Songwriter’s Challenge: Write a Verse Refrain Song

Beginners Guide to Song Form

This week, I thought it would be a great chance to share some insight I’ve learned in my songwriting education from the Berklee College of Music and challenge you to write a song yourself!

One of the first decisions that needs to be made when writing a song, is the song form. There are several popular songwriting forms, but this week we’re going to focus on the AABA Song Form.

Understanding Song Structure Basics: AABA Song Form

The AABA Song Form:

This is my personal favorite song style, though it’s often overlooked. This AABA form is also commonly referred to as Verse Refrain form. A refrain is one or two lines that are repeated at the end or the beginning of the verse, tying the song together. Some popular examples of AABA songs are “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” from the Wizard of Oz, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” by Carole King, and “Still Crazy After All These Years” by Paul Simon.

I want to dive a little deeper into the song “Still Crazy After All These Years” listen below:

One of the reasons this song is so timeless is because of the amazing lyric writing and the verse development. The spotlight is always on the line “still crazy after all these years”, but Simon did an amazing job of keeping interest in the story up to those lines. Each verse in the song has a different focus.

The first verse focus is on meeting an old lover, the second verse focus is on aging, and the third verse puts you in the present moment-yet these three different moments all end with “still crazy after all these years”. With each verse you are growing with the artist-you are at the bar while he is talking to his old girlfriend and he realizes that they never grew up- they are still crazy after all these years. You leave the bar with him where he dwells on nostalgia and recognizes he’s still crazy after all these years. Finally, you go home with him, where he thinks about his future and how he’s still crazy after all these years.

Rhyme scheme is another factor that makes this verse refrain so successful. Notice there are no rhymes until the second to last line, making the rhyme scheme XXXAA. (I’ve noted this in the lyrics so you can see it) Since there are no rhymes, when the rhyme does come at the fourth and fifth line, your ears are so happy to hear it, that it puts the emphasis on the refrain.

I want to challenge you all this week. I want you to write three verses ending with a refrain, where each verse refrain pushes the story forward.

Here are some tips for Verse Refrain AABA Songwriting:

1. Start with the title- starting with the refrain line will give you a chance to brainstorm about different verse ideas.

2. Move the story forward through the verses. There are many ways to go about this, but some easy ones are telling a story through time (chronological order) or telling the story through different people’s perspectives.

3. Have the rhyme scheme support the song, try using the same XXXAA rhyme scheme that Paul Simon did.

4. Borrow from the best. Pick your favorite verse refrain song, and study what that artist did. Then try and replicate it in your own way.

Check out Paul Simon’s original lyrics for a reference of the songwriting form:

“Still Crazy After All These Years”

A: Verse 1:

I met my old lover on the street last night (X)
She seemed so glad to see me, I just smiled (X)
And we talked about some old times (X)
And we drank ourselves some beers (A)
Still crazy after all these years (A)

A: Verse 2:

I’m not the kind of man, who tends to socialize (X)
I seem to lean on old familiar ways (X)
And I ain’t no fool for love songs (X)
That whisper in my ears (A)
Still crazy after all these years (A)

B:

Four in the morning
Crapped out
Yawning
Longing my life away
I’ll never worry
Why should I?
It’s all gonna fade

A: Verse 3:

Now I sit by my window and I watch the cars (X)
I fear I’ll do some damage one fine day (X)
But I would not be convicted (X)
By a jury of my peers (A)
Still crazy after all these years (A)

I challenge you to put together some lyrics in this Verse:Refrain AABA structure, and also play with the XXXAA rhythm scheme. Happy Songwriting!

-Natalie Smith

talkproducer