Thirty-two-bar form

[[Image:V a verte know man in The Wizard of Oz trailer.jpg|thumb|225px|"Over the Rainbow" (Arlen/Harburg) exemplifies the 20th-century popular 32-bar song.[1]]]

The 32-bar form, also known as the AABA song form, American popular song form and the ballad form, is a song structure commonly found in Tin Pan Alley songs and other American popular music, especially in the first half of the 20th century.[2]

As its alternate name AABA implies, this song form consists of four sections: an eight-bar A section; a second eight-bar A section (which may have slight changes from the first A section); an eight-bar B section, often with contrasting harmony or "feel"; and a final eight-bar A section. The core melody line is generally retained in each A section, although variations may be added, particularly for the last A section.

Examples of 32-bar AABA form songs include "Over the Rainbow", "What'll I Do", "Make You Feel My Love",[2] "Blue Skies", and Willie Nelson's "Crazy".[3] Many show tunes that have become jazz standards are 32-bar song forms.

Basic song form

At its core, the basic AABA 32-bar song form consists of four sections, each section being 8 bars in length, totaling 32 bars. Each of these 8-bar sections is assigned a letter name ("A" or "B"), based on its melodic and harmonic content. The A sections all share the same melody (possibly with slight variations), and the recurring title lyric typically falls on either the first or last line of each A section. The "B" section musically and lyrically contrasts the A sections, and may or may not contain the title lyric. The "B" section may use a different harmony that contrasts with the harmony of the A sections. For example in the song "I've Got Rhythm", the A sections are in the key of B♭, but the B section involves a circle of fifths series of dominant seventh chords going from D7, G7, C7 to F7. Song form terminology is not standardized, and the B section is also referred to as the "middle eight", "bridge", or "primary bridge".[2]

The song form of "What'll I Do" by Irving Berlin is as follows:

Name Lyric from "What'll I Do" by Irving Berlin
A1 What'll I do when you are far away and I am blue? What'll I do?
A2 What'll I do when I am won'dring who is kissing you? What'll I do?
B What'll I do with just a photograph to tell my troubles to?
A3 When I'm alone with only dreams of you that won't come true... What'll I do?


Sectional verse

Some Tin Pan Alley songs composed as numbers for musicals precede the main tune with what was called a "sectional verse" or "introductory verse" in the terminology of the early 20th century. This introductory section is usually sixteen bars long and establishes the background and mood of the number, and is musically undistinguished in order to highlight the attractions of the main tune. The sectional verse is often omitted from modern performances.[4][5] It is not assigned a letter in the "AABA" naming scheme.

The introductory verse from "What'll I Do" by Irving Berlin is as follows:

Gone is the romance that was so divine,
'tis broken and cannot be mended
You must go your way, and I must go mine,
but now that our love dreams have ended...


In music theory, the middle 8 or bridge is the B section of a 32-bar form.[6] This section has a significantly different melody from the rest of the song and usually occurs after the second "A" section in the AABA song form. It is called a middle 8 because it happens in the middle of the song and the length is generally eight bars.

Terminological confusion

In early 20th century terminology, the main 32-bar AABA section, in its entirety, was called the "refrain" or "chorus". This is in contrast to the modern usage of the term "chorus", which refers to a repeating musical and lyrical section in verse–chorus form. Additionally, "verse," "chorus" and "refrain" all have different meanings in modern musical terminology. See the below chart for clarification:

Early terminology Modern terminology What it refers to in 32-bar form
Introductory verse or

sectional verse

Introductory verse or

sectional verse

The opening section, often 16 bars in length, which resembles recitative from opera.
Refrain or


Verse-refrain form or

AABA form

The 32-bar section, composed of four separate 8-bar sections, taking the form [A] [A] [B] [A]
None Verse Any of the three individual 8 bar "A" sections.
Bridge Bridge or

middle 8 or

release or

primary bridge

8-bar "B" section.
None Refrain line This recurring lyric line is often the title of the song

("Yesterday", "Let's Face the Music and Dance", "Luck Be a Lady Tonight".)


Though the 32-bar form resembles the ternary form of the operatic da capo aria, it did not become common until the late 1910s. It became "the principal form" of American popular song around 1925–1926,[7] with the AABA form consisting of the chorus or the entirety of many songs in the early 20th century.[8]

The 32-bar form was often used in rock in the 1950s and '60s, after which verse–chorus form became more prevalent. Examples include:

Though more prevalent in the first half of the 20th century, many contemporary songs show similarity to the form, such as "Memory", from Cats, which features expanded form through the B and A sections repeated in new keys.[10] Songwriters such as Lennon–McCartney and those working in the Brill Building also used modified or extended 32-bar forms, often modifying the number of measures in individual or all sections. The Beatles ("From Me to You" (1963) and "I Want to Hold Your Hand" (1963)), like many others, would extend the form with an instrumental section, second bridge, break or reprise of the introduction, etc., and another return to the main theme. Introductions and codas also extended the form. In "Down Mexico Way" "the A sections … are doubled in length, to sixteen bars—but this affects the overall scheme only marginally".[9] The theme tune of the long-running British TV series Doctor Who has, in some incarnations, followed 32 bar form.


  1. ^ "Chapter 2: Jazz Form and improvisation | Jazz: W. W. Norton StudySpace". WW Norton.
  2. ^ a b c Ralf von Appen; Markus Freight-Hauenschild. "AABA, Refrain, Chorus, Bridge, Prechorus — Song Forms and Their Historical Development". Retrieved 2016-01-02.
  3. ^ Benward & Saker (2003). Music: In Theory and Practice. I (Seventh ed.). p. 122. ISBN 978-0-07-294262-0.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  4. ^ Beil, Richard (January 2009). ""The Lost Verses, Songs you Thought you Knew"". The Parlor Songs Academy. Retrieved 29 July 2018. Although the Tin Pan Alley song-type continued to include verses, these most often were much shorter, sometimes serving as little more than introductions. The song became, in most cases and for most purposes, coextensive with the chorus. And, as was quickly learned within the time-restrictive environment of recording in the 1920s, the new Tin Pan Alley song, uprooted from the stage, worked best without its verses, as a fragment of expression that was somewhat fluid.
  5. ^ ""The golden age of Tin Pan Alley song, 1920s"" (PDF). Northern Highlands Regional High School. n.d. Retrieved 29 July 2018. Verses were regarded as mere introductions by the 1920s, and today the verses of Tin Pan Alley songs are infrequently performed.
  6. ^ Parkinson, Alice (2006). Music. Lotus Press. p. 125. ISBN 978-81-89093-50-1..
  7. ^ Wilder, Alec (1972), American Popular Song: the Great Innovators 1900–1950, New York: Oxford University Press, p. 56, ISBN 0-19-501445-6.
  8. ^ Benward & Saker (2003), p.317–318. "The popular chorus form is often referred to as a quaternary form, because it usually consists of four phrases."
  9. ^ a b c d e f Covach (2005), Form in Rock Music: A Primer, p. 70.
  10. ^ Benward & Saker (2003), p.318.

Further reading

Ain't Misbehavin' (song)

"Ain't Misbehavin'" is a 1929 stride jazz/early swing song. Andy Razaf wrote the lyrics to a score by Thomas "Fats" Waller and Harry Brooks for the Broadway musical comedy play Connie's Hot Chocolates.

It has a thirty-two-bar form (AABA) at a slow-to-moderate tempo. Waller said the song was written while "lodging" in prison (for an alimony violation), and that is why he was not "misbehaving".

Before the Next Teardrop Falls (song)

"Before the Next Teardrop Falls" is an American country and pop song written by Vivian Keith and Ben Peters, and most famously recorded by Freddy Fender.

Blues ballad

The term blues ballad is used to refer to a specific form of popular music which fused Anglo-American and Afro-American styles from the late 19th century onwards. Early versions combined elements of the European influenced "native American ballad" with the forms of African American music. From the 20th century on it was also used to refer to a slow tempo, often sentimental song in a blues style.

Bridge (music)

In music, especially western popular music, a bridge is a contrasting section that prepares for the return of the original material section. In a piece in which the original material or melody is referred to as the "A" section, the bridge may be the third eight-bar phrase in a thirty-two-bar form (the B in AABA), or may be used more loosely in verse-chorus form, or, in a compound AABA form, used as a contrast to a full AABA section.

The term comes from a German word for bridge, Steg, used by the Meistersingers of the 15th to the 18th century to describe a transitional section in medieval bar form. The German term became widely known in 1920s Germany through musicologist Alfred Lorenz and his exhaustive studies of Richard Wagner's adaptations of bar form in his popular 19th-century neo-medieval operas. The term entered the English lexicon in the 1930s—translated as bridge—via composers fleeing Nazi Germany who, working in Hollywood and on Broadway, used the term to describe similar transitional sections in the American popular music they were writing.

I Got Rhythm

"I Got Rhythm" is a piece composed by George Gershwin with lyrics by Ira Gershwin and published in 1930, which became a jazz standard. Its chord progression, known as the "rhythm changes", is the foundation for many other popular jazz tunes such as Charlie Parker's and Dizzy Gillespie's bebop standard "Anthropology (Thrivin' on a Riff)".

I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas

"I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas" is a 1949 Christmas novelty song and monologue written and performed by Harry Stewart as fictional Swede "Yogi Yorgesson". Stewart was backed by the Johnny Duffy Trio on the song.

In Your Own Sweet Way

"In Your Own Sweet Way" is a 1955 jazz standard, and one of the most famous compositions by Dave Brubeck. It was written around 1952, but its copyright notice was dated 1955. Brubeck's wife Iola, for whom the song was written, later wrote a lyric for the song, which led to singers such as Carmen McRae recording it. Although an earlier live recording is known, "In Your Own Sweet Way" was first released on Brubeck's 1956 studio album Brubeck Plays Brubeck.


"Ko Ko" is a 1945 bebop recording composed by Charlie Parker. The original recorded version features Parker on alto saxophone with trumpeter Miles Davis, double bassist Curley Russell and drummer Max Roach. Due to the absence of Bud Powell, Dizzy Gillespie was enlisted to play piano, instead of his usual trumpet. Pianist Sadik Hakim, then known as Argonne Thornton, was also known to be present at the session. Rumors persist to this day about precisely who played trumpet and piano on this piece; some claim it's young Miles Davis who plays trumpet and Gillespie comping at piano, on both takes, proving it with accurate analysis of the recording; some claim Gillespie plays trumpet and, or instead of, piano; some claim Hakim is the pianist on all or part of one or both of the takes.The song begins with a harmonically ambiguous introduction but quickly transitions to B flat major at the top of Parker's first solo chorus. At this point, the harmony is now based upon the chord changes of the song "Cherokee" by Ray Noble. The ending material is very similar to the introduction and features an unexpected ending.

Pop music

Pop music is a genre of popular music that originated in its modern form in the United States and United Kingdom during the mid-1950s. The terms "popular music" and "pop music" are often used interchangeably, although the former describes all music that is popular and includes many diverse styles. "Pop" and "rock" were roughly synonymous terms until the late 1960s, when they became increasingly differentiated from each other.

Although much of the music that appears on record charts is seen as pop music, the genre is distinguished from chart music. Pop music is eclectic, and often borrows elements from other styles such as urban, dance, rock, Latin, and country; nonetheless, there are core elements that define pop music. Identifying factors include generally short to medium-length songs written in a basic format (often the verse-chorus structure), as well as common use of repeated choruses, melodic tunes, and hooks.

Popular music

Popular music is music with wide appeal that is typically distributed to large audiences through the music industry. These forms and styles can be enjoyed and performed by people with little or no musical training. It stands in contrast to both art music and traditional or "folk" music. Art music was historically disseminated through the performances of written music, although since the beginning of the recording industry, it is also disseminated through recordings. Traditional music forms such as early blues songs or hymns were passed along orally, or to smaller, local audiences.The original application of the term is to music of the 1880s Tin Pan Alley period in the United States. Although popular music sometimes is known as "pop music", the two terms are not interchangeable. Popular music is a generic term for a wide variety of genres of music that appeal to the tastes of a large segment of the population, whereas pop music usually refers to a specific musical genre within popular music. Popular music songs and pieces typically have easily singable melodies. The song structure of popular music commonly involves repetition of sections, with the verse and chorus or refrain repeating throughout the song and the bridge providing a contrasting and transitional section within a piece.In the 2000s, with songs and pieces available as digital sound files, it has become easier for music to spread from one country or region to another. Some popular music forms have become global, while others have a wide appeal within the culture of their origin. Through the mixture of musical genres, new popular music forms are created to reflect the ideals of a global culture. The examples of Africa, Indonesia, and the Middle East show how Western pop music styles can blend with local musical traditions to create new hybrid styles.


A refrain (from Vulgar Latin refringere, "to repeat", and later from Old French refraindre) is the line or lines that are repeated in music or in poetry; the "chorus" of a song. Poetic fixed forms that feature refrains include the villanelle, the virelay, and the sestina.

The use of refrains is particularly associated with where the verse-chorus-verse song structure typically places a refrain in almost each and every song. The refrain or chorus often sharply contrasts the verse melodically, rhythmically, and harmonically, and assumes a higher level of dynamics and activity, often with added instrumentation. Chorus form, or strophic form, is a sectional and/or additive way of structuring a piece of music based on the repetition of one formal section or block played repeatedly.


Release may refer to:

Film release, the public distribution of a film

Legal release, a legal instrument

News release, a communication directed at the news media

Release (ISUP), a code to identify and debug events in ISUP signaling

Release (music), one part of the A(ttack)D(ecay)S(sustain)R(release) envelope of a musical note

Release (software), a distribution of a computer software in the software release life cycle

Release (phonetics), the opening of the closure of a stop consonant

Release, a bridge in thirty-two-bar form

Rose Room

"Rose Room", also known as "In Sunny Roseland", is a 1917 jazz standard, music by Art Hickman, lyrics by Harry Williams. It is almost always performed as an instrumental. Composed at a time when the popularity of ragtime was fading in favor of thirty-two-bar form and twelve-bar blues songs, the song has been called "definitely ahead of its time" by composer Alec Wilder. Indeed, while popular in the late 1910s and early 1920s, the song enjoyed its biggest popularity during the swing era. The song was named after the Rose Room in St. Francis Hotel, where Hickman was playing at the time. In 1914, jazz pioneer Bert Kelly was a member of Hickman's band.

Duke Ellington is credited in reviving the popularity of "Rose Room" with his 1932 recording. Ellington later used the song's chord progression in his 1939 composition, "In a Mellow Tone". "Rose Room" is also the song with which Charlie Christian impressed Benny Goodman in 1939, jamming it solo after solo for 45 minutes with Goodman's band.

Modern Swing Group, Leader: John Kongshaug recorded a version in Oslo on December 6, 1954. It was released on the 78 rpm record His Master's Voice A.L. 3489.

Bandleader Phil Harris used "Rose Room" as his theme song while performing in San Francisco. He also used "Rose Room" again as a second theme on his NBC radio series, The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show. The Lawrence Welk Orchestra/Show made a rendition with "Peanuts" Hucko on clarinet, in a show paying tribute to roses.

The tune plays over the closing credits of "Away with the Fairies" (2012), an episode from the first season of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries.

Sixteen-bar blues

The sixteen-bar blues can be a variation on the standard twelve-bar blues or on the less common eight-bar blues. Sixteen-bar blues is also used commonly in ragtime music.

Song structure

Song structure is the arrangement of a song, and is a part of the songwriting process. It is typically sectional, which uses repeating forms in songs. Common forms include bar form, thirty-two-bar form, verse-chorus form, ternary form, strophic form, and the twelve-bar blues. Popular music songs traditionally use the same music for each verse or stanza of lyrics (as opposed to songs that are "through-composed"—an approach used in classical music art songs). Pop and traditional forms can be used even with songs that have structural differences in melodies. The most common format in modern popular music is introduction (intro), verse, pre-chorus, chorus (or refrain), verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge ("middle eight"), verse, chorus and outro. In rock music styles, notably heavy metal music, there is usually a guitar solo in the song. In pop music, there may be a guitar solo, or the solo may be performed by a synthesizer player or sax player.

The foundation of popular music is the "verse" and "chorus" structure. "Pop and rock songs nearly always have both a verse and a chorus. The primary difference between the two is that when the music of the verse returns, it is almost always given a new set of lyrics, whereas the chorus usually retains the same set of lyrics every time its music appears." Both are essential elements, with the verse usually played first. Exceptions abound, with "She Loves You" by The Beatles being an early example in the rock music genre. Each verse usually employs the same melody (possibly with some slight modifications), while the lyrics usually change for each verse. The chorus (or "refrain") usually consists of a melodic and lyrical phrase that repeats. Pop songs may have an introduction and coda ("tag"), but these elements are not essential to the identity of most songs. Pop songs often connect the verse and chorus via a bridge, which as its name suggests, is a section that connects the verse and chorus at one or more points in the song.

The verse and chorus are usually repeated throughout a song though the bridge, intro, and coda (also called an "outro") are usually only used once. Some pop songs may have a solo section, particularly in rock- or blues-influenced pop. During the solo section, one or more instruments play a melodic line which may be the melody used by the singer, or, in blues or jazz an improvised line.

Standard (music)

In music, a standard is a musical composition of established popularity, considered part of the "standard repertoire" of one or several genres. Even though the standard repertoire of a given genre consists of a dynamic and partly subjective set of songs, these can be identified by having been performed or recorded by a variety of musical acts, often with different arrangements. In addition, standards are extensively quoted by other works and commonly serve as the basis for musical improvisation. Standards may "cross over" from one genre's repertoire to another's; for example, many jazz standards have entered the pop repertoire, and many blues standards have entered the rock repertoire.

Standards exist in the classical, popular and folk music traditions of all cultures. In the context of Western classical music, the standard repertoire constitutes most of what is considered the "teaching canon", i.e. the compositions that students learn in their academic training. The standard repertoire varies according to the different eras, movements and scenes within a genre, meaning that the extent to which a given composition is considered a standard or "repertoire piece" may vary greatly. However, some repertoires (e.g. concert piano) have become particularly static, giving rise to a divide between "standard-repertoire performers" and contemporary music advocates.

Ternary form

Ternary form, sometimes called song form, is a three-part musical form consisting of an opening section (A), a following section (B) and then a repetition of the first section (A). It is usually schematized as A–B–A. Examples include the da capo aria "The trumpet shall sound" from Handel's Messiah, Chopin's Prelude in D-Flat Major (Op. 28) and the opening chorus of Bach's St John Passion.

The Girl Is Mine

"The Girl Is Mine" is a song recorded by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney. The track was written by Jackson and produced by Jackson and Quincy Jones. It was released as the first single for Jackson's sixth solo album, Thriller (1982). The song was recorded at Westlake Studios, Los Angeles, from April 14 to 16, 1982. The year before, Jackson and McCartney had recorded "Say Say Say" and "The Man" for the latter's fifth solo album, Pipes of Peace (1983). Although "The Girl Is Mine" was released as a single, Jackson never performed the song live.

"The Girl Is Mine" achieved success in the music charts. Aside from topping the R&B singles chart, the single peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and number eight in the UK. By 1985, it had sold 1.3 million copies, and was eventually certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, for shipments of at least one million units. Despite the song's success, it received generally mixed reviews from critics who consider it to be the weakest song on Thriller.

"The Girl Is Mine" has been the subject of two plagiarism lawsuits, the first in 1984 and the latter in 1993. Both instances required Jackson to testify in court, and each lawsuit was decided in favor of the singer and his record label.

In 2008, for the 25th anniversary edition of Thriller, Black Eyed Peas singer remixed "The Girl Is Mine". The remix received generally unfavorable reviews from music critics.

Verse–chorus form

Verse–chorus form is a musical form common in popular music, used in blues and rock and roll since the 1950s, and predominant in rock music since the 1960s. In contrast to thirty-two-bar form, which is focused on the verse (contrasted and prepared by the B section), in verse–chorus form the chorus is highlighted (prepared and contrasted with the verse)."Musically, most Civil War songs were cast in the verse–chorus patterns that had been popularized by Foster and widely imitated by his peers and successors, with their choruses set in four-part harmony."Thus, while in both forms A is the verse and B is the chorus, in AABA the verse takes up most of the time and the chorus exists to contrast and lead back into the return of the verse, in verse–chorus form the chorus often takes much more time proportionally and the verse exists to lead into it. For example: ABABB(B) [approximates: "Be My Baby"], rather than thirty-two-bar form's AABA.

The chorus often sharply contrasts the verse melodically, rhythmically, and harmonically, and assumes a higher level of dynamics and activity, often with added instrumentation. This is referred to as a "breakout chorus". See: arrangement.

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