The Basic Song Arrangement Template: The Anatomy of a “Standard” Layout

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Whether it’s heartfelt ballad, uptempo rock, or no-frills club banger, every piece of music ever created takes the listener on a journey through time. One of the biggest challenges we face as musicians is turning initial ideas into a properly finished piece that will have listeners hitting the replay button.

An arrangement is how we “organize” our sonic journey, and in the pop world, at least, it’s made up of sections that the vast majority of successful songwriters employ.

This formula has been successful time and time again for decades, but what makes each section work?

Let’s find out…

Introduction

Short for “intro,” the intro is the first part of the song you hear, its purpose being to set up the song and lead into the verse section.

It could be a buildup starting with just one or two elements from the main backing track, or maybe the chorus chords with vocal ad libs layered on top.

Verse

The verse is where the main lyric story usually takes place, filling in the basic information to set up the chorus lyrics.

Unlike the bridge and chorus sections of a song, the verse lyrics are usually unique to each verse, like the stanzas of a poem.

Bridge

The bridge (known as the prechorus in the parlance of American songwriters) is the section that forms the link between the verse and the chorus. As the chorus is usually at a higher energy level than the verse, the bridge section often needs to provide some kind of building.

If the verse and chorus chords are the same, the bridge can be a new progression that makes the reintroduction of the verse chords into the chorus fresher on the ear.

Chorus

The chorus is the most often repeated part of a song, the part you sing along to that contains the main idea of ​​what the song is about, both lyrically and musically.

It should be easy to remember, as it usually appears at least twice in the middle arrangement and features the song’s main hook. Most choruses tend to be eight bars long, but often double up to 16 bars, especially the second or third time around.

Label

Often the last line of a chorus lyric can stretch into the next section, which can be a problem if your verse lyric falls on the downbeat.

In this scenario, inserting a two- to four-bar tag is a way to avoid vocal crossover, allowing the singer to “reset” by giving them a break before the next verse occurs.

Tags can be instrumental, broken up to act as punctuation, or can contain hooks or alternate melodies in their own right.

Middle 8

Known as the bridge in the United States, the middle 8 is a section in the middle of the song where there is often a change of rhythm.

The main elements of the track disappear, different instruments take over, chords and melodies may change, all to give the listener a break before the chorus returns.

End

The outro (the opposite of the intro) is the last part of the song, and is often just the chorus repeated two or three times to fade out (in which case it would be known as the ‘outro chorus’). ‘), although it may be a totally unique new section specially written to close the song.

In a typical arrangement the sections are eight bars long, but four and 16 bar sections are not unusual. An archetypal arrangement would be:

  • Introduction
  • Verse 1
  • Bridge
  • Chorus
  • Label
  • Verse 2
  • Bridge
  • Chorus
  • Middle 8
  • outro choir

Club versions and dance arrangements

Arrangement-wise, tracks intended for club playing work in a slightly different way than a vocal pop melody suitable for radio. They tend to be simpler arrangements made up of long sections to make the track easy to dance to.

A good example of a typical club arrangement is Vicetone’s original 5:40 mix united we dance.

beat intro

Typically 16 bars or more of drum/percussion to give DJs an easy way to mix in with the previous song’s track. A melodic hook often fades as the intro progresses.

Breakdown

At this point, the track will return to its most basic components. Often the drums drop completely, giving way to a sparse arrangement of musical elements.

Accumulate

Sets the stage for the chorus or “drop” section by gradually building tension, doubling the speed of drum fills, using risers – synth sounds that rise in pitch or become brighter as you go. the section advances.

Drop

The equivalent of a pop chorus – dance music drops often tend to be harsh with a bass-heavy groove and a full-pitch synth hook.

middle break

Offering a respite in the middle of the melody, this intermediate break often contains its own unique elements, ending with a mini-build-up.

second drop

The second drop is similar in energy and rhythm to the first, but may contain significant changes to the hook, bassline or drums, to add variety to the track.

Beat the outro

The opposite of the rhythm intro, providing a good piece of streamlined groove for DJs to mix.

For the purposes of radio play, original five- to ten-minute versions of club tunes are often edited down to three or four minutes, usually by shortening the intro and ending sections and rearranging the middle sections. extended into a more regular song structure. .


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