Common Forms in Songwriting

Featuring Paul Baloche Posted on January 18, 2010

Let’s analyze some common forms: 

• AAA. (Verse, Verse, Verse ) This is the form most used in traditional hymns and story telling songs. Each verse has different words and builds on the theme or story. Hymns may or may not have a repeated hook line, but the focus or subject is the same in each verse.  Each A gives a different perspective or a deeper meaning on the subject. In story or folk type songs, the story grows as it goes along, giving us new details in each verse. The hook is usually repeated in the first or last line. It says, “This is what the song is all about.” 

Examples: “Fairest Lord Jesus,” “Amazing Grace,” “Come Thou Fount,” “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” “The Church’s One Foun-dation,” “Silent Night,” “Joy to the World.” 

• ABAB: (Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus) Each A is a verse, with different lyrics. Each B is a chorus, usually with the same lyrics each time. The verses develop the theme, and the choruses celebrate it. Each verse sets up the chorus and leads logically into it. The chorus with its repeated hook capsulizes the main point of the song. The hook line comes in the first or last line (or both) of the chorus. Basically it’s saying, “I told you this once; I told you twice, and now I’m telling you again.” It makes your message hard to forget. 

Examples:“Shine, Jesus, Shine,” “Freely Freely,” “The Heart of Worship,” “The Battle Belongs to the Lord,” “You Have Broken the Chains,” “Shout to the North”. 

• AABA: (Verse, Verse, Bridge, Verse) Each A (called A1, A2, A3) is the same or nearly the same musically, but has different words. The hook line comes at the beginning or end of the A sections. Each section adds something new to the picture and deepens the theme or message. The B section in this form isn’t a chorus, but a bridge. A chorus can stand alone. It states the main theme and has the feeling of coming to a complete finish when it’s over. A bridge bridges between one A or two A’s and the final A. It almost never states the core idea, but brings in fresh melodic and lyrical material that relates to it. It’s sometimes called a “release,” because it often goes into a different range and/or rhythm pattern, and may even change “person” lyrically (from “you” to “I” for example.) Harmonically, it usually leaves you hanging. You can’t stop at the end of a bridge because the melody and harmony are not at a resting place. The tones of the chord cry out for a resolution, so it usually goes to the I chord at the beginning of the A3 section. 

Examples:  “Come, Now is the Time to Worship,” “Majesty,” “As the Deer,” and the secular standard, “Over the Rainbow.” 

• Some songs are more extended, such as verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus. 

“Here I am to Worship” is a good example, as is Matt Redman’s “Blessed Be the Name.” Others are “Forever” and “Ancient of Days.” 

• Some songs have a short “channel” or “pre-chorus” inserted between a verse and chorus. If the melody of the channel climbs, it’s sometimes  called a “climb.” Duh!? 

There are other forms as well, but these are the most basic ones. 


Tags: ,