In our last two workshops, we decided to give the students free reign: we discussed traditional song form, and then encouraged them to break away from the norm and trust their own instincts.

Along the way, we learned a bit about song form ourselves! Here’s the basic model that we introduced to the class:

Introduction

  • Sets the mood, and can be a simpler, thin texture compared to rest of song

Verse

  •  Lyrics are very important in the verse because they set up the story or arc of the song

(Refrain)

  •  A line or two that come back several times in the song, often occurs after the verse and before the chorus
  • Often leads into the chorus

 Chorus

  • The core of the song; the chorus can come back several times throughout a song, is often the catchiest part and the most memorable part
  • Expresses the main theme of the song

Bridge

  • New material that we haven’t heard before. It serves as a kind of transition.
  • Could be a Solo/Instrumental Breakdown
  • Can be contrasting in mood!

(Return to Chorus or Verse, or a “Collision”)

  • After the bridge, the music can return to the verse, or to the chorus
  •  OR, the music can return to the chorus, but with other material happening at the same time! For example, the melody of the refrain could be sung/played while the chorus is also being sung/played. So there is a kind of a layering effect going on. The texture gets thicker and more exciting/intense.

Coda/Outro

  • Closing lines of the song

We performed and played recordings of some examples that highlight this structure pretty clearly, including one of Nathaniel’s songs, “Smiling Hearts.” In total contrast, I performed some solo Bach (the prelude to the first cello suite) to show how music can flow from harmonic progression, with a clear beginning and end (intro and outro!) but a ton of freedom in the middle. 

Breaking the girls up into pairs, and even some solo acts, we worked on a more personal level these past two workshops, with the goal of short but complete songs, creating something whole. Some beautiful lyrics, melodies, and chord progressions came out of these classes, but there was one common trend: everyone would get stuck once they had produced their first idea. For instance, one pair, including a guitarist and a singer, came up with their chord progression and their melody, which had an improvisatory but very catchy feel. But the girls got completely stuck when it came to adding lyrics. In another group, the lyrics were pouring out and completely fitting to the mood and melody that the group had come up with, but the song lacked a chorus.

With some guidance, we have been gently nudging the girls to complete their work: with the help of our iphones, we’ve been recording everything that gets written, so we can keep returning to the material that really sticks. And with some personal tid-bits from Nathaniel about what he does when he gets stuck, not to mention some guidance from our bass-line master, Dave, about what to do to mix things up in a song, we got things moving forward this past Monday.

A peak of the lyrics from Kylie, one of our students, from last class:

I’ve been waiting for the voices in my head/to give me a clue/give me a clue

Can somebody please help me now/I’m falling down/Stop me now/I’m out of bounds