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How to write chord progressions a pro would love, part 6: Song Form

The Forms

There are three major song forms:
1. Verse/Chorus form
2. AABA form
3. AAA form
Verse/Chorus is what most people know best, and the only one I’m going to deal with. Sheila Davis has a series of books on songwriting. The Songwriters Idea Book has an overview of all three. And there are resources all over the web.
All I want to do is give you a proven form you can start with. You can use what I give you here for any form.
 Verse/Chorus form is any song that has a section that gets repeated at regular intervals. Think every Beatles song. Don’t think rap.
The chorus is the most important part (that part that gets repeated). It’s the part that you remember the easiest. This is partly because it gets repeated, and partly because it usually because it has the most distinctive hook. It also contains the title of the song, and the main message.


That musical idea that (hopefully for the songwriter) you can’t forget.
The story of the song is told in the verse. Sometimes there are two verses before the first chorus, sometimes one. You decide.

Length matters

What you need to know right now is how long the verse is, and how long the chorus is.  And guess what? There’s no solid answer. The verse can be between 8 and 16 bars. The chorus is usually between 8 and 12 bars. And there are variations (we’ll talk about those later).
Here’s what you do to get started.

So many choices

Write down the possible lengths for the verse. Like I said, it can be between 8 and 16 bars. Let’s narrow that down and say that the number of bars has to be in multiples of two. That gives us the possibilities of 8, 10, 12, 14, and 16 bars. You rarely see 10 or 14 bar verses, so let’s get rid of those.
So now we have 8, 12, and 16 bars as choices. And yes, you will find songs with 10 bars, 14 bars, 9, 11, 13 bars.  I’m dealing with the most common possibilities so you can get started. Too many choices causes inaction. Start simple.
Using the same approach, the chorus will be 8, 10, or 12. Get rid of 10 and you’ve got 8 or 12.

Making it manageable

Now we figure out combinations of verse length with chorus length (I know this is getting complicated, Stick with me here).
1. Verse – 8 bars; Chorus – 8 bars.
2. Verse – 12 bars; Chorus – 8 bars.
3. Verse – 16 bars; Chorus – 8 bars.
4. Verse – 8 bars; Chorus – 12 bars.
5. Verse – 12 bars; Chorus – 12 bars.
6. Verse – 16 bars; Chorus – 12 bars.
Six choices isn’t too bad, but it can still feel overwhelming. Choose one to use each week. In less than two months, you’ll have experimented with all six choices.
Next post: back to process. This time we’ll use more than 2 chords. And more than 2 bars. It’ll be awesome.
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