Song structure for DJs – with examples & schematics

When you start DJing, it is very useful to know the structure of a EDM song, also called song arrangement.
Every song consists of building blocks that vary to make the song more interesting.

When you know the structure of a song, you can anticipate on that by using key moments of a song as mix-out or mix-in point

Building blocks

Here are the building blocks for an EDM track.
EDM music producers often use different names than songwriters (plebs), that’s because we EDM producers think we are better 😉

EDM nameAlso known asEnergy level
BuildupPre-chorus— → ++


This is the recurring theme of the song, the most recognizable part, the part that repeats.
A song can have 2, 3 or 4 drops.
This is the melody that people know when they hum the song.

The drop is also the loudest part of the song and it needs the be the most fun and appealing part of
the song.
The break is quieter and has fewer elements (most of the time).
The drop is the most bass heavy, as where the break is mostly less bass heavy.

Some genres of electronic music don’t have a clear distinction between break and drop, like in a
lot of techno and tech house songs.
They do have recurring themes, so you could consider those a drop.
Most of the time they change up quieter and louder parts , you could consider those a break


The break (verse) is the quiet part of the song (tempo often stays the same).
The melody is different than the drop.
In pop, the melody is often the same, but the lyrics are different.
In EDM, the melody is often different for each break.

The break is often announced by a very distinctive bass drop.


The buildup is often called the pre-chorus: it prepares and gets you excited for the drop.
You know it’s coming … just a little bit … just wait … it’s coming … yes …. here we are …. BOOM, here’s the drop.

Some see the buildup part of the break.
Whatever floats your boat, it gives the listener a clear indication of what is coming up.
It builds an expectation.

There can also be a gap of a full bar between the buildup and the drop, just to make the impact
of the drop even bigger (the power of silence).
A typical buildup has the following elements:

  • repeating a melody or repeating a part of the melody
  • the snare sounds that become more frequent over the course of the buildup
  • A riser (white noise, melodic or both)
  • low cut filter


The bridge is uncommon in EDM tracks, but they do exist.
A bridge has a different melody than the break and drop to change things up, and make the song less boring.
The bridge appears only once in a song, mostly between 2 drops at the end.


The intro is the beginning of the song.
It often introduces new musical elements with each block of bars (like a thicker beat, an extra high hat etc).
The intro is a common mix-in point for DJs.


The outro is the end of a song.
It takes away elements of a song with each block of bars.
The outro is a common mix-out point for DJs.

The order and length of song elements

Since 2005 EDM tracks started to have a standard structure, so it is really easy for DJs to understand the structure, so they can easily mix it with a track of a similar structure.
Since then we have a fixed length of block.
The smallest form of a block is 4 bars (often 8).
The rest is a multiplication of 4.

Here is the most commonly used song structure with their length in bars:

BlockBar lengthLength 128 BPM
Intro16 or 32 bars30 or 60 sec.
1st break16 or 32 bars30 or 60 sec.
1st buildup8 bars15 sec.
1st drop16 or 32 bars30 or 60 sec.
2nd break16 or 32 bars30 or 60 sec.
2nd buildup8 bars15 sec.
2rd drop16, 32 or 48 bars30, 60 or 90 sec.
outro16 or 32 bars30 or 60 sec.


  • Notice that there is no Bridge in this example.
  • There can be a 3rd break-buildup-drop pair
  • This is by no means a definitive structure, the order and length can vary (but the 8-bar rule still applies).
  • There are also structural differences between genres: Electro House has a different structure than Techno for example.
    Techno often lacks buildups for example.
  • Tracks that are written for Spotify, often have no break and start immediately with a drop, because the youth has a very short attention span.
  • 128 BPM the block-sizes are exactly 30 seconds (4 beats in a bar x 32 bars = 128 BPM = 60 secs)!
    If your song is 126 BPM for example, it is slightly more than 30 seconds
    If your song is 130 BPM for example, it is slightly less than 30 seconds.

Radio edits and club mixes

There are generally 2 types of tracks:

  • Extended mix / club mix / original mix – has intro and outro
  • Radio edit – has NO intro and outro

As a DJ having an intro and outro makes you like a lot easier to make smooth transitions.
You want to have tracks with intros and outros.

Most commercial tracks you stream or down from commercial stores (Spotify or Apple music) are often radio edits.
When you download or stream from DJ pools/webshops: they often offer extended mixes for DJs.

Look at the waveform

Luckily for us DJs, DJ equipment and software shows us the waveform of a song.
Just by looking at it, you can distinguish the different block elements.

This is a tech house song without build-ups (click to enlarge):

Song structure examples

Let’s take a look at some examples and do an autopsy on each track.
I use some classics, because everybody knows them (I hope).

Martin Garrix – Animals

BlockBar lengthLength 128 BPM
Intro32 bars60 sec.
1st break20 bars
1st buildup8 bars15 sec.
1st drop16 bars30 sec.
2nd break20 bars
2nd buildup8 bars15 sec.
2rd drop24 bars
outro32 bars60 sec.

Genre: electro house/ big room, 128 BPM

Electro house always has a clear distinction between the different elements.
You can see and hear where elements begin and end.
There is a clear intro, a very distinctive low energy break, and a super high energy drop.

The song is 128, so it abides beautifully to our 30 second-rule (albeit sometimes double, sometimes half).

Alex Niggemann – Materium

BlockBar lengthLength
Intro88 bars
1st break36 bars
1st buildup[buildup??]
1st drop32 bars
2nd break32 bars
2nd buildup[none]
2rd drop16 bars
outro40 bars

Genre: tech house, 120 BPM

This has one of those unconventional structures, this is the reason why I included it here, so I can show you some of the exceptions.
Where some elements begin and others end, is maybe up for debate.
If you don’t agree with my analysis I would completely understand why.

  • This song has a huge-ass long intro, to the point that it almost isn’t funny anymore.
    I counted it as an intro (and not a drop), because there were not a lot of melodic elements in the intro.
  • A clear break with absolute silence
  • A whiny buildup that you could maybe count as buildup (I didn’t here).
  • A drop
  • A break that ends with a beat (very strange)
  • A pretty short drop
  • And again a huge-ass outro of a weird 40 bars.

The song is incredibly boring when you listen to it at home.
On the dancefloor at 100dB however, is another story!
You can dream away and forget about the world.

Calvin Harris & Alesso – Under control

BlockBar lengthLength 126 BPM
Intro24 bars
1st break4 bars
1st buildup4 bars
1st drop8 bars± 15 sec.
2nd break28 bars
2nd buildup8 bars± 15 sec.
2rd drop16 bars± 30 sec

Genre: Electro house/pop, 126 BPM

Here an extremely sucky track to mix in and out (click to enlarge).
In the entire intro is a vocal, a drop at the end with vocal, and there is no outro (sorry, the included YouTube version has an outro, but not my version).
The version I have is a radio edit (not a club mix/extended mix).

  • The intro is pretty long
  • The 1st break is super short with 4 bars
  • The 1st buildup is also short with 4 bars
  • The 1st drop is also pretty short with 8 bars
  • The 2nd break is super long
  • The 2nd buildup is twice as long as the first one
  • The 2nd drop is 16 bars
  • The YouTube video has an outro, my radio edit doesn’t
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