Who makes the rules for music?

Written for Collapse Board

“…there must be room for some sort of experimentation in how music is written? Of course there is, but those who subvert the rules must understand them in the first place – why they’re there, how they work, and only the people who have a complete mastery of music can bend or break those rules” – Princess Stomper

“Who set these apparently rigid rules for what’s a great song and what isn’t? Where are they? Who wrote them?” – Darragh Murray

As with any of these things, they evolved naturally. Most of what we think of as pop and rock music is descended from blues and jazz, and mutated somewhere along the way into the common 32-bar form and verse-chorus form. In either case, the crucial elements are the verses and the chorus.

Pop songs typically begin with an introduction – a unique section that leads the listener into the song. The verse is the poetic stanza that follows. Some songs include a pre-chorus or transitional bridge, which often uses subdominant transitional harmonies. These can add variety when the verse and chorus have the same harmonic structure. You then get your chorus – the bit that repeats at least once musically and lyrically – and this is the most identifiable part of the song, where you normally get the main hook.

Connecting the chorus to the next part of the song is, of course, the bridge. It’s something different from the verse and the chorus and unlike those doesn’t need any lyrics. The bridge can either precede or replace the next verse. (If the latter, you then get the chorus again). The bridge is intended to surprise the listener, who is expecting the chorus, and the chorus will often be repeated to stress its finality when it is at last heard.

The middle eight is an eight-bar sequence that can appear mid-way through a song after the second chorus. The structure of that song might be intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-middle eight-chorus-chorus-outro. Alternatively (or additionally) you might get a solo of the guitar or sax variety, and any song indulgent enough to include one will plonk one anywhere it bloody well likes. Lastly, the outro might include vocal ad-libbing, which is where pop divas play Look How Much I Can Sing. Umbrella has the pattern intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-middle 8-chorus-outro:

Continue reading