I am starting to play some pre-written songs with a band. These are written by the vocalist and we are trying to make a demo out of them. We (as a band) are having a hard time trying to remember he structures/orders of the songs, in the sense that which section comes after the other. Does the bridge come after the 3rd chorus or is it the solo? Things like these. I did come across the AABA, ABAB etc forms of music but somehow the drummer seems to not get it and play completely different parts and be confused about it.

Do you have any tips on how I can write this down effectively especially for drums and for people who don't read music?


  • In addition to developing a language to write down and discuss structure, a rough "demo" recording of the songs that the band members can listen to in between practices can be very helpful. Also recording songs during practice so there's a record of changes made as the song develops is a big help. Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 20:16
  • How does the vocalist work when composing? Do they play an instrument to accompany the vocal? Can they record a simple demo with just that instrument and voice, using a mobile phone or similar?
    – Theodore
    Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 21:31
  • Teach them how to read TAB.
    – jwdonahue
    Commented Jun 2, 2021 at 18:56

8 Answers 8


Rather than AABA, why not write "Verse Verse Chorus Verse"? Or even more descriptive, you could write "Verse (16 bars) Verse (16 bars) Chorus (24 bars) ..."

Try that first. There are various other forms of simplified notation, such as lead sheets and Nashville number sheets, but if your drummer can't understand "Verse Verse Chorus Verse" then fire the drummer I would try an approach that doesn't use writing.

Can you find or make a rough demo recording of how the song should go, by any means? It doesn't really matter how you put it together. MIDI instruments or recordings of your rehearsals will work. If you have to, you can even record the songs in pieces and then stitch all the parts together later on your computer. Then have your drummer listen to the demos on their own time, play along to them, and memorize how the songs go.

  • 1
    The rough demo is a good idea. Not just for practicing along with, but for listening to and internalizing the song so the players will feel where the changes are while they play the song. Of course they will also have to listen to the song while you all play it, and that might be a bigger challenge to overcome.
    – wabisabied
    Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 18:40
  • 2
    Definitely "fire the drummer" if he literally can't remember "verse chorus verse chorus solo verse chorus". Everyone makes mistakes, but this level of incompetence indicates he literally isn't ready to play in public. Or it's up to the rest of you whether you want to carry him and train him up until he learns.
    – Graham
    Commented Jun 2, 2021 at 9:48

Try using colloquial labels.

It can be easier to remember "That na-na-na part" or "The cool guitar riff part" than "The B section". The label is more direct to the music itself, with no need to map the words "verse" or "A section" to a musical idea. The musical idea is expressed directly. Compared to "AABA" or "Verse Verse Chorus Verse", it's less concise and efficient, but it gets the job done. Meanwhile, anyone in the band who doesn't understand the musical terminology can be learning it.

The band would have to agree upon the second names, but a "score" would look something like:

  • intro
  • singer starts
  • intense section
  • repeat intro 3x
  • second vocal section
  • bass solo
  • outro

I've used this successfully with bands and students as an interim, intuitive method while they learn the more conventional ways.

Note: One can also split the difference:

  • intro
  • [verse] singer starts
  • [chorus] intense section
  • repeat intro 3x
  • [verse] second vocal section
  • [chorus] bass solo
  • outro

That provides an assist to those who need it while they learn the more standard labels.

  • 4
    Add to this a discussion of what counts as "one time around" versus "two times around" and this is pretty much exactly how we've discussed things in bands I've been in. As in, "so it's going to be the metal riff three times around and then the transition to the bridge with the funk jam six times around before the singer comes back in". I've found white boards up in the practice space are helpful for putting notes up that everyone can refer to when running down something newish. Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 20:13

Notate it anyway. Lay out the page so as to make the sections clear, and label them. Indicate the lyrics. Those who 'don't read music' will realise they read more than they imagine! Show them other useful details in the notation, like stops.
If anyone really takes a stand against 'reading' (funny how some players do) make a rough demo recording.


What your band might appreciate is not full-on sheet music, but lead sheets with only the lyrics and the chords. You seldom need to notate where measures start and end; a few times through the song following along with the lyrics and chords and everyone ought to have it down.

Wildwood Flower

C                              G           C
I will twine, I will mingle my raven black hair

                              G         C
With the roses so red and the lilies so fair

                                 F       C
And the myrtle so bright with an emerald hue

                             G         C
And the the pale emanita and hyssop so blue.

If additional verses have the same chord structure, you can choose to omit the chords from them and list the words only, but it's usually better to not optimize for space. It's easier to just be able to play through from beginning to end, especially if you're using the lead sheet to learn the song and not as a reminder of how it goes.

Be sure to format these with a fixed pitch font so that the chord symbols line up with the words.

American folk music is commonly notated like this; you will find many examples of it on the internet. The idea isn't that the lead sheet is enough to learn the song. The idea is that the lead sheet plus playing with someone who knows the song, or hearing a recording of it, is enough.

When writing a lead sheet for a band, you can notate where the breaks and intros go:



(Words and chords)

Guitar break


(Words and chords)

People should be able to hear and see where the breaks begin and end without having to count measures, they should be listening to each other and watching each other for nods and other cues.

  • 1
    In my experience, a chord sheet as per your first example is very much the 'standard' for this use case... +1 Commented Jun 2, 2021 at 8:05
  • <rant>Why, oh why, oh why can't people who write lead sheets USE BARLINES???  IME, unless you already know the tune well, they're pretty darn useless…</rant>
    – gidds
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 17:00
  • @gidds I see barlines used most often on intros and musical breaks, they can be really helpful there. Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 17:14

Doubtful if your drummer can count up to 16. Not being disrespectful - but when I drum, I'm not counting bars either. However, he really ought to be able to, and actually do, the counting, as that's going to be his salvation. Or like so many bands, play each song the number of times it takes before it gets into his memory. Surely that's what he's done with all the other songs the band plays?

I suppose the other way is to get a big board with all the words, and colour certain parts , like verses red, choruses blue, so he just reads through the whole song, top to bottom. Or consider getting a better drummer?


Use post-its or a digital equivalent of it when you're constructing the structure of the song. Map the colors to the various types of the parts, e.g. yellow for verse and red for chorus, green for bridge etc.Put the sequence up on the wall or on a big paper.

This has a few advantages:

  • you can write details on the notes e.g. about the song structure, or about the rhythm section or whatever you think is necessary and relevant. E.g. a yellow note "WITH lead guitar" and later on one with "NO lead guitar". Or e.g. "straight 4/4" and one with "syncop. 4/4"
  • It's easy to shuffle them around, when you mess with the structure
  • You can tear the notes in half vertically or horizontally e.g. if you need to denote it switching from 4/4 to 2/4 and back
  • You can have multiple rows, e.g. if the bass keeps on going with the same line as in the verse but all others go to the bridge you could have a separate row for the bass with its own post-its
  • It's a LOT easier to remember the structure of the song. Seriously.
  • You can take pictures if it's not convenient to take the post-its with you, and reconstruct the next time
  • It's a lot easier to discuss and for everyone to refer to specific parts of the song, no more "yeah I meant the first second part, not the second second part". Simply point at the post-it.
  • 1
    Or - find a drummer who can do the job - it's not that difficult..!
    – Tim
    Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 19:44

I too though use "verse chorus" instead of "A B".

You could also put the first few words of the lyrical line with those labels, the words might be a more concrete association.

Make boxes proportionally sized. If verses are 4 bars and there is a transition of just 2 bars, make sure the transition box is half the size.

Color is good too, and keep it consistent, like verses are green, choruses blue, bridges are red. Anything else probably don't color, you don't what a rainbow dazzle, just some color highlights.

I would also think one of the best cues would be some eye contact and body signals. Maybe the singer can do this.


I had several bands where I was the only one who could read music. In the cases where this was needed (sometimes new songs and a few times a customer would give a big tip if we could play something we hadn't heard of so I had to sightread the music), I would read and play the music and the band would follow (like when a member was the only one who knew a piece.) Of course, we rarely used music in performance but it was useful while learning new stuff.

Bob Wills' band (The Texas Playboys) found out during the 1930s that they had to learn to read to play complicated country music; those who couldn't learn were let go; Bob had to learn to play from sheet music in his 30s.

To get started, whoever can read the singer's pieces should just play them and tell the other musicians what to do during rehearsals.

  • 1
    Reading the question, it seems like the drummer can't remember, even after rehearsals (to me).
    – Tim
    Commented Jun 2, 2021 at 8:27

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