Comparing Verse and Chorus Structure

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

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Songwriter and PenWe usually use the word “progression” when we talk about the process of one chord moving to another. But songwriters would be well advised to consider using that word to describe how any element evolves over the length of a song. In particular, the relationship between verse and chorus can be seen as a “progression” from one section to the next, implying an evolution of ideas.

I’ve often said that chorus melodies should reside a bit higher in pitch than verse melodies, and should feature the tonic chord and note more often. That of course is true, but I am suggesting even more. Chorus melodies should show not just a contrast with regard to range and choice of chords and notes; they should also show a connection to the verse that came before it. Here are some ideas for making sure that your verse and chorus both feel connected with each other.

  1. One sure way to make a verse beg for a chorus is to end the verse with an “open cadence,” which means to end with a V-chord or any other non-tonic chord in your chosen key. Such a chord requires resolution to the I-chord, a good choice for the start of your chorus.
  2. Though you want to differentiate between your rhythms in the verse and the ones you use in the chorus, don’t abandon all of your verse rhythms in the chorus. You can make more of a connection if you take verse rhythms and possibly modify them a bit for your chorus. For example, if your verse melody uses a particular rhythmic figure a lot, try finding a way to change aspects of it for use in the chorus.
  3. Try taking some of the melodic ideas from your verse, and invert them for your chorus. For example, if your verse melody uses a certain descending leap, try flipping it and using an ascending melodic leap in the chorus.
  4. Don’t make a wholesale change in instrumentation between the verse and chorus. Consider adding instruments for the chorus that already existed in the verse. Adding to what’s already there builds song energy.

The result of making these kinds of connections between verse and chorus is that the listener (usually subconsciously) senses that the two sections are more closely related than simply one melody following another.

And keep in mind that it’s not necessary to have a dramatic difference between verse and chorus melodies. For example, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” uses a verse and chorus melody that are almost identical, with rhythmic differences that come simply from a different text.

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