If you want to maximise the appeal and immediacy of your musical projects (which, we can only assume, you do!), you need to make sure they adhere to various ‘rules’ and expectations when it comes to organising their various sections into finished tracks or songs.
This particular aspect of the production process is called arrangement, and although it can appear quite an intimidating prospect when you're staring at a disorganised arrange page in your DAW, the basics – which are all you need most of the time – are actually very simple.
In this walkthrough, we'll guide you through standard arrangement templates for a basic pop track, a more complex pop track, and a floor-filling EDM number. Keep to these fundamental structures and you won't go far wrong.
For much advice on arrangement, pick up the December 2018 edition of Computer Music.
Basic pop structure
Step 1: Arrangement from the point of view of the average computer musician mainly refers to the order in which the sections of a song are sequenced. Using the alphabet to represent these, one of the most well-used structures in pop is the ABABCB format, made of three sections: verse, chorus and bridge.
Step 2: The A section represents the verse and the B section represents the chorus. At the simplest level, a song might begin with a verse of eight or 16 bars, followed by a chorus of a similar length, to give a basic AB structure. This whole segment would then be repeated with a second verse and chorus, giving us ABAB.
Step 3: The C section is a kind of breathing space in the middle, known as the ‘middle eight’ or ‘bridge’. This gives the listener something different before the chorus repeats again at the end of the song. This segment is known as the outro chorus - so ultimately, we end up with ABABCB.
Standard pop structure
Step 1: A more sophisticated arrangement would expand on the basic form shown above, including extra sections for a bit more variety. It’s common to have a dedicated intro section, for example. Represented here by the letter D, this is commonly eight bars long and serves to introduce the song.
Step 2: Another extra element used a lot is the prechorus (also sometimes known as the bridge - we know, we know!). This is a section that links the verse and chorus, usually with a buildup, either musically or lyrically. Using a prechorus (shown here as the section E) is a very effective way to expand a basic arrangement.
Step 3: For a twist, why not stick a short ‘reset’ section between the chorus and the second verse? This section, known as a ‘tag’ and shown here as the F block, can be a repeat of the chorus chords with a different hook over it, or simply a two-bar fill section. The resulting arrangement would be DAEBFAEBCBB.
Step 1: Your typical EDM song is structured so that the energy ebbs and flows dynamically. To keep the dancefloor full, you get high peaks and deep troughs in the form of builds and breakdowns, with high-energy, full-on drops sandwiched in between. This equates to a format that can be shown by the letters ABCD.
Step 2: The A section is an intro of suitable length for a DJ to mix into - usually 16 bars or so - after which would come a breakdown or B section, which could be a stripped-down container for a verse vocal, say. Following this, you might have a long-ish build, represented here by the letter C, ramping up the tension before…
Step 3: …the drop, shown here by the letter D. The EDM equivalent of the chorus, the drop is where the beat ‘drops’ and the infectious hook kicks in. This completes the ABCD segment, the last three sections of which may be repeated again, before the song rounds off with a DJ-friendly repeat of the intro serving as the outro.