Understanding the Basic Components of a Song

Do you want to try your hand at writing a song, or putting your poetry to music? Here are some explanations of basic song structure to help you.
A woman holding a guitar and making notes on a sheet of paper
A very basic song can consist of just verses and a chorus or refrain. In a slightly more complex song you will often find an introduction, the verses, chorus, a bridge, and a conclusion.

The verses and the chorus are often two contrasting melodies contained in the same song. The verses are generally more structured than the chorus and take up more of the song.

The chorus is usually the same piece played more than once to break up the verses of the song. Occasionally a variation to the chorus is brought in towards the end. This could be an additional line or two, a change to the lyrics, or an extension of a solo by one of the musicians. This is also sometimes referred to as the conclusion, or concluding chorus or refrain, and plays to a fade out.

The bridge is used as a breather or a suspension in the song to break up a predictable pattern in the song. It might act as an extra chorus or an alternative verse. It often builds a connection between the chorus or musical solo, and the melody of the verse. It may or may not have lyrics, but if it does they are usually simple, or may call for a repetition of part of the chorus, or for some improvisation from the singer.

In addition to these elements, you can improve the interest of your song by adding complimenting harmonies. These are points in the song in which a different note to the melody is played or sung at the same time, which complements and deepens the melody.

Finally, you need to be aware of the rhythm and metre of your song – or the pattern it would make if you tapped it out on a table. This is a good way to ensure that the lines of your lyrics fit the lines of the music score.

Have a look at the lyrics to two of Alanis Morissette’s songs: Thank U and The Couch. Thank U is an excellent piece to study as it has a simple structure, and yet is very powerful. You can see clearly which lines are verses (“How ‘bout…”), chorus (“Thank you…”), and the bridge (“The moment…”). The final chorus concludes the song with its slight variation in the last three lines.

In contrast, The Couch is a song made of very complex lyrics, based on non-syllabic poetry. You will probably find it very difficult to hear the melody of this song unless you are familiar with it, and this type of songwriting should be reserved for songs you intend to sing yourself, or for very experienced singers.

This article was first published in 2006. © Elle Carter Neal

Read next: How to Write Better Lyrics

Also check out this post on the different parts of a song, by Grammy Award winning songwriter, Jordan Reynolds.