8 Ways of Creating Contrast Between Song Sections

The contrast principle is centuries old. Here’s how to apply it to today’s music.

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Recording Studio MixerContrast has been an important aspect of musical composition for centuries. Back in the days of the Classical composers Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, creating contrast usually meant writing a piece of music that used two different melodies. One of those melodies would typically be energetic and vivacious, and the other would be more tranquil and pastoral. The main goal of musical composition was to show how you could weave those two melodies together, developing new ideas that borrowed from the two original ones.

In a certain sense, not a lot has changed in pop songwriting. You still get two contrasting melodies, a verse and a chorus. You don’t, however, usually get the interesting development of new ideas based on the original melodies, because pop songs, being comparatively short, don’t give you much time to do any “developing.”

Nonetheless, using two different melodies to help create contrast is still an important part of song structure today. Providing contrast in songs means providing musical interest and momentum, and as such, it is a crucial principle of musical composition in almost any genre past or present.

As you work on your new song, you should closely examine and compare the verse and chorus melodies to make sure that you are providing a good amount of contrast. Here are things to look for:

  1. The chorus melody should be pitched a bit higher than the verse. This helps generate musical energy in a very natural way.
  2. The chorus lyric should use more emotion-heightening words and phrases.
  3. The vocal rhythms of the verse should be shorter and quicker than the vocal rhythms of the chorus. Longer note values in the chorus help to accentuate the emotional content of the lyric.
  4. The chorus instrumentation should be as full or fuller than what is found in the verse. This helps create an increase in momentum and general song energy.
  5. The chorus melody should be simpler than the verse, and comprised of shorter, repetitive phrases. Repetition and melodic simplicity is a crucial part of what makes song choruses work.
  6. Chorus chord progressions should be simpler and stronger than the verse progression.
  7. Vocal harmonies should be used more in a chorus than in a verse.
  8. The tonic note and chord should usually play a more significant role in the chorus than in the verse.

In modern pop songs, it is possible for a verse to be “too different” from the chorus. In those cases, when the verse is very short, or harmonically very simplistic, or where the vocal range is very far from the chorus range, it might be best to consider inserting a pre-chorus that can help make the transition from verse to chorus a little easier.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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  3. Great article Gary (as always). I read your blog religiously and always learn something.

    Would love to hear your thoughts on how to write progressive or experimental music if ever you get the time.

    Simon from Australia

  4. You provide a rare and valuable service with your blog, Gary. I appreciate what you post and hope to incorporate more of the great ideas you present here in my songwriting.

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