Audio: verse (0:30)

Figure: verse

Verse structure
Figure: verse structure

verse plays the verse section, bars 1-16, of pop song. The verse figure shows the score in lead sheet format and the verse structure figure shows the structure of the verse:

  • The melody was written using melodisation (selecting notes from a chord).
  • Phrase 1A includes a drone harmony on note E a fifth above the tonic.

A verse is the main section of a pop song.

A verse is quite a lengthy passage of music, typically 8-32 bars in length. It may be possible to write an entire section at one sitting but, for the purpose of writing music, it is better and easier to break it down into smaller units known as phrases.

A phrase is a subsection of music. It is a self-contained unit, a short piece of music, typically four bars long, with its own identity. A phrase contains:

  • A chord progression.
  • A melody in the form of a melodic idea or a variant.
  • Lyrics if the song is to be sung.
  • A rhythm pattern.
  • Computer generated noise and sound effects as required.
  • Instruments, including voices, which are fully orchestrated.

A phrase is subtly different from a musical idea. An idea is an unfinished article, and needs something else added to make it complete. A phrase is invariably the finished article.

verse illustrates three ways to use a phrase to develop a harmony:

  1. Harmonic development by innovation:
    • verse contains two phrases.
    • Phrase 1, bars 1-4, is the original.
    • Phrase 2, bars 9-12, is new and quite different from Phrase 1. It contains a new chord progression and a new melody.
  2. Harmonic development by repetition:
    • The simplest way to develop a harmony is to repeat it.
    • Bars 5-8 repeat Phrase 1 without any change.
  3. Harmonic development by variation:
    • Variation is a half-way house between exciting innovation and boring repetition.
    • Phrase 1A, bars 13-16, is a variant of Phrase 1. It has a different melody and two slightly modified chords in the progression.

The minimum requirement for pop harmony is a single verse containing a single phrase. Writing a pop song with a single section, a verse, is perfectly feasible. In vocal pop music, all that needs to be done is to change the lyrics in each repeat verse. There are plenty of pop songs that contain a single section repeated with different lyrics, the classic example being twelve-bar blues.

A section is a useful structure from the perspective of organising a complete piece of music. From the viewpoint of the working composer, a phrase is a smaller and more flexible unit for writing music. It is the ideal size for writing pop harmony. A phrase is used in functional harmony too, and in jazz harmony. A complete musical work can be written by welding phrases together to form a section, then joining that section with other sections written in the same manner.