Comparing Rhythmic Activity of the Verse and Chorus Lyric

Longer note values work better in the chorus, as a way of enhancing emotional impact.

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Kelly Clarkson - Mr. Know It AllThere’s nothing like a song that allows the listener a powerful emotional release. It’s got to be done right, though, because songs that simply emote from beginning to end tend to not make a connection to the listener. The emotional content of the song’s lyric needs to be a gradual build, where the verse sets up a story line or situation, and the chorus finally allows for the emotion to “burst forth”, as it were. But it’s not just the lyrical meaning that conveys emotion. Kelly Clarkson’s single “Mr. Know It All” clearly demonstrates one other important aspect of emotional development: the change from quick, short rhythms in a verse, to longer note values in a chorus.

This technique, of lengthening rhythms in a chorus, works especially well if the emotion you’re trying to convey is related to the many aspects of relationship love. So the happiness, frustration, sadness, despair, or exhilaration we feel as a result of the success or failure of a relationship are all enhanced by using longer note values. And they’re best used in the chorus, because it’s there that we usually experience the lyric with the strongest emotions.

When you take an even closer look at lyrical rhythm, you’ll also notice that the verse will also allow for more rhythmic complexity. So that it’s not just that the verse will use shorter, quicker rhythms, but you’re also likely to see other rhythmic devices, such as syncopation (i.e., singing on the off-beats), starting phrases on the upbeat (i.e., just before beat 1 of a bar), and/or using lengthy rests in the middle of phrases after short bursts of notes.

Another great model in this regard is “It Will Rain” by Bruno Mars. It uses quicker rhythms in the verse with longer ones in the chorus. The verse lyric happens in bursts of words, often starting on the 4th beat of the bar rather than beat 1, incorporating syncopation as an important rhythmic device. The chorus reverts to mainly longer values: 8th-notes and quarters.

There’s no rule here; much of what I’m describing will happen naturally for many songwriters. But if you’re writing a love song, and you can’t seem to get the emotion to peak at the right time, take a good look at the rhythmic treatment of your verse and chorus lyrics. Emotional words will work best if you linger on them a bit.

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