Does a Verse Melody Have to Differ from a Chorus Melody?

by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website:

I’ve devoted considerable space in my e-book The Essential Secrets of Songwriting to describing the differences between verse melodies and chorus melodies. Nothing in the arts is exact; it’s not a science. If it were, I don’t believe we’d have a lot of interest in it. Songwriting would be reduced to the rather boring pursuit of finding the right answer, and then doing it. And then we’d discover that everyone’s songs would sound pretty much the same.

So thank heavens nothing in the world of songwriting is actually a “rule.” Just a set of guidelines that, if followed, gives your song a good fighting chance that it can be a winner.

And so here’s the general wisdom regarding most verse and chorus melodies:

  1. Generally, a verse melody will use lower pitches than a chorus melody.
  2. Often, a verse melody will begin to rise after the mid-point as it approaches the chorus or pre-chorus.
  3. Usually, a chorus melody will feature the tonic (key) note and tonic chord more than the verse melody.
  4. And it’s often the case that verse melodies will be more satisfactorily harmonized with fragile progressions, while chorus melodies work better if they are hamonized with strong progressions.

(A strong progression is one which strongly suggests the key of choice. A fragile progression less strongly implies the key; it might be the kind of progression that could exist in several possible keys. “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” describes this in detail.)

So if that’s the general wisdom, when might any of those guidelines be “bent” a little? Here’s when: in songs where the verse and chorus use the same melody. Hound Dog written by Leiber and Stoller and made most famous by Elvis Presley, is a good example of a song that uses essentially the same melody for both the verse and the chorus. And actually, it works just fine. There’s not much different about how Presley and his band present the verse and chorus. The instrumentation stays the same basically throughout as do the chord changes. There are a couple of solo guitar verses, and that helps generate interest. And the other thing that helps? That the song is only slightly longer than 2 minutes long.

So yes, it’s possible to have a successful song where the “general wisdom” is circumvented. There are no “rules” in music – Don’t let anyone tell you differently. People who write according to rules are probably just replicating what someone else has already done. And… it’s probably quite boring!

If you want to read about how to solve your songwriting woes, get Gary’s suite of 5 songwriting e-books at a “bundle discount” price. Click here to learn more..

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  1. Very interesting article.

    I tend to think that the best advice is to trust to instinctive feel when writing a song. Let it come from the heart and be guided by your natural inbuilt intuition of what is right.

    Where the “rules” come in useful is when you come to edit and polish the raw inspiration. You have the diamond — all it needs is cutting and polishing to show its inner light.

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