Pre-Chorus: When It Makes Sense To Write One

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Imagine - John LennonA pre-chorus is that bit of music that songwriters sometimes insert between a verse and a chorus. Not all songs use them; in most cases, it’s completely fine to move straight from the verse to the chorus. But there are songs, and circumstances, where a pre-chorus can strengthen the structure of your song and offer a good sense of balance to the overall form. If you look at the songs that do use a pre-chorus, you start to see how and why it can work so well.

A pre-chorus tends to be a snippet of music, often not a fully-formed section, and so that’s how you’ll distinguish between the second half of a verse that has two distinct sections (like Lady Gaga’s hit single “You and I”) and a pre-chorus. In addition, it’s probably a pre-chorus if the verse has already presented 2 or 4 full phrases of music: a pre-chorus frequently creates an odd number of phrases if considered with the verse.

A good example of a pre-chorus might be Katy Perry’s “Firework”, where you can hear the main reason you’d use one being demonstrated clearly: it builds energy, allowing the verse to more smoothly connect to the chorus. And another good model of the pre-chorus is John Lennon’s “Imagine”.

These two songs, while quite different from each other, use the pre-chorus for slightly different reasons. In “Firework”, the last note of the verse melody is too far away from the first note of the chorus to make a logical connection. In “Imagine”, the verse melody is comprised of a very restricted 3-note range. The pre-chorus section allows the voice to move upward and provide a bit of melodic variety.

When does it make sense to use a pre-chorus? Here are some situations that might call for one:

  1. The verse is very short. If your song’s verse is comprised of 2 short phrases, the chorus may simply sound like it’s happening too soon because energy hasn’t really had time to build. A short pre-chorus can solve this.
  2. The verse chord progression is static. If your verse consists of a melody that’s harmonized by only 1 or 2 chords, a pre-chorus can offer more variety. (“Imagine” is the example of this.)
  3. The verse’s last note is too far away from the first note of the chorus. If you feel that your chorus sounds like a sudden explosion, a pre-chorus can give you an opportunity to bring the melody upward and build energy in a more logical way.

So how do you write a good pre-chorus? Here are some tips:

  1. Lyrics: Verse lyrics describe situations, chorus lyrics describe emotions. Pre-chorus lyrics can do either, but it’s a great moment to allow a transition to more emotion-filled ideas. In “Imagine”, Lennon describes things– heaven, hell, sky, and so on. In the pre-chorus he transitions to more inward-reflecting emotions by singing “Imagine all the people…“, setting up for a more emotional chorus.
  2. Chord Choices: This requires you to look at how your verse ends and your chorus begins, and you probably have several choices here. If your verse ends, and the chorus begins, on a tonic (I) chord, you might want to use the pre-chorus to move toward the dominant (V) or subdominant (IV) chord so that the chorus’s I-chord makes tonal sense. Example (key of C major): C  Dm  C/E  F  C/G  G…
  3. Melody: You want to be certain that energy doesn’t fizzle during a pre-chorus. The best way to ensure this is to move the melody higher. Another option is to consider the general range of the verse melody, then the range of the chorus melody, and insert something that lives basically in between these two ranges.

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