Songwriting: Part 2 (Structures)

click here to read all posts from the songwriting series… 

so you feel persuaded enough to write a song? good. as we talked about it the last post, the world doesn’t need “another song”, they need something that causes impact in their lives…both memorable and powerful. so you have decided to write a song that will impact people…now what? well, you need to decide what kind of structure your song is going to have. there are many different kinds but i’ll simplify them into a few. (note: i am going to talk about christian structures in music and church, but it is all still relevant for writing a secular song)

1. the anthem
this kind of song was really popular during the 80s and 90s. the jist of this structure is that it only has a verse (if it’s lucky) and a chorus. it’s something really repetitive yet worshipful. examples include “in the presence of Jehovah”, “shout to the Lord” (yes, i put it here), “give thanks”, etc.   what is interesting about the anthem structure is that any song has the possibility to become an anthem. the song “awesome God” is a great example. the song has several verses (and i think a bridge?) but all that people know and sing is the short chorus. is that what rich mullins wanted when he wrote it? probably not, but ultimately, it is up to the listener to determine how much of the song impacts them. if you want more examples of this, just think of any song (done by anyone anywhere) that only the chorus (or bridge) is sung. (sometimes it’s the only “memorable” part of the song)

2. the hymn
believe it or not, you would be surprised how many songs (especially nowadays) fit into this structure. hymns can come in a couple different ways. either they have all verses (and that’s it), or they have many verses with the same chorus (and nothing else). many times the chorus will be the “so” factor of the song. (like the verses are the “causes” and the chorus is the “effect”) one of the most popular hymn-structured songs out right now is “you raise me up”. others include “any hymn in the hymn books” (lol), “in Christ alone” (the new one…the old one became an anthem), etc. when it comes to the hymn structure…words are very important. in fact, that’s why this structure is used…to communicate a lot of deep things in a musical way. it is any wonder why theology and patriotism use this structure as the cornerstone of their songs?

3. the contemporate
this one i had to find a name for. this is the most used and most popular form of songwriting. in fact, most people who just write with no purpose in mind will write in this structure. the basic form of the contemporate structure is a couple verses, a chorus and a really awesome bridge that ties the song together. they can also include: pre-choruses, endings, secondary choruses, intros, etc. (and those are all singing parts…when it comes to the instrumentation…anything goes…lol) the problem with this one is, because of people writing with no purpose in mind, the market is flooded with cheap worthless piles of these kind of songs. so it’s harder to make these kind of songs stand out and impact people cause people naturally tune them out (or at least some do).

so although most people will still write in the contemporate style, i challenge you to think about it a little before you write. what is the purpose of your song? singablitity and memorable? then start writing a chorus…that could be an anthem. then write the rest after you have an awesome chorus. is it to share deep thought or theology in life? then think about setting it up as a hymn which allows people to focus on a cause and effect.

and if you still want to write in the contemporate style, then in the next few posts, i (and a friend) will be talking about how to better write in that structure. i had to take these last two posts and give some foundation and insight into songwriting, even if it may not apply to everyone.

what did you think of these structures? do you have any examples of each where they are used? have you written anything in an “anthem” or “hymn” structure? please feel free to respond.

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