Lesson 4

Lesson aims

  • Understand how changes in rhythm, harmony and instrumentation help maintain interest, support the lyrics and create excitement in a song
  • Analyse the structure of musical pieces and identify song sections
  • Acquire familiarity with creating, organising and editing song sections
  • Consider the impact of space and density in musical narratives
  • Create and edit a variety of musical sections to produce a complete song structure

Song arrangement and analysis

After the A/B-section experiments of the past few lessons, it’s time to delve deeper into effective popular music song structures, and understand the elements that contribute to dynamic arrangements; as well as the ways in which we can structure and craft the trajectory of our original songs using Songzap’s Arrange features. In this part of the lesson, it would be useful to listen to a number of popular songs in different styles of music (say, Pop, Rock, Hip Hop, Americana/Folk, EDM etc.) and analyse them in terms of the characteristics that contribute to their structural changes. Let’s direct our attention to the elements that signify variations or new sections as these songs develop.

Here are some questions that can help direct the analysis of the songs you chose to listen to:

  • What keeps the songs moving?
  • What strikes you as interesting in the songs’ development?
  • What differences are identifiable between sections?
  • What is a verse, a chorus, a bridge, a middle eight, an intro and an outro?
  • Where does all this come from? (opera, drama, etc.)
  • What happens in different styles of music (Electronica, Hip Hop, Pop, Folk, Rock, etc.)?
  • What about a piece of classical or film music?

Exploring Songzap’s Arrange page

In Lesson 3, we recorded layers of performance over an extended two-section groove. We also looked at the basic correspondence between Groove Designer segments and arrangement sections as part of Lesson 2. It’s now time to fully explore how we can build a complete song structure using Songzap’s Arrange page. Before doing so, it may be useful to revisit the demo song one more time and get some inspiration from how FET 47 structured their song:

  • what segments did they use
  • how did they variate the beats for different sections
  • and what musical or performative changes did they introduce as they recorded vocals and guitars from section to section?

Exploring the demo arrangement sheds light onto some of the detail behind the structural changes you were able to identify in the earlier song analysis part. Here’s a list of suggested actions to aid the Arrange page exploration:

  • Note the correlation between segments in the Groove page and the way these are displayed as the Tracking page scrolls

  • Tap on an Arrange Beat segment and show the beat Notation editor
  • Make a quick edit/change by tapping within the Notation editor
  • Loop a segment

Elements of structure: rhythm, harmony, (lyrics) and instrumentation

Having identified the type of different sections that frequently occur in popular songs, and having looked in more detail at the instrumental, vocal and beat variations FET 47 incorporated into their demo, let’s break down the elements that most powerfully affect structure, into: rhythmic, harmonic, instrumentation (density) and lyrical variations. Any of the songs chosen for the previous discussion or the included demo can be used here. Below are a set of suggested questions to help with the analysis:

  • How does the rhythm differ between sections (this is often referred to as a ‘gear change’)?
  • Is there a chord/harmony change?
  • Does it reflect the lyrics or song narrative?
  • Do new instruments and/or new instrumental parts get introduced for different sections?
  • Do they come out again later in the piece’s structure?
  • Is there a solo?

  • Is there anything different about the vocals, say in a chorus section (more/new harmonies)
  • Which sections repeat most often or identically?
  • Which sections tend to be busier (in terms of instrumentation and/or rhythmically)?
  • Do certain elements sound “bigger” or, conversely, more intimate in different sections? (stadium guitar solo, confessional whisper, respectively)
  • Are there any one-bar stops (or extensions)?

For this exercise, the aim will be to record your own full-length song, either solo or collaboratively with friends, band-mates or family. The experiment is meant to replicate what happens in band rehearsals, when musicians (often supervised by a producer) are working out their arrangements and performative nuance, prior to entering the recording studio. Songzap’s Groove, Arrange and Tracking features can replicate many aspects of this experience even if you are jamming with friends in a lounge or home alone. [Note: Songzap Premium features such as the Bass and Pad AI instruments bring additional ‘band’ or ‘session’ buddies to the mix if you’re working solo, but you can follow the exercises below even if you’re only using the Groove Beat feature, available with the Freemium version.] Whatever your setup or instrumental ability, the important thing here will be to focus on creating distinct sections with their own dynamic in terms of instrumentation, density and rhythm. Here are a few suggested steps to help you along – start by envisioning a song structure featuring, for example:

  • a beat intro
  • a verse
  • a bridge (or pre-chorus)
  • a chorus
  • a new verse
  • another chorus
  • a middle eight (or bridge)
  • a final/double chorus and/or outro

  • Prepare Beat segments with rhythmical variations for these sections
  • And treat these Groove parts as if played by a (virtual) drummer
  • Play the groove throughout and practice instrumental or vocal run-throughs
  • If you’re in a group, practice ‘band’ run-throughs on multiple instruments simultaneously

  • Consider the structure and arrangement as you practice
  • Try pausing or bringing down the dynamic of an instrument in the 2nd verse, to create space
  • But bring it back (or up) for the 2nd chorus
  • Introduce a new element (e.g. a solo guitar) for the middle-8 or bridge
  • Should it remain in your arrangement or play a different part for the final chorus?
  • Should it do even more for the second repeat of the double chorus and what should happen in the outro?

  • Now record track-by-track, throughout the song arrangement, using the Tracking page (and note its correlation with the Arrange segments displayed and scrolling at the bottom of the page)

Did you run out of tracks for what was imagined and practiced?

  • Bounce
  • Record some more
  • Export (this will be covered in detail in Lesson 6)