Creating Beauty in a Verse Melody

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Sixpence None the Richer - Kiss MeSongwriters often find that chorus melodies are easier to write than verse melodies. The chorus is often comprised of a hook, or even a series of hooks tied together, and this can be an important part of making the chorus memorable and structurally solid. That kind of writing is usually easy to accomplish when compared to the more complex task of verse writing. Verse melodies and chords will be a bigger challenge because since the verse tells the story, they usually have a complexity that doesn’t need to be dealt with in the chorus. So it leaves us with a tricky situation: how to write a verse melody that’s beautiful, catchy, and partners well with a chorus.

When we talk about beauty in music, we need to use an all-encompassing definition. For musicians, beauty must really mean any melody that get’s the job done. So while it seems obvious that the melody Harold Arlen wrote for “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is undeniably beautiful, the melody that Peter Gabriel composed for “Solsbury Hill,” while maybe not one that one would describe as “beautiful”, certainly is successful, and gets the job done, to say the least.

If you’re one of those songwriters who finds choruses easy to create, but your verses seem like a random mess, check out the following 4 tips:

  1. Good melodies (whether verse or chorus) need a motif. A motif is a musical element that serves as a building block. It resembles a hook, but while hooks are obvious and do their work in the foreground, a motif is subtle, and does its work in the background. A motif can be a simple melodic interval; for example, the opening octave leap in “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is a melodic motif: each line of the verse begins with an upward leap. In “Solsbury Hill”, each line begins high and moves lower. That’s a motif. So as you compose your verse, ask yourself: is there any aspect of my verse melody that serves as a motif, a musical idea that gets repeated in some way?
  2. Connect verse melodies to chorus melodies by using some of the same musical features. One way to do this is to reverse some of your chorus ideas. For example, if your chorus uses mainly downward-moving melodic shapes, try creating a verse that uses upward-moving ones. Or try reversing parts of your chorus chord progression to create the verse progression. These are subtle things that listeners won’t immediately notice, but they will feel that connection nonetheless between verse and chorus.
  3. Use repeating lines in your verse. This seems to be obvious to most songwriters when creating choruses. Repeating ideas is a great way to hook a listener. So don’t be afraid to repeat musical lines in your verse. Check out the verse melody for “Kiss Me“, by Sixpence None the Richer. It uses a repeating-note motif, and you can see how closely matched the verse and chorus are.
  4. Structure your verse into 2- or 4-bar phrases. If you really find that your verse melody is frustrating you, you can add a strong sense of structure and shape by creating phrases that are evenly matched, and use phrases that are short and repetitious. There are lots of examples of this kind of thing, but certainly George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” gives us a great example of a fantastic verse melody that’s simple and catchy.


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