Identifying The Structure

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This is one area in which Jazz (generally speaking!) is significantly simpler than most music.

Pop songs very often start with an intro, move into a verse, chorus, bridge, solo, instrumental, middle 8… lots of different sections in whatever order the songwriter chose.

Jazz is, for the most part, very simple in structure, and even simpler in description.

Essentially, the first part of the song is referred to as “A”.

The second part of the song, if it sounds a lot like the “A” section is referred to, again, as “A”.

Any part of the song that’s significantly different may be referred to as “B”.

If there are any more parts that differ from “A” and “B”, they may be referred to as “C”, but this is uncommon.

We then define the structure of a jazz song as per one of the following examples:

AABA

AAB

AB

ABCA

… the letters indicating which sections come after which.

AABA is the most common structure for a jazz song.

Once the structure has been identified, it simply remains to decide the following:

1) How many times do we repeat the song?

This will depend on really obvious things, like how long you want the song to be, how many players there are, etc.

2) What happens during each repetition?

Usually you’ll want an instrument or singer to perform the main tune of the song, then have a few repetitions for solos, repeat the tune in the middle, maybe again at the end. 5-7 times through the song is normal, but there are no rules about this.

3) How do we start the song?

Songs that were originally from musicals often have a pre-written intro that can be used if everyone knows it. In a “jamming” situation, these are almost always overlooked. Usually someone will just count 1, 2, 3, 4 and everyone starts together.

4) How do we end the song?

Songs can always be ended by simply playing through to the end of the song and then playing the opening chord. However, many people like to do unexpected and interesting endings, some of which we’ll cover in the “Endings” section later.

Have a listen to some jazz songs and see if you can identify the structure.