Pop Song Structure | How to Write & Structure a Pop Song [9 Steps]
Analysing pop song structure is often the first step for many songwriters learning how to write a pop song. Our step by step guide will show you how to structure a good pop song and make songwriting easier.
Writing a good pop song requires well-structured chords, hooks and lyrics. The songwriters behind the catchiest songs also know how to write a pop song with a good chorus and unforgettable melodies. Get started on a piano to get some chords down for your song.
We’ve got some great tips and examples of great songwriting. Find out how to become a better songwriter and you’ll be writing catchy pop songs in no time.
How to write a pop song
- Learn pop chord progressions
- Start writing a catchy chorus
- Listen to pop hooks
- Write down ideas for your own hooks
- Make a story with your lyrics
- Write your opening chord progression
- Write strong opening lyrics
- Learn how pop songs are structured
- Create chords for your other sections
What is a typical pop song structure?
Pop song structure refers to the structural form of a pop song. It is based on the fitting together of different musical sections. The pop song structure can take varying forms but will typically involve a verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus structure.
If you want your song heard on the radio make sure you reach the chorus line in less than a minute – the sooner the better! This will also be beneficial at short performances or auditions when time is limited and long, drawn-out intros won’t do you any favours.
How are pop songs structured?
- Introduction – The intro is a crucial part of the pop song structure as you will want to get the attention and interest of the listener straight away.
- Verse – A verse provides listeners with more insight. It leads to the main message of the song whilst advancing the story.
- Pre-chorus – A pre-chorus fits in between the verse and chorus, changing the mood to build up anticipation for the chorus.
- Chorus – The chorus repeats both musically and lyrically. It is the ‘pay off’ component of the song which listeners tend to be waiting for.
- Verse, pre-chorus & chorus – The verse, pre-chorus and chorus typically repeat with an added arrangement. The second verse can be shorter than the first so that you get to the chorus quicker.
- Bridge – The bridge can provide a tool to break up the repetitive effect of jumping back and forth between the verse and chorus.
- Break – An instrumental break is an instrumental or percussion section within the song which breaks up the pop song structure. It is optional but can be used effectively within a song to build anticipation and grab our attention.
- Final chorus – A song will start to wrap up with the last chorus after a bridge or break. It could be repeated twice at the end, sometimes including a drop chorus to contrast with a big ending.
- Outro – The outro is the closing segment. The song will often fade or break down to a simple beat or melody.
Types of pop song structure
Typical pop song
Verse | Chorus | Verse | Chorus | Bridge | Chorus
Pop song with pre-chorus
Verse | Pre-chorus | Chorus | Verse | Pre-chorus | Chorus | Bridge | Chorus
Opening chorus pop song
Chorus | Verse | Chorus | Verse | Chorus | Bridge | Chorus
Pop song with an instrumental
Verse | Chorus | Verse | Chorus | Instrumental/Solo | Chorus
A/B pop song
Verse | Chorus | Verse | Chorus | Verse | Chorus |
Drop chorus pop song
Verse | Chorus | Verse | Chorus | Bridge | Drop Chorus | Chorus
Pop song bar structure chart
Laying out your song structure is a great way to help you write your pop song. It will help you stay on track while you’re writing it and will also be good for anyone you’re writing with. Check out this song structure chart to help you create your own. You can always replace the time with bars, which will be great for any musicians that you play along with.
What do you need to write a pop song?
It’s best to sit down with a piano to start writing your pop song. This is because you’ll be able to create chords with one hand and experiment with melodies on the other. It is also good piano practice, which will only help your skills as a songwriter.
It doesn’t have to be a massive grand piano. You can use a keyboard or keyboard controller that can play the piano through your computer. This will typically be through a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). If you want to know more about DAWs then you might want to do some research on home recording studios.
Guitars are also a great option for songwriters. They can be a bit more convenient to carry around compared to keys and are great for testing your songs at open mics.
Finally, you’ll need some pen and paper or memos on your phone. It’s recommended to use a pen and notebook because the act of writing is better for you creatively than typing.
Writing a pop song step by step
1. Structure your pop song
Choose what kind of song you want to write. This can always change as you’re writing it but it’s good to have a structure in your mind from the start. Use a song structure chart is an effective way to learn how to write a pop song. You’ll get a really good idea of how long your sections are going to be and how they flow. The next step it to come up with different ideas for different sections and start looking at piecing it together.
2. Learn and write pop chord progressions
The best place to start is by listening to the kind of music you enjoy most. Even if you don’t listen to a lot of pop music, go for the most catchy songs you know. You’ll be surprised to see how many songs from other genres use pop song structures.
Whatever you listen to, it’s best to have a listen to songs that are charting right now. Pop music is about popular music right now. Therefore, if you want a serious career as a pop songwriter then you’ll need to stay on top of current trends.
Once you’ve found some good songs then try and work out the chords. You could always google them or look for YouTube tutorials if you’re finding it difficult. This will help give you an education on how chords flow throughout a song and differ across sections.
The way chords progress can have a big impact on the mood of a song so it’s good to get a feel for progressions as soon as possible. Hopefully, you’ve gained some confidence and can start writing your own chord progressions.
3. Start with writing the chorus
The chorus is the most important part of a song. This is the catchy part that repeats throughout the song and sticks in the listeners head. This is why you should focus on the chorus right from the start.
A chorus shouldn’t be complicated and it’s best to keep it simple. Listen to your favourite choruses and they will typically be memorable and the standout section of the song. There are usually far fewer lyrics in a chorus because you want it to be as easy as possible for the listener to remember it.
If you’ve written some progressions then take your favourite and use that as a foundation for the chorus. Alternatively, you can start with the hook and then build the chords around that.
4. Listen to pop hooks
The hook is the melody that makes a pop song great. When you’re learning how to write a pop song, try focusing on writing great hooks. A strong hook will keep the listener coming back to the song and make it unforgettable, even after a single listen.
Listening to other hooks is a great way to get a better understanding of what makes them catchy. Spend a day with a pop radio station on and at the end of it, think about what song is still in your head.
A hook needs to work well with the chords underneath it so if you’ve heard a great hook, try and get a feel for the chord progression. Try playing different chords under the same hook and see if it is still as catchy as it was before.
Now that you’ve got a better understanding of hooks, try writing your own.
5. Write down ideas for your own hooks
You might come up with an amazing hook straight away, but it’s more likely that you’ll need a few attempts. Even if you do come up with a great first hook, create some more so you can compare them to each other.
Getting a few ideas down can help you create different chord progressions. You can then switch around these hooks over different progressions to see what works best.
A great chorus tends to have multiple hooks. Use your favourite hook and chord progression as the opening of your chorus and then use some of your other hooks to finish it off. You could also save your best hook for the second half of the chorus and use the others to build up to it.
Remember to keep it simple and try not to overcomplicate or overthink it. Great choruses are instinctive and spending too long on it can be detrimental. Set yourself a timer and see how much you can accomplish in half an hour or an hour.
6. Create a story with your lyrics
Writing a pop song is much more than chords and melodies. Lyrics are just as important in creating a catchy song. They should be relatable, easy to remember and paint a picture in the listener’s mind.
This is where storytelling comes in. This will be one of your most effective weapons in constructing great lyrics. Writing any kind of song can be seen as creating a story with words to music and a great story can linger in a listeners mind as much as a hook.
Musical theatre takes this to the extreme as the story of the songs is acted out in front of an audience. Pop songs need to be much simpler and less on the nose. However, basic storytelling principles still apply when writing pop song lyrics.
It’s good to think of your song as having a beginning, middle and end with your lyrics. **
7. Write your opening chord progression
The opening of a pop song is almost just as important as the chorus. Some might argue that it’s more important because this is what the listener will hear first.
You can’t expect someone to listen to your whole song if they haven’t been impressed by the first ten seconds. Having a weak opening could mean that someone won’t bother waiting for the chorus, which makes all your hard work for nothing.
You don’t have the time to write a fancy instrumental introduction to ease the listener into the song. You need to open with hooks, whether they’re with your voice or with another instrument.
One idea is to open with the chorus hook but with an instrument. Only do this for a bar or two as you want your voice to come in as soon as possible. A pop artist’s voice is their greatest asset so you want to bring it in quickly.
8. Write strong opening lyrics
The opening line of your song is very important because it sets the tone of the whole song. It can be good to get your song title in the opening line but this isn’t essential. A strong hook with a memorable opening line will hold a listeners attention straight away and keep them engaged throughout the song.
If you can’t think of a great opening line, write a few ideas down and get on with the rest of the song. You might find it easier to come back to it after you’ve written more lyrics. If you’re really struggling then there’s nothing wrong with using a hook from your chorus as the opening.
9. Create chords for your other sections
Laying out the structure you want for your song is a good way to work out your chord progressions. If you have your chorus and opening, simply lay out your structure and work through it.
Listen to other songs to find out about their structure. It’s good to think about your song in terms of hooks as well as sections. For example, instead of verse/chorus/verse/chorus etc, think about opening hook/verse hook 1/verse hook 2/pre chorus hook/chorus hook1/ chorus hook 2.
You want your chords to flow but also vary from one section to another. A great tip is to use turnaround chords at the end of a section. This will make it feel like a section is naturally going from one to another and can make a chorus sound bigger. They are common in jazz but are easily applied to pop songwriting, helping your songs sound more professional and sophisticated.
How do you write a good chorus?
Writing a good chorus is a whole art form in itself. A good chorus should be simple enough to stick in someone’s head but also musically engaging enough to not get bored of it. A chorus should also have a lift that separates it from the verse. This lift can be created through turnaround chords in the pre-chorus, as well as sticking to simple chord progressions.
It is important to not overcomplicate writing a chorus. If you are struggling, it is better to get another songwriter in to help you rather than overthink it. Stick to your instincts and break down choruses from other songs to see what makes them so catchy.
Work with other songwriters
Get another songwriter to listen to your work and take an objective look at your song. This way they can give their fresh-eared opinion on how successfully they feel the melody and hook are working.
Collaborating with others can also help these processes happen much more quickly. You will also gain insight into how others work and learn tips from them.
Writing a song is a complex process but if you can successfully identify, form and combine these key pop song structure components then you will be well on your way to creating a song worthy of performing!
How many bars are in a pop song?
A 3-minute pop song at 120 bpm will have 360 bars. However, this can vary significantly from song to song depending on its structure and tempo. There is no fixed limit for how many bars make up an individual section either so this can change a lot.
How long is a verse in a pop song?
A verse is usually between 8 or 16 bars. Sometimes verses can be really short, around 4 bars, in order to bring the chorus in sooner. A shorter verse is usually more effective with a pre-chorus section because otherwise, the song will be really short. You can also cut down a second verse to around half of the first. This is especially the case if your verse is longer, around 16 bars, because the listener may not be as engaged the second time around.
Can a chorus be 4 bars?
Like any other section, there is no limit on how many bars make up a chorus. However, 4 bars for a chorus is quite short if the tempo is higher. It could work more effectively for songs around 80-100bpm but over 110bpm is going to make it challenging. For this tempo, a good chorus will probably be around 8 bars.
A 4 bar chorus could work well for the first chorus if you don’t want to give it all away. This will create a larger impact on the second chorus when the whole chorus plays. Alternatively, you could shorten the chorus the second time and cut to the bridge. This will make the transition to a new section more effective because the listener will be expecting the whole chorus. It will also increase the impact of the final chorus.
How many times should a chorus be repeated?
The amount you repeat a chorus is up to you but be aware of overdoing it. A chorus tends to repeat multiple times at the end of a song when it fades out. It is far less common for a first chorus to repeat but sometimes a second chorus will repeat.
Repeating a chorus is most effective when you use a drop chorus. After the bridge, bring in the drop chorus and build up to the final chorus. You could even repeat the chorus again for the fade out.
What makes a good pop song?
A good pop song should be catchy and linger in someone’s mind. Pop songs tend to be shorter and bring in choruses far quicker than other genres of music. This is because the chorus is the most catchy part of the song and pop songwriters want the listener to hear it as soon as possible.
Good pop songs should stand out regardless of the production behind them. Whether it’s sung with a piano or has a fully produced studio instrumental behind it, the core of the song should be simple and easy to remember. Sometimes production can add more hooks and melodies through other instruments and this will only enhance your pop song.
Pop songs tend to be written with a piano or guitar as this makes you focus on the song. Other genres, such as hip-hop, often put the instrumental together first and get the singer to write or perform over it. This can also be effective and make it easier to write but it can also be more difficult to fit a pop song structure. It is probably a good idea to get most of your song written first and then start adding production around it. As you add production, you may get inspiration for more hooks and melodies. Don’t rule out writing more as you’re producing and make it a back and forth process.
What makes a song catchy?
A catchy song is one that sticks in the minds of its listeners. The catchiness of a song is dependent on how easy it is to remember and how it makes someone feel. The song doesn’t even have to be played for it to get stuck in someone’s head and even humming it can cause it to spread from one person to another.
The catchiness of a song is usually dependent on its melodic hooks. It is far easier for someone to get a melody stuck in their head than a chord progression, which is why pop music tends to be so hook focused. Writing hook and melodies is a tough skill to master so it’s good to get as much practice as you can.
What makes a good melody?
Good melodies tend to have a restricted range of notes. This makes it easier for others to sing and helps it become more catchy. Amy Winehouse is a great example of a singer who writes good melodies. Her vocal range rarely goes past an octave and her songs are very easy for others to pick up.
Writing a pop song
Hopefully, you’re now ready to stop reading and start writing. Practising writing melodies, choruses and fully structured pop songs are the best way to get better. If you have any other tips, share your advice on how to write a pop song in the comments below.