A Primer On A Typical Rock or Pop Song Arrangement

By Jason Wilford

In modern Rock and Pop music, many different sections are combined to create a full song. This will talk about the most common forms of popular song structure, and will ignore the inner workings of music such as blues and jazz, which have different forms altogether.

A common formula that exists in popular music is this:

Pre Chorus
Pre Chorus
Outro (Coda)

This is a very general order, and in fact most songs will differ from this (at least a little bit).  There are many songs out there that don’t follow this order at all, so keep that in mind.

Here is each section explained:

Introduction: This is the section that opens the song, and is strictly instrumental in most cases. This gives the listener a chance to get a feel for the song before the first verse starts so it is not so abrupt. Some songs don’t have this section.

Verse: This is the part of the song that “tells the story”. In most cases, the lyrics in verse 1 will be different than verse 2, and so on. As well, the dynamic of this section is usually the low point in the song (In other words, not as loud.) There can be more than 2 verses in a song.

Pre-Chorus: This is the part of the song that builds up to the Chorus. Not every song has a pre-chorus, but when it exists it is used to build up anticipation for the Chorus. This section can be used in a similar manner as a verse (i.e. telling the story,) but sometimes the lyrics are the same each time it occurs. This can also be known as the “lift.”

Chorus: This is the ‘hook’ of the song. It is typically repeated 3 times throughout the song (sometimes with slight variations), but the amount of times it is used can differ from song to song.  Usually this is the most memorable section, and in a lot of cases the title is derived from words within it.

Bridge: The Bridge is usually a contrasting section used a little more than half way through the song to change the feel. This can be considered to be a musical break from the rest of the song, and sometimes will not even contain any lyrics. The melody is usually different from the rest of the song, and this breaks up the repetition so the song is not so boring. There can be more than one bridge in a song, and more than one part to a bridge. The bridge can also be known as the “middle eight.”

Solo: This is the part where one instrument will play a catchy melody or improvise over the chord changes. In rock this is typically a guitar solo, and it can be used to create a climax for the entire song. A lot of times, if there is a solo, the dynamics will go right down directly afterwards to achieve the climax.

Outro (Coda): This section is used to sum up the entire song. In the typical pop or rock sense, it is placed at the end of the song to finalize the ‘story’. In other words, it is the opposite of an intro.

The best thing to do is listen to your favourite songs, and figure out the arrangement (order) of the sections. Sometimes you won’t know what a certain part should be called, so keep in mind that not all songs are created equally. The beauty of making music is doing things that don’t fit ‘inside the box’, so sometimes artists or bands create their own unique sections of music.  In this case, they may have their own way to describe the arrangement, and have their own ideas of what their unique section should be called.

About the Author:

Jason Wilford is a rock and pop musicians that teaches Mississauga Guitar Lessons (Ontario, Canada).