Composing Verse and Chorus Melodies That Work Well Together

There’s a knack to creating a chorus that sounds like the logical answer to a verse.

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Demi Lovato: Give Your Heart a BreakSongs 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:

Give Your Heart a Break - Verse Sample 1

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:

Give Your Heart a Break - Chorus Sample 2

That upside down motif in the chorus does two things:

  1. it draws a clear connection to the motif of the verse; and
  2. 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:

Give Your Heart a Break - Chorus Sample 3

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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Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter 

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8 Comments

  1. Pingback: Learn How to Write SongsHow to Write Better Songs Songwriting Basics Learn How to Write Songs

  2. I made a song with vocals and flute. My flute melody is great but when vocal melody is start (singer start singing), it feel that the mood of song is changed. even the both melodies (vocal and flute) are in same key.

  3. Gary,
    I’m not sure how to write music. I play the piano and flute. I’m trying to write songs like Taylor swift and Selena Gomez, but I just can’t get a tune in my head. Could you give me some advice? Maybe a website for help? Thanks much!
    ~Shruti Rajkumar, Age 12

    • Hi Shruti:

      There’s no short answer to your question, but just the fact that you are trying to write songs is an important first step. It’s difficult to suggest ways in which you can become better except to keep trying. In the creative arts, like music, poetry, and other forms of writing, the best advice is to listen to lots of different kinds of music (not just one), try to make writing something you do a little of almost every day, and (as long as you enjoy it) never give up. It takes a lot of perseverance, patience and determination to become better. As I say, there’s no good, short answer to your question, but most of the people who tell me that they find melodies hard are the ones who write long, complicated melodies. If you listen to most pop songs from any era, you’ll notice that they make great use of repetition of short, catchy ideas. Beyond that, it’s hard to advise you without hearing the music that you’re trying to write.

      Hope this helps.
      -Gary

  4. This post is one of my favorites so far!

    It would benefit many songwriters to study motif structure and different ways you can Create similar and contrasting motifs.

    Sometimes for me it seems accidental because I just do what feels right, but at the end of the day there is nothing wrong with analysis!

    • Thanks Ryan. There are people who think that doing analysis of pop music is a waste of time, because much of what’s good about it is probably “accidental.” But to me, the fact that a songwriter may only have been going on instinct doesn’t diminish the power of some of the great ideas that happen in songwriting. Motif is a great example. Connecting different sections of a song by using similar motifs often happens at a subconscious level, but the power of the motif is every bit as important as if they had been consciously aware of what they were doing.

      Cheers,
      -Gary

    • Actually, I really quite like the chorus you’ve written, and the pre-chorus is quite good as well. I’m finding the verse a bit “stark” by comparison. For me, what’s missing is a build-up of energy. Because the same melodic fragment is repeating over and over unchanged, it’s hard for the energy to grow. In most pop-style songs, you’ll find that the verse will move around a bit, and explore. It’s the chorus where things settle into a catchy hook. My advice would be to focus now on the verse, and get something a bit more creative for that section, that builds in energy to connect properly to the chorus.

      Good work!
      -Gary

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