How the Various Components of Songs Progress Over 4 Minutes

Most song elements follow an “always-moving-upward” principle, and it’s important to get it right.

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singer-songwriter-guitaristWhen we put chords together, we call the result a progression. That word progression is an acknowledgement that it’s not good enough to simply follow one nice chord with another random one; that would be called a chord succession, and they’re usually too confusing to enjoy.

With chord progressions, we are demonstrating that there is a kind of musical logic at play. In other words, once you’ve played a C chord and an F chord, your choices for the next one to follow become considerably fewer. You might follow the F with a G. Or perhaps a Dm or Am. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll follow with C#m or Ebm7.

When chords progress, they play with our sense of musical predictability. If you get the balance between predictability and innovation just right, you wind up with chords that sound fresh but pleasantly predictable. Every great song gets that balance just right.

But other song components progress as well, and as a songwriter, you need to show that kind of musical logic in all aspects of your music.

Here’s a short list of musical elements we find in most songs, along with how they progress over the 4-minute journey we call a song:


  1. A verse lyric sets the scene and provides background. It answers the question, “What are we talking about,” and it describes people, places and situations.
  2. A chorus lyric offers an emotional summing up of the singer’s point of view. A chorus lyric says “Because of (or in spite of) what I said in the verse, here’s how I’m feeling right now.”
  3. A bridge lyric gives a final perspective on what’s been sung about. All questions get a final answer here, and if there’s “another shoe dropping”, it will happen in the bridge.


  1. Melodies progress mainly by playing with vocal range.
  2. From the start of a verse to the climactic moment of a chorus, the melody continues to move higher.
  3. Bridge melodies usually offer the highest notes of a song. So a line drawing of a song melody will often look like a rising line, or perhaps similar to an inverted U or inverted V, with the highest point more toward the end than the beginning of a song.

Dynamics (Loudness) and Instrumentation

  1. Songs usually toggle back and forth between soft and loud, even if the distinctions are slight.
  2. Choruses are typically louder than verses, and instrumentation (along with vocal range) help to control a song’s loudness.
  3. Bridge sections are often the loudest parts of songs, but for songs that are high energy and loud from verse through to chorus, it’s not unusual to have a song bridge bring dynamic levels down, if only to provide some contrast.

Backing Vocals

  1. A song’s use of vocal harmonies often partners strongly with instrumentation.
  2. It’s common to use backing vocals more in a chorus and bridge than in a verse.


  1. It’s not unusual to see vocal rhythms elongate and simplify in a song chorus when compared to the verse. That’s usually because long and simple rhythms help draw out emotional value, and make a stronger impact on a listener.
  2. It’s not unusual to see instrumental rhythms get busier in choruses, and then again in song bridges, as a way to heighten song energy.

No matter which song element you look at, always remember that the contrast principle is a tremendously important factor. As any song element changes, you’ll find that there’s an up-and-down pattern to the change over time. For example, we like when we hear music that goes from soft to loud, then back to soft, then return to loud, and so on.

But for each of those changes, we like the return to loud to be as loud or louder than the loud that came before. In that sense, there’s an “always-moving-upward” tendency to most elements in a song.

______________Gary Ewer

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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  1. Pingback: Interesting Links For Musicians and Songwritiers – July 20, 2015 | Creative Music | Inspiring Musical Creativity

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