Introduction to Common Song Structure

Song structure, otherwise known as musical forms of songs in popular music, are typically sectional, repeating forms, such as the popular twelve bar blues.

One of the golden rules of songwriting is that – like most other forms of art – there aren’t really any. But with that said, it’s never a bad idea to take a page from successful ideas, and this is most definitely true when it comes to budding songwriters trying to find their groove.  

Song structure, otherwise known as musical forms of songs in popular music, are typically sectional, repeating forms, such as the popular twelve bar blues. Other common forms include thirty-two-bar form, verse-chorus form, and strophic form. Popular music songs are rarely composed using different music for each stanza of the lyrics (songs composed in this fashion are said to be "through-composed"). This form can be used in any structural difference in melodies. A common format would be as listed: Verse, Pre-Chorus, Chorus, Verse, Pre-Chorus, Chorus, Bridge, Verse, Chorus, Middle Eight.

The foundation of popular music is the "verse" and "chorus". Both are essential elements with the verse usually played first. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions to this layout, such as "She Loves You" by The Beatles being an early example in the rock genre. Each verse usually employs the same melody (possibly with some slight modifications), while the lyrics usually change for each verse. The chorus (or "refrain") usually consists of a melodic and lyrical phrase which is repeated. Pop songs may have an introduction and coda ("tag"), but these features are not essential to the identity of most songs. Pop songs often connect the verse and chorus through a bridge, which as the name suggests, is a section which connects the verse and chorus at one or more points in the song.

The verse and chorus are usually repeated throughout a song though the bridge, intro, and coda (also called an "outro") are usually only used once. Some pop songs may have a solo section, particularly in rock or blues influenced pop. During the solo section one or more instruments play a melodic line which may be the melody used by the singer, or, in blues or jazz influenced pop, the solo may be improvised based on the chord progression.

Now that we know a little bit about the common forms of songs, let’s take a closer look at some of the specific parts that are usually featured in most of today’s popular music.



The introduction is a distinctive section of a song that comes at the beginning of the piece. Generally, an introduction will contain just music and no words. It usually builds up suspense for the listener so when the downbeat drops in, it creates a release or surprise. In some songs, the intro is one or more bars of the tonic chord (the "home" key of the song). The introduction may also be based around the chords used in the verse, chorus, or bridge (or even a stock "turnaround" progression may be played, such as the I /vi / ii/ V progression, particularly in jazz influenced pop songs). In some cases, an introduction contains only drums or percussion parts which set the rhythm and groove for the song. Alternately the introduction may consist of a solo sung by the lead singer (or a group of backup singers), or played by an instrumentalist.



The verse is the main part of a song. In popular music a verse roughly resembles a poetic stanza. When two or more sections of the song have basically identical music and different lyrics, each section is considered one verse. It is not to be confused with a pre-verse, which is an interlude between the introduction of a song and its opening verse. Although much less common nowadays, the pre-verse technique was popular with the surf music of the ‘60s.



The element of the song that repeats at least once both musically and lyrically. It usually features greater musical and emotional intensity than the verse. As far as the narrative goes, the chorus usually conveys the main message or theme of the song. The chorus also commonly contains the hook which is the most memorable part of the song. In popular music, the chorus normally follows the verse, but there are of course plenty of exceptions such as The Beatles' "Can't Buy Me Love.”


Middle Eight

In music theory, the middle 8 (or bridge) refers to the section of a song which has a significantly different melody from the rest of the song, usually after the second chorus in a song. Typically, a song consists of first verse, pre-chorus, chorus, second verse, pre-chorus, chorus, middle eight, chorus. These sections often consist of new chords, but also simply just alternate between two chords. The reason it’s called a middle 8 is because it happens to be in the middle of the song and the length is generally 8 bars.

A typical song structure employing a middle 8 is:

Intro - {Verse-Chorus} {Verse-Chorus }- Middle 8 - {Chorus} - {Chorus} - (Outro)

Middle 8s are often quieter than the main song, which contrasts with Solos, which are typically more energetic. In slower songs, however, a middle 8 can be used to generate energy. By adding a powerful upbeat middle 8, musicians can add a great hook for an end chorus and finale.



A collision is a section of music where different parts overlap one another, usually for just a short period. It is mostly used in fast-paced music, and aimed to create tension and drama. For example, during a chorus later in the song, the songwriter may throw in musical elements from the bridge.



A solo is a section designed to showcase a player or less frequently, more than one player (such as a trumpeter and a sax player). The solo section may take place over the chords from the verse, chorus, or bridge, or over a standard solo backing progression, such as the 12-bar blues progression. In some pop songs, the solo performer plays the same melodies that were performed by the lead singer, often with added extras and embellishments, such as riffs, scale runs, and arpeggios. In blues or jazz influenced pop songs, the solo performers also sometimes improvise a solo.

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