The AABA Song Form

Classic Construction Formula for Many Songs

Judy Garland In 'The Wizard Of Oz'
Judy Garland in a scene from the film 'The Wizard Of Oz', 1939. MGM Studios / Getty Images

Popular in the first half of the 20th century as a formula for writing music, "AABA" is a type of song structure that has a predictable sequence for songwriting. This song form is used in a variety of music genres including pop, gospel, and jazz.

To better understand what the As and B means, the As represent two opening verse sections, a bridge (B), which is a transition to the final (A) verse section.

Classic Construction

In the classic AABA song format, each section is comprised of eight bars (measures). The formula can be illustrated as such:

  1. A (verse) for 8 bars
  2. A (verse) for 8 bars
  3. B (bridge) for 8 bars
  4. A (verse) for 8 bars

You will notice that this song has 32 bars all in all. The first two A verse sections are composed of verses which are similar in melody but different in lyrical content. Then, this is followed by the bridge, the B section, which is musically and lyrically different than the A sections.

The bridge gives the song contrast before transitioning to the final A section. The bridge usually uses different chords, a different melody, and the lyrics usually shift. The bridge acts as an interlude between verses, which can give a song a jolt.

Some popular hits using the AABA form are "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," by Judy Garland, "Do You Want to Know a Secret," by The Beatles, and "Just the Way You Are," by Billy Joel.

Example of the AABA Song Form

In "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" by Judy Garland, you can see how the first two verses establish the main melody of the song. Then the bridge shifts the song into a different gear, giving it a contrasting quality. Then, the return to the last verse provides the listener a comfortable return to what is familiar.

AFirst verseSomewhere over the rainbow way up high
ASecond verseSomewhere over the rainbow skies are blue
BBridgeSomeday I'll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind me
AFinal verseSomewhere over the rainbow bluebirds fly...

Exceptions to the Rule

There are many AABA songs that do not follow the 8-8-8-8 format, for example, the song "Send in the Clowns" has a 6-6-9-8 format. Sometimes a songwriter may feel the need to lengthen the AABA song form by adding another bridge or adding an additional A section. This format can be illustrated as A-A-B-A-B-A. 

Example of AABABA Song Form

In "Longer" by Dan Fogelberg, the second bridge may either be lyrically the same or different than the first bridge and at times it can also be an instrumental part, as in this case. The last A section may also be a repeat of an earlier verse or an entirely new verse that gives the song a sense of completion.

AFirst verseLonger than there've been fishes in the ocean 
ASecond verseStronger than any mountain cathedral
BBridgeI'll bring fires in the winters 
AThird verseThrough the years as the fire starts to mellow
BBridge(Instrumental)
AFinal verseLonger than there've been fishes in the ocean (repeats first verse)