Pop Song Arrangement

Pop song arrangement. Easy enough. Right? We usually think of a song as ‘verse chorus verse chorus bridge chorus.’ It gets more in-depth than that.

Here’s some terminology:

Intro: The first 2, 4, 8, 16 bars of a song. Often includes a melodic ‘signature lick.’ Think Despacito.

Verse: 4, 8, 12, or 16 bars. It provides the musical foundation for the song. Steady chord and drum rhythms are introduced, and the vocal introduces the situation of the song. Melody can be rather contained.

B Section: (Or Pre-Chorus). 0, 1, 2, 4 or 8 bars. The tension building section. The transitional section from the verse to hook. The melodies can go higher, and tension increases for the payoff in the hook. Great B sections can be equally recognizable as hooks. Think ‘Look What You Made Me Do.’

Hook: (Or Chorus). The big payoff. 4, 8, 12 or 16 bars. The most intense production and melodies happen here. The infectious melody and lyrics are here to grab the listener and keep it stuck in their head.

Post: Post chorus, post hook, tag. A post is used to vibe off the energy of the hook for a little longer. An excellent example of this is Justin Timberlake’s ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling.’ It summarizes the hook and can be intense or softer depending on the dynamics in the next part of the song.

Drop: We all know what this is these days. Pioneered through dubstep and the EDM outbreak a few years back. It’s the highest energy point in an EDM song, or a song with an EDM influenced arrangement. Think ‘Closer‘ by the Chainsmokers.

Break: A place where instrumentation is typically removed from the song, and lyrics may not be there. Vocals like shouts and heys would be there. The only instrumentation here is generally rhythmic. It’s used to connect parts of a song.

Bridge: (Middle 8). The bridge provides melodic contrast and lyrically can summarize the song, present a different angle on the situation (say a philosophical outlook on it), and teases the listener for the last hook. An amazing bridge example would be Bruno Mar’s ‘That’s What I Like’.

Down Verse: A down verse can be used to connect the bridge to the last hook. Often it is just the hook repeated but scaled back, with simpler instrumentation and minimal drums, if any. It starts mellow, then builds intensity. Sometimes the lyrics are altered slightly for a new perspective.

Solo: You know what this is. The solo is designed to showcase the talents of a musician. It can be 0, 4, 8, or 16 bars. It commonly uses licks from the melodies from the rest of the song and riffs of them. The backing instrumentation compliments the solo. See ‘Shameless‘ by The Weeknd.

Vamp: A vamp is a repeating section of an arrangement, where a vocalist or an instrument can adlib or embellish the melody more, but to a full extent as a solo. Most commonly its an alteration of the hook or post.

Outro: An outro is the conclusion of a song, it can be 0, 2, 4, or 8 bars. It provides finality while incorporating elements from the rest of the song. It may or may not fade out, though fade-outs are becoming increasingly popular again.

These are not hard and fast rules, but these are the terms you’ll hear in the professional songwriting world, especially Los Angeles. Nashville has their own flavor of things. 🙂

Why is this important?
When working with other musicians, it is so much easier when everybody is using the same vocabulary.

This is nice to know, but your mind becomes awakened when you practice it. What do I mean by practice? I mean active listening. Try listening to your favorite songs with a piece of paper and picking out these sections, counting how many bars they have, and what happens in each. Try it out on 5 songs. Comment what you find below!

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