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Lesson 13: Form

The "Form Language"

When speaking about form, a unit is normally

  • 4 bars in 12- and 16-bar forms
  • 8 bars in 24- and 32-bar forms
A complete unit is denoted by a letter. In that way it is very easy to recognize and remember the form of a tune.

The AAA Form

A modern pop song form is the strophic AAA form. A series of verses with identical music, but different lyrics in each, follow each other. Some of the earliest songs ever written used this form.

The ABA Form

A form used a lot in classical music is the ternary ABA form. We have a first section A, then a second section B, then the A section is repeated after the second section ends.

The typical performance of a jazz tune can also be looked at as being in ABA form:

  • A = the theme = exposition
  • B = the solos = development
  • A = the theme = recapitulation

The Verse - Chorus Form

Another modern pop song form is the binary AB form or verse - chorus form. In this two-part song form each verse with different lyrics is followed by an identical chorus part in the following manner:

verse - chorus - verse - chorus - bridge - chorus

This form is the most common in today's pop music. The chorus may be preceded by a distinct part called the pre-chorus. It is also very common to insert a bridge before the last chorus(es).

The Verse - Refrain Form

This form is common in older songs. The refrain is a short phrase appearing as the last phrase of every verse, as a conclusion. See the AAA form above.

AABA

AABA is the traditional 32-bar pop song form. This is very common in jazz, especially in the so-called Standards repertoire.

ABAC

This form is also very common in jazz, especially in the so-called Standards repertoire. The C section is usually a variation on the B section, a different, more final ending.

AABC

This form is also very common in jazz, especially in the so-called Standards repertoire. In this form the C section usually is a variation on the A section but it could also be a variation on the B section.

AAB

This form is also very common in jazz.

Through-Composed

In a through-composed composition there is no repeating unit, there is new material all the time. Common through-composed forms are ABC and ABCD.

The Blues

The blues form in its purest form is 12 bars long and goes something like this ( in C):

|C7    |      |      |      |
|F7    |      |C7    |      |
|G7    |F7    |C7    |      |

The Importance of Form

When you have an idea for a tune, try different forms. If you have an A section and a B section, the tune will be very different in ABAB, AABA or AAB form - and if you come up with a C section you can try it in ABAC or AABC form.

2004 Tomas Karlsson. All rights reserved.