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The 7 parts of a song and how to use them to create a perfect structure

Writing songs is its own form of storytelling that can take as many unique forms as there are emotions associated with the messages conveyed in the music. When I say storytelling by the way, I’m not necessarily referring to lyrics.

Though lyrical content is without a doubt crucial in most genres, history has shown that you don’t need lyrics to write incredible and memorable songs (Thanks Bela Fleck and The Flecktones!)

What ties all of these different musical offerings in a way that has made them impactful emotionally is that they all in some way shape or form (see what I did there?) have a structure to them.

In this article, I’ll be breaking down all the components that can make up a song which I will be referring to as song sections along with some practical examples in contemporary music.

Behind the insights

Aaron Cloutier, writer at Higher Hz

I’m a producer, composer, multi-instrumentalist, and music educator with over 15 years of experience in the music industry.

As a professional songwriter, I’ve self-published numerous solo projects and collaborated with artists ranging from Ill Nino to Sir Christopher Lee.

I’ve also worked as a freelance songwriter for companies such as Songfinch and Songlorious.

Parts of a song (song sections)

As mentioned above, there are many possible different song sections that can be used in a given composition. While these respective parts can have different names, I’m going to keep it simple and define the most commonly referred terms here.

As I lay out these “rules,” please take them with a grain of salt. An important thing to always keep in mind is that you tell a compelling story regardless of how you tell it.

If you go off the beaten path to get where you’re trying to go, do it! A wise man once wrote: “Rules were meant to be broken but learn the rules first.”

  • Intro – key elements of song to get interest.
  • Verse – the song’s story.
  • Chorus – the song’s overall message or emotive hook.
  • Pre-chorus – tension building transition between verse and chorus.
  • Bridge – perspective change/climax.
  • Refrain – palette cleanser.
  • Coda – ending.


Intro is how the song begins. This is important as it sets the tone for what is to come. In simplest terms, an intro will show some of the elements to help the listener understand the key scale, chord structure, and style (genre and format) of the song.

The easiest way is to simply play the verse once without singing. This can be effective if not just a little dull at times.

The other main way is to have something that is arresting. This can be great, but be very sure that it is not random, as when the song itself starts it is confusing.

Many songs use both approaches at once to create something that is familiar but striking. The Models “Hold On” has a striking “moody” synth, which is then part of the chord progression.


The verse tells the story so applying the same principals regarding tension and release can make for an effective verse line. Verses are often a lot more wordy than the chorus since it’s primary function is to tell the story while the chorus delivers the grand statement.

The verses are where most of the song’s story is told. Since they are usually wordier, they are often the parts the listener has to take time getting to know because they are not as catchy as the hook/chorus. However, if a verse is well-written or contains a refrain (repeated section), it can be just as “hook-y.”

Lyrically, the verses of your song will move your story forward. The chorus or refrain is likely to have the same words each time, so the verse is your chance to keep your ideas moving along.


The catchiest part of any song, the chorus is also often the most dramatic section. It is sometimes more repetitive than the rest of the song, driving home the point or message of the song, allowing it to remain in the listener’s head long after the music has ended.

Think of your chorus as the song’s big payoff. This payoff can take many forms depending on genre but if you’re writing in more contemporary terms, this is where your song’s overall messages lives.

That’s why your title is most likely going to show up in your chorus. The title also sums up what the song’s about.

Melodically, the chorus should be the catchiest part of your song and if done right, will be what people have stuck in their head long after your song is over.


The role of the pre-chorus is to create a tension that builds and builds to prepare the listener’s ear for the big payoff of the chorus.

The chords have to be different from the verse and chorus not only to build said tension, but to break up the monotony. I tend to land on a 5 chord here at the very end just before the chorus hits.

When used, the pre-chorus helps to keep the listener interested as the song transitions from the verse to the chorus. It can also be seen as a teaser, setting the listener up for the climax of the chorus.

The pre-chorus is an add-on before the chorus. It usually repeats the same lyrics each time, the same way a chorus does. Musically, a lot of times it creates a nice buildup to what’s coming in the chorus. Katy Perry’s “Firework” was a good example of that.


Also known as the “middle eight,” the bridge is another transitionary element of a song that is often used to provide an unexpected change of direction to keep the listener engaged before going into the final chorus or back to the first verse.

It can be at a slower or faster tempo and is often sung in a different key/melody from the rest of the song.

A song’s bridge can use a completely new set of lyrics or can revamp or reuse the song’s refrain or intro, such as in “…Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears or “Here with Me” by Dido.

The bridge is a departure from what we’ve heard in a song, previously. This goes for both the lyrics and the music.

Lyrically it’s an opportunity for a new perspective. Musically, it’s a chance to offer the listener something they haven’t heard before to keep the song interesting.


A refrain is essentially a repeating lyric found at the tail end of each verse tying the song’s message together. It’s built in pulling power combined with a strong melody can make for a strong hook that rivals a chorus and can even be confused as one.

A great example of this can be found in the Bruce Springsteen classic “I’m On Fire.”

As with most refrains, the repeating line is often the title of the song hence it being easily confused as a chorus.


Also known as an outro (or ending) in popular music, the coda serves as the song’s ending where everything is all wrapped up. If done correctly, the job of the coda here is to make the listener feel so good after listening that they want to push play again and again.

There are more ways than one to go about this but here’s a quick example.

Using a repeat of the bridge to end your song.

If your song has a bridge, try repeating a second time at the song’s end to put a slightly unresolved bow on top of everything. The emotional shift and perspective change the bridge provides will build a pleasant form of tension only resolved by listening to the song again as a whole.

A great example of this is from extreme metal legends Morbid Angel as they implement a solo section as a bridge which they revisit instrumentally at the end of their song “Dawn of the Angry.” (We’ll be breaking that down structurally later.)

Putting it all together

A simple song layout may look like:

Intro > Verse > Chorus > Verse > Chorus > Bridge > Chorus > Ending.

This, however, is merely an example and doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. Let’s instead look at a few different songs that are very effective and see how each used the structure and arrangement to deliver their story powerfully.

The following are a small collection of songs in genres from all across the spectrum. Despite their seemingly disparate nature, what these songs all have in common is that they are memorable.

All the songs featured here have corresponding YouTube links for you to listen along with. I strongly urge you to critically listen to each of these to fully understand how these structural elements are part of why these songs work so well.

Stevie Wonder “Superstition”

Take a listen here:

At 52 years old since its release, Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” taken from his landmark album Talking Book remains just as fresh and relevant today as it did back in 1972.

This is thanks largely to the song’s infectious groove which influences the stripped down nature of the song’s structure. It’s a great example of the use of an A/B song (implementing a verse/chorus structure) from which allows for the hypnotic feel of the rhythm section, keys, and Stevie’s captivating vocal to be felt without being interrupted.

As you’ll hear, the feel of the song doesn’t let up for a second. Had there have been an inclusion of a sudden harmonic change with a bridge or other song section, the song may have lost some of its hypnotic impact.

The real question here is which came first? Did the writing of “Superstition” begin with that signature electric keyboard riff and the rest of the band followed? Or was a structure laid out from the beginning.

Though I’m sure it was the former, it’s certainly something to think about when writing your own music. Do you have any single riffs just lying around? Try plugging a couple of them in to this structure and see how things feel.

Drum Intro (4 bars) > Intro (8 bars) > Verse 1 (16 bars) > Chorus (4 bars) Intro (4 bars) > Verse 2 (16 bars) > Chorus (4 bars) > Intro (4 bars) Instrumental chorus (4 bars) > Intro (4 bars) > Verse 3 (16 bars) > Chorus (4 bars) > Outro (24 bars)

Morbid Angel “Dawn of the Angry”

Take a listen here:

If you dig into much of extreme metal legend’s Morbid Angel’s catalog, you’ll quickly see that they’ve always had a penchant for chaotic compositions taking inspiration from early classical works.

“Dawn of the Angry” taken from their 1995 album Domination however is a lot more straightforward than one might realize upon first listen amidst the brutality and bombast.

As you take a listen, follow along with this outline of the song’s structure. As mentioned above, Morbid Angel masterfully incorporate the bridge’s solo section as the song’s coda but with said solo removed, leaving only the instrumental at the end.

Also worth mentioning is the way the song ends on a “tense” or unresolved note. Leaving the listener feeling like things are over yet, somehow there’s some unfinished business in a pleasant way.

Structurally speaking, this song follows a standard pop-style hiding in plain sight thanks to the inclusion of multiple guitar solos amidst the extended bridge section.

Intro > Main riff > Verse > Pre-chorus > Chorus > Main riff > Verse 2 > Pre-chorus 2 > Chorus 2 > Main riff (with vocals) > Solo 1 (bridge intro) > Bridge > Solo 2 (bridge section) > Verse 3 > Solo 3 (bridge section) > Verse riff > Verse 4 > Pre-chorus 3 > Chorus 3 > Main riff (with vocals) > Coda (Solo 1 section – instrumental only)

Bruce Springsteen “I’m on Fire”

Take a listen here:

Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire,” from his massively popular 1984 album Born in the USA, at first glance might not scream “hit single” when you break it down to its bare essentials.

There’s no real chorus to be found anywhere yet most fans would agree that it’s absence would be felt from the album if it weren’t included as is shown in the evidence of sales propelled by this little ditty.

So, what is it about “I’m on Fire” that stands out? It’s really no one single thing here.

First and foremost, despite the fact that there’s no traditional chorus, the inclusion of the song’s title at the end of each verse serves as a massive hook. This of course further enhanced by the rising action of Bruce’s vocal melody as he soulfully croons “Oh oh oh I’m on fire.”

The song itself borrows from a “repeating verse” song structure similar to what you might hear in traditional folk tunes where musically, not much change occurs throughout. It is the lyrical content that really steers the ship in this genre with a repeating phrase serving as the lyrical anchor of sorts at the end of each stanza.

What is added here however is the inclusion of refrains and breaks throughout to break up the monotony to mitigate listener fatigue.

What really breathes life into this song through comes down to two things in my opinion. Namely, vibe and storytelling. The E-Street Band’s poignant supporting performance instantly creates a mood that is both calming but tinged with a sense of yearning.

This provides the perfect backdrop for the Boss as the he emotes tales of emotional confinement and the desperate search for reprieve.

Intro > Verse 1 > Refrain > Verse 2 > Refrain > Break > Verse 3 > Refrain > Refrain > Climax > Ad lib to fade

Getting it done

Whether you’re looking to write “hits” or tread down parts unknown to break new artistic ground, (please do by the way!) you’ll need a sturdy understanding of how song form works in order to lead your listeners through the ride you want to take them on.

That being said, having things in balance is all about what good songwriting is. If your song features riff after riff without anything repeating, chances are it’ll be forgotten eventually.

Conversely, if your structure’s too rigid and predictable, things could get boring fast keeping your potential audience from coming back to have another listen.

There’s no one way to go about writing songs of course, so please consider all that’s been shared in this article as a primer of sorts. At the end of the day, the best way to learn about song sections and the way songs are formed and arranged is by studying songs.

I’m willing to bet big money that nearly every song you know and love is easily found on the web, and I encourage you to go and have a listen. Thanks for reading!