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Section 12.2 AABA Form

The AABA form is associated with the hits of the musicals of the 1930s and remained one of the most popular forms of popular music until the 1950s, when Rock ‘n’ Roll became popular. Each section (A or B) is typically 8 measures long. The A sections contain the primary melody we associate with the song while the B section provides contrast and is often called the “bridge” or “middle eight.”

0:00–0:10 Introduction, 8 bars
0:10–0:18 A section (A1), 8 bars
0:18–0:26 A section (A2), 8 bars
0:26–0:35 B section, 8 bars
0:35–0:45 A section (A3), 10 bars
0:45–0:53 A section, 8 bars (instrumental shout chorus)
0:53–1:02 Introduction, 8 bars (shout chorus continues)
1:02–1:10 A section (A1), 8 bars
1:10–1:19 A section (A2), 8 bars
1:19–1:27 B section, 8 bars
1:27–1:35 A section (A3), 8 bars
1:35–1:54 Coda, 12 bars
Table 12.2.1 Gershwin, “I Got Rhythm”

It is common for one or more of the A sections to be instrumental, and it is also common to eliminate an A section on the repeat of the entire AABA form (AABAABA, for example).

Other well known songs with AABA form include Over the Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz as well as many famous songs from the Great American Songbook by George Gershwin (“Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” “Someone to Watch Over Me”), Cole Porter (“Anything Goes,” “Love for Sale,” “I Get A Kick Out of You”), Irving Berlin (“Blue Skies,” “Puttin’ on the Ritz”), and Jerome Kern (“The Way You Look Tonight,” “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”).

The AABA form continued to be dominant into the 1960s (including Beatles songs like “Yesterday,” “Norwegian Wood,” and “Hey Jude,” to name a few). The AABA form is less common in the present day but can be found in songs like The Cure’s “Friday, I’m in Love” (1992) and Norah Jones’s “Don’t Know Why” (1999).

A note on terminology: the entire 32–bar AABA form is sometimes called a “refrain” or “chorus,” and some AABA songs are preceded by a “verse.” This means a song like “Someone To Watch Over Me” begins with a verse and is followed by a “refrain” (which could also be called a “chorus”). Other synonymous terms you may encounter for “verse” in the context of AABA form are “prelude” and “introduction.”