Writing a good song is a tricky thing
In the grand scheme of things there are thousands of ways you could go about writing a good song. And lots of different song structures. Equally there are thousands of ways of looking at a song and seeing both the good and the bad in it. You’ve also got to factor in the birth of the songs inspiration. Sometimes a melody may come that leads a song somewhere. Other times it may be a chord structure. Or even something as simple as the sound of a particular instrument that pushes you to write a song. All of which yield different results.
In short, this article isn’t going to teach you how to write good songs
What I’m here to do today is to look at some specific structures of songs, that will give you insight into why they sound the way they do. If that somehow manages to help you become a better songwriter, then you’re welcome. Buy me a pint sometime and we’ll call it even.
Pop Song Structures
Ok so when talking song structure the most obvious place to start is with mainstream pop. One of the few genres that genuinely has a formula to success. The song we’re going to be looking at is “Into You” by Ariana Grande. Which was co-written with a number of people, one of whom is Max Martin. For those of you who don’t know who he is Max is one of the biggest pop producers and songwriters of the last twenty years and openly admits to using one formula to produce all of his hits. If you’re skeptical, go look at his discography. That man has written all of your favourite pop tunes and then some. So let’s listen to the song.
A // A // B // C // A // B // C // D // C //
I’ve written the structure out and labeled the sections by letter to make it easier to spot the patterns forming in the song.
So we start with section A, the verse. Most pop song structures start with a verse to help set the tone of the song.
It establishes a journey we’re about to embark on through this song. We repeat section A again with another verse, but note the build in arrangement to further push a sense of purpose and direction, like we’re building to something more. Then we have section B, the pre-chorus. The point of a pre-chorus is essentially to get us all jacked up for big hook that’s going to follow in 8-12 bars, which this song does perfectly. The melody is more memorable. It’s a higher pitch, which is more appealing, and the arrangement continues to build.
Finally we hit section C, the chorus. This is what the song has been working towards. From a writing prospective we need a melodic hook or lyric that is going to be easy to remember, almost the point where you would be able to sing along with the chorus the second time you hear it. In this case it’s the line ‘I’m so into you’.
From the here song repeats the structure
…but condenses it by removing one of the section A’s. This is because we now already know where we’re at in the song and don’t need reminding as it will start to feel old. The song develops again and builds through section B (pre-chorus). Again, note how both the vocal performance and arrangement have become much more pronounced and dense. The pre chorus is now sung in chest not falsetto. The synths and kit sounds are much more present. This is to help make that second chorus feel as big if not bigger than the original. Pop is all about maintaining hype and that’s a great way to do it.
From here, the song moves to the only other section left to explore in the song structure, section D. The middle 8. Middle 8 literally means the middle 8 bars of a song. Its purpose of this section is to give the listener a break from the initial repeated sections. In pop’s case, this section needs to be refreshing enough to cleanse the listener’s palette, but familiar enough that we can seamlessly return to our chorus in a short space of time. Again this song does this very well. This section is the first time we don’t have a four to floor pattern in the kick. The synths having become much more jagged and full sounding. There are new percussive ideas. And the melody builds to this intense vocal run that helps us to return to the chorus with ease.
Finally we’re back to our beloved Chorus
In this songs case it takes influence from a big trend in modern pop of stripping the arrangement right down for the first half, before ramping it all back up again for the second half. This makes the song feel new even though this is the third time we’ve heard this section!
And that’s it really. Pop music is a great structure to start with when it comes to understanding song structure and writing. It’s also very common in other styles of music that aren’t considered pop; it’s just masked by so called Alt arrangement or more angular chord changes. So give this structure a try when writing your next song and who knows, maybe you’ll write a chart topper!
By Dan Tredgold