Since you want song energy to either stay the same or increase as a song proceeds, it seems to be obvious that you’ll want verse melodies to sit, on average, lower in pitch than chorus melodies. This is because when pitches move upward listeners tend to interpret that as an increase in energy. But there are lots of ways to generate energy in a song. And in fact, if you do it right, you can have a chorus melody sit generally lower in pitch than a verse, while still having an audience perceive that the energy is higher.
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There are songs that have verse melodies that either begin or end with the song title, and feature a melody that’s mainly downward-moving: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, and “Tears in Heaven” (Eric Clapton).
But what about a chorus melody that’s actually lower than the verse? They’re rarer, but an example of a chorus that’s lower than its preceding verse would be Steve Miller Band’s “Take the Money and Run“. And in that case, we’re really talking about a refrain as opposed to a chorus. A better example might be Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”
So why does it seem to work? You’d think that a lower chorus would kill energy. But there are things that songwriters need to do, especially at the production/recording stage, to ensure that song energy is maintained or even increased:
- Use a strong, easily recognizable hook in the chorus. Certainly “Smoke on the Water” comes close to getting the prize for one of the most easily recognized hooks in popular songwriting history.
- Use vocal harmonies throughout the chorus to build energy and momentum. Some songs have a chorus and verse sitting at roughly the same range, but the energy is increased by the addition of tight vocal harmonies in the chorus. A good example of this is the Bee Gee’s “Stayin’ Alive“.
- Move instrumental accompaniment for the chorus higher in pitch. Sometimes all it takes is to add one instrument to your chorus, an instrument that pulls the listener’s ear into an upper register. So even though the vocal melody may be lower, we get the impression that things are moving higher.
- Keep chord choices simple and strong for the chorus. Strong progressions, particularly after a verse of more tonally ambiguous ones, will build energy.
The best advice regarding this issue of where verse and chorus melodies reside is to use your instincts. Aim for a higher chorus. But if you like the sound of your lower-pitched chorus, look for other ways to build energy, and you should be able to get it to work.
Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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