Song Structure

NOTE: Play any examples on a starbuck harp at tempo 120 unless stated otherwise

Okay. I'm not going to muck about with trying to teach you music theory. If you wanna learn it, go get yourself a book or a teacher. Frankly, I'm a lousy teacher. :) But if you want to know how I write songs, listen up. Er, read up. Er, read down, actually, starting from the left at the beginning of each line and...

Uh, never mind.

All songs are based around two underlying principles: Variation and repetition. Too much repetition and your audience gets bored and loses interest. Too much variation and your audience will get 'lost,' be unable to follow your song, and lose interest. Generally, I use verses consisting of four phrases arranged as follows:

A (The basic phrase)
A' (The basic phrase, the ending changed slightly)
B (A new phrase, the same rhythmical length as A, developing the idea in A, maybe)
A'' (The basic phrase, the ending changed to close the verse)
For an obvious example of this basic structure, look at Electric Clay in my favourites.

How much variation is enough? I generally go by the "One Thing At a Time" rule. The rule, in itself, is very simple: Only change one thing at a time. Easy to understand, no? It's actually a bit trickier than that. "Thing" refers to a variety of musical, um, things. Like melody. Or Chord progression. Or rhythm. or instrument. Or key signature (by modulation). And so on. If you change too much at once, it will sound like you've jammed two songs together and they aren't very happy about you doing so. Sometimes you can get away with changing two things at once, but don't do it often. For instance, when I write the bridge of a piece I change the melody and chord progression at the same time. However, when I do so, I make sure to leave enough things unchanged that it is obvious that the new section is part of the piece. Things I wouldn't change would be things like rhythm, tempo, and key signature. If you are changing any of those three things (rhythm, tempo, and key signature), make sure to keep other things unchanged. In my song Hunt With Kiriel, at one point I modulated up from C major to D major. When I did this I left the chord progression, melody, rhythm, and tempo all the same, and the modulation doesn't seem out of place. However, if I had changed the rhythm as well it probably would have sounded bad. With enough work and creativity I could probably have pulled it off, but it wouldn't have been worth the effort involved.

Ah, but you want an example. Well, try listening to this:

Starbuck harp, tempo 160:

See how I modulated from G to F, and switched the melody at the same time? It almost sounds like I've put two similar but entirely different songs together. That's pretty much what I've done, in this case.

But frankly, in music there are no rules. There is no 'right,' and the only 'wrong' is what you think sounds bad. When I'm forced to choose between something that obeys The Rules and something that doesn't obey them but sounds better, I choose the latter every time.

Basic Song Structures

This is taken straight out of basic music theory, but condensed
A & B are sections, different in content but (usually) the same rhythmical length.

A-B: Very simple song: once through each part, no repetition. Different Dora is a good example of this.
A-B-A: Once through each section, then returns to the first section which is changed slightly to lead to the ending. i.e. Fog of War
A-B-A-B: Pretty self-explanatory.
A-A-B-A: This song structure is particularily popular, especially in jazz, blues, and pop (as far as I know). Verse - Verse - Bridge - Verse. i.e. Hunt with Kiriel
Etc., etc., etc.: Make up your own structure. It's easier than you think.

Go back to my music.