Will a Song Without a Chorus Just Bore Us?

Download “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-book bundle, and FINE-TUNE your songwriting skills!

Bette Midler - The RoseWhen discussing song form, there’s a fairly common understanding that you’re talking about verses and choruses, with a bridge and pre-chorus often thrown into the mix. But the song without a chorus is actually a fairly common form, and it can be a great vehicle for songs that have a very strong lyric. Strong lyrics usually are poetic in nature, with a meaningful message, and such lyrics don’t always fall into a verse-chorus format. But to write the chorus-less song well, you’ve still got to think about harmonic and melodic structure, and look for ways to stave off listener boredom.

So let’s look at some well known songs that are mainly verse structures, and see the many ways you can make a song work without a chorus:

1. The Basic Verse-Only Song. Example: “The Rose” (Bette Midler)
A song written in this manner is usually in four phrases, where phrases 1 and 2 focus on the tonic chord area (lots of I, IV and V chords), phrase 3 moves a little further afield (lots of ii, vi, and ii chords), with phrase 4 bringing it back home. In the case of “The Rose”, phrase 4 is an almost identical repeat of phrase 1.

The song isn’t boring because with each verse, we sense a slow build of song energy that comes from adding vocal harmonies with each verse, as well as a change in vocal style. We also find ourselves hanging on to each line of the lyric: love will snag a listener better than any other subject. Three verses is about the limit with the simple verse-only format.

2. The Verse-With-Refrain Song. Example: “The Times They Are A-Changin'” (Bob Dylan)
The refrain in this kind of song does the same thing that a chorus does, but in a less demanding way. And in a way, refrains can be more poignant; refrains tend to be the title of the song. If you use this format, you’ll need to find a compelling way to move from the verse to the refrain, and the best way to do it is to leave the end of the verse harmonically open; i.e., end your verse on a V-chord if your refrain starts on a I-chord, or end the verse on ii, IV or vi if your refrain starts on a V-chord. The more compelling your lyric, the less need there is to worry about building song energy (as Bob Dylan so expertly demonstrates.)

3. The Verse-With-Solo Song. Example: “Rainy Day People” (Gordon Lightfoot)
If you have no need for anything except a verse, you can offer a bit of variety to the listener by adding instruments as the song proceeds, and then add an instrumental solo. In the case of this great Lightfoot song, verse 3 starts as a simple acoustic guitar instrumental. Not much, but it results in just enough variety to keep the listener from getting bored. Lightfoot also gives a small variation on the melody of the final verse, giving us a climactic high point that doesn’t exist in the other verses. As with most verse-only songs, “Rainy Day People” also has a very strong lyric.

There are lots of other ways to put songs together, but remember that the less variety of form your song shows, the more important it is to offer something to the listener that will keep them reeled in. Generally, it’s the lyric, but in place of a stellar lyric, a strong instrumental component will also do.

-Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
Follow Gary on Twitter


“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” bundle of e-booksDownload “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” for your desktop or laptop, and get back to writing great songs!

Or try “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” iPhone/iPod Touch App.

Posted in Song Form and tagged , , , , , , .


  1. Hank Williams also has a lot of songs with a refrain rather than an actual chorus. Come to think of it all my favorite songwriters prefer songs without choruses, Neil Young, Dylan and so forth

    • Yes, I agree with you. Most of my favourite writers create songs that don’t use a chorus. I think it’s probably due to the poetic nature of their text.. the text develops over its length, rather than in a typical “here’s the situation” (verse) and here’s my reaction to it (chorus)”


  2. Song examples like those above are more about the story telling……

    ( as opposed to just a catchy vibe good time or a dance/Groove song where folks might be more forgiving if the lyrics aren’t going places )

    So the form shouldn’t take precedence over what you’ve got to say…..

    If you can get all the phrases into verses , and say what you’ve got to say, then why sweat or fret about a chorus ?? ( 9 out of 10 listeners aren’t thinking …..(” Shazam; that song had no chorus !!)

    Just make sure you are keeping it fresh and more interesting as it unfolds over time!

    ( as gary pointed out in the text of this article !!)

    Don’t let form lead you by your nose ; worry more about saying something and communicating emotion and then choose to blend it into whatever form suits your message….. Horse and cart stuff

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.