Song Structure

John Legend

Lesson time 14:01 min

Song structure plays a critical role in your music. John explains how you can use structure to tell a musical and lyrical story through your songs.

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Topics include: Structuring "Ordinary People" • Don't Be Afraid to Break Traditions • Build a Story • ASSIGNMENT


[PIANO MUSIC] JOHN LEGEND: Let's talk about song structure. Song structure is happening whether you realize it or not. Most songs adhere to one or two different structures, particularly in popular music. It's the order in which the different sections of the song are presented, what their relationships are to each other, and then how that makes an entire song together. [MUSIC PLAYING] What's usually happening in a song in popular music is there's a verse, there is a-- kind of an A section and a B section of that verse. Sometimes we call the B section the pre-chorus. So in kind of songwriter's shorthand we're usually calling it the pre. So we have a verse and a pre, which all lead into the chorus. Or you could just call it the A and the B section of a verse that lead into a chorus. Chorus also can be called the refrain, but it's the main thing that tells you the theme of the song. It's the thing that's usually the most easily sung to part of the song. For "All of Me," the chorus is-- [PIANO MUSIC] (SINGING) All of me loves all of you. Love your curves and all your edges, all your perfect imperfections. Give your all to me. I'll give my all to you. You're my end and my beginning. Even when I lose, I'm winning. And this you could call the post, but it's also quite hooky. (SINGING) 'Cause I give you all of me. And you give me all of you. Oh. Again, a lot of times that post is the most singalongable part of the song. The chorus is obviously something you want everyone to sing along to, but that post is like, oh, it's a chant. It's a thing that everybody can know the words to immediately and you have them sing along to that too. And then, oftentimes, we usually will go back to a verse again, so verse two in the same format. Sometimes I like to shorten verse two so we get back to the chorus more quickly the second time around after we've established the lyrical theme of the song. Sometimes I'll change the melody of the second verse to kind of add a new layer to the song. And then usually we'll go back to the chorus again, call that the second chorus, and do that post-chorus again. And then a lot of songs have a bridge, and the British call it the middle eight. But usually it's a kind of variation that sends us to a different direction in the song, and it often adds tension and complexity to the song so that it feels even more exciting when you come back to the chorus because you've gone somewhere different and you land back at that familiar spot. So for "All of Me," the bridge was-- (SINGING) Cards on the table, we're both showing hearts. Risking it all, though it's hard. So it's introducing a new melody. It actually is the same chord progression as the pre-chorus. (SINGING) My head's under water but I'm breathing fine. Cards on the table, we're both showing hearts. So same chord progression with different melody. So it adds tension, it adds complexity, it adds ...

About the Instructor

When 12-time Grammy winner John Legend released “Free” in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, he called it a prayer for peace. Now the recipient of the first-ever Recording Academy Global Impact Award teaches you how he wrote and recorded the song—and his process for creating hits like “All of Me” and “Glory.” Layer melodies and lyrics, develop your musical point of view, and make music that makes the moment.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

John Legend

John Legend, the EGOT-winning music icon and coach on “The Voice,” teaches you his process for creating music with impact.

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