Music 102: The Anatomy of a Song

Knowing the different parts of a song is key to creating stellar choreography. Choreography is not just for dance-based cardio classes! Designing movement sequences that correspond to the music either in lyrics, intensity, or recurring patterns makes a good class turn into a great class. You can choreograph almost any style of class: dance cardio (of course), cardio kickboxing, strength and endurance classes, HIIT-style classes, mind-body classes... anything!

Identifying the different sections of a song can make your choreography more organized and purposeful, as well as easier to remember while cueing. This makes your class easy to follow, and participants end up feeling super successful. For example, if, when every time you hear the chorus of a certain song you're doing pulsing squats, your class members will begin to anticipate that movement when the chorus comes up again.


For reference, let's listen to Zayde Wolf's "Gladiator," and use it to help us identify the different components of a song. This track is great for strength-based movements; the tempo is right and the message is fierce. Take a listen! I'll wait here.


Okay, now, let's talk about the different components of this song:


1. The Intro

The intro of a song is usually anywhere from 8-32 counts of music and build-up to the verse. You can use this time to tell your participants how to set up the first movement, set the tone, and talk about any alignment cues. In the song Gladiator, the intro is from 0:00 - 0:20 (about 24 counts of music), and clearly sets the tone, which, in my opinion is something along the lines of "Oooh, we 'bout ta get serious! Let's do this y'all! Time to LIFT."


2. The Verse

The verses are a great time to do a repeated base move. It gives the participants a brain break and the ability to focus on form. It also gives you the time to call out proper form and alignment cues. Check out the first verse in Gladiator, from 0:21 - 0:33. The song quiets down a little, and the tempo is even. Perfect for that repeated base move and your verbal cues. (Verse 2 of Gladiator starts at 1:09 and ends at 1:22.)


Personally, I like to do the same exact moves in all verses, so students can anticipate the movement. Of course you can do whatever you'd like, but know that simple is usually best! As instructors, we get to know our choreo super well through all of our time spent creating and practicing it, but our participants see and hear it much less than we do (sometimes just once a week). Just keep that in mind!


2a. The Pre-Chorus

Not every song has (what I like to call) a pre-chorus, but I love it when there is one, because you can really build excitement for the chorus, which is the driving sequence of the whole mini-routine. If a pre-chorus is present in a song, I like to use it to build on the base move in the verse or as a "preview" to the chorus. In our example song, Gladiator, the pre-chorus goes from 0:33 - 0:46 (and after the second verse at 1:23 - 1:34). You can hear the music build and build until... boom! You reach...


3. The Chorus

As mentioned above, the chorus is the driving sequence for your whole choreo. It should be the part people look forward to the most and remember the most when they leave class. The section that, while they're standing in line at Qdoba and hear THAT PART, they find themselves saying, "Why do I feel like I should be doing a beastly chest fly right now? Oh yeah! From class! I love that part! I'm a frickin' rockstar!" In Gladiator, you can listen to the chorus from 0:46 - 1:08 and enjoy picturing yourself doing some beast-mode chest fly action.


After the chorus, you usually are met with another verse (and possible pre-chorus), before you hear the chorus again (1:35 - 1:50 in our example song).


4. The Bridge

The bridge is another great opportunity to check in with your participants and give them some reminders. The music changes tempo or intensity, and you can also change tempo and intensity. Shake out, reset, slow down, or even just take a breath, because the bridge will most likely take you back to the chorus, where you can hit it hard one more time. Check out what the bridge sounds like in Gladiator from 1:51 - 2:31).

5. The Outro

Whew! You made it to the end. Your outro can match your intro, or it can simply be a moment to shake out, stretch, and praise your participants' hard work. In our song, the outro is super short, from 3:00 - 3:04... just enough time to do a quick stretch and tell your members that they were AWESOME.


Pro Tip:

Want to give choreo creation a try? Pick a song you know really well and dissect it into the parts mentioned above. What moves do you feel pair really well with what you hear? Put pen to paper and then start moving your body. Does each piece fit together for some smooth and amazing choreography? Do the whole routine from beginning to end. Do you feel empowered? Yes? You're done, baby! And if it feels a little choppy, just substitute in some other moves until it feels right. You will find your stride - just keep trying. Once you get it, I promise, it's super rewarding, and your participants will RAVE about it. Go get 'em!

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