Musical Form

Musical form is how a song is organized into sections of sound.  Builders use blueprints to build houses successfully.  Composers use form to build songs successfully.  As you follow this musical blueprint, there are some materials you can use to make sure your songs is built the best it can be.  Builders can make big or small houses.  As a composer, you can make a simple or complicated piece of music. A house can have many different shapes.  A song can have different shapes too.  When you start hearing patterns in music, you are starting to understand musical form.  Each section of your song that needs to be built can have a different letter to represent each section.

There a bunch of musical forms and it all boils down to how you want to compose your song.  My suggestion is just try one form and master it before you try another.  After you end up going through most or all of them you’ll find out what forms you enjoy the most.

Heres some of the most popular musical forms in commercial music:

AABA ——- (verse, verse, chorus, verse)
ABAB ——- (verse, chorus, verse, chorus)
ABAC ——- (verse, chorus, verse, bridge)
ABABCB — (verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus)
BABABB — (chorus, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, chorus)

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Basic musical forms in pop/ rock music

The large-scale form of a musical composition can be built from any combination of musical elements; however, form in Western music has been primarily associated with melody, harmony and rhythm (or text). Letters (i.e., A, B, C) are used to designate musical divisions created by the repetition of material or the presentation of new, contrasting material. Some of the most common forms in rock music are:

VOCAL FORMS: (Vocal music often follows the form of its text)

Strophic Form: A structural design created whenever the same music is used over and over for several different verses (strophes) of words. This type of verse design can be used separately as its own song-form or in conjunction with another form such as binary or ternary form (see below). A rather blatant example of simple strophic design is the old tavern song “99 Bottles of Beer”:

Verse 1: Verse 2: Verse 3:

“99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall . . .”
“98 Bottles of Beer on the Wall . . .”
“97 Bottles of Beer on the Wall . . .” (etc.)

Binary Form A two-part form (A vs. B) in which the basic premise is CONTRAST—Example: “Blowin’ In The Wind” by Bob Dylan (1963)

This song combines strophic and binary designs—it has 3 different verses, each with the following “A” vs. “B” (binary) design:


A) three similar pharses

“How many roads must a man walk down . . .”

“How many seas must a white dove sail . . .”

“How many times must the cannonballs fly . . .”

B) contrasting section

“The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind . . .”


Verse/Chorus Song Form: Is a type of binary-strophic created by the alternation of a story-telling verse (with new words each time) contrasted with a recurring chorus (with the same words each time).

Example: “Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan (1965)

A Verse 1

“Once upon a time . . .” (20 measures: 4+4+4+4+4)

B Chorus

“How does it feel? . . .” (10 measures: 4+4+2)

A Verse 2

“You’ve gone to the finest schools . . .” (20 mm.)

B Chorus

“How does it feel? . . .” (12 measures: 4+4+4)

A Verse 3

“You never turned around to see . . .” (20 measures)

B Chorus

“How does it feel? . . .” (12 measures: 4+4+4)

A Verse 4

“Princess in the steeple . . .” (20 measures)

B Chorus

“How does it feel? . . .” (12 measures: 4+4+4)


Ternary Form: A three-part form (A B A) featuring a return of the initial music (“A”) after a contrasting section (“B”)

Example: “Yesterday” by Paul McCartney and John Lennon (1965)


A) “A” repeated with “Suddenly, I’m not half the man I used to be . . .” new words

“Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away . . .”

B “Why she had to go I don’t know . . .” contrasting section

A “Yesterday, love was such an easy game to play . . .” returns

A closer look at “Yesterday” reveals a common type of rock music design called “A-A-B-A” or “song-form” design. This form was derived from pop music and the Tin Alley musical traditions in the first half of the 1900s.

Within this basic framework, the typical large-scale outline of an AABA song from the ‘50s and ‘60s was (approximately 2-3 minutes in total length):



Chorus B

Instrumental break

Chorus B

Verse A”


(fade out)



Blues Forms: The most common are 8-bar blues, 12-bar blues and 32-bar blues (used in Jazz). A “bar” is a measure/metrical grouping: in 4/4 time, a measure is every group of four numbers 1-2-3-4 [barline/end of measure], etc.

8-Bar Blues—Example: “Heartbreak Hotel” by Elvis Presley (1956)

12-Bar Blues—Example: “Tutti Frutti” by Little Richard (1955)

Within this basic framework, the typical large-scale outline of a 12-bar blues song from the ‘50s and ‘60s was



Instrumental break



(fade out)







Through-composed Form: A continuous, non-repetitive, musical design (with no readily apparent form).


Forms in classical music









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