Analyzing The Hits

Now let’s look at some recent hits.


Katy Perry

“Firework” is a more or less traditional pop song in that it has a common structure found in most hits. It looks like this:

short intro | verse | B-section | chorus | chorus  | verse | B-section | chorus | chorus | bridge | chorus | chorus | outro

That doesn’t mean it’s boring, though. The song builds nicely and takes us through a couple of peaks (one at the bridge and one at the outro), thanks to the song’s built-in dynamics.

The Arrangement

The intro and first verse are extremely sparse, with the strings entering at the first B-section and continuing to build to a crescendo through the first chorus. The chorus repeats with additional movement thanks to the entrance of the bass.

The first half of the second verse drops down to just 8th notes on the keyboards plus the drum pattern, but changes with the entrance of the bass on the second half—a very nice arrangement touch that keeps the interest high by changing the dynamics of the song. Dynamics is a huge key to excitement, either live or on a record, and this song is an excellent example of how it is done. The arrangement elements are:

Foundation: bass and drums

Rhythm: keyboard playing 8th notes, strings

Pad: synth in the bridge

Lead: lead vocal

Fills: strings in the chorus



Bruno Mars

If you were going to write a straight-down-the-middle pop song, this is the way to do it. The song is unusual in that it begins right with the verse with no intro. Other than that it’s formula all the way, not that there’s anything wrong with that if it works (it does here). Basically the song looks like this:

verse | chorus | 2-bar interlude | verse | chorus |  

bridge | two-bar interlude | verse | outro

The Arrangement

Just as the form of the song follows a formula, so does the arrangement. It develops from the sparse first verse to the big chorus, then drops to a less sparse second verse, and finally peaks at the bridge. The tension is released by the stripped-down last outro verse, which is very unusual since most outros retain the big sound, and the tension, to the end.

There’s an organ that plays just underneath everything that acts as the Pad and glues the track together, which is a pretty common use for the instrument. What’s interesting is that the arpeggiated electric piano line in the verse acts as the Rhythm element, but during the chorus the rhythm switches to the double time feel of the drums. The arrangement elements are:

Foundation: bass and drums

Pad: organ

Rhythm: arpeggiated electric piano line in the verse, the double time feel of the drums in the chorus and outro, percussion

Lead: lead vocal

Fills: background vocals and the occasional percussion sound effect

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