A Common Song Structure
There are a handful of very common song structures used in contemporary songwriting. One of them is Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus. It’s also notated as ABABCB (where A denotes the verse, B the chorus and C the bridge). A plethora of hit songs use this structure. It’s definitely one our ears have become accustomed to hearing.
We’ve heard this song structure so many times in popular music that we’re practically trained to expect a bridge right after the second chorus. Next time you hear a song for the first time, after the second chorus closes out you’ll probably catch yourself expecting to hear a bridge, even though the song is brand new to you.
A Less Common Song Structure
Another song structure that’s much more rare is an ABABAB structure. It’s a simple repetition of the verse and chorus. It’s simply two sections repeated (the lyrics will change in the verses, but the melody and chord changes will be roughly the same). The reason this song structure isn’t common, is because the repetition of the verse and chorus over and over again tends to become monotonous.
“Rill Rill” by Sleigh Bells
With this in mind, I was listening to the song “Rill Rill” by Sleigh Bells the other day. Something interesting happens at the end of the second chorus. Check out the song, and see if you hear what I heard (consider the verses to be the sections starting on the line “Have a heart…” and the choruses to start on “So this is it, then…”). The section after the second chorus starts around 2:40 into the video, but I’d listen all the way through, to get the full feel for what’s happening. You can hear it here:
Bridge or Third Verse?
What did you hear? For me, what happens after the second chorus is interesting. We essentially go back to the verse. The melody and lyrics are exactly the same as they were in the first verse. However, all the instrumentation has dropped out of the song. It’s basically the first verse sung a cappella, with a slight drum beat going in the background, just to keep the timing moving forward. So while it’s musically the same as the verses, it does sound different than the previous two verses.
Typically, the bridge, or section ‘C,’ of a song SOUNDS different from the rest of the song. It’s usually the first time we’ve heard a part like this throughout the whole track. That’s why what Sleigh Bells does here is interesting. They use the same melody and lyrics from the verse, but they change what’s happening beneath it to keep the song from becoming monotonous.
It’s almost as if they originally wrote the song determined it would be an ABABAB, verse and chorus only song. But after listening to it in its full form it sounded too repetitive, so they changed up the texture of the third verse (or is it the bridge?). I don’t know if that’s how the writing process happened, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me.
Judge, Jury & Songwriter
As a songwriter, would you consider this song to be an ABABCB structure, or an ABABAB structure? Would you consider the section after the second chorus to be a third verse or a bridge? I guess those questions don’t matter as much as this one: Does it work? You decide. If you have a song that’s simply refusing to offer you a bridge, maybe you can attempt a third verse that’s altered to keep your listeners from checking out. It may be worth messing with. Or maybe you’re totally against that idea.
Songwriting is an art, so there are no rules. However there are guidelines that most hit songs tend to follow. One of those guidelines is adhering to commonly used song structures (such as the ABABCB structure). “Rill Rill” by Sleigh Bells certainly bends the guidelines in this case. You can do that do, if you feel it’s right for your song. But I will always suggest you learn the guidelines before you break them. Your songs can only benefit from that. Have fun.