Songwriters need to find ways to make verse and chorus progressions sound like partners within the same song.
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There’s no reason that a verse and chorus cannot use the same chord progression, and many songs these day do. When verse and chorus progressions differ, you’ll usually find that verse ones are longer, and wander about a bit more than chorus ones, which tend to be short and focused on the tonic chord. It’s an important principle of songwriting (in fact of all musical composition in general) that all elements within a musical composition must partner together well.
But more than that, any one element of a song (melody, lyric, chords, etc.) needs to show a good sense of cohesion and partnership throughout the length of a song. For example, a song’s verse melody needs to show some clear connection to the chorus melody. The lyric for an entire song needs to read as one poem, even though the kind of words you’d use in a verse will differ from what you’d use in a chorus.
With chord progressions, you need to be looking for ways to make a verse progression feel connected to a chorus progression. How do you do that?
We know that a verse progression often goes on more of a musical journey than the chorus progression. It often uses the tonic chord as a starting point, but then wanders, often including altered chords (i.e., chords that don’t belong to the home key), and other kinds of chord manipulations.
Once the chorus happens, there is usually a shift that occurs, where now the tonic chord becomes the goal. So no matter what chord your chorus starts on, the tonic chord becomes an important aim, giving a sense of musical closure to the verse-chorus segment.
Because verse and chorus progressions often differ from each other, you need to find a way to make them both feel at home in the same song. It’s a bit like the challenge interior designers face when designing two rooms in a house. The two rooms will look different, but the good designers look for ways to “pull them together”, by perhaps using similar colours, patterns, flooring… that sort of thing.
Here’s a list of chord progressions. Each one gives a suggested verse progression, followed by a chorus progression that makes sense with it. Feel free to use and experiment with them, and to use them in your own songs. They can all be transposed, of course, and try holding different chords for a different number of beats to see what the effect is.
1. KEY: A minor
VERSE: Am G Am G Am C F D Em C G C D F E7
CHORUS: Am Dm Am Em Am F Dm Em || (repeat)
2. KEY: G major
VERSE: Em Bm Am Bm Cmaj7 Bm C Dsus D
CHORUS: G C G/B Am G C G/B C Em C G Am C (C) G
3. KEY: D minor
VERSE: Dm F C G Dm F C G
CHORUS: Dm F Dm C || (repeat)
4. KEY: A major
VERSE: A Bm A/C# D A E/G# F#m E || (repeat)
CHORUS: F#m D E A F#m D A E || (repeat)
5. KEY: G minor
VERSE: Gm D Eb Bb Gm D Eb Bb F Bb C F Dsus D Dsus D
CHORUS: Gm Cm D Eb F Eb F D || (repeat)
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