MUS202 music appreciation
Strophic – A melody is repeated, each time with different words. Sheila Davis calls this “AAA” form, since we often get just 3 repetitions in popular music, although in traditional music, many repetitions may be used.
Verse-Chorus or Verse-Refrain – a series of verses (changing
lyrics) alternates with an unchanging refrain. The refrain is often
called the “chorus,” because it is common for verses to be sung by a soloist
and the soloist to be joined by multiple voices (the “chorus”) singing in the
refrain. Either term is acceptable.
Verse1-refrain- verse2-refrain-[instrumental verse-refrain]-verse3-refrain
(the “instrumental verse-refrain” is shown in brackets since it is an option that is not always taken.)
Blues – 12-bar most common; AAB pattern in lyrics and melody (often a “question-question-answer” pattern). Three 4-bar phrases. Blues variants – 8-bar, 16-bar; balanced phrases (music and lyrics).
32-bar AABA form. In songs from the 20s, 30s & 40s, many songs have rambling introductions which lead to 32-bar AABA structures. The introductions can be quite involved. Confusingly, these long introductions are called “the verse,” a term that has a different meaning in later decades. “Introductory verse” would be a better term, but, hey, I’m not in charge of these things. The A phrases often come to harmonic closure; the B or bridge phrase often provides harmonic, rhythmic, melodic or textural contrast. Often extended or expanded (for example, AABAA or AABABA) or with a coda (or “outro”). Allen Forte’s Listening to Classic American Popular Songs explores this form in detail.
Hybrid or compound forms. The AABA formula is often combined with the verse-refrain idea:
The third verse is often omitted:
Either of these versions is sometimes called “AABA form,” rather than “hybrid-AABA form.” John Covach makes the distinction in his article “Form in Rock Music: A Primer,” in Engaging Music: Essays in Music Analysis.
Some songs, particularly in the art-song tradition (epitomized by Schubert), are “through-composed,” meaning that there are no unvaried repeats of musical ideas. This is very rare in popular music, but would be quite interesting if you find an example.
How to figure out what form you are dealing with?
1. the lyrics are the most obvious guide.
2. Listen for 4-bar phrases, and listen for closure (cadences)
3. Listen for melodic recurrence.
You’ve identified some sort of form. So what? If your song follows all the rules of a particular form but its lyrics are about “breakin’ all the rules,” well, that is a disappointment. But if the lyrics are about simplicity and “bein’ true,” well, maybe this is a good point to make. The artist is reinforcing the message with the form. Unusual things (such as unusual phrase lengths such as 6 bars or 4 ˝ bars) often are not obvious but they can be what keep us coming back to our favorites.
A suggestion for an analysis project: find a song recorded by an artist or a group in studio and live versions that differ. Compare differences in form. Does the live version extend particular sections or add sections?
Covach, “Form in Rock Music: A Primer,” in Engaging Music: Essays in Music
Analysis, Deborah Stein, ed.,
Sheila Davis, The Craft of Lyric Writing.
1 Oct 2006