How the Rhythms You Use in the Chorus Will Effect the Emotional Level of the Lyric

Using longer note values in a chorus melody helps to amplify emotion.

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Michael Jackson - Billie JeanOne of the main differences between a verse and a chorus has to do with the emotional level of the lyric. Verses are where we lay the groundwork for the song, using descriptive words and phrases, and generally telling a story. The chorus then acts as a kind of commentary on all of that.

A good chorus heightens the emotional level of a song, and in that sense it acts as a song’s focal point. If you’ve ever heard the expression “Don’t bore us… Get to the chorus”, that’s what they’re talking about. People will remember choruses long after they’ve forgotten most of the details of a verse.

The rhythm of the melodic line is a very important part of increasing the emotional level of your lyric. If you look at hit songs from practically any era, from the 50s through to today, you’ll notice that in general, the vocal line of a chorus will feature longer notes than in the verse.

And that happens even in choruses where the rhythmic activity of the instruments accompanying that line becomes busier.

Usually the difference is subtle, as in The Everly Brother’s “Wake Up Little Susie“. As that song moves into “here’s what’s happening” mode (as verses do), the rhythms are quick and articulate. Every time the song title “wake up little Susie” occurs, the rhythms stretch out, particularly on the word “Susie”, amplifying the emotional effect.

And in Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean“, rhythmic activity of the verse vocal line is quick and rhythmically energetic. In the chorus, the rhythms become longer, more predictable and regular. This, even while the backing instruments do the opposite, using syncopation and other rhythmic devices to intensify the energy.

The lesson for songwriters is clear: to intensify the emotional level of your song’s chorus, use longer note values in the chorus’s melody, and shorter, quicker rhythms in the backing instruments.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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