This simple exercise will help solidify your understanding of verse and chorus melodic construction.
A couple of posts ago I wrote about why choruses sound like choruses. In that article, I mentioned important features of choruses such as strong (versus fragile) progressions, the predominance of the tonic note and chord, the higher placement of the melody, and so on. In this post, I want to give you an easy exercise that will help cement your understanding of the basic differences between verse and chorus melodies.
To help you focus on melody, let’s make the assumption that your verse and chorus are both going to use the same chord progression. I’ve listed 5 chord progressions below. You’ll notice that they all start and end on an A, so you can play the progression over and over as you invent your melodies.
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Simply follow the steps that follow those progressions, for each one.
- A E Bm D A
- A D C#m F#m D E A
- A E F#m D A E A/C# D A
- A F#m D Dm A
- A E G D A/E E F#m D A
Play each progression several times, allowing each chord to last for four or eight beats, to get familiar with the sound. Now, for each progression, you want to create melodies that sound like they could be the start of a verse, and then melodies that sound like they could be the start of a chorus. If you need a bit of a refresher regarding the difference, read the post I wrote last week.
And one other bit of advice before starting: Get a digital recorder, or use computer software, and record what you’re improvising. You’ll want to go back and listen to your creations.
Then try the following:
- Take one of the suggested progressions, and sing a C#, the one that’s relatively low in your voice.
- Now try improvising a melody that remains fairly low in your voice, and moves mainly back and forth between that C#, and the A below it. (You’ll find that at least one of the 3 notes, C#, B and A, will fit with one of the chords.) You can sing higher, of course, but try to keep the melody relatively low. Keep playing the same progression, and keep improvising new melodies.
- Because you’re inventing verse melodies here, concentrate on singing lots of C#’s and B’s, and avoid singing the A (i.e., the tonic) too much. The ideas you come up with should work as fragments for a verse melody.
- Now try improvising chorus melodies by starting on the E (the one that’s just above the starting C# from the previous step), and move upward from that note. Try allowing the note A to have special significance. Try especially to have the musical phrases you create move toward the note A as a final, or have your melodies start on the A.
- Now go back and listen to the melodies you created, and see if there are fragments that go well together. You’ll want to put ideas together that have some connection: a similar shape, an opposite shape… that sort of thing.
Because you’re creating melodic fragments, the positive aspect of this exercise is that it takes a lot of pressure off that comes with trying to write a complete song. And you’ll notice that once you’ve got those verse and chorus fragments working, you’ve basically got the makings of a new song.
As you work through each progression, allow yourself to become a little more adventurous, and don’t worry too much about “sticking to the rules” that have been laid out in the steps. Let your creative mind go to work!