In my songwriting process blog, I share my typical process. At the beginning of the post, I say that I don’t write songs the same way each time, and that’s because sometimes, it’s fun to get extra creative. Everyone who listens to commercial music knows songs have a recognizable song structure, which goes, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus. What happens if a song strays from this pattern or does something unique with one of the sections? The song will stand out. Now, not every song should break away from the typical structure. The whole point of making thoughtful decisions to bend the so-called “rules” is to make that song special for a certain reason. Notice I put “rules” in quotation marks. I did that because songwriting doesn’t have set rules, but there are definitely conventions. I’ve learned a handful of ways to spice up the song structure through close observation of my favorite pop and country songs. I’ve even used some of these ideas myself. So, let’s get into some ways you can take song structure to a new level.
Start Off with the Chorus
Songs that start off with the chorus get a listener’s attention right away. The hook is usually the most memorable part of a song, so starting off with the chorus is actually a pretty smart move. This is also very common, too. Some of my favorite songs that do this are “Good Choices” by Astrid S, “Kings & Queens” by Ava Max, and “Don’t Call Me Angel” by Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, and Lana Del Rey.
I’ve used this idea in some of my songs. In fact, “Obvious,” one of my favorite songs I’ve ever recorded and one of my album songs, starts with the chorus. With this song in particular, it’s powerful to hit the listener right away with the lyric, “I couldn’t be more obvious.” The chorus of “Obvious” makes it super clear what the song is about, so I chose to start with the chorus to hook listeners on the first line.
You might be wondering my thought process when it comes to starting a song with the chorus, so I’ll share that with you. I see this technique used in a lot of pop music. That doesn’t mean that country songs don’t start with the chorus because there are songs out there that definitely do. I’ve just noticed scrolling through my playlists that the majority of the songs that do are pop. This lines up with my songwriting process because so far, the only songs I’ve written that start with the chorus are pop songs. Also, when deciding whether or not to begin with the chorus, I ask myself if it would serve a purpose. Looking at my songs that begin with the chorus, along with hit songs, I see two main trends. First, the chorus is reflective, meaning it’s asking a question, focusing on a deep, introspective idea, or shining light on something meaningful, to name a few. In times like these, it’s powerful to introduce the concept to the listener before diving into the storytelling of the first verse. Second, the song makes a strong or empowering statement. This is different from the singer or songwriter looking inward. Rather, they’re taking a stance and making a statement to the person the song is about or directly to the listener. Take “Don’t Call Me Angel,” for example. That is an extremely empowering song that lays out the message right from the start. So, to wrap up, I ask myself if my chorus either has a strong, reflective quality that can set up the song in a meaningful way or makes a powerful statement that I want the listener to hear right off the bat.
Shorten the Second Verse
Another way to spice up song structure is to shorten the second verse. Oftentimes, the way to do this is to cut it in half. So, if the first verse has a melodic phrase across lines that repeats, which is what I like to call a double verse, only write one half of it in the second verse. One of the greatest benefits of this is that the song gets back to the chorus faster. Where the first verse is important to set the scene and introduce the story, having too long of a second verse can take away from the song. Some examples of my favorite songs that have short second verses are “Lose You To Love Me” by Selena Gomez, “bragger” by Kelsea Ballerini, and “No Good” by Ally Brooke.
I’m a huge fan of this particular technique. Why? Because second verses and I don’t get along very well. If I can write a strong second verse that’s shorter and get back into the chorus, I’ll do it. One of my songs, “Four Leaf Clover,” has a shorter second verse.
Writing a shorter second verse is something I see done often in both pop and country music. As I mentioned before, this is a great idea in order to move the song back into the chorus quicker. The biggest consideration I have when it comes to writing shorter second verses has to do with the length of the first verse. If the first verse is only four lines, then I keep the second verse the same length because I don’t want it to be too short. On the other hand, if my first verse is a double verse, like it is in “Four Leaf Clover,” cutting the verse in half is a smart choice to make. Also, something else I look at is how much I want to say in the second verse. If I can get my point across in less lines, I’ll write a shorter second verse and move on with the song. So, what it really comes down to is looking at each individual song and making a call based on verse length and how much you want to put in the second verse.
Vary the Melody in the Second Verse
One of the best ways to make the second verse interesting is to vary the melody. It’s a good idea to start the second verse the same as the first verse to signal to the listener that it’s the second verse, but varying the second half can make this verse more unique. There are many songs that change up the melody and phrasing of the second verse to different degrees. Among these are “Lie Like This” by Julia Michaels, “Hurt Again” by Julia Michaels, “Confetti” by Little Mix, and “It Won’t Always Be Like This” by Carly Pearce. Some of these songs have more variation than others. That’s the creativity of it. It’s totally up to the songwriter how much they want to vary the melody and phrasing in the second verse.
I personally really enjoy adding variation in my second verses. Two of my songs that are popping into my head are “Happy Never After” and “Four Leaf Clover.” Since second verses aren’t my favorite, I’m always finding ways to make them more fun to write. Getting creative with the melody and phrasing is one of those ways.
Whether or not to add variation, and how much variation, in the second verse is up to the songwriter. Sometimes, the melody in the second verse is the exact same as in the first verse. Other times, it can vary drastically in places. Falling somewhere on this spectrum can give the second verse something special to make it shine.
Play Around with the Pre-Chorus
There are a few ways to make the song structure unique by playing around with the pre-chorus. The ones I’m going to talk about are writing a shorter second pre-chorus, writing only one pre-chorus, changing the lyrics of the second pre-chorus, and having no pre-chorus at all.
Similar to writing a shorter second verse, the same can be done with the second pre-chorus. Two great examples of songs that do this are “17” by Julia Michaels and “the 1” by Taylor Swift. By doing this, the song moves back into the chorus faster, just as I talked about with shorter second verses.
Next, cutting out the second pre-chorus completely is an option. This is done more often than you may think. Some songs that do this are “Closer To You” by Carly Pearce, “the other girl” by Kelsea Ballerini and Halsey, and “Better Luck Next Time” by Kelsea Ballerini
On the other hand, some songs may skip the first pre-chorus all together and add one after the second verse. You can also think of this as an extension of the second verse. Taylor Swift does this in some of her songs. Examples of having no pre-chorus after the first verse but adding one after the second verse can be heard in her songs, “Call It What You Want” and “Daylight.”
Next, you can keep the same melody of the pre-chorus but change the lyrics. I personally do this a lot. For examples of this, listen to “long story short” by Taylor Swift, “The Bones” by Maren Morris, and “love me like a girl” by Kelsea Ballerini.
Finally, some songs don’t even have a pre-chorus, and that’s totally okay. I personally write at least one pre-chorus in all of my songs, but having no pre-chorus is something that’s definitely done. Some examples of songs that have no pre-chorus in their song structure are “Give It to You” by Julia Michaels and “willow” by Taylor Swift.
Out of all of these, the one I use most often is changing the lyrics of the second pre-chorus. Since my songs tell a story, sometimes, the lyrics in the first pre-chorus don’t make sense after the second verse. Some of my songs that have different lyrics in the second pre-chorus are “All I Want This Christmas,” “Perfectly Imperfect,” and “It’s All Me.” Additionally, in “Happy Never After,” there’s no pre-chorus after the second verse. This works well in that song because I vary the melody and phrasing in the second half of the verse. Cutting the pre-chorus out allowed me to create a strong line at the end of the second verse that leads right back into the chorus.
Playing around with the pre-chorus is one of the best ways to spice up the song structure. It’s all about getting creative and doing what’s best for each individual song. Maybe, a song only needs one pre-chorus or none at all. Maybe, changing the lyrics of the second pre-chorus will strengthen the story of the song. I keep all of my above points in mind when making decisions about my pre-choruses.
Write a Third Verse
Believe it or not, some songs have a third verse. Now, you might be wondering, what’s the difference between a bridge and a third verse? To keep it short and sweet. A third verse has the same melody and chord progression as the other two verses. Though there are many ways to write a bridge, a third verse will be instantly recognizable as a verse because it shares qualities with the other verses in the song. Taylor Swift has some songs with a third verse. Among these are “invisible string,” “willow,” and “long story short.” Also, Julia Michaels has a third verse in “17.” These songs also have bridges, so they’re great examples to show the difference between bridges and third verses.
I personally haven’t written a third verse before. I think this is a super unique verse to write. Down the road, I’d love to write one, though. The third verse can be a great place to expand the story of the song even more.
Tap on a Post-Chorus
Where a pre-chorus comes right before a chorus, the post-chorus comes after. Post-choruses are very popular. One of the main purposes a post-chorus serves is to emphasize the hook, or title, of the song. Also, it could simply have a super catchy melody and repetitive lyrics that add to the chorus. Some songs that have effective post-choruses are “long story short” by Taylor Swift, “Lie Like This” by Julia Michaels, and “Space” by Sabrina Carpenter.
Keep in mind, post-choruses don’t need to be after every chorus. They might only be needed after the last chorus to give the end of the song something extra. That being said, some songs have a post-chorus after every chorus. It’s the songwriter’s decision whether or not to add a post-chorus or not. If a song does have a post-chorus, it adds something extra to the song structure.
I like to use a post-chorus when I feel that the song can benefit from it. Two of my songs that have post-choruses are “Obvious” and “LA Will Wait for Me.” In “Obvious,” the post-chorus is after both the second and last choruses. In “LA Will Wait for Me,” there’s a post-chorus after every chorus. Also, in both songs, the post-choruses have compelling melodies and repeat the title of the song.
Like any other song section, the post-chorus should serve a purpose. If a song is strong without one because the chorus shines on its own, a post-chorus isn’t needed. If writing a post-chorus would give the song an extra sparkle, try writing one. Something to keep in mind, though, is the length of the chorus. If the chorus is already pretty long, a post-chorus might not be the best idea, except for at the very end of the song to extend it a bit. So, as I’ve said multiple times, it all comes down to each individual song and whether or not a post-chorus has something to offer.
Change the Lyrics in the Last Chorus
Choruses are the most memorable parts of songs. They return multiple times in songs to really highlight the message. So, you might be thinking, why is it a good idea to change the lyrics in the last chorus? When it works, this can be one of the most unique ways to spice up song structure. Changing the lyrics in the last chorus definitely shouldn’t be overdone, but when done right, it’ll take listeners by surprise in the best way. The purpose of this technique is to flip the perspective in some way. For songs that go deep with storytelling, writing new lyrics in the last chorus to show a shift or take the story to a fresh place can give the song a special sparkle. One of my favorite songs that does this is “Speak Now” by Taylor Swift.
I used this technique in my song, “I Hope You Know You’re Lucky.” I couldn’t imagine that song without a flipped perspective in the last chorus. It captures a new layer of the story and allows me to explore the concept even deeper. In the case of “I Hope You Know You’re Lucky,” changing the lyrics in the last chorus brings out the way I’m feeling, as the songwriter, in a powerful way.
So, whether or not to change the lyrics of the last chorus requires a lot of thought. From so many years of listening to music constantly, I can confidently say that this is pretty rare. This technique should be saved for very special songs.
Make the Last Chorus Shine with a Modulation
First, if you’re not sure what a modulation is, it’s basically when a song changes key. Modulating to a higher key is super underrated, and I wish more songs did it. Like I mentioned while talking about changing the lyrics in the last chorus, modulating is rare, too. One of my favorite songs that modulates is “Pretty” by Lauren Alaina.
I actually wrote a modulation into my song, “Happy Never After.” I chose to do this because in this particular song, I want the last chorus to be big and powerful. It’s wild how much simply modulating to a higher key can bring out the last chorus.
I love songs that modulate because as a classically-trained pianist, I’ve played so many pieces with modulations. I wish more pop and country songs change key in the last chorus, but the songs that do are definitely precious gems.
Wrap Up with an Outro
When it makes sense for a song, adding an outro is one of my favorite ways to spice up the song structure. It comes at the very end of a song, and there are various ways of writing an outro. First, a common way of writing an outro is to repeat the first verse, or the beginning of the first verse, at the end of the song. This brings the song full circle. Two of my favorite songs that do this are “homecoming queen?” by Kelsea Ballerini and “I Almost Do” by Taylor Swift. There are other ways to make an outro creative, like keeping the verse melody but writing different lyrics to leave the listener with something meaningful to think about. By doing this, the songwriter flips the perspective of the verse in some way or adds an additional piece of the story. Also, a songwriter can bring the bridge back in the outro. Julia Michaels does this in “17.” Additionally, outros can be completely different from any other part of the song melodically but draw on important lyrics. For example, in my original Christmas song, “All I Want This Christmas,” I have a short outro, “That’s all I Want. That’s all I want.” It’s a nice way to end the song and reemphasize the message, while keeping it short and sweet.
I love adding an outro to my song structure. Along with “All I Want This Christmas,” I’ve written an outro for several of my songs. In “Find Love,” “Paradise,” and “Snow on Christmas Day,” I bring back the beginning of the first verse in the outro. Also, in two of my songs, “Perfectly Imperfect” and “Nobody Like Me,” I bring back some lines from the bridge in the outro. In “I Hope You Know You’re Lucky,” I wrote a fresh outro with a new melody and lyrics. So, I’ve clearly written many different kinds of outros.
Outros are written in both pop and country songs. Still, out of all the songs I listed above, most of them are country or pop-country. Outros definitely work in pop music, but I think that they’re more fitting for a country song, and here’s why. Country music is all about storytelling while pop music has a greater focus on having a compelling melody and production. In a pop song, leaving the listener with a powerful chorus is the way to go. For country, on the other hand, listeners are invested in the story the lyrics are telling. Giving them one extra piece, even if that’s only repeating part of the first verse, creates a strong impact. Also, as I mentioned in my songwriting process blog, first verses are home to sensory imagery, which is huge in country music. Bringing back some sensory imagery at the end of the song is a nice touch. That all being said, though, I love to write an outro in my pop songs when I feel it will create a stronger ending than wrapping up with the chorus. So, when deciding whether or not to write an outro, I think about the story of my song and ask myself if an outro would benefit the story.
So, these are some ways to give the song structure a little twist. There are obviously so many different aspects of a song a songwriter can explore, but these are the ones that really stand out to me. I’m always looking for new ways to get creative with my songs, and finding ways to make my songs interesting through changing up the song structure is one of the main ways of doing this. I’m looking forward to writing more songs and making them special and unique.