I already published the main part of this article last year on my blog Shuffle Projects and it was well received.
It’s a good thing when a Swing DJ has basic knowledge about music theory. So I decided to edit the article and re-publish it here for you.
What you can expect:
After a short introduction you will learn more about the theory of AABA.
Then you can listen to an example, where the AABA form is used and finally I’ll show you an interesting analysis I have discovered by coincidence.
The AABA form was style-defining for the popular music of the United States. It is the basic form of most of the so-called Tin Pan Alley songs.
Tin Pan Alley was the nickname of the 28th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan New York. Between ca. 1895 and 1930, a majority of music publishers were settled in this district and responsible for the flourish of the American popular song during that time.
Many songwriters and composers worked for these publishers. The songs were published as sheet music, the base for an essential part of the Jazz standard repertoire.
Theory of AABA or thirty-two-bar form
Many of the so-called jazz standards (and thousands of more tunes) are written in the AABA form.
The AABA form usually consists of 32 bars.
These 32 bars are divided in four 8 bar sections: Two A sections or verses, a B section or “Bridge” (also: middle eight) and another A section or verse:
A – 8 bars
A – 8 bars
B – 8 bars
A – 8 bars
The first two A sections (A1 and A2) are verses with similar chords and a similar melody, while the lyrics may change.
The following bridge builds a contrast to the A sections using different chords, a different melody and different lyrics, before it is transitioning to another A.
This last A section (A3) repeats the first two A’s with similar chords and a similar melody. The lyrics may be different or one verse may be repeated.
Important distinction between musicians and dancers: musicians always count on 4 while swing dancers are counting on 8. With that said: 8 bars = 4 eights.
Example: “Take The ‘A’ Train”
Artist: Duke Ellington & His Orchestra, 1941
Composer: Billy Strayhorn
Listen to the song:[audio:https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/shp-audio/AABA/Take+The+A+Train.mp3|titles=Take The A Train]
0:00-0:06 Intro (4 bars)
0:06-0:52 A A B A
0:52-1:38 A A B A
1:38-1:43 Transition (4 bars) with key change
1:43-2:29 A A B A
2:29-2:52 last A repeated another two times and fading out
When writing the original article, I coincidentally found a great analysis of exactly that song. You learn visually, how the song is structured and which instruments are playing at the moment while listening to the song.
Take The ‘A’ Train Analysis
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Photo source G key: yosterix