Hero Cover Image

Songwriting

Demystifying the Art of Song Structure

with Victoria Monét

The Grammy-winning songwriter and frequent Ariana collaborator shares her approach to the craft and dives into traditional forms and rules, not to mention the importance of knowing when to break free.

Summary:

Victoria Monét dives into song structure: the different ways to utilize traditional forms of composition, how to create them, and recognizing when it’s important to break free.

About Victoria Monét:

This Sacramento-born, LA-based, Grammy-nominated songwriter and recording artist made her name writing songs for Fifth Harmony, Chloe & Halle, and BLACKPINK, not to mention cowroting hits “7 Rings” and “thank u, next” with Ariana Grande. Her recent artist project

JAGUAR

showcases her dreamy vocals and contagious melodies over laidback rhythms and live instrumentation reminiscent of 70s Motown and 90s R&B. Aside from dissecting song structure, in this podcast Victoria also discusses how to balance recording, songwriting, and collaborating, all while being a mother.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • As a songwriter, you have to be a good listener and have a collaborative mindset that’s open to other peoples’ ideas.

  • Creativity is unlimited when you’re living life and constantly seeking inspiration. 

  • A person can master a craft after 10,000 hours of practice — this is an idea made famous in the book

    Outliers,

    by Malcolm Gladwell, 

  • Here’s a song structure template to get you started: verse | pre-chorus | chorus/hook | verse 2 | pre-chorus | chorus/hook | bridge | chorus/hook.

    • The verses set the scene for the story you’re telling: they explain the who, the what, the where, and the when. 

    • A pre-chorus can be thought of as a second hook that builds to the chorus.

    • The chorus, or hook, should be the overarching idea of the song; its lyrics should draw back to the song’s main idea.

    • The post-chorus maintains the energy built in the chorus and keeps it going. A catchy instrumental hook as a post-chorus can be a way to keep the energy high while adding spacing and variation from the chorus.

    • A bridge can either expand and elevate what’s expressed in the storyline of the verses,

      or

      be a moment in the song that goes somewhere entirely new.

  • Oftentimes “less is more” when it comes to lyrics. Lyrics can be poetic while still being clear, concise, and intentional.

  • When artists who have different strengths collaborate, the final product is likely to be more unique.

  • When you begin a collaboration, don’t just depend on your partner for inspiration. Bring along a favorite song, poem, or  book. Or bring a visual reference like a painting or photo.

  • Complexity in your composition does not guarantee quality.  Sometimes simplicity is the hardest, but most impactful approach!

  • It’s often difficult to balance professional and personal goals, but with hard work and dedication both are achievable. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or support from your family, friends, or professional team.

  • Common song structures are only guidelines, not rules.

SONG STARTERS:

  • Imagine you’re collaborating with one of your favorite artists. Maybe your cowriter is Ariana Grande, like Victoria Monét, or maybe you’re working with Billie Eilish, Lizzo, Justin Bieber, or Lil Nas X.  What does the song you write together sound like? What traits of their music do you love? How can your writing bring something new to their catalog? 

  • Write the chorus/hook first, using the main ideas that summarize what the song’s about. Use that main idea to inform what story unfolds in the verses. Test out having your chorus hook start the song, using the structure: hook | verse | hook | verse | bridge | hook.

  • Writing in a group with someone with a different talent or skill set can inspire new ideas and different song structures. Do you have a friend who’s an instrumentalist, producer, or beatmaker? If you’re an instrumentalist, producer or beat maker, do you have a friend who writes lyrics and melodies, or sings? Pair up and see what you create together!

KEY TERMS:

  • Session:

    a focused period of time where one or more artists makes music. Sessions can focus on all aspects of making music or be limited to one, which is the case  for writing sessions, production sessions, and recording sessions, for example.

  • Room/Writing room:

    how songwriters often describe the place they work together for a writing session. Being “in the room” can mean writing on a video call or sitting together in a studio, wherever songwriters work together.

  • Song structure:

    the foundation of a song. Not all songs follow the same structure, but it is a good place to start when writing a song.

    • Examples

      • verse | pre-chorus | chorus | bridge (A-B-C-A-B-C-D-C)

      • verse | pre-chorus | chorus (A-B-C-A-B-C)

      • verse | chorus (A-B-A-B-A)

  • A&R:

    the artist & repertoire works to find, sign, and develop talent for a record label. Once the artist is signed, the A&R works to find the artist cowriters and collaborators, sets up sessions, and pitches the songs that the artist writes to other artists to record.

  • Intro:

    a short section in the beginning of the song that sets the vibe.

  • Verse:

    a section that has a common melody, but is repeated (usually two times) with different lyrics each time. The first verse usually sets the scene of the song, while the second verse further develops the storyline.

  • Transition:

    an instrumental or vocal element that leads into the next section of the song.

  • Pre-chorus:

    the section that leads into the chorus.

  • Chorus:

    a melodic, lyrical, or instrumental part that is the centerpiece of a song. It is sometimes referred to as the hook, and it is the catchiest part of the song that everyone remembers. This section often expresses the general idea of the song.

  • Post-chorus:

    a section that keeps the momentum of the chorus and is sometimes even catchier than the chorus.

  • Bridge:

    a section that introduces a new element to the song. It is often a new melody or a change within the chord progression. 

  • Outro (also called coda):

    the final section of a song. It is often an instrumental section.

  • Lyrics:

    the words in the song that express ideas and evoke emotions. They are usually written in patterns or forms, similar to poetry.

  • Melody:

    a series of notes that sound good together musically. The lead melody in a song is usually sung by the main vocalist, and can be paired with lyrics. Melody often defines a song. It is the element that is remembered by a listener, and acts as the foundation for lyrics.

  • Topline:

    the lead melody and lyrics that are written over an instrumental/beat/track.

  • Chord:

    a group of three or more notes that when played together sound good. Some types of chords include major, minor, and diminished.

  • Chord progressions:

    series of chords that are played one after the other. Chord progressions can set the foundation for a melody, and can change in each section of a song.

  • AABA structure:

    an example structure within a song section (such as a chorus or verse). The first “A” pattern serves as the first two lines while the third line does something different to become the “B” option, followed by a fourth line that goes back to the original “A.” This pattern is a good way to be repetitive while adding just enough of a switch-up. 

  • Freestyling:

    improvising lyrics and melodies by singing or rapping over an instrumental without pre-written material. 

  • Cowriting:

    writing a song with one or more collaborators. There’s no limit or certain rule for cowriting; cowriters can be a duo or a team of over 20 people. 

  • Rhyme:

    words that have a corresponding sound, such as “kite” and “flight.” Rhymes are an important aspect of songwriting, and often are found at the end of a line of lyrics.

  • Postpartum:

    the period of time after childbirth.

Watch more episodes about songwriting, production, and collaboration, plus listen to Song Start: The Podcast, here.

For more info on Song Start click here.