I'm trying to compose a verse (with refrain?)-chorus (bridge?) pop song (optional: Instrumental intro, bridge before the final chorus, instrumental solo somewhere) about 3-4 minutes in length. I've written myself into trouble, however, because my verses go for 9 measures and my chorus goes for 9 measures. This was not intentional--I composed the melody first, and it sounded most natural this way.

From my reading, I am aware of the importance of symmetry and asymmetry in pop songwriting. Compositional variables involved in discerning whether the music is symmetric or asymmetric include:

  1. The number of phrases
  2. The length of phrases (how many measures in each phrase)
  3. The rhythm of the phrases
  4. The order of the phrases

(I'm not sure if this is obvious or not, but I believe we are talking about melodic phrases here)

I also understand that an even number of phrases of the same length will produce a balanced section of music and that an odd number of phrases of the same length will produce an unbalanced section of music.

So, i've taken notes (please see below) on my composition with the above principles (taken, by the way, from Melody in Songwriting by Jack Perricone) in mind, trying to see where my song fits. Basically, I am totally lost. I am not sure if Jack's balance/symmetry theory only pertains to melodic phrases or if it concerns the length of the music generally (counted as measures). Regardless, I am frustrated, because I can't tell if the techniques in this book are difficult to apply or if I am just thinking about it incorrectly (or both!). I thought the reading (please see below) would help me find a solution for my 9 measure structure (i'm in foreign territory here--every section of music i've written before is has been an even number. Not to mention, it's the standard--think 32 bar form, 12 bar blues, etc.), but I am still left without answers.

Can you please share your perspective on this approach? Do you have other ways of "balancing" "unbalanced" sections of music? Please know that i'm trying to compose something catchy and singable (pop), so the goal is not to experiment--I would like the final form to be pleasing to the ear.

Thank you so much!

For reference/contextFor reference/context

For reference/context

Notes regarding form on my own composition

  • 4
    "I also understand that an even number of phrases of the same length will produce a balanced section of music and that an odd number of phrases of the same length will produce an unbalanced section of music." False. You're worrying about something that there is no need to worry about. There's also no reason to think that anyone who writes down ideas about how to write songs in a book knows anything more than anyone else about how to write good songs. May 5 at 22:04
  • 3
    I strongly believe that guidelines and "rules" like this are what we can turn to when we have an idea that just doesn't sound good and we don't know why. If we don't like an idea but we don't want to throw it away entirely, we can try to figure out if there's something we can change about the not-good idea to make it a good idea - like shortening a phrase by one bar. What we should not do is worry about any "rules" or guidelines when we have an idea that we think is good. If it sounds good, it is good, no matter what else is going on. May 5 at 22:11
  • 1
    Well the question is how to improve it. I wouldn't edit anything arbitrarily - I listen for what could be better using my ears and my heart. None of the rules or theory in the world really tell us how to have a real impact with our compositions. It's either there or it's not. If it's there but maybe could be better, I play around with all kinds of things - experiment. Experimenting means listening and feeling to see if it sounds good or right. You can't tell how it feels without feeling it. If it's not there at all, I abandon the idea entirely. May 5 at 22:19
  • 1
    Don't break your head with theory rules. I fully agree with Todd. But if you want advice for improving your song you should poste the melody, then maybe we can tell you whether there might be a bug. May 6 at 7:52
  • 1
    The Twelve Days of Christmas rarely has problems being sung, and how 'regular' is that? Many, many popular and well-known songs don't 'follow the rule', and they made it through. Don't worry!
    – Tim
    May 6 at 8:20

Probably one of the commonest counter examples is the song Yesterday by The Beatles.

It has phrase lengths of 7 + 8.

Apparently, by that books reconning, Yesterday isn't balances. But does the book say that is a flaw to correct?

Either way, that seems to be the concern in the question.

Without debating the question of whether it truly is a flaw you could just approach it as a compositional choice and write alternatives. The point of that kind of compositional exercise is to demonstrate you can control the material and revise it to satisfy various points.

You can do that with both your song and Yesterday. Turn your 9 bars into 8. Figure out where to make the rhythmic changes. Short/lengthen durations, remove something, etc. Turn Yesterday's 7 bars into 8. Compare the various attempts. Don't worry about destroying your creation or desecrating a Beatles song. These are just exercises to keep in a notebook.

  • Trial and error isn't exactly the theory im looking for, but it is certainly a place to start. Thank you for the response.
    – 286642
    May 5 at 22:09
  • @286642, it's not trial and error. The point is to try and find the"right" one. That would be trial and error. The point is to learn how to control the material. In other words, make it work in various forms. Think there is just one right way to find misses the point and treats every little thing you do as precious. May 6 at 12:32
  • It's like your comment above "I feel like you shouldn't stop the first time" but the point isn't to think you're improving it each time you try a different way, like the fourth version is four times better than the first. They are just different possibilities. May 6 at 12:45

Symmetry in 8-bar phrases is playing it safe.

A 9 bar section is fine too. Asymmetrical is fine.

If you want backup, look out the Burt Bacharach songbook. You'd think, to look at it, that 'Say a Little Prayer' would sound disjointed! Well, if you don't know it, dial it up on YouTube and enjoy. Then stop wittering about the necessity of nice neat 8-bar phrases :-)

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  • 1
    Downvote but no comment why? May 5 at 23:10
  • There's a theory that dvers can't string a sentence together...
    – Tim
    May 6 at 7:22
  • Have a gander at 'Closest Thing to Crazy'. Title says it all.
    – Tim
    May 6 at 8:35
  • 1
    Probably the "stop wittering about..." line, but if so, I say art isn't for the thin-skinned. May 6 at 12:47
  • yeah . . . the "stop wittering" line did it for me
    – 286642
    May 6 at 16:03

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