I was a little girl, my mother used to tell me about a very elegant
and beautiful First Lady (I can't remember which one it was) who
knew exactly how to dress so that she looked her absolute best at
every function! After one occasion, a newspaper columnist who had
covered the event wrote: "As usual, the First Lady was dressed so
elegantly that no one can remember what she wore!"
point of this memorable little vignette was that the lady knew how
to choose clothes that complimented and accentuated her best
assets so that all eyes were on her -- rather than on
things are meant to be in the spotlight -- other things accomplish
their purpose best by NOT being noticed! In fact, many of these
behind-the-scenes elements are noticeable only when they
are absent -- when they don't fit -- when they are inappropriate!
A First Lady clad in ill-fitting or gaudy dresses, for example,
would create a much different vibe than the sophisticated woman
is my long-held conviction that song structure or song
form is one of the most necessary elements of hit songwriting,
but it is such a behind-the-scenes ingredient that many people are
not even consciously aware that songs have structure at all. And
yet, listeners have been subliminally conditioned through the years
to expect certain song elements. If there is no familiar song structure
…or if it is not used well in the crafting of the song, listeners
sense that something is wrong and tend to lose interest quickly.
another analogy. Most people are not grammarians. They have a hard
time differentiating between an adjective and an adverb. But they
can sure tell if a public speaker is well-spoken or not. How do
they know? Because their minds have been subconsciously trained
to discern between correct and incorrect use of language. They may
not know exactly which grammar rules a speaker is breaking, but
they sure know if it "doesn't sound right." Proper grammar is one
of those crucial elements of communication that allows listeners
to focus on the idea the speaker is expressing without being
distracted by the words themselves.
is my conviction that hit songwriting is far more about communication
than it is about expression. Any songwriter can "express
himself/herself," but it is a far different skill to communicate
a thought so the listeners can "get it." I often consult with beginning
songwriters who rebel when I exhort them to learn the discipline
of song form because they fear that it will "inhibit their creativity."
But in my opinion, skilled use of song structure is as essential
to effective communication in songwriting as proper grammar is to
the next several articles we will be delving into the very important
matter of song structure -- especially the major song forms that
are used in most commercial or hit songwriting. Much of what you
will learn, you will already know intuitively. But once you are
aware of the various song components and how they can be skillfully
combined, you will gain both a new appreciation of the songs you
love and a toolbox of crafting options for your own original songs.
we must define the terms we will use to describe the basic elements
of every popular or commercial song. Whatever the genre -- Pop,
Country, R&B, Jazz -- songs that have both words and music always
contain at least some -- if not all -- of these elements:
Hook -- The dictionary defines a hook as "an implement for
catching something, holding something, sustaining
it or pulling it along." That is a great definition for
a song hook as well. The hook is the line of words and music that
catches the listener's ear, holds his/her interest,
sustains that interest and pulls the listener along
to the end of the song.
hook is the song's thesis statement. Every essay has a thesis
that encapsulates its central idea; similarly, an effective song
must have a hook that expresses in just a few words and notes
what the song is about. The hook MUST be repeated several times
throughout the song -- if it isn't repeated, it isn't a hook.
It is that one line -- both musically and lyrically -- that listeners
will remember long after the song is over, and what they will
ask for when they call the radio station to request it.
Verse -- The verse or verses of the song are the sections
that provide information about the hook. Well-crafted verses will
build toward and lead into the hook. All the verses
of the song will have the same melody but different lyrics, and
the parallel lines of each verse should be identical in length
and meter. Songs of all song forms have verses which are always
referred to as the "A" Section of the song.
Chorus -- Not all songs have choruses, but you can easily
identify the ones that do because a chorus contains the most memorable
music and lyrics in the song. It is repeated after each verse
and usually contains the hook. A chorus can be removed from the
rest of the song and still sound complete in itself both musically
and lyrically. A chorus is referred to as the "B" section of Verse-Chorus
Bridge -- As with the chorus, not all songs have -- or need
-- a bridge. When a bridge is used, it is musically and lyrically
transitional (unlike a chorus, it doesn't sound complete alone)
and it occurs in the latter half of the song. A bridge takes the
song in a different direction -- adding new lyrical information
and new music which will once again bring the listener back to
the hook. A bridge may be referred to as a "B" section or as a
"C" section -- depending on the song form used.
are the major song components. We'll also examine several minor
ones as we continue our study, but it is a good exercise to identify
at least these four elements in every song you hear. Learn to listen
like a songwriter and you will be amazed at what you can learn!
Remember, the radio is Songwriting University! When we convene next
month, we'll begin to use these components to identify the three
major song forms and their variations.