Hey dudes and dudettes,
I just dropped my album ‘Progression‘ over at Cheapbeats, and thought all of you might appreciate that you can get the .savs and .ftms when you buy the album. Learning! Woo~!
Last month we covered the idea of harmony and melody intertwining to create a holistic entity. Now, it’s pretty fair to say that we’re in deep and in order to understand some of the elements of what I’m writing about you should go back and read through my previous articles which will will help contextualise what we know by this point. We’re building on what we talked about last month with all of the elements of music theory intermingling to create a single refined musical statement. We will do this through the lens of structure and form.
This one time at band-camp I tried to summon Satan. I accidentally summoned a clarinet. Same thing really.
Okay. What do you Mean by Structure? Form??
The concept of structure in music is one that you’ve probably thought about without overthinking it too much in the past. Most people have the capacity to separate musical material into ‘sections’ and generally categorise the material that we’re listening to/writing. This is a very human thing. If you’ve ever written a section of music and gone “This is my chorus” then you’re already thinking about this to some extent. I just want you to start thinking about this in more depth and with a bit more nuance.
The idea of structure and form was invented a suuuuper long time ago when music was essentially just Gregorian chanting or w/ever. People got bored of the same thing repeated ad infinitum and that urged people to structure their music in ways that included a contrasting section. The further time went along, the more that people thirsted for more musical information to be presented with; contrasting moods, restatements of the melodic material in a new context, contrasting dynamic information. All the while however, people love to return to familiarity.
Some people are happy to write their form and structure with simple letter names (ie. ABA, ABACA, ABBACADA, etc.) and others will prefer to talk about the form’s function (ie. Verse, Chorus, Interlude, Verse 2, Pre-Chorus, Chorus, Breakdown, Pre-Chorus, Double Chorus, etc.) both are fine. Both are incredibly important.
If I had to write out the form of Bit Shifter’s ‘Reformat the Planet’ it would be: A*BCAB2C2A2 (I decided to colour code it as well to make it easier to follow). By looking at this we can see a very evident ratio of musical material. There are three instances of the A section (what one might call the ‘Chorus’ or main section), two instances of the B section, and two instances of the C section. Some of these sections are different, and I’ll go into that in a bit, but you can definitely see that the A section gets the majority of the time to feature. We keep coming back to that melody in order to reinforce that musical idea. That melody is the first thing that most people will think of when they think of Reformat the Planet.
The final A section actually takes up the final minute of the song, with the final run-time of the A section being roughly two thirds of the entire length. Now, that doesn’t mean it ever gets boring. Bit Shifter does many things to keep the melody and accompanying material interesting by changing the variations slightly. Let’s talk about that.
So you can actually physically see that the C section is a major departure from the A and B sections because it modulates to Bm (The relative minor)
So Hold on… What do you Mean B and B2?
What I mean is that the material in the B section and the second B section are based on the same melody, but the material has been changed slightly. There’s a countermelody that has actually already appeared in the song before! Before we can talk about the B and B2, we should talk about that fancy asterisk (*) that I threw in above. I would classify that asterisk as still being a part of the A section, but functioning like a bridge between the two sections. If I were to use functional terminology I might call A a chorus, and the asterisk a post-chorus or something. If you listen closely Bit Shifter actually uses the melody of the bridging/transition section (our asterisk) as the countermelody in the second B section!!! We have the same melody as before, but it feels like it has more depth because the setting around it has changed, and in fact, we also feel more comfortable because it’s not entirely new musical material. We’ve heard it before somewhere.
The same goes for our A section. I would be tempted to call the second A an A2 because of a few subtle changes, but they don’t stand out as much as other changes so I’m going to ignore that for the time being and focus on the final chorus. The final chorus has a multitude of ‘sub-sections’ that give us more interesting flavours for our already delicious chorus.
Chorus over Pedal G -> Chorus w/ Harmonised Melody -> Chorus with Rhythm Section (???) dropped out and super epic clap or w/ever -> Chorus w/ soaring lead -> Chorus with blippy Coda
We have five different variations on our one Chorus section here folks. So many different ways of presenting the same information that keeps it fresh and gives it a sense of momentum, trajectory, and like we’re approaching a destination.
Take heed of A3.3 as this is mathematically the perfect time to have hype as heck claps in your song
So What Does This Mean for my Music?
Essentially, I’m just trying to give you a better idea of how you can use variation within your own works to produce a result with more momentum. I hear people talk fairly frequently about either loving or hating the idea of using pre-established forms. It doesn’t matter which one you use. I just want you to start thinking about what function each section has, how you’re making it more interesting or engaging than the last time you heard the section, and why you’re using that section. If you use a section in a song does it have to repeat later in the song? Sometimes it’s effective to have something happen once and never again. It all comes back to the idea of musical journey. How are you going from point A (the start of the song) to point B (the end of the song)?
I hope this has helped you to appreciate the role that form fills and regardless of whether you listen to music that uses one section (looking at you Philip Glass) or music that uses four thousand sections (looking at you Dream Theater) analyse how those sections are used to tell a musical story. Please share how this knowledge has helped you with your own craft! If you have questions, recommendations for topics, or even just want to share what you’ve learned, get in touch with me at tuberzmcgee (at) gmail (dot) com. I’m always happy to listen/read/help out. This has been a very fun topic to cover this month and I look forward to delving further into the realms of music theory in the coming months!