Song Structure Lesson – Preservation Hall Lessons

Song Structure

GRADE: K-2, 3-5
SUBJECT: Writing
GENRE: New Orleans Rhythm and Blues
TOPIC: Poetry, Song Writing
DISCIPLINE: Music General


In this lesson, students will identify parts of songs from the New Orleans Rhythm & Blues Unit. They will learn musical terminology and song structure by examining songs and apply strategies to songs from other genres. 



  • Analyze the lyrics of a song.
  • Identify parts of songs such as the chorus and verse.
  • Use song structure vocabulary to describe a song.
  • Describe and compare parts of songs they have studied.
  • Apply song structure terms to songs from their own knowledge base.



National Core Arts Standards

MU:Re7.2.Ka With guidance, demonstrate how a specific music concept (such as beat or melodic direction ) is used in music.
MU:Re7.2.1a With limited guidance, demonstrate and identify how specific music concepts (such as beat or pitch) are used in various styles of music for a purpose.
MU:Re7.2.2a Describe how specific music concepts are used to support a specific purpose in music.
MU:Re7.2.3a Demonstrate and describe how a response to music can be informed by the structure, the use of the elements of music, and context (such as personal and social ).
MU:Re7.2.4a Demonstrate and explain how responses to music are informed by the structure, the use of the elements of music, and context (such as social and cultural ).
MU:Re7.2.5a Demonstrate and explain, citing evidence, how responses to music are informed by the structure, the use of the elements of music, and context (such as social, cultural, and historical).

Common Core State Standards

RL.K.5 Recognize common types of texts (e.g., storybooks, poems).
RL.1.5 Explain major differences between books that tell stories and books that give information, drawing on a wide reading of a range of text types.
RL.2.5 Describe the overall structure of a story, including describing how the beginning introduces the story and the ending concludes the action.
RL.3.5 Refer to parts of stories, dramas, and poems when writing or speaking about a text, using terms such as chapter, scene, and stanza; describe how each successive part builds on earlier sections.
RL.4.5 Explain major differences between poems, drama, and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., verse, rhythm, meter) and drama (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialogue, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text.
RL.5.5 Explain how a series of chapters, scenes, or stanzas fits together to provide the overall structure of a particular story, drama, or poem.



Teachers should familiarize themselves with the terms in the handout Charting Songs and identify the terms in the songs: “Blue Monday,” “Mardi Gras Mambo,” and “Iko Iko” prior to teaching the lesson. These concepts can be applied to songs from other genres (for example, pop, hip-hop, country, classics, or any other genre the teacher or students may enjoy).





  1. Play the song “Mardi Gras Mambo” from the slide Song Structure. Introduce the term “melody.” A melody is “a succession of sounds (pitches) and silences moving through time,” but a vernacular explanation would be “How does the song go?’’ Display the Lyrics: “Mardi Gras Mambo” and ask students to sing the first couplet, then repeat the first couplet by replacing the words with the syllable “la.” Tell the students that the series of “la’s” is the melody. 


  1. Replay the chorus of the song “Mardi Gras Mambo.” Have students sing the first couplet of the chorus. Then sing again replacing the words with the syllable “la” until students understand how to identify the melody. Note: The teacher can use a familiar song or nursery rhyme, such as “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” or “Itsy Bitsy Spider” to support the learning concept.


  1. Tell students modern popular music is based on “hooks.” A hook is a melody that is especially catchy or memorable. Ask students: What do you think is the “hook” or catchy melodic segment from “Mardi Gras Mambo”?


  1. Display slide 5 to review the song structure of “Mardi Gras Mambo.” Students can reference their lyric sheets while analyzing the slide. Discuss the series of structures in the song from the slide animations. Pause on each part to emphasize that musical events take the same amount of time as lyrical ones.


  1. Explain to students why songs have parts and note that not all songs have the same structure. Show an example of a song with just verses, like the Bracketed Lyrics: “Walking to New Orleans” on slide 6. Discuss the series of structures in the song from the slide animations. Pause on each part to emphasize that some musical events take the same amount of time as lyrical ones, like the verse/chorus solo in “Mardi Gras Mambo,” whereas other instrumental parts have shorter verses like in “Blue Monday.”


  1. Tell students that composers create parts to give a song variation and multiple “hooks.”  A song with a chorus and a verse will have a hook in the chorus and a hook in the verse. In other cases, a simple repetition of one hook can work, like in “Walking to New Orleans.” All the song parts that happen in the six-song Rhythm & Blues Unit are explained in this lesson, but other parts, such as bridges, exist in other songs.



  1. Distribute Bracketed Lyrics: “Blue Monday.” Have students listen to “Blue Monday” offering them a chance to annotate the sheet as the song plays. Discuss the notes they made and chart their findings. Ask students: What is the difference between the saxophone solos in “Blue Monday” and “Mardi Gras Mambo”? How does the size of the brackets correspond with the length of the musical event in bars or measures? Clarify any questions or misconceptions about the structure of the song.


  1. Now have students chart a song independently or in small groups. Offer student choice by allowing them to choose a song or share the New Orleans classic Song Structure Lyrics: “Don’t You Just Know It.” Share slide 8 so students can listen to “Don’t You Just Know It” as they annotate the song.


  1. Tell students to draw brackets that correlate in size to the bars or measures and label the verses, choruses, and/or solos. Remind students that songs may not contain all of the parts. Allow time for students to chart their songs. Facilitate through the groups to provide feedback and support as students analyze the lyrics.


  1. Once students have charted their songs, show them slide 9 to review the musical motions. Have students rehearse the musical motions to accompany each song part.  
      • VERSE – Move hands left to right for the verses.
      • CHORUS – Pump hands up and down for the choruses. 

Optional – If students selected their own songs, they can include a musical motion for a solo too. 

      • SOLO – Play an air saxophone/guitar or another instrument during the solo.



  1. Have students play their songs for the class and perform along with the musical motions. Ask students to identify the song parts from the motions. Discuss the parts when the song finishes. Assess students’ knowledge of song parts through their annotations and performances.




Ford, L. 2020. Elements of Music. Retrieved from 


Used with permission. Portions of this work are based on the National Core Arts Standards Copyright © 2015 National Coalition for Core Arts Standards/All Rights Reserved – Rights Administered by SEADAE.

© Copyright 2010. National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers. All rights reserved.

Davis Rogan, Curriculum Developer and Music Artist Liaison
JoDee Scissors, Content Producer



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