What are AABA Songs?

Many of us are used to the regular Verse-Chorus format. AABA Songs are less common, but a classic song form that is great for understated choruses or highlighting a meaningful tagline. The form itself mimics a traditional storyline, lending itself to those types of songs.

The AABA Form:

A – first verse
A – second verse
B – a bridge section
A – third verse

The rules for an AABA Song:

1. There is no chorus, but a tagline/hook line/song title

Some could argue a tagline is just a very short Chorus, but generally, they don’t feel like an entire section all on their own. The tagline can be in the beginning of the A Section, the end of the A Section or both. Usually the tagline is also the title of the song. The harmony tends to change at the end of the A Section to resolve to the tonic note and/or tonic chord.

In Manhattan by Sara Bareilles, she uses her hook line in both the beginning and the end of her A Sections:

You can have Manhattan
I know it’s what you want
The bustle and the buildings
The weather in the fall
And I’ll bow out of place
To save you some space
For somebody new
You can have Manhattan
Cause I can’t have you

2. All the Verses or A Sections match

Like most song forms, if the Verses don’t match at least structurally, it can confuse the listener. The tagline is almost always in the same place in each verse.

3. The B Section completely different

Because of the two A Sections that sound almost exactly the same, the Rule of Two (LINK) comes into play and we feel the need to change the melody and harmony. At this point, we get to the B Section or the Bridge.

Bridge sections often build in intensity and sound nothing like the rest of the song. In AABA songs, the Bridge almost never repeats the tagline lyrics. The B Section almost never resolves harmonically.

Where songwriters break the rules:

1. Adding a B Section to the end of the song

Many songs add another B Section to the end of the song. They often end up sounding like a Chorus because of the repetition, but the title of the song remains the tagline. There is often no harmonic resolution in the B Section.

In “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” by Elvis Presley, he adds another B Section to his song, extending the form of his song.

Wise men say
Only fools rush in
But I can’t help falling in love with you

Shall I stay?
Would it be a sin
If I can’t help falling in love with you?

Like a river flows
Surely to the sea
Darling, so it goes
Some things are meant to be

Take my hand,
Take my whole life, too
For I can’t help falling in love with you

Like a river flows
Surely to the sea
Darling, so it goes
Some things are meant to be

Take my hand,
Take my whole life, too
For I can’t help falling in love with you
For I can’t help falling in love with you 

Because of the extension, his song almost mimics a Verse-Chorus form, but he has a tagline. Therefore, his song form becomes AABABA. Because the songwriter added another B Section, it did not feel resolved, so he added a last A Section to complete the song.

Another song where the songwriter adds an extra B Section is “I Need My Girl” by The National. At the end of the song, they end with the B Section and never truly resolves the song.

I’m under the gun again
I know I was a 45 percenter then
I know I was a lot of things
But I am good, I am grounded
Davy says that I look taller
I can’t get my head around it
I keep feeling smaller and smaller
I keep feeling smaller and smaller
I keep feeling smaller and smaller 

2. Extending the Tagline at the end of the song

Instead of adding another B Section, songwriters might extend the tagline at the end of their last A Section. Whereas the tagline might have been one or two lines long, they might repeat it many more times.

Let’s look at the end of “Help Us to Love” by Tori Kelly (feat. The HamilTones):

‘Cause I want a love so high (that you cannot get over)
Oooh, I want a love so wide (it’ll take forever just to get round it)
But it don’t come cheap
It takes everything to make love more than a dream

God help us to love (god help us to love)
God help us to love (this world needs your love)
We need your love (what we need now is love)
Fill us with your love, Lord (unconditional love)
We need your love (rain down on us, your love)
Oh, we need your love (fill us please with your love)
God help me to love the way that you love me 

The tagline “help us to love” was only repeated once in her previous A Sections, but for the end of the song, the line changes both melodically and harmonically. This builds the emotional intensity of the statement and drives home the message of the song.

Writing an AABA Song

Many of us might want to stick to a variation of Verse-Chorus forms. If you’re wanting to give the AABA song a shot, try to start with a tagline that doesn’t quite read as a Chorus title. The song idea might be understated and less urgent than a traditional Chorus, perhaps only two lines long. In that case, you may be able to write a powerful AABA song that takes the listener on a wonderful journey.

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