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What Is Verse-Chorus Form?
The verse-chorus form is a songwriting structure built around two repeating sections: a verse section and a chorus section. The chorus, which typically anchors the song, contains the song’s signature melodic motifs along with lyrical refrains that tend to be the same throughout the tune. The verse sections, meanwhile, are interpolated among the choruses. They typically feature similar melodies and chord progressions on each repetition, but their lyrics tend to vary on every pass.
How Is Verse-Chorus Form Used in Music?
The verse-chorus form appears in a variety of ways throughout popular music. Some songs consist only of verses and choruses, while other songs add additional sections, such as an intro, a coda, a pre-chorus, a bridge, and an instrumental section (such as a guitar solo).
Some of the popular variations on the verse-chorus form include:
- ABAB Form. This form, called “binary structure” involves toggling back and forth between a verse section and a chorus section. This method is popular throughout a variety of styles, but it’s particularly common in folk and hip-hop. Think of how many hip-hop songs go between a rapped verse and a sung chorus. The same is true of folk styles like country, bluegrass, and coffeehouse. Some of these songs will add a short coda section at the very end of the song, but others simply end or fade out on a last verse or final chorus.
- AABA Form. This is one of the most time-tested songwriting forms. The format dates back to classical music, but it was a favored style in the Broadway musicals of the early twentieth century. Through sheet music and later, radio, these songs spanned outward from New York and became ingrained in popular culture. If you know the old standards written by the likes of Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, and Jerome Kern, then you know the AABA format. But it also exists in rock ‘n’ roll thanks to artists like Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Dylan, and The Beach Boys.
- ABABCB Form. This is also known as “verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus” form. In this style of composition, the A section is the verse, the B section is the chorus, and the C section is the bridge. The bridge is a section that is intentionally distinct from the rest of the song. It typically includes new chord changes, a different tonality (for instance, minor instead of major), a key change, or a meter change. Its purpose is to add variety to the song, but its ultimate function is to connect one chorus to another.
- Verse-chorus form plus instrumental sections. Some songs only feature two sections with sung lyrics—the verse and the chorus. But they feature other sections built around purely instrumental passages. Sometimes these passages are played over the same chord progressions heard in the verses and choruses; other times they get their own unique chord progressions. Prog rock bands like Genesis, Rush, and Supertramp are fond of this format. So are indie rockers like Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr.
What Is Simple Verse-Chorus Form?
The simple verse-chorus form is a variation on the ABAB format, but it’s defined by using the same chord progression for both the verse and the chorus. The hit single “Sugar” by Maroon 5 uses this approach: the song has distinct sections with their own melodies and lyrics, but the chord progression remains constant.
Other songs that use the simple verse-chorus form include:
- Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba”
- 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up”
- The Kingsmen’ “Louie Louie”
- Outkast’s “Hey Ya”
- 2Pac’s “California Love”
Examples of Songs That Use Verse-Chorus Form
The verse-chorus form can be found all over popular music, in all types of manifestations. Here are some examples.
Songs that use the ABAB format include:
- Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”
- Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car”
- The Police’s “Roxanne”
- Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”
- Hall & Oates’ “Rich Girl”
Note that verse and chorus lengths may vary in these songs, but the ABAB structure endures.
Songs that use the ABAB format, along with interpolated instrumental sections, include:
- Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”
- Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone”
- Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama”
- Primus’ “My Name Is Mud”
- Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop”
Once again, verse and chorus lengths may vary in these songs.
Songs that use the ABABCB format include:
- Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It”
- Skid Row’s “18 and Life”
- Faith Hill’s “This Kiss”
- The Allman Brothers Band’s “Melissa”
- Sam and Dave’s “Soul Man”
Some of these songs include additional sections like instrumental intros and guitar solos, but the ABABCB format still applies.
Songs that add pre-choruses to the verse-chorus form include:
- Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like A Woman”
- Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”
- Oasis’ “Wonderwall”
- Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic”
- The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside”
As always, the verse and chorus lengths may vary with each repetition, and they may be inter-spliced with instrumental passages, but the overall format endures and gives the songs their familiar structure.
Curious about songwriting? Learn more about music with Tom Morello here.