Form, also known as structure, is how the music is organised. Nearly all music has a form of some kind. In this blog we explore some of them.
Let’s start with songs.
Typical - A typical pop song will normally have an intro. Sometimes it is a catchy hook from the chorus, other times it’s a standalone thing. Some intros are long, some are short.
Once the intro has been done you usually get the verse, followed by a chorus. Sometimes however, the chorus will come first.
To break things up a little there will sometimes be a thing called a middle 8 which is (usually) 8 bars long and sounds different. It feels different too and makes the song a little less repetitive.
To end a song sometimes the chorus is repeated and faded out (yuck*), or there’s an outro, which serves the same purpose as an intro but at the end. A pop song can either finish with a bang or fizzle out to nothing.
*I have a personal loathing for songs that fade out because it’s just lazy. If the song gets performed live they’d have to finish it properly, so they should jolly well finish it properly in the first place! However, I am aware that fadeouts are quite useful on radio and have made the most of them when I host my radio shows.
Call & Response
Our old friend the call and response can be used in a pop song. “Oh Happy Day!” Is a great example of this.
A ballad tells a story. Often fairly slow. Often has the same tune for each verse.
AABA is the structure here. Think of “Over The Rainbow” from The Wizard Of Oz.
A short, repeated section that gets built on. “Play That Funky Music” by Wild Cherry is a great example of a riff.
Hymns are great examples of strophic form. If a song is strophic it means that the same music for each verse is the same. There is no “chorus” in strophic form.
When a song has different music for every verse it’s called through-composed. “Paranoid Android” by Radiohead, “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” by The Beatles are excellent examples. They both have three sections that are repeated, but nothing is revisited once a new section starts.
When a singer in an opera has a solo it is called an aria. In the Baroque Period (we’ll talk about the periods of music in future blogs) composers wrote in ternary form. This means that the music would go AABBA. They are also called “da capo arias” because you go back to the beginning and finish at the “fine”, which would often be at the end of section A.
Let’s just quickly touch on the forms in instrumental music.
If a piece is written in cyclic form it will have common themes throughout. It’s a way of linking movements or moments within in a piece. These repeated moments could be at a different speed, in a different key, or on different instruments, but you’ll still be able to recognise them. Film (and TV) music uses this idea an awful lot as very often you’ll hear a motif that the composer has written for a specific character or situation.
Ground bass is a repeated bass part. It’ll often be played with the left hand of a keyboard instrument, a cello or a double. Like the ostinato, it is a short pattern of notes repeated throughout a piece. The difference occurs as the piece moves forward and the ground bass develops as more variations are played in it.
Full of flourishes the cadenza is a moment, often in a concerto, that the soloist gets to show off. Originally they weren’t written out and a composer would mark the score with the word “cadenza” allowing the player the chance to improvise around the main themes of the piece. Nowadays, the cadenza is written out but the player will interpret it in their own way.