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"Disney Song Stats Part 4 - Song Forms"

Hey everyone and welcome back to Disney Song-Statists. This one’s called “Part 4: Song Forms, for Book and Film.” And another quick reminder that the Data Spreadsheet and Charts we’re going to see in this video are available at tonaltrends.com, and here’s where to go if you want to skip straight to the data presentation, otherwise, let’s start with a quick definitions of terms, and mind you: there aren’t any like, “definitive” definitions for Song Form terms in the pop music world, just commonly used ones—all these guys up here have synonyms, which many musicians, including myself, use in different contexts, and different ways. And yeah, I’ll do my best to mention as many as I can.

 

Okay, we’ll start with perhaps the most nebulous of song forms sections, what I call the “Pre”, and what is also sometimes called an “interlude”, or “Intro” if it’s at the beginning of a song. Also you can get specific with the term like when people say “Pre-chorus” or “Pre-whatever”, for when you’re introducing specific sections. You can even use the word “Prelude” if you want, but that’s more getting into the classical world. Anyways, regardless of what you prefer to call it, a “Pre” (or intro or interlude) is a section of material introducing, or setting up, a more important, primary section, like a Verse, Chorus, or Bridge. It’s usually shorter than one of these primary sections, but longer than, let’s say, a refrain or a tag. But yeah, basically, if I can’t call it a verse/chorus/bridge/refrain/instrumental/tag, or an outro, I’m going to call it a “Pre” something or other, and: you can too if you like.

 

Next up, the “Verse”, the verse is thee most “primary” of the primary sections; every song out there has a verse of some kind. It does, or it’s probably not a song. One way to identify the verse is that, almost always, verses have different lyrics from one another and are more on the lyrical side in general. But yeah, find me a song without anything you could call a Verse, and I’ll just be like “Pfff!”

 

Okay, the counterpart of a “Verse” is a “Chorus”. And the night and day difference between them, is that the chorus usually uses the same lyrics and is more “hummable” and “catchy”, than it is “lyrical.” Moving right along, a “Refrain”, like a Chorus, is a section with a catchy and hummable melody, but it’s much shorter, usually only one phrase long, which can be a melodic hook taken from another section, or independent of any other part. Oftentimes, a good way to identify a refrain is by way of the title of the song.

 

Next, probably the third most referenced section of a song after the Verse and Chorus, is the Bridge, which is an additional section of new material, always coming after a verse or chorus has been introduced, and often played around 2/3s of the way through a song, and not often repeated. I wouldn’t describe most bridges as either Lyrical or Catchy, or even a combo of the two; the first thing that comes to mind when I thing of Bridges would be “heightened”, like, it’s usually where you dial it up to a climax of some kind of intensity.

 

And, while some people use the obvious metaphor that a Bridge “bridges” sections, I gotta disagree a little bit, in that that implies a “just passing through” idea. Most bridges are more like Amusement Parks your kids beg you to stop at so you can have some fun, which you do, if you have the time...Maybe I’ll start saying “take it to the Park” and see if it catches on?

 

Okay, “I” stands for Instrumental sections or “Solos” as they’re thought of, in many genres. These are used either to introduce other sections, or sometimes they exist for their own sake just to be awesome, and, in movie contexts, they often exist to support dialogue. What makes them different than all other song form sections is that they can borrow music from any other sections without being called something else, or they can be entirely new sections of music. Also, so we’re clear, if someone out there calls a section of music a “Verse” because it’s the verse chords with no lyrics, that’s fine too. That happens a lot, no worries.

 

Next real quick, a “Tag”, is a very short new idea that fits no other section label (pun intended). A tag is almost never repeated, and can also be thought of as a very short “Pre” section. Or even post section

 

Last for our Red abbreviations, an Outro, or sometimes also called a Coda, is a significant section of new, or somewhat new, material coming at the end of the song. I say somewhat new because Outros are often inspired by one of the song’s primary sections. And, a very short outro is sometimes called a “Button.”

 

Moving on to variations of sections, I used lowercase letters in this study to refer to already established sections that were chopped in half, or somewhat close to in half, for whatever reason. And I used Numbers to refer to repeated sections that were altered in other ways—not counting lyrics—but yeah, altered just enough to be noticeably different, but not so different that you’d have to call it something else. And—remember how instrumentals are different? Well, numbers refer to all new instrumentals as well as variations on already played instrumentals. So there’s that.

 

Okay, I hope this is all workable for most people; but, if you don’t like some of these definitions or have things to add, I’d love to hear about it in the comments, especially comments about any other terms you use to describe your song sections.

 

Okay, on the next line down we have some tidbits, so, first, no song in this study had all 8 section types represented; the maximum we saw, was six section types. And the reason for that is, I think, that some sections can play similar roles. Like for instance, why have a Refrain when you have a Chorus already, or a Pre when you have an Instrumental intro, or why write a Tag when you already have a Bridge. But yeah, songs with our maximum of six distinct sections, not including variations, shortened sections, or new instrumentals, were: “Friend Like Me”, “Colors of the Wind”, “We’re all in This Together”, and “Let It Go”.

 

One other thing you may have been wondering by now, is: what about alphabetic labeling of sections, or “ABC” form as opposed to “Verse-Chorus-Bridge” form. And yeah, ABC form is great too. And actually, some songs forms in this study, like “Part of Your World” and “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride,” would have been more suitably described in terms of ABC form instead of VCB. But since I’m doing a statistics study, I had to kind of squeeze’m all into a consistent vocabulary so the numbers would line up. But yeah, the main reason VCB form was generally better than ABC form for this study, was that ABC form labels are usually used more for when the “functionality” of sections isn’t so clear, like when you have multiple sections that could be considered the Verse, or the Chorus, or Bridge, etc.

 

Also, ABC form labeling is mainly helpful when there are more sections similar to each other than we have letters for in VCB labeling. And that’s just not a problem much in the world of Disney, because of how short songs usually are, or how short they have to be to fit into the movie. It’s the same with pop songs that have to fit into a radio play slot.

 

Last, real quick let me mention that I decided to mostly sort the data for the  Song Forms as they were in the Films, TV shows, and Rides, and not the Published versions because 1) the source forms are often more true to the original intent, and 2) they’re just plain more interesting in my opinion. Exceptions are when I chose some of the published “end credit” forms over the in-story forms whenever they were shortened for time, or I felt like the longer end-credit song-forms were truer to songwriters’ intent. But yeah, you’ve heard me talk about all that before, so let‘s get to the charts!

 

Withs, Starts, and Ends    

Okay, so here’s our main chart for song form, with section usage totals in blue, and in red we have the number of times a section started a song, and in yellow, instances when a section ended a song. Concentrating first on just the blue segments, we see that the Verse, Instrumental, and Bridge form sections came in first, second, and third place represented among Disney songs. So then you may ask—what made the almighty “Don’t bore us, get to the Chorus” finish in fourth place—I mean, 10 more bridge appearances than choruses? What’s going on here?

 

Well, “Refrains” are what’s going on here. Remember, while decidedly a different animal than choruses, refrains perform roughly the same function. Also, any song can have a Verse, Instrumental, or a Bridge, but most songs that have a Chorus don’t have a Refrain, and most songs that have a Refrain don’t have a Chorus. And, if we want to see this monkey on the charts, let me real quick add the blue refrain bar to the chorus bar… Ah, that’s better. Take a look at that truthiness of truth. Okay, back where you belong buddy.

 

Moving on to these red and yellow bars, we see that Instrumentals, Verses, and Pre’s start songs--most of the time; and Choruses, Refrains, and of course, Outros, end songs most of the time. No surprises here.

 

Next, let’s talk about these numbered variations. So, if we want a clearer picture, than what this graph is showing, of how often Disney Songwriters like to tamper with certain sections, we’ll have to add up all the tamperings and divide them by the originals. So yeah, I did that and found that, in order of sections “most often varied” to “least often varied”: Instrumentals were various at a rate of 81%; Refrains 71%; Verses and Choruses about the same at 70% and 67% respectively; the Pre sections, when repeated, were altered at a rate of 27%, and Bridges came in last place only bucking your expectations 14% of the time. And yeah, keep in mind that these percentages have been somewhat compounded, in the fact that multiple variations within one song were included in the math.

 

Section Repetitions

Okay, next, just another quick graph to show Section Repetition trends. So, blue here means a section type was used only once per song; red, twice; yellow thrice; and so on. And, as you can see, Verses and Choruses are a predictably rainbow-riffic, with diminishing segment lengths. Instrumentals, Pre’s and Bridges on the other hand, are understandably not repeated very often. Also, section variations themselves are not repeated very often either, for obvious reasons.

 

But yeah, one curious trend to help justify the existence of this graph, and my showing it to, you lies in the Refrain column: here we see a curious pattern, starting with the purple segment, where five songs had five refrains, and this is just as many as when a song had three and four refrains put together. Hmm, interesting. Furthermore, if we take a bigger magnifying glass back to the Chorus repetitions, we see a smaller example of this same anomaly, in that the yellow 3x bar is greater than the 2x bar, by one song. Basically what I’m getting at here, is that for Chorus and Refrain repetitions, they don’t taper off like Verse repetitions, meaning, that if you’re going to have a Chorus or Refrain, you’re more likely going to repeat them more than just once or twice, you will repeat them in plethora, repeat them plethorily… in excess.

 

Um…Okay that’s enough of that! Let’s close out this video by mentioning some of my favorite Song Forms from the Study.

 

Okay, so, early on in the study I had to tilt my head at the movie presentation of “Whistle While You Work” from Snow White. So check it out, it’s got an Instrumental intro, a Chorus, a Verse, and then five more instrumental sections—no Bridges, no chorus or verse repetitions—no nothing, just instrumental after varied instrumental. As a songwriter, this kind of blew my mind, never in a million years would I have thought to have done a song this way. But yeah, now that I’ve see it, why not? I mean, people don’t have to sing all the time, lyrics aren’t like this holy thing your song has to have spread all over it like peanut butter, why not just: spread the peanut butter on half your toast, or just on the crust, it’s a free country. Plus, them dwarves are messy little munchkins man, gotta get down to business right?

 

Next let’s talk about “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah”, and how many liberties this song took with its form. Just bear with me, so we had (VBvTVBv(I)B(I2)vVv(I3)VBVvV(B2)O). Okay, out of all that ink, essentially, we’ve got only two sections here, the “Zip-a-dee-do-dah” verse and the “Mr. Bluebird” bridge. So then yeah, the reason it looks so complex is that the Verse is done five different ways and the Bridge is presented in three different ways, making 2 ideas into 8 slightly different slices of pie. And they do it in a bunch of different ways: they use section cutting, variation, modulation—you name it, they tweeked it. And as for why they tweeked it so much, it’s my strong suspicion, that all this, is a classic example of what’s called “Content Dictates Form.” In other words, I’ll bet this was a situation when the songwriters had to match the music to a bunch of pre-filmed sequences. So yeah, whether this is true or not, sometimes creativity means having to figure out how to fit a square peg in a round hole… and then a triangular hole, and then a rectangle, and then the kids show up and they’re all over the place so you figure—maybe I’ll just stick this next sucker on there with some glue.

 

Okay, by contrast, “Part of your World” from the Little Mermaid is a marvel of restrained section repetition or variation. Describing it in ABC form, we start out with a clean-as-they-come “ABCDE”, after which the only repeated material is half of the “c” and then another “D” section. And I mean, dang if they aren’t all really good sections. It’s good that the song has so many reprises, and that its themes are weaved into the score so much, otherwise I think we’d really end up missing them in the film.

 

Next cool song form is found in “Hakuna Matata.” Here, I really like how the first chorus’ first half is slowed down and done in a more lyrical way, so that it behaves almost like an intro for its own second part. And then in the middle we have the second vatiation, which is actually better described as the unaltered, more normal version of itself. But yeah, later in the song, the ending chorus variation is made of a refrain vamp, which then morphs into its regular second part. But yeah, why I like this is that normally, when sections are varied, it’s their tails, or their endings, that are altered, but in Hakuna Matata, in two places, they’ve altered their beginnings, or heads or faces, or, you know what I mean.

 

Incidentally, the Verse for this song is something to talk about too, it’s the part after the “pre” where he’s like, “when I was a young warthog.” And then it’s like. I’d almost call it a Bridge if it weren’t so close to the beginning, it’s very much it’s own kinda operetta type thing, kind of a little b-side track, inside it’s a-side song.

 

For my last favorite, I want to highlight the song “If I didn’t have you”, which is one of only two songs to have four versions of the Refrain. This one impresses me because it’s kind of hard to do—just one phrase, in multiple ways. I mean, longer sections have more to tinker with, but to tinker with a refrain so much that you got 4 distinct incarnations? Truly radical. You should check out it out, and see if you can identify all the ways they did it!

 

Okay, that’s it for this one, but I’ll see you next time in our final one of these called “Disney Song-Statistics Part 5: Chord Types a Plenty”. Thanks so much for watching, and please make sure to click us a like on Facebook, subscribe to the youtube channel, follow me on twitter, join the mailing list, and tell all your friends about the songwriting and music theory videos at Tonaltrends.com. Peace y’all!

Click Picture for link to the "New Illustrated Treasury of Disney Songs" on Amazon.