Christian Songwriting: Song Structure - Lyrical Form

ABAB(B) - Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, (chorus)

This is reputedly the most popular of song forms. Good examples are; "Rebel For God" by De Garmo and Key, PFR's "Wonder Why" (written by Joel Hanson), "Yesterday Once More" sung by the Carpenters, and "Stand By Me" (written by Ben E King, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller).

ABABAB - Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, verse, chorus

Basically an extension of the one above. "Love Me Tender" by Elvis Presley and Vera Matson, or "Eleanor Rigby" by Lennon and McCartney are good specimens.

AABA - Verse, verse, bridge, verse

This is apparently the second most popular form, and includes such Beatles favourites as "Yesterday", "Taxman", and "Michelle". In this form, the title is often placed at the very beginning (or end) of the verse. The Rick Cua and Jerry Lynn Williams song "Loving You Has Made It Right" is an AABA song with the title at the end of each verse.

A bridge can be used as an opportunity to change the focus of the lyrics to a different time or person, or to become more specific on the subject you're dealing with. In this way there is a lyrical contrast between the verses and the bridge. Sometimes the bridge and a verse are repeated turning it into AABABA.

AAA(A) - Verse, verse, verse, (verse)

Many of the old hymns were written in this form and it includes such all-time standards as "When I Survey The Wondrous Cross", "O For A Thousand Tongues", and "There Is A Green Hill Far Away". A more contemporary use of the AAA(A) form is "Bridge Over Troubled Waters". The inherent danger in this formula is that of boring your listeners to death. So if you're going to build your song on this pattern, make sure it has interesting hooks and/or a good melody to compensate for the monotony of the form.

In AAA(A) the title usually occurs in either the first line (as in the blues song, "Before You Accuse Me") or the last line of the verse (as in Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin').

A good contemporary gospel example of this form is "Goin' Home" (sung by Bob Carlisle, written by Erick Nelson). Don Francisco's "The Package" is another in which there are six different verses. However, the listener's interest is sustained by melodic variation in those verses, the novelty of the story, and the piano solo before the repeat of the last verse.

ABABCB - Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus

PFR's "Blind Man, Deaf Boy" and "The Love I Know" (both written by Joel Hanson) are good examples.

ABABCAB - Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus

This form has three distinct sections, and therefore has more variation than the other forms and consequently greater possibilities of capturing the attention of your listeners.


Your formula for disaster! Musical appreciation is linked very strongly to a person's ability to recognise previously heard patterns. Believe it or not people need to be taken back to familiar ground, and this involves repetition of sections of your song. The song that just keeps introducing new patterns all the way through is unlikely to work.

All of the above is meant to serve as a guide to common forms only. It does not mean that these are the only possibilities. Some very successful titles have made use of some interesting variations, for example, the song "Got My Mind Set On You" on George Harrison's album "Cloud Nine". It's a difficult song to classify, and when I ask people in my workshops, I have as many different answers as there are students. But I would set it out as BAABCBABCAAB (fade out). Admittedly, it's unusual, but it still works. The main difficulty for the performer in an unpredictable song, is remembering what comes next. That's not a problem if you're in a studio, but can mess with your mind in a live performance.

For more information on musical form and its relationship to lyrical form, buy Successful Songwriting. (This link will take you to, a subsidiary of Amazon.)

Lyric Writing - Rhyme | Lyric Writing - Lyrical Hooks | Song Content - Song Plan | Song Structure | Musical Elements | Rhythmic Devices | Melody Writing | Writer's Block