Song Structure in Electronic Music and Dubstep

Developing a song is more than just the pieces placed together. It’s about creating a fluid story. In this article, I am going to go over how to arrange your track and getting a solid song structure for your music.

The Building Blocks of an Arrangement:

To start, let’s go over the parts that make up an arrangement. There are many different terms, depending on the style of music. For our purposes, we will be looking at these basic terms and then applying them to the electronic music arrangement:

  • Intro: The intro is pretty much anything you want it to be. Many songs start with just the melody that is rising up. You can even create a melodic question that is answered by the rest of the song or something of the sort. The important thing is to not stay too long at the intro and make it tie in quickly.
  • Verse: The Verse is the first main part of your melody and story of your arrangement. It repeats a few times before moving on to the chorus. Verses are usually used in music with lyrics. Music with a verse, or verse like aspects, can do really well by ending the melodic and harmonic line with tension. Either with a I chord or a V chord and then resolve it in the chorus.
  • Chorus: This is the main part of the song. It is the hook, the thing you want people to remember and has most of the power of the song. This part should have energy and be no longer than the verse. It will usually repeat like: Verse, Chorus, Verse, and chorus.
  • Solo: This can be used anytime, preferably after a round or two of chorus and verse, to add a little jam feel. Used a lot in jazz and can really create cool sections in music. When you are thinking of live performance Solo parts are always fantastic, even if it’s not in your released track.
  • Break or Bridge: This is used to break up what the listener has paid attention to. In electronic music, you usually take out the drums and add a rising sound to the next part. A bridge/break can be more powerful by adding new instruments or changing the key. Try to keep this at 8 measures or less.
  • Riser: A Riser is just like a break except that it is arpeggiating or having some sort of buildup that is released with the next section coming in. Usually no beat and last 8 measures or 16. When the next part comes in, it will have a lot more energy and should be the climax of the piece.
  • Outro: This is used to resolve the song and come in for a smooth landing. Some son’s don’t have an outro and others have a long outro. You can also add a final sense by adding a Coda, or strong cadence at the end of your track.

This video walks through the different building block of a track in Ableton Live.

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The Structure of a Song

A typical Pop Arrangement goes Intro, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Outro. There are different radiation of it, but that is the basics. In electronic Music without words, it generally does not have a Verse and Chorus. I view it as the “main” section. Below is an example of a Dubstep Song and its structure. The song is one of the screams and is classic Dubstep.

It is a fairly simple arrangement starting with the intro, repeating the main section with some breaks. Repeating, and then ending. This song structure is more electronic songs with variations.

Another example is the song arrangement of Halcyon & on & on from the Hackers soundtrack. Considered to be one of the first epic trance songs. It’s a very similar structure, but over a much longer amount of time. There is also the Main B which was a totally different melody and feeling section to break things up.

Tips on Songwriting

Here are some basic concepts to keep in mind when thinking about your arrangement: Keep it a short intro for dance music

  • Breaks create a tension that leads power to the next section
  • Have most elements come in and repeat every 8 or 16 measures
  • Have the breakdown around 50% in the track or more
  • Have the climax after the breakdown or around %50-%60 into the song
  • Create change and interest in your song by breaking with melodic changes or drum brakes
  • Most pop songs are 3:30 and electronic songs can be any length.
  • There is a difference between the dance floor and the bedroom. On the dance floor and during a live performance try taking out intros and increase the parts of the tracks with a steady beat to keep the audience’s attention.

There you go, that was a lot on building out your tracks composition and understanding the basic building blocks.


The subject of songwriting is vast. It’s easy for electronic musicians to get obsessed with sound design and mixing, but the songwriting is the number one thing that will make or break your song. There are hundreds of examples of badly mixed tracks that have been a hit, but there are few tracks where the composition was bad and it had staying power.

If you’re interested in learning more about songwriting and lighting fast workflow, then check out my course on Fast Songwriting with Ableton Live.

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By |2019-01-05T12:59:59+00:00December 26th, 2018|Music Theory, Producers Blog|40 Comments

40 Comments

  1. gene September 26, 2011 at 5:18 pm - Reply

    Here is some advance notes I got from a forum. It’s a quote of a quote:
    4/4 at 140bpm measures

    1-32 = intro (keep it simple, and easy to fallow rhythmically so dj’s will want to match it up in the heat of a mix, or while performing)
    33-64 = bass and drums – main meat of the tune
    65-96 = add something (like a pad or slight change in bassline, some congas, or a arp synth) keep it rollin
    97-112 = break (take out most) (put your little voice sample in here, and a riser or a buildup take out the drums maybe the bass too.)
    113-160 = All in (bass, drums, pads) – climax of the tune..
    161-176 = subtract something (take out the congas, or the synthy arp thing)
    177-208 = outro (take out more stuff, get minimal here)
    209 = ending (a little sound, or a delay echoing off into the distance, or your little voice thing you used in the break.)

    • Andre July 7, 2014 at 5:13 am - Reply

      Thank You Gene, FUKIN LOVE YA

    • lionel November 5, 2014 at 9:07 pm - Reply

      thats a interesting approach, traditionally the climax is a bit early , yours starts just after half way and most composers would choose to do that at around the two thirds point of a piece

    • arkon January 28, 2015 at 12:46 am - Reply

      Waahhh…
      Its amazing man!!!!
      Tnxxxx a lot…!!!

    • Jaser Baldes April 7, 2015 at 6:40 am - Reply

      Tjis really helps thanks for the comment.

    • Visitor May 1, 2015 at 3:44 am - Reply

      Hello!

      I found it difficult to understand beats, so I transformed it from beats to bars.
      Thanks all for the help and keep it going!

      1-8 = intro (keep it simple, and easy to fallow rhythmically so dj’s will want to match it up in the heat of a mix, or while performing)
      9-16 = bass and drums – main meat of the tune
      17-23 = add something (like a pad or slight change in bassline, some congas, or a arp synth) keep it rollin
      24-28 = break (take out most) (put your little voice sample in here, and a riser or a buildup take out the drums maybe the bass too.)
      29-40 = All in (bass, drums, pads) – climax of the tune..
      41-44 = subtract something (take out the congas, or the synthy arp thing)
      45-52 = outro (take out more stuff, get minimal here)
      53 = ending (a little sound, or a delay echoing off into the distance, or your little voice thing you used in the break.)

      • Sam March 6, 2015 at 4:40 am - Reply

        I believe it is the bars

      • Rafael Barbosa August 6, 2015 at 9:35 am - Reply

        No, It’s the seconds…. 1 – 32 is the intro to the song… so the song has a 32 second intro…

        • no its not August 13, 2015 at 12:04 pm - Reply

          lol

          • Name January 30, 2016 at 6:47 pm

            username relevant

      • DJ Salty November 30, 2015 at 6:04 pm - Reply

        hahaha its bars/measures. The 4/4 is called a time signature and it tells you what to count and how many. On sheet music, they are actually on top of each other like a fraction but since I can’t type like that they are side by side.

        A time signature of 4/4 is the most common used time signature but you can also have 2/4, 3/4, 6/8, etc. I n time signature of 4/4 the first number (top number) tells you how many beats to count. The second number (bottom number) tells you what kind of notes to count. That is, whether to count the beats as quarter notes, half notes, eighth notes, sixteenth notes, etc. So the only numbers you will see as the bottom number (the second number) will correspond to note values; 1=whole note (you will never see this), 2=half note, 4=quarter note, 8-eigth note, etc.

        So a time signature of 4/4 means count 4 (top number) quarter notes to each bar. So the beat is counted 1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4, so on (one bar would be 1,2,3,4…two bars would be 1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4). A time signature of 3/4 means count 3 quarter notes to each bar. So the beat is counted 1,2,3,1,2,3, so on (one bar would be 1,2,3…two bars would be 1,2,3,1,2,3). A time signature of 6/8 means count 6 eighth notes to each bar. 1,2,3,4,5,6,1,2,3,4,5,6, so on.

        So with that being said, on a time signature the bottom number corresponds to note value (mentioned above…1=whole note 2=half note) and the top number is how many beats you must have in that bar.

        So now to confuse you even more, we are going to talk about rhythm within a bar. Rhythm, in basic terms, is a pattern of regular or irregular beats within a bar. In a time signature of 4/4, all the notes in each bar must add up to 4 quarter notes. Any combination of rhythms can be used as long as they add up to 4 quarter notes. For instance, a bar could contain 2 quarter note, and 4 eighth notes (sum it together and you have 4 quarter notes total) or it could contain 1 half note, 1 quarter note, and 4 sixteenth note (sum it together and you have 4 quarter notes total). You can never have more than or less than the sum total of the number of beats in the time signature.

        In music you rarely will hear a rhythm that has a regular pattern. If that was the case, music would be very boring. Sill using the time signature of 4/4, tap your computer, with your finger, in 1 second intervals for 4 sec (*TAP* 1 Mississippi,*TAP* 2 Mississippi,*TAP* 3 Mississippi,*TAP* 4 Mississippi). That is an example of a 4 quarter note rhythm for one bar. Now do the same thing but instead of tapping your finger in one sec intervals for four sec, tap twice on sec one, once on sec two, twice on sec three, and once on sec four. (*TAP* *TAP* 1 Mississippi,*TAP* 2 Mississippi,*TAP**TAP* 3 Mississippi,*TAP* 4 Mississippi). That is an example of 2 quarter notes and 4 sixteenth notes rhythm for one bar.

        So basically what the guys above were saying is that you will hear a rhythm change at bar 31, 63, 95, etc. (Technically

        For EDM music, 90% of the time this is how a, track is broken down, in laymen terms(…numbers = bars not beats…).
        (“Main 1”, “Build-Up 1”, etc are equivalent to the chores, melody, etc. just different names)
        1-4 – start your intro for main 1
        5-8 – continue your intro for main 1 with very little change
        9-12 – add a bass line to Main 1
        13-16 repeat Main 1 and introduce Build-up 1
        17-20 Build up 1 should be taking over Main 1 almost cutting out Main 1 completely
        21-24 Cut Build up 1 and if anything is left from Main 1 and intro Drop 1
        25-28 slight change to the Drop 1
        29-32 Intro Break-Down 1
        33-36 Break-Down 1 should be taking over Drop 1
        37-41 Cut Out Break-Down 1 and Drop 1, Into Out 1
        42-45 repeat with no changes, or major changes (its your track, do what ever you want)
        etc.

      • Regina April 22, 2016 at 12:01 pm - Reply

        That inisght’s perfect for what I need. Thanks!

  2. gene September 26, 2011 at 5:30 pm - Reply

    I like to mix tunes that I can ride all the way to the end, and let the song mix itself out with the last little noise.
    I like to put fills in 1 or 2 measures before each change, i.e, measure 63 and 64 would be a drum fill, or a pause, or something to give it character. I find it nice to make each fill different. and that takes away from such a repetitive feel.

    so fills would be measures
    31-32
    63-64
    95-96
    111-112
    159-160
    175-176

  3. mo January 28, 2013 at 1:39 pm - Reply

    Great article , thanks a lot !!!

  4. Renato Veiga April 7, 2013 at 7:37 am - Reply

    Very appreciated article.
    I was chasing in the web for the structure of EDM, mostly Electro-House.
    So, can I consider the “Intro, Verse, Riser etc” above the same for Electro-House?
    Could you, please, name the sections for the song below? If not bothering.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n97GHhcS3uw
    Thanks.

  5. athen June 16, 2013 at 8:07 am - Reply

    I cant find the download link for this template, it is not at the end of the article, not shown on the video, where is it? or didn’t you post it?

  6. Jason Stark February 15, 2014 at 6:32 pm - Reply

    I would like to know the best way to mix up verse-chorus structure with dance music structures.

    • Jack Firth December 28, 2018 at 12:05 pm - Reply

      Thanks bro I was wondering when someone was gonna but the bars one on xD

  7. watch out for the February 27, 2014 at 2:24 am - Reply

    I always spent my half an hour to read this blog’s posts everyday along with a mug
    of coffee.

  8. Giovani March 4, 2015 at 7:56 pm - Reply

    Excuse my ignorance, but what do the numbers on the left represent??
    ex:

    31-32
    63-64
    95-96
    111-112
    159-160
    175-176

  9. MICHAEL BAILEY August 6, 2015 at 9:00 am - Reply

    This is so helpful, thanks!!

  10. adedayo September 7, 2015 at 2:11 pm - Reply

    thank you

  11. Robbie March 3, 2016 at 11:15 am - Reply

    Your article was very useful. Good tip. Thank You! I was stuck with an arrangement where the sounds were interesting and worked well together but overall the track sounded boring. After I read your article I went back to my arrangement to try again. Now the track is in the finishing stages. . :) F.A.B.
    Thanks

    • Subaqueous September 7, 2015 at 6:54 pm - Reply

      Your welcome. Glad to help adedayo.

      • Robbie March 3, 2016 at 11:01 am - Reply

        Very well written explanation. Thank you..

  12. Mike March 17, 2016 at 8:28 pm - Reply

    So been working with fl studio 11 and I’m having troubles intergrating a bass line into the melody of my songs is there a trick to adding it into the count or into the time signatures

    • Subaqueous March 3, 2016 at 11:28 am - Reply

      Wow… yes… So glad to help you out Robbie. Feel free to post the track here when you have it done. Thanks a lot for your comment.

    • ryan January 8, 2019 at 1:15 pm - Reply

      My favorite trick is instantaneous silence at the beginning of the bar for the drop, because everyone’s ears are expecting a loud crash on the “1”, ..so i use a fade-in wobbled growl bass (without the sub-bass)that escalates rapidly through the “1-&”…
      then when the first snare (or clap) hits – you bring the hurt, incl. sub-bass,alternating lazers, screams, wubs, arps and a steady detuned pad rhythm in the background containg the mid-body sound. I have an example if you want to hear, get me at [email protected]

  13. Tristan April 7, 2016 at 6:19 am - Reply

    Thanks for the amazing breakdowns but what would the structure of a modern day 2016 dubstep song? people like MUST DIE! and Megalodon are killing it!

  14. Sahil June 26, 2016 at 9:30 pm - Reply

    Great this article very helpfully

  15. Josh August 8, 2016 at 6:01 am - Reply

    Cheers

  16. Cristobal Bragagnolo October 31, 2016 at 9:32 pm - Reply

    Thanks mate. Pretty good comments too.

  17. Shamai May 21, 2017 at 10:56 pm - Reply

    thank you so much!!

  18. jn December 21, 2017 at 9:08 am - Reply

    What about the melodic structure and buildup, any elements yyou would suggest to put in?

  19. Jordan Freedman January 23, 2018 at 11:45 pm - Reply

    Honestly? While I took a little piano as a kid, and wanted to learn some basic structure and had picked up snippits? I had a hard time with getting it. Between the article itself and the comments? I have a MUCH greater understanding.

    Thank you for the article? And thank you the commenters. All of you have been invaluable!!!

  20. Jordan Freedman January 23, 2018 at 11:47 pm - Reply

    You all gave me the basic education I needed.

  21. Dr Lobster June 11, 2018 at 10:13 am - Reply

    This is really well done, please keep articles like this coming! How about templates specific to sub genres?

  22. Music song November 29, 2018 at 11:42 pm - Reply

    very fantastiy

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