Music format

It seems to me that from as long as I can remember songs basically adhere to the same format.
First a line, then another line, then a “hook”/chorus, then a line + a chorus and then a bridge for variety and another 1 or two lines with chorus.

So that said, why? Why does the format not change more or persist even through-out most genres.

I understand that it’s effective and possibly something along the line of " if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it" but people that make music are called “artists” -which implies free expression.
It’s like being a poet and always making your poems rhyme. I’m not saying nobody challenges that format or that everyone does it that way. I’m simply asking why the format doesn’t vary MORE?

Moderator Action

Since this concerns music, it is best suited to Cafe Society.

Moving thread from General Questions to Cafe Society.

When you say line, do you mean verse? I’m not sure what you’re getting at. I think a recognizable structure just makes music (or at least pop songs) more satisfying to listen to; predictability is just as important as novelty. That said, I imagine I and a multitude of other Dopers could offer examples of songs that completely shatter the typical verse-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus model. Are you asking why people bother making distinct verses, bridges and choruses at all?

Some artists really mix it up that way. What style of music or particular artists are you referring to?

Genesis, I would imagine. ABACAB…

I grew up listening to mostly heavy metal in the 80’s and I definitely noticed a pattern after a while - not just in my music but across different genres.
Verse1, chorus, verse2, chorus, solo/bridge, verse3 (usually a repeat of verse 1), chorus, end

Very formulatic and used very frequently. I can’t put a percentage on it since I’d have to gather a significant representative sample, count the ones that followed the formula, etc, but it was definitely used very heavily during the 80’s, and at least somewhat during the 70’s, and I am sure it probably goes further back than that.

Thinktank: I’ve no idea where it started originally, I’m guessing back in the 50’s but that’s a WAG. I do find it somewhat annoying and find myself liking more music that does not follow the formula.

Well, with the songs I and my bands wrote, it’s kind of due to expediency. No one tells you what has to go into a song, but there’s a minimum of musical activity that most musicians view as a “song”, and anything below that they view as an incomplete part of one.

So, when you write a part, you usually then write a chorus, because otherwise your band mates ask “where’s the chorus”. Once you’ve got those two parts, write two more verses, and you’ve got what you need to make ABABAB work, and fill probably 2-3 minutes of a set. Write a bridge, and ABABCAB and ABACAB become available to you. Once you get there, adding more will make it more difficult for your bandmates to memorize correctly and get tight, and you’re probably starting to push the average listener’s patience. Working on making the song more complex at this point is going to have diminishing returns. So, most bands and pop writers consider the song “done” at this point. Most people get bored and write something that doesn’t adhere to this format. But like the three paragraph paper, it’s easy to fulfill the requirements and pronounce it done.

I don’t know where this ended up becoming the norm. I think ballads, lyric poems, etc. predate this form, and it’s just there so the plebeians like me can write and enjoy music. :slight_smile:

Sometimes it goes A A B A B. You can write a song anyway you want to.


Remind me to post this in the next “What obvious thing did you only learn about recently?” threads.

Each part of the song has a function so it’s not just a matter of throwing the parts together in any old order.

The chorus is usually repeated including the words. It’s a sing along part and we look forward to it coming around again so we can sing that part (maybe just in our heads but that counts).

The verse is repeated but the words are different. The listener wants some novelty and some repetition but the novelty, while enjoyable, makes us yearn to get back to the familiar so, yay, the verse is over now and it’s back to the chorus. ♫ We all live in a yellow … ♫ That doesn’t make the chorus better or more important than the verse. You need the verse to set the chorus up.

The bridge is the verse taken to a whole other level. Novelty of lyrics and melody. When built properly it’s a welcome break from the verse/chorus yet when it’s over it’s even more of a relief to get back to the familiar.

Since these parts all work together and relate to each other there should be no surprise that some ways of putting them together are more effective than others. The most effective becomes clichés and are derided for it but, as a friend said to me when I described how I avoided falling into another vi ii V I chord progression, clichés become clichés for a reason. It’s because they work.

Producer Bobbi Owsinski has a blog where he frequently posts song analyses. It can be interesting to read his explanation of why songs are arranged/instrumented the way they are.

The AaBA form’s got nothing, in terms of longevity, and, well, fixity, compared to the three formes fixes, which lasted centuries in Europe.

Not so fast. . .

Lacking a cite, this is not an adequate source, but I’d heard this before so I wanted to broach the subject and get the thoughts/opinions of those who know more about music than I do. What’s the Straight Dope on ABACAB, before we go off possibly spreading ignorance?

The AABA form has been around for over a century. The main change over the years is that songs don’t have a introduction before the first verse, which died out in popular music when rock came along.

Give a listento Stephen Foster’s Oh Susanna, written in 1848.

Also from that era, Lily Dale, written by H.S. Foster. This one’s a little different, because they sing the chorus twice in a row, but the structure is otherwise the same.

As for why it’s endured so strongly, here’s my guess. It’s a very danceable pattern, and danceable songs have a better chance of becoming popular songs.

Technically it’s not possible for a song to have an accaabbaac form, as the sections are lettered in the order they appear in the finished piece. It would have to be abbaaccaab.

I don’t think that invalidates the account, though. The third section may have been written before the second.

As mentioned above, it just makes sense: the verse is the part that varies each time around, the chorus is the part that stays the same, for which the verses are set-up (and bonus points if the chorus means something slightly different thanks to later verses!) And then a song generally benefits from a third musical idea as an interlude, usually called the “bridge”.

I think the most common format is

verse verse chorus verse [chorus] bridge verse chorus [chorus chorus …]

with lots of simple obvious variations, such as one or three verses before the first chorus. As a gigging musician, it’s the most common that I’ve seen. But there are as many variations as you can imagine, plus a lot you’d never think of. Plus there’s often a thematically related but distinct intro, and sometimes the intro is repeated as the bridge, or after the bridge, or as the ending.

If you think about the great writers, they all have lots of songs that don’t fit the popular format. But just about everyone in popular music (rock, country, blues, jazz) has plenty that do.

I remember as a kid I’d go to church with my parents and sings hymns, at least 3 each Sunday if not more. And I was completely bored, the music -while interesting to learn the words and melodies followed a certain “blanket tone” in other words they were easy sing because you never really had to hit the right note in a whole church of singers as long as you sang close to the proper note you would blend in with the music until you sang the song enough Sundays that you really didn’t need the book anymore. At this point I was bored with it; the learning curve was over and I would groan to have to stand up and sing the song again. One day my dad surprised by my attitude said to me, “maybe one day you can write some better music” -it was of course sarcasm.

I get a similar boredom with mainstream music, I meant no hostility towards any particular music. Only, I thought if more people wanted to change up the pattern/style what-have-you and not define a song this way people wouldn’t expect a certain pattern out of it and there wouldn’t be a “formula” for a hit song. I read this NPR article about Sia. And she seemed very… bored? also with music and very sure of how to make hit music. And I suppose if I hadn’t seen who she’s written hit songs for and how many of them work out even for her, she’d have allot less credibility to her words. They were brief descriptions by her to describe the typical psychology in a pop song such as " The loser to victor song" etc. I listen to just about everything, so I didn’t submit my question with a particular style in mind, I was simply curious as a person that seems to look for and identify patterns in many things.

It also depends to some extent upon the genre. Folk and blues tend to rely less on bridges, and often are nothing but verses. In soul/funk, James Brown completely shattered the verse-chorus-bridge structure in the 1960s (not that it went away entirely, of course).