The Impact of the Musical Elements on Form

My yearly lecture on the relationship of the elements of music and musical form took a different approach this year. The lecture began by playing a number of examples taken from the current UK top 10 – that adhere to ‘the rule of 4’ (where the verse and chorus consist of multiples of 2/4): These songs included ‘All About the Bass’ by Meghan Trainor, ‘All of Me’ by John Legend, ‘I’m Not the Only One’ by Sam Smith and ‘Bang Bang’ by Jessie J. It is interesting to point out how the ‘formulas’ of these songs link to the past (For example ‘Your Song’ by Elton John and ‘We’ll Meet Again’ by Vera Lynn both use exactly the same structure), but create an expectation in the listener – who intuitively knows when specific sections are coming (do you agree?). The lecture then proceeded to discuss how some music carefully breaks these rules: the examples are countless – but I used ’20 Years’ by The Civil Wars and ‘Yellow by Coldplay’ as examples. I could just as easily have used a Motown track from the 60s – or just about any track by  mr Zappa! We then continued to discuss how the elements can be used to create interest when the form is basic on the surface – for example listen to ‘Sloop John B’ (1966). The lecture then linked how tracks such as ‘Stand by Me’, ‘Creep’ and ‘All Along the Watchtower’ all use the same chords for all of their ‘sections’. This obviously places a responsibility on the songwriter/arranger to ensure the other elements create interest. We then listened to ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ as an example of a piece of music that simply changes meter between sections. So – the task for this week if for students/anyone to provide examples of all of this –

  • Examples of pieces of music with unusual bar numbers between sections
  • Examples of how rhythm delineates form between sections
  • Examples of  pieces of music which has the same chords for both verse and chorus
  • Examples of texture/instrumentation delineating form
  • Examples of how meter delineates form between sections

I am particularly interested in the following challenge – does a piece of music exist which has the same melody for the verse and chorus?????????

Finally – how does all of this link in to Adorno’s idea of ‘Standardisation’ (for those of you that are aware of it)? Does the ‘production line’ mentality of popular music pressure songwriters to stick to these ‘rules’. More significantly – does listening to music like this encourage us to sit in our chairs and watch XFactor – not using our intellect to question the world we live in etc etc etc etc????

About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
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8 Responses to The Impact of the Musical Elements on Form

  1. JoeB says:

    Hi Paul,
    Your challenge: Achy Breaky Heart and Born In The USA. Same melody for verse and chorus.


  2. Paul Carr says:

    Thanks Joe. I can hear it in Achy Breaky – but not the Springsteen. For me it is ‘similar’ – but not the same. Thanks for this – Achy B is the example I have been looking for! Paul


  3. lucaseldridge23 says:

    I have a suggestion for a song with a strange timing/rhythm; ‘5/4’ by Gorillaz which has verses in (yep, you guessed it) 5/4 time (the choruses are in standard Rock 4/4). The riff is fairly straightforward and repeating, so the unusual one signature is what keeps it interesting (and the standard 4 Rock drums over it adds to the piece’s interest when balanced against the guitar part). Have a listen!



  4. lucaseldridge23 says:

    Hi Paul!
    I have an example of a song that uses unusual time signature/rhythm to create interest in an otherwise standard song. ‘5/4’ by Gorillaz has verses in (yep, you guessed it!) 5/4 time, with a distorted guitar riff leading the main part of the song (the drums are in rock 4/4, so the balance between these two instruments adds more interesting stuff to listen to!). The choruses are in standard 4/4 so the verses are made 5/4 to keep the track interesting. Give it a listen!!



  5. Ross Knight says:

    I agree with this


  6. Ross Knight says:

    I agree with this, society has trained us to positively listen to music in this form and anything outside of this construct is an anomaly which would probably not get major excess. Despite the fact that it would probably be an interesting piece of music. The majority of listners would find listning to anything far outside of these core foundations uncomfortable. This is because we are trained to like this form of music by society. As far as thinking of a song that has the same melody as the chorus I struggled to think of anything


  7. Rohnan Whitebeam says:

    I think the song “2+2=5” by Radiohead is a good example of both unusual bar numbers and delineating textures and time signatures. The first section is an alternating bar of 4/4 then 3/4 (possibly one bar of 7/4 however I found the former to ‘fit’ better with the feel). The song is constructed almost like a piece of classical through-composed music – a section is never repeated, and each section has different textures and timbres, plus I think time signature changes to 4/4 after the initial unusual bar changes in the first section.
    In regards to the ‘production line’ mentality this song has had reasonable success despite being very distant from “standardized” musical forms.


  8. Fenton Joe says:

    Lecture Questions For Paul Carr

    • Example of unusual bar numbers between sections – Paul McCartney’s Another Day (It starts with 4/4 and chafes to 3/4 in the chorus)
    • Straighten up and fly right – Nat King Cole (Contains Rhythm Changes)
    • Smells Like Teen Spirit and Lithium have the same chords throughout but changing vocal lines to give variation. Rap songs also use the same pattern to the same effect.

    I believe personally the ‘production line’ mentality of popular music does have an effect on song writers in the modern generation as 99% of songs that make it massive are the simple 4/4 style and have the chorus repeated over and over with catchy hooks to attract the audience and keeps them drawn in. Most of the audience that listen to the charts and the songs that are played all over the radio are not musically trained or have any background in music, this can lead to two things they are either smothered by the popular culture and listen to the songs that the big corporations tell them too or they aren’t too fussy about music and just want something catchy and don’t really have to think what is going on but just easy listening. This makes it very easy for TV shows such as Xfactor to thrive and does encourage viewers to watch these type of shows.This is why with simple rhythms and catchy choruses that are repeated over and over the song gets stuck into the audiences songs head, this is why the chart songs can be linked together so easily, the big labels have found what sells and puts money into people who are willing to do these songs, so to conclude there is pressure on the artist to make songs like these to get recognition and fame.


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