Popular songs usually follow one of the traditional song forms, or one of the song forms that are derived from those traditional song forms. These music forms are generally made up of a number of sections that may or may not be repeated within the same song. One of the main song forms is “AB” or “Verse/Chorus” Song Form, either of which names are used by songwriters. One common, modern, derived song form is “VERSE-CHORUS-BRIDGE” or ABC Song Form. Directly derived from AB Song Form, ABC Song Form is a fundamental AB derived song form, introducing a 3rd “Bridge” section.
This article will explain AB Song Form or VERSE-CHORUS Song Form, ABC Song Form or VERSE-CHORUS-BRIDGE, any common derived song forms, and video examples of those song forms being used in current popular songs.
This article is focused on providing a basic understanding of AB or Verse/Chorus Song Form and it's derivatives in the modern era, so some root musical forms or classifications of musical forms have only been referenced for completeness.
Song Building Blocks
Popular music, in particular, often uses a number of common structural song parts.
The common building blocks are:
- PRE-CHORUS / RISE / CLIMB
- MIDDLE EIGHT
- SOLO / INSTRUMENTAL BREAK
- CODA / OUTRO
- AD LIB (OFTEN IN CODA / OUTRO)
For details about these song building blocks please read our article, "Song Building Blocks".
Refrain Or Chorus?
A Refrain is repeated at points throughout the song, often using the main lyrical hook / title. It uses a melody and rhythm that is seen as part of the verse melody and rhythm.
A Chorus is really a special type of refrain; one that often uses multiple voices, and the melody, rhythm and intensity is usually significantly different from that of the verse, making it a distinct musical section.
AB or Verse/Chorus Song Form
AB format has been the songwriting format of choice for modern popular music since the 1960s. It is often used in love songs, pop, country, rap and rock music. Unlike the AABA form or AAA, which both highlight the verse, AB format puts emphasis entirely on the chorus. Although the AB Song Form has been around since the mid-nineteenth century, most popular songs from the classic rock period forward are written in the AB Song Form.
Structure Of AB Song Form
AB Song Form consists of two or three verses that alternate with a second, distinct musical theme. This second distinct theme is a section called the chorus.
As with blues progressions, not all AB Song Form songs are found in the typical 32-bar length. Verses and choruses can be any length, however, most are four, eight, twelve, sixteen, or twenty-four bars long.
All About The Verse
In AB form, one of the main functions of the verse is to serve as a build-up to the chorus.
The first verse of an AB song sets-up the "story" for the rest of the song. Usually there are several verses made up of 8 lines with the last line preparing the listeners for the chorus.
Verses are often sung by an individual singer.
Don't make your verses too long, it is important to try to reach the chorus quickly.
All About The Chorus
The chorus usually contains the song’s main message, major hook and title. This makes the chorus the catchiest, most memorable part of the song. The chorus contrasts, musically and rhythmically, with the verse and it is repeated several times throughout the song. This means the chorus is the part of the song that often sticks in the mind of a listener.
The title of the song is usually included in the chorus as well as the main theme. One important rule of thumb when writing the AB song is to try to get to the chorus quickly, so avoid writing verses that are too long.
In a chorus the individual singer is usually joined by one or more other singers. In fact the name "chorus" comes from the multiple voices that join the solo singer during this section.
Title Placement In AB Song Form
The title line or hook is usually a feature of the chorus. It can fall into any number of places in the chorus, including:
- First line
- First and third line
- Second and fourth line
- Last line
- The first and last line
- Every line
The first and last lines tend to be the strongest title / main hook positions.
The important part is simply to make your chorus memorable.
AB Song Form Examples
Examples of the AB Song Form built on typical eight-bar verses and choruses include:
- "Foxy Lady" (Jimi Hendrix, 1967)
- "Get Back" (Beatles, 1969)
- "Proud Mary" (Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1969, written by John Fogerty)
- "Superstition" (Stevie Wonder, 1972)
- "Candle In The Wind" (Elton John, 1973, written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin)
- "Sweet Home Alabama" (Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1974)
- "Hotel California" (Eagles, 1977, by Don Felder, Don Henley, and Glenn Frey)
- "Don’t Stop" (Fleetwood Mac, 1977, written by Christine McVie)
- "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" (The Police, 1981, written by Sting)
- "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" (Whitney Houston, 1987, written by George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam)
- "Oops, I Did It Again" (Britney Spears, 2000, written by Max Martin and Rami Yacoub)
- "Run" (Snow Patrol, 2004)
- "Somebody That I Used To Know" (Gotye, 2011)
Extending AB Form
VERSE / CHORUS / BRIDGE Song Form or ABC Song Form
The first and most obvious form derived from AB is that of VERSE / CHORUS / BRIDGE Song Form. ABC song form can be challenging because your song may become lengthy. This is made all the harder when you consider that a commercially viable song ideally should not exceed 3 minute and 30 seconds.
Structure of ABC Song Form
ABC song form is an extension of the simple AB or VERSE / CHORUS structure.
Often ABC Song Form uses this pattern:
It is identical in structure to AB song form with the exception that a bridge is inserted in the song structure. The bridge must be different from the verse, lyrically and rhytmically, and ideally it should offer the listener a reason for the chorus to be repeated.
ABC Song Form songs includes a bridge, but it usually only appears once.
A bridge can be described as a piece of music that connects two primary musical themes. In isolation, a bridge can be described as feeling "incomplete".
The bridge gives the listener a break from the main themes of a song. Usually, but not always, a bridge will return to a chorus section. It should sound different musically from both the verse and the chorus. It can either contain lyrics or be purely instrumental.
Usually the bridge section is inserted after the second chorus. This is often the point in the song that the listener is ready for something new. Some songs may place the bridge in a different location, often for lyrical reasons.
You might choose to add a bridge to your verse/chorus song for a number of reasons:
- To break up the repetitive back and forth effect of the simple A/B, verse/chorus form.
- To extend the song's length
- To include necessary lyrics to move the story forward out-with the verse theme.
ABC Form Examples
- "If I Were A Boy" (Beyonce, 2008, by Toby Gad and BC Jean)
- "Fix You" (Coldplay, 2005)
- "Hands Tied" (Toni Braxton, 2010, by Heather Bright, Warren Felder, Harvey Mason Jr)[/blt
Other AB Derived Song Forms
Many of the other AB Form derived examples include a variety of permutations making use of a number of the modern Song Building Blocks, as mentioned above.
Sometimes there is a section inserted between each verse and chorus. It is really a form of bridge, commonly called the pre-chorus, the rise, or the climb. It's purpose is to build tension within the song that is usually resolved by the chorus.
Examples Of AB and ABC Derived Song Forms
- "Crush" (David Archuleta)The structure is VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS / VERSE / CHORUS / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS to fade out.
- "Rolling in the Deep" (Adele)
- "Someone Like You" (Adele)
- "Set Fire to the Rain" (Adele)
All of these Adele songs use:
VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS / VRS / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS / BRIDGE / CHORUS
- "These Days" (Foo Fighters)DOUBLE VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS / VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS / DOUBLE PRE-CHORUS (BRIDGE) / HALF VERSE / CHORUS
- "Grenade" (Bruno Mars)VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS / VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS / BRIDGE / CHORUS
- "You Belong To Me" (Taylor Swift)VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS / VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS / INSRUMENTAL BREAK / BRIDGE / CHORUS VARIATIONS
Discuss this article in our Music Forum.
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The basic move of turning something from being devoid of sense into something which makes sense, seems to be crucial to aesthetics. Despite being initially a very crude idea, once you go into the specifics, it can do a lot of work. Within professional philosophy the guy who does ‘philosophy of art’ is, though, generally still the bloke somewhere down the corridor whom everybody ignores. I would argue, in contrast, that aesthetics is absolutely essential to philosophy, because philosophy, as Hegel claimed, should be ‘its age depicted in thought’. But the question is which philosophy succeeds in that aim. I think that the philosophy that matters most questions how the ‘scientific image’ relates to the ‘manifest image’ of the everyday world we inhabit. Science cannot explain quotidian sense making, not least because it necessarily relies on it for its own practices, and this is where philosophy should step in. There is, then, a role in philosophy for critical social inquiry that has to involve the ‘deep’ issues associated with traditional metaphysics, but these have to be seen in relation to the contingent history in which they are located, which changes their significance. That’s why I take Heidegger’s attempts to think in terms of the ineluctable fact of our finitude very seriously.
Adorno argued that ‘[m]usic is the logic of judgmentless synthesis’ [Adorno, 1993: 32]. Could you elaborate on this claim?
AB: In this context I always refer to rhythm. Schelling argues that rhythm is ‘the music in music’. Rhythm is, he says, the ‘the transformation of a succession which is in itself meaningless into a significant one’. This is essentially what goes on in music: it always involves some kind of repetition, otherwise there would only be disintegration or randomness, which would not make any sense, because sense has to do with the establishing of identity. In music you are creating forms of identity – often very complex ones – which can give pleasure. Anthropologically you find this in very basic forms of human existence. There is something about repeated articulation which is absolutely fundamental to our lives. You can differentiate such articulation and make it ever more complex, but you can also create boring patterns or patterns, which turn rigid. Hence, there is a constant challenging of that rigidity in significant music. So sense is grounded in rhythm, in the very broad sense of meaningful repetition, which happens before you get to the semantic level of sense – hence Adorno’s idea of judgementless synthesis. Rhythm structures time in a way that makes it more meaningful than time measured chronologically. That is also why Adorno is suspicious of certain kinds of rhythm. Rhythm can make intolerable things more tolerable, as it does in work songs, say, but it can also be a means of discipline and control, as it is when used by the military. People’s desire to lose themselves in rhythm is therefore two-edged, listening to Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony or dancing at a rave can allow one to transcend habitual ways of being in a way which enriches one’s life, but one can lose oneself in ways which are much less benign. Rhythm is a form of ‘synthesis’, because if there are just random sounds there is no rhythm: only when a relation between sounds occurs does sense occur. So the baseline of synthesis, which plays a role in accounts of thought like that of Kant, can be said to be a form of rhythm – Dewey and Deleuze have interesting things to say about this. Rhythm then plays a role in other complex forms of sense, such as literary prose. Great writers’ prose moves in a certain way and that is why I cannot get on with a lot of contemporary literature – it sometimes does not have a command of prose rhythm of the kind you get in Flaubert, Kafka, or Proust, for example. The vital idea in all this is that semantically elaborated sense depends on this prior ‘judgementless synthesis’, an idea which also occurs in relation to Heidegger’s concern with ‘being’, the fact that anything is meaningful at all.
Can music express something we are unable to express in verbal language or logic, offering pure expression, liberated from convention and pre-existing meaning? Or can one go even as far as claiming that music is a universal language? And what are the expressive limits of music?
AB: I think that all forms of expression in their own domain are ‘limited’, and every domain needs other domains to fill out the space and sense which they are lacking. I don’t think there is such a thing as ‘pure expression’, but liberation from convention and pre-existing meaning seem central to significant music. Adorno usefully sees this in terms of a dialectic between expression and convention, where you have to have both. There is nothing inherently wrong with propositional language: saying that would be absurd. However, it also involves other dimensions, such as rhythm and tone and so on that are inseparable from how it is understood in real contexts, rather than contexts arrived at by philosophical abstraction. You might say that the test of discursive writing about music is whether it illuminates music or not, rather than whether its claims are true, which is why good writing about music is so often metaphorical. It is significant that conductors often use metaphors to convey how they want a piece to go to an orchestra.
I would not say that music is the or even ‘a’ universal language. At the same time, it is notable that you can play music with almost anyone anywhere in a productive way if you have the skill and the commitment. That seems to be terribly important, as you may not be able to communicate with the same people in other respects. Music enables connections between people that only a few other forms of human interaction do. We really do live in a world, in which we need things that help us to connect with others, in the way that we do when we improvise and jam together. The kind of give and take and the negotiations required to do this successfully have analogues in most forms of human interaction, but music offers the possibility (which is certainly not always actualised) of a specific kind of overcoming of cultural, political and psychological barriers. There is so much rapid movement and there are so many cultural barriers in the globalised world – which is why I am very suspicious of identity politics. I love jazz so much, because it will try to adopt and adapt absolutely anything musical that seems likely to work. What I say here may appear rather naively positive: the world of music is riven by conflict and the abuse of power, as recent revelations about abuse in music education have reminded us, but one should not lose sight of how music still does offer possibilities for transcending obstacles. One just has to be very wary of how this is played out in concrete social contexts. My experience of playing jazz across the world has been very predominantly positive: I got to know many of my best friends through playing jazz with them, and my experience of jazz musicians at all levels is often that they have an openness to the world based on a shared sense of commitment to the music that can be lacking in other social domains.
Heidegger speaks a lot about temporality and our existence within the world as temporal beings. When you speak about rhythm and other elements within music, they are obviously tied into time and how we relate to it. If you think about the temporal aspect of our existence along Heideggerian lines, how would you tie in music?
AB: The difficulty of this question lies in what temporality means with respect to Heidegger. He is not referring to chronological time, but to the manner, in which the world is ‘open’ to us. There has to be a prior openness of the world before we can start to understand and talk about it in objective terms. I think that what you and I have been talking about is in some respects precisely this. Music can keep open a sense of the world which is not wholly controllable and which transcends our ability to conceptualize and objectify it. So music may be one way of getting at what Heidegger is concerned with in the idea of the ‘clearing’, the primary horizon of sense which resists analysis in terms of the propositional sense which it itself makes possible.
It is not as if Heidegger gives you a definition of time, as he is actually talking about temporality in the sense I just indicated. One of the few good remarks in the recently published Black Notebooks from the 30s and 40s, where his Nazism is very much in evidence, is when he says that the supposed loss of eternity and the loss of metaphysics in modernity should not properly be seen as a loss. We have, he thinks, got to get away from that way of seeing it. The form of our existence is, in these terms, not something inherently lacking: it is also a constant unfolding, but it is not necessarily unfolding as something that is going somewhere in a big way. Heidegger tends to move in the direction of a big answer when he tries in such a disastrous way to connect his ideas to politics. Thomas Sheehan’s recent book is very good on his failings here. So I think music may be one place to understand Heidegger, and this can sometimes actually be better than reading more and more Heidegger, because the differences of kinds of temporality can be found in different kinds of music in ways, which Heidegger often struggles to express at all adequately. Many of the things he says about language in On The Way to Language can be transferred to music, and music sometimes is more appropriate for understanding his approaches to language than is poetic language. More people seem likely to be grabbed by this sense of a different way of understanding the world and ourselves in music than they do in the kind of literature that Heidegger focuses on, important as this literature undoubtedly is. It should be clear, though, and Heidegger says as much, that the kind of view of music I am advancing is not one he would have accepted.
Is music world-disclosing in a Heideggerian sense, that is, does it make you see things in ways you would not have done otherwise? Or is it also a means of transcending what we are surrounded by and thrown into?
AB: What you are asking has to do with what is probably the main point of Heidegger, even though his line is so difficult to understand. It took me years and I am not even sure that I really do understand it now. Heidegger’s line on ‘unhiddenness’ is not that the thing was there as such before it becomes unhidden. What ‘there’ means depends on where you are, what context you are in, and so on. The unhiddenness of things involves a happening which reconfigures how the world is, but not in a way which can be controlled or predicted. That is what goes on in the history of great music: even though one can see a kind of logic to its development in retrospect, the new sense which emerges, say, in Beethoven does not preexist Beethoven. Once there is Beethoven’s music, rhythm and harmony take on a new relationship to melody which cannot be conjured away, but his establishing this new relationship comes about by him realizing potential that nobody, in one sense including him, knew was ‘there’ at all. What he does is clearly determined by historical and social factors – relating obviously to things like the French Revolution, the new temporality of modernity, etc. – but it also takes us beyond such factors, which is why it still retains the capacity to make sense beyond its contexts of emergence. It can disclose aspects of their world to someone in a completely different context. That has been my experience of Beethoven and other great music.
I am generally against the sort of philosophy which tries to define what music really is. This is because there are in music a whole series of things which you can only understand through being involved in music: the difference is partly captured by thinking about how observation and participation give rise to very different kinds of sense. I think it is generally a mistake to believe that music is best approached as a philosophical mystery, as it standardly is by philosophers of music, or as a physical or psychological phenomenon, as it is in natural scientific disciplines (which is not, I must stress, to say that we learn nothing from such approaches). The primary aspect of music for those engaged in it, tends not to be puzzlement as to why it seems to matter, or what it means, or how it is to be explained in terms of acoustics, psychology, etc.: that puzzlement itself arises through attempts at objectification of music, through seeing it as an ‘entity’, rather than understanding its ‘being’, to put it in Heidegger’s terms. Instead, the most significant aspects of music are experienced by participants as ways of connecting to what we are of a kind that are lacking in some of the forms which dominate much of life in modernity. So yes, music can involve a kind of transcendence, but of an ‘immanent’ kind, i.e. not one that takes one to another world, or beyond time, or whatever, but one which renders this world more meaningful.
Let’s end with one of my musical obsessions. Bruckner was a devout Catholic, and a naïve, socially inept man, as well as being a great composer. His Eighth Symphony adapts, in a massively expanded form, the pattern of Beethoven’s Fifth: it begins in C Minor and ends in C major. This conclusion comes after a series of struggles, hesitations, outbreaks of passion, moments of near triumph that are not finally fulfilled (there is a sexual aspect to this), and so on. It ends like this – though this passage from the very end doesn’t really make sense without the preceding 80 minutes or so of music, you get some idea of just how glorious the culmination is simply in sonic terms.
For me this is one of the greatest passages (in context) in all music. It can be heard in religious terms, in terms of a certain kind of mystical ecstasy, or as an overwhelming confluence of many of the motifs which structure the whole symphony: the descending bit of the major scale, ending on the tonic, at the very end echoes the equivalent descending bit of the minor scale in the opening bars of the first movement, and so on. Above all, it seems to me, it can give rise to an affective exultation that would not exist without the religious background from which it emerges, but which is not tied to this background. Maybe this does not matter in the grand scheme of things, but this piece of music has accompanied me since I first heard it as a research student, and forms part of my life that I would find it hard to be without. It is just one example, but without such examples, that can come from other domains of art (think of the significance of certain paintings in Proust) a vital dimension of our existence goes missing. At a time when the need to reexamine the process of secularization has, in the light of all kinds of both benign and pernicious revivals of religion, become pressing, we can learn a lot from the issues concerning the sense made by music that I have tried to suggest.