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Function of Form in Songwriting

Updated: Dec 14, 2019


What is the function of form in songwriting?

Form exists to give us a little bit of structure for our growth, like a trellis holds up a winding rose.

Songwriter Stephen Sondheim famously said, “Content dictates form.”

That means at a certain point, your message will tell you what structure your song form needs to support the content.

RULES FOR FORM

When you’re thinking about the function of form in songwriting, it can be tempting to start looking at rules.

But what are rules, really?

Rules are made by people who are analyzing what’s usual.

But the crazy thing is that “what’s usual” usually has nothing to do with great songs.

So why do we have rules about form in songwriting?

Rules are guidelines that keep us on the right path until we have enough experience to develop our own style.

DEVELOPING MASTERY

All creative artists begin by imitation.

That’s just part of learning to be a creative person.

Dad used to say that you have to balance the intake with the output.

That means, that songwriters need to read, read, read, watch movies, television shows, have deep conversations, and generally live life to the fullest, and then balance all that intake with output.

The way to get the creative output is to write, write, write.

HOW TO STUDY FORM

So study the form of the songs you love, whether they’re all time classics, or modern day hits.

Doing regular song analysis balanced with getting regular feedback by a trusted professional is one of the quickest and surest routes to songwriting mastery.

For example, Dad’s song “Goodnight Sweetheart” has an unusual form for a hit song.

It has a long verse, a long chorus, and then goes to a bridge and back to the chorus. Normal form would be short verse and long chorus, or long verse and short chorus, but not both verse and chorus being long.

Check out the song and think about the form.

Note - this song is part of a Sony catalog that permits monetization for third parties through YouTube.

This is not always the case for Kim Williams songs.

7 STEPS SONG ANALYSIS ™

How can you analyze a song’s form without putting it on a pedestal?

Just because a song on the radio doesn’t make it a perfect song, and even classic hits sometimes break all the rules of grammar, technique, form and other rules our well-meaning experts teach us.

So how can we learn without judgment?

Check out the 7 Steps Song Analysis™ method available for non-members to purchase in the Shop.

Members can access the article for free here, and start doing regular monthly song analysis as part of your songwriting study with the group.

We will be discussing Form and Feedback along with Metaphor as our themes for this month’s studies.

Download your March Action Pack here.

CONCLUSION

When it comes to the function of form in songwriting, it depends on your focus.

If you’re learning, form is there to keep you on track.

And if you’re further on the road toward mastery, form is there to give you a point of reference for your deviation.

Where are you on your songwriting?

Let us hear from you in the comments, or drop us a line.

RESOURCES:

Opt in to the Songpreneurs weekly newsletter here.

Apply to join Songpreneurs online here.

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