say that you just "blew your wad" on a whole new wardrobe of beautiful,
expensive designer clothes. You have just brought them home and
now are about to put them away until you can show them off to your
Would you simply toss the clothes into a heap on your closet floor….or
would you carefully display them on padded hangers where they
can be seen, admired and coordinated with each other to create
this question is really a "no-brainer." Nobody with any sense would
simply toss their expensive investment into a heap where no one
-- not even the owner -- could see and appreciate the beauty of
the garments. The same logic applies to the matter of song form.
Why would you as a songwriter choose not to display your
carefully crafted lyrics and music in the most complimentary and
effective manner? Song form is that essential part of the songcrafting
process that provides the "hanger" to exhibit your song at its best.
my last article, we identified some basic components of songs --
the hook, the verse, the chorus and the bridge.
In our next several sessions, we will look at some major song forms
that have dominated commercial or hit music for the
last century. There are, to be sure, many other ways to construct
songs, but three forms continue to keep turning up on lists of "greatest
hits." Whether or not listeners are consciously aware that the songs
they love have a specific form, they have, nonetheless, been
conditioned to subconsciously connect with songs that use these
major song forms. If our objective as songwriters is to communicate
our songs to the ears and hearts of millions of listeners, then
we MUST speak the language that listeners understand. Song
form is the framework for that language.
first of the three major commercial song forms is commonly called
the AAA Song Form and is the simplest and earliest of the three.
Remember: When we refer to any song form, "A" always
stands for a verse. So, the AAA Song Form is simply a series
of verses linked together. Each verse is complete in itself, but
is part of a larger whole -- very much like links in a chain. The
AAA Song can also be called the "one-part song" which means that
it has only one section that repeats musically, but differs lyrically
in each verse. The technical name for this song form is the -- strophic
song form -- the Greek word, strophe, simply meaning
beginnings of the AAA Song go back several centuries to early court
composers and musicians who set poems to music for performance at
royal functions. Because the song form was so simple and repetitive,
it also became part of early children's rhymes and songs. Any child
who has learned and sung, Mary Had a Little Lamb,
has learned the AAA Song Form -- whether he/she realizes it or not!
And, of course, Girl and Boy Scout camps would be literally handicapped
without the AAA song form that has produced such campfire hits as
Kum Bay Ya and Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer
on the Wall.
the last title demonstrates, it makes no difference how many verses
the AAA Song may contain or how long each verse may be -- it will
never have chorus or a bridge. But one thing it will have
is a hook and that hook (which is usually also the title)
will almost always appear at the same strategic, parallel place
in each A section -- often in the first or last line of the verse.
AAA Song is the essence of simplicity and memorability. Because
of this, it had a phenomenal resurgence during the 1960's and 70's
as folk singers like Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Pete Seeger, Joni Mitchell
and others used it to create songs that made an indelible imprint
on American Music. Consider the immortal Dylan classic, Blowin'
in the Wind. Each "A" section or verse begins with a series
of questions answered by the hook which -- in this song -- concludes
the verse and is part of the refrain. You will remember that
the refrain occurs in the same place in every verse of this song
and is definitely the most memorable part.
AAA song is also an ideal song form for telling a story. Consider
the genius, 1970's Jim Webb hit, By the Time I Get to Phoenix,
which uses the AAA Song Form to tell a "split-screen" story of a
man leaving his girlfriend. He starts out from California and as
the song progresses, each verse finds him in a different city further
west while the girlfriend goes about her daily routine and begins
to realize, little by little, that this time the guy really meant
it and is definitely gone! By the Time I Get to Phoenix
uses the AAA Song at its best and fullest potential, and the hit
that resulted for Jim Webb and Glen Campbell proves again that simplicity
can be extremely effective if it is "elegant simplicity!"
course, the recurring music of the AAA Song can make it overly repetitious
and even downright boring if it is not developed well. Here are
some techniques to consider to keep listener interest:
In producing your demo, you might start the song with very simple
instrumentation -- perhaps just a guitar or piano and vocal. Then
at the second A, you could add some strings or percussion. Continue
to add instruments to the arrangement at each A section as the
song builds to the end.
You might consider changing keys between a couple of the later
verses. Modulating the song up a half step between A sections
gives the song a forward movement and makes the listener feel
as if "we are getting somewhere." This technique is especially
effective when the song tells a story.
now it's your turn! Why not try writing an AAA song -- or several
of them? Remember to strategically place your hook at the beginning
or the end of each A section. Perhaps the next great resurgence
of the AAA Song Form will begin with you!