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The way we describe the successful relationship between verse and chorus in songwriting is to say that a good verse “begs for” a chorus. In other words, it’s not enough to simply work out a nice verse melody and follow it with a nice chorus melody. Melodies, on their own, can be beautiful, but you might be unintentionally avoiding a crucial part of successful writing: song energy (i.e., momentum). So how do you end a verse in such a way that it makes the chorus sound like the next logical step?
The trick is to use an open cadence. A cadence, in music, is the end of a musical phrase. A closed cadence is one that sounds final, by which we usually mean that we use the tonic chord as a final harmony. Here’s a progression that ends in a closed cadence:
C F Am F Dm G C
The problem with closed cadences is that musical energy usually dissipates. Closed cadences have a sense of finality, of causing the forward motion of the song to slow up.
The best way to end a verse is to end it with an open cadence. An open cadence uses a chord that feels that it needs more.
Specifically in the case of songwriting, you want a verse to end with a chord other than the tonic chord. Since most choruses begin with a tonic chord, ending the verse with something other than that tonic makes the start of the chorus sound necessary.
And that’s exactly the effect you should be looking for.
Here’s an example of a progression that ends on an open cadence:
C F Am F
You can use the same technique at the end of your chorus. Ending the chorus on a IV-chord or V-chord makes the first chord of the verse sound welcome, and so open cadences are a great way to seamlessly connect verses to choruses, and then back again.
A few examples of this are currently topping the Billboard Hot 100. Avril Levigne’s “What the Hell” uses the IV-chord as a connector from verse to chorus and again from chorus back to verse.
Pink uses that same IV-chord connector in “Raise Your Glass”, and “Hey Baby (Drop it to the Floor)” by Pitbull featuring T-Pain uses the dominant (V) chord as the link.
What you’ll notice is that since most songs tend to use similar verse and chorus progressions, they’ll also tend to use the same connecting harmony to get from verse to chorus, and then back again.
So remember that creating great melodies is no guarantee that you’ll have people sticking with them. One melody needs to end in such a way that people feel they must hear the next one. And one of the best ways to do that is to end your melodies with open cadences.
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