Using Octave Displacement to Avoid Verse-Chorus Sameness

Moving a chorus melody an octave higher can help differentiate it from a similar-sounding verse melody.

Kelly ClarksonThere’s a sneaky little problem that can creep into a song as you write it, something that often escapes detection. The only thing you’re likely to notice is that the song seems tiresome and over-long, but you can’t figure out why.

The problem relates to melodic range and note choice when you compare verse and chorus melodies. And here’s how it often happens. You create a verse melody that uses four or five notes, and then you create a new melody for the chorus, but you find yourself using those same four or five notes, albeit in a different order.

This creates a problem of sameness between the verse and chorus. And whether or not the “uneducated listener” knows why, they start to tire of hearing those same pitches over and over again. It usually results in boredom.


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This problem is often instinctively avoided in most songs by virtue of the fact that chorus melodies tend to be higher in pitch than verse melodies, so they use a different set of pitches. But if you find that your verse and chorus seem to sit in the same basic range, and more-or-less use the same set of pitches, there is an easy fix: move the chorus an octave higher.

A good example of this currently on the charts is Kelly Clarkson’s single, “Catch My Breath“, written by Clarkson, Jason Halbert and Eric Olson. The song is in A major, and the verse melody uses mainly three pitches from that key: A, B and C# in the low range, with the occasional D.

When you compare the verse to the chorus (which is actually constructed as a double-chorus of sorts), you find that the chorus melody still plays around with the same pitches, with the upper dominant note (E) thrown in as well.

The problem of sameness, however, is avoided by moving the chorus an octave higher. That helps by generating considerable vocal energy, but it also disguises the fact that both verse and chorus are composed of essentially the same tone set.

This octave displacement technique can be a useful tool for avoiding the sameness problem of verse and chorus being composed of the identical (or almost identical) tone set. Here are some basic tips to follow:

  1. The upward octave displacement should be in the chorus. Rarely would it ever work to have a verse in the upper octave with the chorus in the lower.
  2. The key you choose will need to be one where the singer can handle the melody in two different octaves.
  3. You can displace part of a melody, rather than move an entire melody up. Example: “I Don’t Care Anymore” (Phil Collins), which features the title line in the lower octave in the early part of the song, and up the octave for the latter part.
  4. You can go further to make a similar-sounding chorus sound different from a verse by adding vocal harmonies. Vocal harmonies will also add song energy in a crucial part of the song.


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