There’s a knack to creating a chorus that sounds like the logical answer to a verse.
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Songs usually have several melodies that need to partner well together. And not just partner well — a good verse melody needs to, in a sense, beg for the chorus. What that means to a songwriter is that verse melodies usually gain energy as they go. That increasing energy causes the audience to stick with the song. So that’s the easy part: it’s simple enough to create melodic energy, and one of the easiest ways is to move the melody upwards as it goes. But you need to do more than that; you need to make sure that the verse and chorus share common characteristics.
One song that shows good melodic structure in this regard is “Give Your Heart a Break“, written by Josh Alexander and Billy Steinberg, and performed by Demi Lovato. The verse moves seamlessly to the chorus, and they work beautifully together. But why?
You’ll notice that both the verse and chorus melodies are comprised of a similar kind of U-shaped melodic motif. In the case of the verse it’s an inverted-U. Each phrase in the verse is 4 bars long, but each phrase is constructed of tiny “micro-phrases”:
The day I
first met you
You told me
you’d never fall in love
Each short line of lyric is 2-3 beats long, each line displaying this inverted-U-shaped melody:
The verse gains energy as it proceeds mainly because the melody moves upward in range, and instrumentation builds.
The chorus melody sounds like a perfect match to the verse, and here’s why: the inverted-U shape of the verse melody gets turned over for the chorus. Instead of a short motif that has its high point in the middle, we now get a short motif with a low point in the middle:
That upside down motif in the chorus does two things:
- it draws a clear connection to the motif of the verse; and
- it allows the chorus to start on a high note, completing the build-up of energy throughout the verse.
The chorus then ends by reverting to the original inverted-U:
There’s something else that’s interesting here, and it’s likely to be something accidental in this case, but does add to the strength of the melodic structure. The melody starts low (beginning of the verse), moves high (beginning of the chorus) and then finishes by moving low (end of the chorus). In that sense, the overall verse-chorus shape is mirrored in the shape of the original motif.
As I say, that’s likely to be accidental in this song, but that’s a compositional technique that was common, and purposefully done, in the music of Classical composers, and especially J. S. Bach. Even as a musical accident, it strengthens the relationship of the various melodies within the song.
So to summarize, verse and chorus melodies work well together when they share common characteristics and show a clear relationship. It’s not usually enough to assume that because they’re in the same key, they’ll combine to make a good pairing.
In your own songwriting, look for ways to take small ideas that occur in the verse, and use them (or in this case, invert them) for use in the chorus.
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