I find it strange that with all of the musical knowledge, the tutorials, the blogs, I find very little instruction on structure and arrangement. Am I asking the wrong questions?
Learning how to make all these little pieces is great. Understanding how harmony works, and how melodies and scales work together is great. But where is the discussion on how to transition from intro to verse, from verse to chorus. Where is the discussion on creating a chorus from a verse and an intro from a verse,etc.
Where is the discussion on how to build an entire song?
I am also grateful for everyone else posting. This is exactly the way I wanted the forum to work. Constructive answers to real questions. Thanks for posting a great question!
I would like to say thank you again to the host and the users on this forum for taking the time to answer this question.
I noticed there are others with similar basic questions that have posted on this forum with equal response from you all.
This site is for a greater type of composition, I understand, but it has been a tremendous help getting very to the point answers, references, and examples.
I think there are different types of minds that learn differently, and for me to have a few basic exercises in writing basic EDM/rock/pop has been the answer for me. I can sit down with a complete set of basic rules and fill in the blanks creatively. This way I get to see and feel how this machine works and reproduce something with more variation and complexity as my mind allows.
Thank you very much.
Maybe I will catch up to you all in a few years 🙂
Those discussions are out there, but art of composing primarily focuses on classical composition, so the language usually revolves around how to make formal sections (main theme, transition, subordinate theme, etc) work together.
Now you ask the question, “where is the discussion on how to transition from intro to verse, from verse to chorus”? But I think it will help to clarify in your mind what you are asking.
If you are concerned with the transition from one section to another, in terms of arrangement and orchestration, then a lot of that has to do with just listening to the style of music, and picking out characteristics. For instance, a simple guitar-only folk song will transition very differently from an R&B song with a relatively large band. Rock will transition different from pop, and hip hop.
Harmonically and melodically, transitioning sections is no different from the techniques we would use in a classical piece, even short ones. How you get from a main theme, to a contrasting middle can be harmonically and melodically very similar from transition from verse to chorus. They both usually involve modulations, functional harmony, cadences, points of repose, increases or decreases in harmonic rhythm, changes in surface rhythmic activity… basically the tools are the same. How the tools are applied differ from style to style.
Now here is the secret a lot of people overlook… there is a lot of music theory about songwriting, rock, pop, hip hop, etc… You just have to look for it. For instance, on the music theory online website, if you search for verse and chorus, you’ll find a bunch of articles about what you want to know.
For instance, here are two interesting looking articles:
Rockin’ Out: Expressive Modulation in Verse-Chorus Form
The Structure, Function, and Genesis of the Prechorus
Once you find a few articles you like, you look in the bibliography to find other articles that it references.
For instance, in The Structure, Function, and Genesis of the Prechorus, I found these referenced:
Form and Style in the Music of U2.
What to Listen For in Rock: A Stylistic Analysis.
Each of these would also have references as well.
This should get you pointed in the right direction.
BTW, Jon’s brilliant and I’m here to learn composing, but his responses are s a composer trying to explain songwriting. You tell me if you can use this advice: “modulations, functional harmony, cadences, points of repose, increases or decreases in harmonic rhythm, changes in surface rhythmic activity.” Now try: “Strum G-C-D in time and hum till something sounds good.” If rock required conservatory training, it wouldn’t exist. No disrespect intended… I bow to real composers; they’re insanely impressive. But try to make something listenable out of species counterpoint and you’re a better man than I.
I’ll write more advice when I have a minute, but realize that song writing and composing are two completely different mindsets. Most of the information you will find studying composing, beyond basic music theory, is more likely to prevent you from writing songs than help you. Try to follow them, and you will never write a song. They’re just too demanding. It Is the rare person who can compose without a great deal of study whereas my daughters were writing compelling rock songs by the time they were 11. “Hey Daddy, check this out!” Chuck Berry changed the world with 3 chords. All the early work by the Beatles, stones etc. Just followed his format: verse– Chorus-verse-chorus. 3 or 4 chords. Bam… welcome to the legends. Don’t over complicate things: sing a melody in your head. Try to strum simple chords that support it, and that’s it. Remember, Paganini May fill Carnegie Hall but Taylor Swift fills Yankees stadium. I compose for fun, but do rock and bluegrass for a living. More to come… please feel free to ask for clarification or specific questions.
Thank you again. This is the kind of thing that I am researching. The other detailed things like the actual transition techniques I have gleaned from only one source, the actual work in a DAW from midi/audio contributions from other artist. I would like to “move up” to the knowledge contained elsewhere on this site. Just not there yet. I am grateful for the information it is a great help.
Hey Timothy –
I’m a rock/bluegrass/etc. musician and I have had to write a number of songs in the forms you’re discussing. “Songs” are far simpler than classical compositions. It’s a single melody and the “harmonization” is just the chord progression. (No “What’s the French horn gonna do?”) The following comments are followed almost without exception in Folk, Bluegrass and blues. Rock rarely breaks the rules, and show tunes can be more complex.
1) A basic song is chords, melody and feel, That’s it. A good example is Mary had a little lamb. A simple melody and the chords.
2) Songs almost never change keys so you only have to use a single scale, usually major, and the chords that naturally fall into the key.
3) I’ll presume that you’ve already set the verse to chords and melody (based on your question) that we just need to know how to write a chorus that flows naturally from it. Right?
Rule 1: The majority of choruses begin with the 1 chord or the 4 chord. The 4 chord in particular tends to give the chorus a sense of uplift when it begins, so just strum that one after a verse and see how it sounds. The other normal options are relative minor chord (6m) and the 5 chord. The minor option will feel evocative, sometimes melancholy, sometimes dark and strong. So in G major, try to start your chorus with C, G, Em, D in that order. One of those will almost certainly sound natural to you.
Rule 2: Target notes. When ever you change to the new chord, The melody note will be in that chord. Once you choose your first chord, choose the first note of your melody from the chord. At this point your “transition” is actually complete. What’s left is to hear a natural continuation of melody and listen for where you “hear” the chords change. Again, always target a chord tone in the melody at the moment of change. This feels natural in songwriting and soloing.
Rule 3: Stick to the chords in the key, as you write the chorus melody. Don’t bother with the 7 chord since it’s diminished. That gives you 6 choices total so 5 for each change. In G, that’s G-Am-Bm-C –D and Em. The 1, 4 and 5 chords will be your most common solution. Make sure to resolve to the root chord at the end of the chorus and you should be able to go right back into the next verse. The 2m and 3m chords will be hardest to use. For example, “Puff the magic dragon” starts with G-Bm, very evocative change.
Follow the same basic rules to write a bridge or an instrumental break.
Wow… long winded answer. Let me know if this was helpful or you have questions. Print it out and you’ll see results.
Timothy mentions pre-chorus, a wonderful tool, but absent in 80-90% of songs so only do one if you hear it.
Thank you very much for the response.
I have actually taken a four week class at the local music store in the city.
I was told that the only way that they knew for me to find the answers to these questions was to analyze music for myself and that I was simply in need of experience.
I was hoping that there was some formal training or excercises to get me past this hump.
I will investigate your links and I am very grateful.