The Beatles

The Most Important Thing to Know About Song Form

You’d think, because practically every song we know is designed to be alternating verses and choruses (with other miscellaneous sections thrown in from time to time) that verses and choruses are a necessity for any good song.

If you think that, you’d be wrong.

That’s not to say that the design of your song isn’t important. It is! But it’s what verses and choruses do that’s so important: they cause the emotional feeling we get from the song to rise and fall.

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In fact, what’s going on is this: the most important thing a song can do is to allow emotion to rise and fall, and we find that the verse-chorus format is one of the easiest ways to get the job done. Verses tell us what’s going on, and choruses offer an emotional reaction.

That is what song form is all about: building up of emotions, and then the dissipating of that emotion. It really doesn’t matter how you do it. It’s easily achieved with the verse-chorus format, but there are songs where it’s hard to identify whether a section is a verse, a chorus, or something else?

The Beatles did this a lot, and their song “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” is a good example. It’s laid out in several sections, some which sound obviously verse-like, with the final section sounding more like a chorus. Most with vocals, and one mainly instrumental.

But whether they’re a collection of verses, choruses, or something else, what really matters is that the emotional value is low at the start, then moves to different levels as the song moves from one section to the next.

The reason I mention this at all is because we can spend a lot of time trying to figure out what sort of formal design we should use with our songs, when what’s really important is getting emotional content to rise and fall. (Or more accurately, go from low to high, as that’s what works best in most songs.)

In that regard, you may have written something quite good, possibly in several sections (similar to “Happiness is a Warm Gun”), worrying that you haven’t made it very clear if you’re using a verse-chorus format, or something else.

My feeling is that it doesn’t really matter. What is more crucial is this: is your song moving from describing situations in a narrative kind of way, then expressing feelings and emotions related to those situations, and then back to describing again.

If that’s what your song is doing, then don’t worry so much that you may not have used a standard song format to do it.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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