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Does dubstep really have a structure?

We all agreed that dubstep music has its own specific features like heavy bass and drum patterns, syncopations, intense electronics sounds, upbeat groove, and with a constant rhythm of 138-142 beats per minute. Dubstep music

usually starts off pretty clean with simple beats and bass, and it gradually accumulate as the song progress, towards a collaboration of different rhythmic elements. Tension and texture of the piece follow a slightly right-shifted inverted U-curve with usually two peaks, before and after the break. One cannot say there is a specific ‘structure’ associated with dubstep music, i.e. there is no “if it follows this ‘structure,’ this is qualified to be named a dubstep piece” that kind of thing. Even though, structure of popular dubstep pieces usually undergo a very similar formula, which is actually adopted from the pop song structure.


What is a pop song structure?

Pop songs are strophic and sectional. Sections are made up by 4-measure building blocks, which is standard among EDM and pop music. A lot of them follow a verse-chorus form.

Verses (A) are like stanza in poetry. Different verses has very similar melody but different text. Since not all dubstep music has text, it will be more precise to call it ‘first musical idea.’ It exists primarily to support and lead into the chorus. Verse and chorus (B) contrasts melodically, rhythmically and harmonically. Chorus are usually more active, usually have the same or very similar text very time when it comes up. The verse-chorus pair appears 2 or 3 times in the song, with an instrumental break in between acting as a bridge to direct first chorus back to 2nd verse. The bridge acts as a transition. It is commonly, though not necessarily, quieter than verses and choruses. The bridge will wind down tension created in the chorus and prepare the piece to go back to the verse.

The whole song is then bracketed by an intro and an outro. Introduction is a section that opens the piece; it is important because it usually builds up suspense for the listener. It will be wise if you can throw in some short musical idea to the introduction from the main sections so that your piece will be recognised once the introduction dropped in. This is how we will summarised a verse- chorus pop song structure:

Intro- A - B - break A’- B’- B’- outro

Adapt to dubstep music

Here we collect four different approaches in structuring a dubstep piece from the internet. Different terminology is used in different approaches, though you can easily see the verse-chorus pop song structure in them.


A: subaqueous producers blog

B: dubstep forum (2009)

C: make beats forever website by Zack Grey

D: djtrauma blog


What makes the structure?

So now we know how pop songs and most EDM are structured. But what exactly you should do musically to create a section? Here’re a few tips:

Melody contrasts

Being the most catchy part always, melody will be a good tool for you to set up the sections. Return of a melody will create a sense of return in the audience head leading to a sense of unity. The melody does not have to repeat exactly in the later sections, as long as some of the distinguished features is kept to recall the first appearance of the melody from pervious section.

Groove change (melodic or rhythmic)

Human is sensitive to patterns. The term apophenia is used to describe human tendency to see patterns or connections in random or meaningless data. Therefore structure, or sections, can be set up by different insistent grooves. For example having two grooves contrasting in rhythm (on beat vs. syncopated), melody ( stepwise vs. angular) or instrumentation (having two different instrument to dominate in different sections) will be the easiest way to create sections.

Texture contrasts

Texture is something easy to forget, however, controlling texture will create crucial change in the sense of structure. Carefully plan out the textural plan before putting anything in the sequence will give you a guideline of how to piece should go. The piece can be effortlessly done by filling in ‘meat’ in the framework. Pick 3-5 instruments/ synth/ pad that you are gonna use as the spine, and drop out one or two at different sections.

Now you know the basics about structure. Why don’t you plan out a structure before starting your next piece? Or start analysing structure of an old work that you like!

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