Songwriting Toolkit: The Verse-Verse-Verse Hymn Structure

by Bobby Gilles

in Songwriting/Hymn Workshop

After an article defining the common song elements  (verse, pre-chorus, chorus, refrain, bridge), we’ve looked at the Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus (V-C-V-C) songwriting structure and the V-C-V-C-B-C structure (where “B” stands for “bridge”).

Today we examine Verse-Verse-Verse (V-V-V). This last major structure isn’t used as often today but is still the most-repeated structure in the history of Christian song, because it is the structure used in nearly all hymns until the 19th century, when refrains (and later, choruses) began to grow in popularity.

V-V-V is often called the “storytelling” or “balladeer” structure because the form allows for more room to tell a story than other forms. Let’s say you have a three-verse hymn, with eight lines per verse. That’s 24 lines in which to tell your story. Compare that to a V-C-V-C-B-C song in which the verses each contain four lines, the chorus contains four more and the bridge adds two. That’s a total of fourteen lines – ten less than the hymn.

Of course the verses of some hymns contain just four lines, like “Amazing Grace,” while others contain six, like “Rock of Ages.” And many hymns have more than three verses (the most common is four verses, so that’s V-V-V-V). The more verses a hymn has, however, the more likely that churches will omit one or more of the verses.

Since V-V-V has no chorus, the title often comes from the first line of the song. Consider “When I Survey The Wond’rous Cross,” “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed,” “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and “In Christ Alone.”

“For me, (and I’m borrowing from the great hymn writer James Montgomery here), a good hymn text has a striking first line.  It needs to be immediately accessible the first time you sing it, not too poetically obtuse and opaque.  But it needs to bring new insights when you sing it over and over again.  This is a very tricky balance to achieve by the way.  It’s very rare for a great poet to be a great hymn writer.”

Kevin Twit, founder of Indelible Grace, in an interview with me here at My Song In The Night

The hook may also be the last line of each verse. Brooks Ritter and I did this on the contemporary hymn “Lead Us Back,” ending each verse with “Lead us back to life in You.”

Since few current songwriting blogs and books mention this form, and since even fewer dive into the depths of hymn-text writing, we discuss it quite a bit here. You can get started by visiting our Modern Hymns page.

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