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All About Song Structure

How to structure a song, with in-depth explanations and examples

Last Updated: December 2023 | Article Details: 2811 words (14 – 16 minute read)

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How to structure a song can seem like an elusive concept when you first start writing your own songs (learn more).

But it’s pretty straight forward.

And in this guide we’ll explain what it is, how it works and give you a song structure template you can start using right away.

Plus we’ll look at a couple of genre-specific examples.

Quick Note: Deviant Noise is mainly focused on creating popular styles of music – Pop, R&B, Rap, EDM/Dance, etc.

We won’t be going into things like classical sonata structure, the structure of jazz standards or blues songs, etc.

So if you’re a songwriter that’s trying to decode the concepts involved in structuring your songs, let’s get right into it.

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What is Song Structure and Why it Matters

The idea of structure in songwriting relates to the way in which your song unfolds to a listener. It’s how the the different sections of your song are arranged across time. What’s the first thing the listener hears? Where do they go next? How does the song get to the ending?

Normally, any song will have specific sections throughout it that helps it unfold just like a story or movie. These sections and how you place them across your song will affect the impact and emotional journey your listener feels.

Any song you listen to will never be static or constant – it will evolve over time with low points and high points (again, just like a story).

Related Content: How to Start Writing a SongRead Now

Any song – whether it’s popular music or classical music – will take the listener on an emotional roller-coaster ride. And that’s why it’s so important to understand.

There are general guidelines you can learn and use to structure your song sections to improve a listener’s level of engagement with your song when they listen.

Different Song Sections Explained

The most recognizable song sections are verses and choruses. Both of those sections are distinctly recognizable when you hear them. They are the “meat and potatoes” of your song, but there’s so much more to song structure.

Having an entire song that was structured [ Verse -> Chorus -> Verse -> Chorus -> Verse -> Chorus ] isn’t very engaging to a listener.

It’s actually really fuckin boring.

So what are the different song sections we can utilize to take listeners on a better emotional journey? They are:

  • Intros and Outros – these are the “book-ends” of your song. They introduce the vibe at the beginning and wind the song down at the end
  • Verses – these are the parts of your song that is often the most lyrical section. It’s where the “story” of the song gets explained in deeper context. Learn More
  • Pre-Chorus – mostly used in pop music, a pre-chorus is a lead in to your “chorus” or “hook” section. It’s less lyrical and more hook-based than a verse, and often ramps up or tones down the energy of the song in preparation for the chorus. Learn More
  • Chorus – the “payoff” or “climax” of the song. Choruses are usually the highest or lowest energy level of a song. It’s often the least lyrical and most “hooky” section, and it provides the summation/overall message of the song’s story. Learn More
  • Post-Chorus – most common in pop music, and can either help “reset” the energy of the song or serve as an additional place to give the listener more “hooks” (highly catchy and engaging elements within a song) after the chorus takes the listener to an energy peak.
    • The two most common types of post-choruses are “instrumental breaks” (i.e. a solo or a breakdown) or a “vocal break” (i.e. more melodic/lyrical hooks, or a vocal run solo, etc.)
  • Turnaround – a very short section (one or two measures) that solely works to “reset” the energy level of the song. Usually occurs after a chorus to bring the high energy down before going into the next verse, which is lower in energy than a chorus.
  • Bridge – also known as a “departure” or a “middle 8,” the bridge is a distinct left-turn from the rest of the song. It’s usually got a unique chord progression, unique rhythm and/or unique lyrics and melodic content. It keeps the song from getting monotonous/boring and provides a place to take things in a different direction for a while, before “returning home” to a chorus.
    • A bridge is usually always very different from the rest of the song’s vibe, but this departure section doesn’t need to always be a bridge. This departure section can be a diversified or distinct verse or pre chorus section. Maybe the instrumental breaks down fully or differentiates itself in another way, providing at least a noticeable “departure” from the rest of the song sections.

One important thing to keep in mind is that not every song will use every one of those song sections. But we can pull from this list to help us build a solid song structure that is engaging and effective in the context of music.


Microphone Month at Sweetwater

How Long Should Each Song Section Be?

There are no hard rules to how long any section has to be in your overall song’s structure. Want to do a 30 second intro? Go right ahead. Want your verse to be 64 bars? Do you.

But if you’re making music in a professional/commercial context, then there are some conventions that have been arrived at over the years. That’s mostly because to keep people’s attention throughout the song, it’s more effective to get to the first chorus (the payoff/climax) as quickly as possible.

And with the advent of streaming the average time of a song has shortened to around 3-3.5 minutes in length. Because of that, there are some general guidelines that can help you compete in today’s music market.

Special Note: You’ll notice that in most popular music every song section is a multiple of 2 bars/measures of music. 2 Bars, 4 bars, 8 bars, 16 bars. That’s a function of most popular music being in 4/4 (common) time. If you need a basic music theory refresher, check out our free guides here.

A Pencil on Top of an Open Notebook

Intro’s and Outro’s are usually very short, coming in at around 4 bars each. But you can also see longer intros, even in modern pop songs (like The Weeknd’s Blinding Lights).

Verses are usually 8 bars long in pop and R&B music, but can get up to 12 bars as well. On the other hand, verses are commonly 12 or 16 bars in Rap/Hip-Hop songs, but can also run up to HUNDREDS of bars of music (like in The Game’s 300 bars and runnin…).

Pre-choruses are often 4 or 8 bars depending on the length of the verses or the vibe of the song. The same goes for post-choruses. But sometimes, especially in the case of instrumental solos, post-choruses can be up to 16 bars long.

Choruses are normally 8 bars in length but can also be 16 bars to keep the energy higher for longer. Bridges/Departures are normally always 8 bars in length (hence being called the “middle 8” sometimes).

Turnarounds are usually the shortest sections of a song coming in at 1 or 2 bars in length, acting as a quick “reset” for the song.

The Basic Song Structure Template

So now that we know all about the different sections we can use to structure our songs, let’s dive into the most common template out there. This structure is extremely popular in.. uh.. pop music. But it honestly get’s used in most genre’s of music, with various sections taken out depending on the song/genre.

I don’t think anyone’s really sure where it comes from, but it works…

And even in pop music itself, there are countless variations songwriters use for their songs. But the general, overall shape of the structure is very much based on this template.

If you memorize this template, you’ll never have to struggle with song structure again.

[ Intro -> Verse -> Pre-Chorus -> Chorus -> Post Chorus or Turnaround -> Verse -> Pre-Chorus -> Chorus -> (Optional PostChorus/Turnaround) -> Bridge/Departure -> Chorus -> Outro ]

The most important thing to keep in mind is that the above template can be customized however you like it.

Don’t want a post chorus or turnaround? No problem, pull it out of the template and there’s your structure. Want to include a third verse instead of a bridge/departure? Great. That’s how rap in the early years used to be structured.

Or maybe the bridge should be the instrumental or vocal break instead of a recurring post-chorus? Sure, do it.

You can even do things like start the song off with a Chorus or Verse instead of an “official” intro.

Use your imagination and use this overall template as a starting point or guide. Make it serve the song in the best way possible.

This basic song structure template isn’t a HARD rule.



Why This Template Works So Well

A song is not a static, non evolving collection of sounds. It builds and contracts – it breathes. And that’s why this basic structure works so well. It continually builds and lowers and energy of the song, taking the listener on a ride that’s emotionally impactful.

An intro introduces the vibe and different elements of a song, while the first verse begins the story the song is about. You start getting details of what this is all about, of what’s happening and where we might be going.

The pre-chorus starts to build up the energy level in preparation for the chorus. It ramps things up kind of like a roller coaster moving upwards towards a big drop.

The chorus is the fast drop when the roller coaster goes over the top and starts rushing back down towards the bottom of the track. It’s an “emotional PEAK” that gives you a transcendental experience. It gives the listener the payoff/climax – the reason they’re listening. It’s the funnest, catchiest and most memorable part of the song. Just like the roller-coaster drop.

A Guitar and Computer Next to Someone With a Notepad and Pen

Then a post-chorus or turnaround is like a reset. The roller-coaster is at a low point on the tracks, and the next verse is where the story continues to unfold. The second pre-chorus is the other ascent up to the top of the tracks and the next chorus is an even higher drop of the rollercoaster.

The bridge is like a loop that the roller-coaster goes through to change things up and keep it fun after you go over the second peak. And finally the last chorus is the highest peak on the rollercoaster tracks that provides the highest energy “drop.”

As you can see, when you imagine your structure like this, it’s easy to see why the above template works. It gives you those energy peaks and valleys in a methodical way.

Commonly Seen Examples of How Songs are Structured

Oftentimes you’ll see certain structures used over and over in various genres because they simply work.

Let’s look at a few song structure examples from different genres of popular music.

Again, these aren’t rules, only examples you can use as a starting point or set of guidelines.

Pop Examples

Main Example:

[ Intro (4 bars) -> Verse (8 bars) -> Pre-Chorus (8 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Verse (8 bars) -> Pre Chorus (8 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Bridge (8 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Outro (4 bars) ]

Other Examples:

[ Intro (4 bars) -> Verse (8 bars) -> Pre-Chorus (4 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Verse (8 bars) -> Pre Chorus (4 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Bridge (8 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Outro (4 bars) ]

[ Verse (8 bars) -> Pre-Chorus (8 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Verse (8 bars) -> Pre Chorus (8 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Bridge (8 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) ]

[ Intro (4 bars) -> Verse (8 bars) -> Pre-Chorus (8 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Post Chorus (4 bars) -> Verse (8 bars) -> Pre Chorus (4 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Bridge (8 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Outro (4 bars) ]

[ Intro (4 bars) -> Verse (8 bars) -> Pre-Chorus (4 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Turnaround (2 bars) -> Verse (8 bars) -> Pre Chorus (4 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Bridge (8 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Outro (4 bars) ]

And many more variations/examples.

R&B Examples

Example 1:

[ Intro (4 bars) -> Verse (8 bars) -> Pre-Chorus (8 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Verse (8 bars) -> Pre Chorus (8 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Bridge (8 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Outro (4 bars) ]

More Examples:

[ Intro (4 bars) -> Verse (8 bars) -> Pre-Chorus (8 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Verse (8 bars) -> Pre Chorus (8 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Outro (4 bars) ]

[ Intro (4 bars) -> Verse (12 bars) -> Pre-Chorus (4 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Verse (12 bars) -> Pre Chorus (4 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Bridge (8 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Outro (4 bars) ]

[ Intro (4 bars) -> Verse (8 bars) -> Pre-Chorus (8 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Post Chorus (8 bars) -> Verse (8 bars) -> Pre Chorus (8 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Post Chorus (8 bars) ]

And many more examples/variations


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Rap Examples

Example 1:

[ Intro (4 bars) -> Verse (16 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Verse (16 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Optional 3rd Verse (16 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Outro (4 bars) ]

More Examples:

[ Intro (4 bars) -> Verse (12 bars) -> Pre-Chorus (4 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Verse (12 bars) -> Pre-Chorus (4 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Outro (4 bars) ]

[ Intro (4 bars) -> Verse (8 bars) -> Verse (8 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Verse (16 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Breakdown (8 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Outro (4 bars) ]

[Intro (4 bars) -> Verse (16, 32 or more bars) -> Outro (4 bars) ]

And many more variations/examples.

EDM Examples

[ Intro (8 bars) -> Verse (16 bars) -> Build-up/Pre-Chorus (8 bars) -> Drop/Chorus (16 bars) -> Breakdown/Post Chorus (8 bars) -> Build-up/Pre-Chorus (8 bars) -> Drop/Chorus (16 bars) -> Outro (8 bars) ]

Country Examples

[ Intro (4 bars) -> Verse (8 bars) -> Pre-Chorus (8 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Verse (8 bars) -> Pre Chorus (8 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Bridge (8 bars) -> Chorus (8 bars) -> Outro (4 bars) ]


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    Frequently Asked Questions

    Is Song Structure Arrangement?

    Although song structure and arrangement are very related, they are not exactly the same thing. Song structure refers to the order in which different song sections appear. Although arrangement sometimes refers to the structure of a song, it can also include the concepts of layering (vocal and instrumental), compositional density (how many instruments play at what times), transitions and use of evolving effects, and other things that have to do with how a full song comes together.

    How Are Most Songs Structured?

    Most songs are structured in some variation of the following: Intro -> Verse -> Pre-Chorus -> Chorus -> Verse -> Pre-Chorus -> Chorus -> Bridge -> Chorus -> Outro. There are other sections that also appear often, like post choruses and turnarounds.

    Why Is Song Structure Important?

    Song structure is important because how you arrange different song sections across time impacts both the vibe/feeling of a song and the emotional journey a listener will experience when listening. Songs that unfold like stories (in a structured, logical, methodical way) are often the most engaging ones to listen to.

    Why Do All Songs Have the Same Structure?

    Although most song’s within a particular genre tend to follow very similar structures, almost every song will have some sort of variation to it, whether that’s variation in length or in types of sections. However, the overall structure of most songs is similar because it allows the song to unfold in a logical, graspable way for listeners. A song is often a story, and stories have an ideal structure to help draw people in and keep them engaged in the content.


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    Final Thoughts

    As you can see, song structure is a fundamental part of songwriting.

    The structure of your song can actually have a significant impact on the vibe, feeling, engagement and listenability of your song.

    But don’t take the above structure examples and templates as the only way you can structure a song. Take the overall template and vary it however you like.

    It is true that the basic pop structure is the most effective to get listeners hooked and engaged, it’s not the only way to do things.

    The most important thing to do is to serve the song. Do whatever you think serves the song the best. What makes the song the best listening experience.

    If you really want to level up your songwriting skills, I highly recommend you join HitSongsDeconstructed – they’re the best resource on the internet I’ve found on how to write hit songs.

    That’s how to structure a song properly.

    Thanks for reading!


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    About The Author:

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    Omar Zulfi

    Omar Zulfi is a music producer, rapper, singer, songwriter and digital entrepreneur. He is the founder and head writer at Deviant Noise. Learn more about what he's doing by clicking here.