If you’re about to put on your songwriting pants for the first time, it’s worth knowing that most songs consist of building blocks like the verse, chorus and bridge. In this blog, we’ll tell you all you need to know about how songs are structured and why.

Pop Song Structuring: Verse, Chorus, Bridge and More Explained

Speaking the Same Language

As a songwriter or even as a musician, it’s important to know and understand the various parts that make up a song and the purpose that they serve. “I’ve noticed that quite a lot of musicians are unfamiliar with the terminology. Some even use certain terms incorrectly”, Bart Kiers observes. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not all about the theoretical side of things, it’s just that it can be very practical for musicians to speak the same language – even when it comes to terms that have to do with the shape of a song.” As a musician and singer-songwriter himself, Bart Kiers has already written countless songs throughout his music-making career. Some years ago, as a singer for the Dutch band, Busted, he and his band mates even made the charts with a song called Blah Blah Blah, which went on to win a national public’s choice award. These days, Bart is mainly focussed on his work as a “stand-up musician” as he likes to call it. He’s frequently hired to attend events to play a song on the piano at the end, recapping the event in his own unique way. “It’s hard work but it’s lots of fun as well – and highly appreciated by the audience”, Bart says.

The Building Blocks

To clarify, the shape of a song refers to the way it’s structured using various building blocks. You’re probably already familiar with terms like ‘verse’ and ‘chorus’ but there are a few others you should know about. The following list of song-parts covers just about everything a pop song may be made up of: intro, verse, chorus, pre-chorus, instrumental/solo, bridge and outro. That doesn’t look too scary now, does it? And millions of pop songs have already been written using these ‘simple’ ingredients.


First things first, let’s start with something virtually every song has: an intro, which is usually a short instrumental part that’s played before the vocals start. “Personally, I feel like the intro is extremely important”, Bart says. “In fact, the intro should be what makes the song instantly recognisable, whether you’re playing it live or if it’s played on the radio.”Despite the amount of importance Bart ascribes to the intro, it’s usually not the part he draws up first when writing new material. “I usually only write the intro towards the end of the songwriting process, so when the rest of the song is already finished. Also, intros don’t necessarily need to last very long. What’s more, I prefer shorter intros. The intro serves a purpose that doesn’t depend on duration. In my experience, once we were finally in the studio, we often ended up cutting down the length of our original intros. I mean, why use eight bars when four will do?”

Verse & Chorus

Moving on to two parts that are part of practically every song ever written: the verse and chorus. Here, we’re tackling both at the same time because they’re kind of inextricably linked. “For the most part, the verse is where I tell the story, which makes the lyrics paramount. The chorus is mostly musically catchy so there’s less focus on the lyrics as part of the narrative. More than the verse, the chorus is meant to get the listener to sing along,” Bart explains.
In some songs – including plenty of well-known tunes – it’s clear that the verses aren’t as appealing as the chorus, musically-speaking. You might even say that the music backing the verses is less impactful. “That’s true”, Bart concurs. “To be honest, that goes for some of my own songs as well. It’s a bit of a shame but it happens. Luckily, a well-composed chorus can go a long way towards compensating for more weak-sounding verses. Also, I believe the lyrics of the verses are more important than the music anyway. Since the chorus should be the musical climax of any song, it’s okay for the verses to sound less fleshed out. This only creates some welcome contrast, not to mention that it’d be awkward for a song’s verses to sound more appealing than its chorus, though that’s not to say this doesn’t happen. While they’re the exceptions to the rule, I know a few songs in which the verse is more appealing to me musically than the chorus is.”
When it comes to the verse-chorus interrelationship, Bart is especially smitten with bands like Coldplay. “That’s because of the simplicity. The verse and chorus in most of their tunes are barely distinguishable and they often even have the same chord progression. Yet they always manage to turn each song into something special, partly thanks to Chris Martin’s brilliant vocals.” In most pop songs, the verse is followed by the chorus. Bart: “But there are also songs that start with the chorus or a part of it because it happens to work really well. Take Queen for example, who are known for kicking things off with a bang – chorus-first to make sure the song is immediately recognisable.”


Then there’s the pre-chorus. This is a kind of run-up to the chorus and it’s usually used as a transition from verse to chorus. Bear in mind that not every song includes a pre-chorus; listen to Adele’s When We Were Young below to get an idea of how it can be used.


“I used to have the tendency to write way too many verses”, Bart says. “Something I would solve by using any excess verses for the bridge. This way, I was still able to tell the story.” This brings us to another building block that’s often used in songcrafting: the bridge. In music, the bridge can take many different forms. Sometimes it stays true to the rest of the song, and sometimes it simply strays. For a bridge to have a completely different rhythm, chord progression or even a different key is nothing out of the ordinary. In classically-structured pop songs (see further down), the bridge is generally used as a third verse of sorts. “I personally like to finish full-circle, which includes lyrics that rhyme as well as a bridge. For me, this approach brings balance to a song.” Needless to say, these types of decisions have a lot to do with personal preferences and the kind of song that you’re working on. Either way, it’s something to think about before making any final decisions.

Instrumental Parts

There are quite a lot of songs that feature an instrumental part, which is usually stuck just before the final chorus where the bridge could also be (see the classic pop song structures included below). This can be an instrumental solo (usually guitar) or a multi-instrumental part, played over the same chord progression as the verse or a different one. Personally, Bart isn’t too fond of instrumental fillers. “Any instrumental part should serve the song only. In live situations, solos are frequently used to showcase an instrumentalist’s level of virtuosity, which is something that actually happens a lot in blues and has become part of the style’s characteristics. I do feel like instrumental parts don’t suit pop music as much as they do blues. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with instrumental parts as long as they’re functional. For instance when it’s used to create a pause before the last chorus kicks in, allowing a little air into the music. There’s definitely something to be said for that.”


The outro is the last part we’ll discuss here and the last bit of instrumental music of a song. Sometimes, the outro is nothing but a repeat of the intro, but it can also be the melody of the chorus or even something entirely different. That said, there are numerous songs that don’t even have an outro. “The outro is by no means a must”, says Bart. “It often hasn’t even been written. Musicians just come up with something that feels right once they’re in the studio. I’ve seen it happen plenty of times. The only risk you’re taking by adding an outro is that the song can end up fizzling out, so to say. This is something to watch out for.”

Never Quite Finished

Jotted down an intro, chorus, bridge, outro and a few verses? Awesome, but you’re not there yet, according to Bart. “Songwriting continues in the studio and even on stage. I know there are songwriters who sanctify their work and basically set it down in stone. In practice, once they’re in the studio, it’s a rule rather than an exception for musicians to completely overhaul parts or even entire songs. I don’t mind it. In fact, I’d advise any singer-songwriter to be open to making last-minute tweaks. After all, you’ll only find out whether a song works once you start playing it in the studio, or better yet, on stage. That’s why so many artists put fresh material to the test first. If the audience digs it, they’ll then finalise and release the tune.”

Worth Knowing

Classic Pop Song Structures

Here are two examples of ‘classically’-structured pop songs. Remember that the bridge or an instrumental part often replaces the third verse.

Example 1:

Verse 1
Verse 2
Instrumental (usually the same chord progression as the verse)
Outro (optional)

Example 2:

Verse 1
Verse 2
Bridge (usually a different chord progression/rhythm than the rest of the song)
Outro (optional)

When We Were Young – Adele

Since it includes most of the parts we’ve covered in this article, Adele’s When We Were Young makes for the perfect case study. Below, I’ve laid out the structure using parts of the lyrics. Note that there are two verses before the first chorus; one verse before every chorus after that; two bridges (one is considered standard); an unchanged chord progression for the bridge; and that there’s no pre-chorus before the final chorus. Also, there are no instrument parts nor is there an outro.


Verse 1 (“Everybody loves…”)
Verse 2 (“But if by chance…”)
Pre-Chorus (“You look like a movie…”)
Chorus (“Let me photograph…”)
Verse 3 (“I was so scared…”)
Pre-Chorus (“You still look like a movie…”)
Chorus (“Let me photograph…”)
Bridge 1 (“When we were young…”)
Verse 4 (“It’s hard to win me back…”)
Pre-chorus (“It was just like a movie…”)
Bridge 2 (“When we were young…”)
Chorus (Extended) (“Let me photograph…”)

From the Hook

Regardless of theory, every songwriter will have their own unique way of writing. For Bart, starting with the ‘hook’ works really well. Now, like so many terms in music, there are a number of definitions for a ‘hook’. How does Bart interpret the term? “For me, a hook is something that’s very recognisable. It can be a melody, a specific part of the lyrics, an unusual chord progression or simply a sound – like the whistle (or perhaps it’s a whinnying horse) in Insane In the Brain by Cypress Hill. Most of the time, I write my songs starting with the hook.”

See Also

» How to Write the Perfect, Personal Wedding Song

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