
And a bridge is usually framed with a chorus before and after:
C B C
So the Basic Song Structure (without a Bridge) is:
V C V C V C
V PC C V PC C V PC C
And the Basic Song Structure with a Bridge is:
V C V C B C
V PC C V PC C B C
V PC C V PC C B PC C
Then add an introduction and a satisfying ending to write a complete song.