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Form in Popular Music

Like all music, popular music relies on repetition, contrast, and


variation. Repetition is especially critical in music that is designed to be
memorable (like advertising jingles) or music that must be predictable
(like dance music). Given the importance of repetition in popular music,
it is no surprise that there are not many songs in the popular sphere
that are through-composed (although a few examples were mentioned
in Form Archetypes) or that follow a theme and variations form.

Popular music is dominated by songs with instrumental


accompaniment. Over time, specialized terminology has developed to
discuss song forms. Here are the important terms:

Verse – same music, different lyrics


Chorus (Refrain) – same music, same words
Bridge – contrasting material that connects two sections (usually
falls between choruses)
Break – instrumental interlude
Introduction (Intro) - opening material
Coda (Outro) - closing material

Verse-Chorus Form

Verse-chorus form is often used in classic rock of the '60s and '70s,
but appears in a variety of popular sub-genres. Examples include "Get
Back" by the Beatles (1969), "Proud Mary" by Creedence Clearwater
Revival (1969), and the "Hotel California" by the Eagles (1977). In this
form, verses simply alternate with choruses for as many repetitions as
the composer (songwriter) chooses. Thus, it is actually a variation of

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strophic form.

A A A ...
Verse Chorus Verse Chorus Verse Chorus ...

32-bar Form

32-bar form was particularly popular in the American songs of Tin Pan
Alley and movie musicals of the '30s and '40s. "Somewhere Over the
Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz (1939) is an example of this form. 32-
bar form gets its name because each of the four sections typically
contains 8 bars (measures), making a total of 32 bars for the whole
song. There is no chorus in this form. Instead, there is a verse that is
repeated (with different lyrics), which is followed by a contrasting
bridge, and the piece is concluded with a final verse. This form is a
variation on the ternary archetype.

A A B A
Verse Verse Bridge Verse

Verse-Chorus Form with Bridge

Combining verse-chorus form and 32-bar form results in verse-


chorus form with a bridge. This is the most common form in modern
popular music. Examples include "I'll Follow You Into the Dark" by
Death Cab for Cutie (2005) and "Poker Face" by Lady GaGa (2008).
The final A section may have both a verse and chorus, but usually
consists of only the chorus, which may be repeated several times.

A A B A1

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Verse Chorus Verse Chorus Bridge Verse (often Chorus (often
omitted) repeated)

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