Like writing or spoken language, all music has a form and structure to it. For example, you shouldn’t just end a verse or a song halfway through a melody line, and certain chord progressions are better for ending songs than others. There are many different types of musical form.
This post will specifically look at AABA Form – what it is, how it functions, and some examples of songs that use it. First, let’s recap exactly what form in music is in general.
What is Form in Music?
In music, the term form refers to the organization and structure of a specific piece.
The best way to analyze the form of a piece of music is by looking at the what in the music repeats.
For example, on the smallest level, beats repeat usually in groups of four, creating the standard 4/4 bar.
On a larger level, we can look at what sections of the music repeat, how many times, and how frequently.
For example, in pop music you would hear on the radio the song would probably have a section known as a verse, which could then be followed by a chorus.
How often the verses and chorus repeat, whether there is a bridge or not, these factors are what influence the form of the song.
Within a single verse or chorus, you can have phrases and passages.
These are short to medium-length melodic lines, and in most pop music there’s 4 phrases per verse/chorus.
How is Form Analyzed?
The most popular way to analyze the form of a piece of music is to look at the sections or passages in it.
We can then assign each unique section or passage a letter – A, B, C, etc. – and write out the structure that way.
For example, the first verse in a pop song could be given the letter A.
Then the next section that plays is verse 2, which we can still label as A, because it’s the same structure as verse 1.
If the chorus is next, we would label that B, because it’s different from the previous verses.
If there’s a new section after this, we can call it C, and then D, and so on.
The Definition of AABA Form
AABA Form, which is also commonly referred to as 32-bar form, is a popular song form with 4 sections.
The 4 sections take 32 bars in total, so each one is 8 bars long.
The reason it is called AABA is because the first, second, and fourth section are all melodically and harmonically very similar, and the third section is different from the rest.
A famous example of AABA form is “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.
It has three 8-bar sections, all starting with the words “Somewhere over the Rainbow…”, that have the same melody, and one 8-bar section with “someday I’ll wish upon a star…” that has a totally unique melody:
This AABA structure gives us the form of one verse.
This verse can then be repeated multiple times to make up the entire song.
If that is the case, the form of the whole song looks like this:
Sometimes just the second half of the form is repeated, in which case the song would have an AABABA structure.
The song “Make You Feel My Love” by Bob Dylan has almost two full AABA sections, producing an AABAABA form:
The A sections don’t necessarily all have the exact same melody or harmony; sometimes filler notes or chords are added or artistic license allows the performer to sing or play one section a bit different from the other.
For example, the first A section in “Great Balls of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis has no piano playing behind the sung melody, but the second A section has piano throughout:
However, the A sections are all going to be essentially the same, and the B section is going to be different and unique enough that the AABA form is fairly obvious when you hear it.
The song “Surfer Girl” by The Beach Boys is in AABA form, but the final A section is in a different key.
However, the chord progression and melody all stay the same, relative to the key, so it still counts as the same section as the previous two:
AABA song form is also very popular in Jazz standards and Tin Pan Alley songs.
The song “I Got Rhythm” by George Gershwin is a famous example, and the chord progression it featured is so widely-known and used that it is now simply called “Rhythm” changes:
Another classic AABA Jazz song is “Anthropology” by Charlie Parker.
This song follows a similar structure to most Jazz standards, which is to play through the main melody twice (first 2 A sections), then play a quick bridge (B section) and finally repeat the main melody once again (final A section) before going into the solos:
That’s It for AABA Form
To sum up, AABA form is a widely-known popular song form that has 4 8-bar sections over a 32-bar verse.
Three of the four sections are the same, and the third section is unique and usually has a more interesting harmonic progression and melody.
We hope this post was helpful and informative, and let us know in the comments if you have any questions or if you have a favorite song in AABA form!