Starting Your Next Song With the Chorus

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Bob Marley - Eric ClaptonA song is a musical journey, and in order for that journey to make sense to the listener, things need to unfold in a somewhat logical way. If your songs usually involve verses, choruses and bridges, you’re missing out on a great opportunity to be creative if you’re always presenting those song elements in the same order. There are lots of other opportunities to “shake things up” a bit, and over the next few blog postings, I want to look at other ways to structure your music. Today, let’s look at the advantages of starting a song with the chorus.

There aren’t that many songs that start this way, but the examples are great ones: “Lady Madonna” (after a piano intro): The Beatles; “I Shot the Sheriff”: by Bob Marley, also a hit for Eric Clapton; and “People Got to be Free“: The Rascals.

If you think of the chorus as the section where you give an emotional reaction to the situations presented in a verse, you might wonder how starting with the chorus would make any sense at all. But it really can work.

The main advantage to starting this way is that your song usually gets a shot of adrenaline right away. If you use the example of “People Got to be Free”, here’s the resulting form:

Chorus – Verse 1 – Chorus – Verse 2 – Chorus – Instrumental break – Chorus…

In the case of Clapton’s version of “I Shot the Sheriff”, the chorus melody resides a little below the melodic range of the verse. So in a way, it’s as if the verse melody takes over an important characteristic of typical chorus melodies. We usually see choruses with higher melodies.

There are no important guidelines to consider or follow when it comes to deciding the order in which song elements should be presented. Listeners will hear a chorus as a chorus mainly because chorus melodies tend to dwell in and around the tonic note. They’ll either start on the tonic, or they’ll present short melodic fragments that keep moving back to the tonic.

That presence of the tonic note keeps the energy level up and excites the audience.

So if you find that your songs come dangerously close to “same old, same old”, innovation may be easier that you may think: simply change up the order of the various song elements. It requires no rewriting – simply reordering. And particularly if your chorus is exciting and singable, with a catchy hook, you can get immediate attention from your audience.

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Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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8 Comments

  1. Come to mind a typical variation used in hard rock/glam: the song starts with the chorus a capella, usually with more voices than the chorus itself. Among others, “In my dreams” by Dokken or “Heaven tonight” by Yngwie Malmsteen. With a very short excerpt from the chorus, just the title of the song, starts “In god we trust” by Stryper. Not a capella, but the song “Wait” by White lion starts with a reorchestrated chorus.

  2. Shot through the heart! And you’re to blame! You give love, a bad name! *drums kick in* *guitar solo* *song actually starts*

    There’s another example for you 🙂

  3. Many Latin songs lately start with the chorus/hook trying to grab attention right away! I think it’s useful as long as it’s not overused… It’s all about beng creative and thinking outside of the box. Take our listeners in a ride and try to have the listener identify with us as if they are part of the story!

  4. Another good Beatles example would be Can’t Buy Me Love which starts immediately on the chorus… no intro at all… and I think that was the first of theirs to start on a chorus. A novel idea at the time…

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