How Songs Work

The song is a humble but powerful art form, and many creators are wary of learning how songs work as if it makes their music less “real.” But understanding why songs sound the way they do can help guide your own creative decisions. And knowing how to speak about musical terms can also make it easier to communicate with others when working on a song.

One of the best ways to learn how a song works is to explore a wide range of examples, from popular and traditional songs, to classic rock and opera. You can also check out the Library’s extensive collection of scholarly articles on the topic. These include articles on specific genres such as rap and country music, as well as more generalized articles that examine the historical development of song.

A key part of a song is its melody. This can be chord-based, as in Jazz or Classical music, or it can be based on simple rhythms like an ostinato (a repeating pattern of several notes), often used in Hip-Hop and EDM vocal melodies. It can be a combination of these elements, as is the case in some folk songs.

Another essential part of a song is its chorus, the big payoff and climax of the song, which can feature massive energy, massed voices, and an easily remembered catchy melody. A pre-chorus is a shorter section that precedes the chorus and typically builds suspense or anticipation, or creates a sense of movement.