Giving a Chorus Melody a Lift

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Guitarist playing chordsThere are some basic differences between verses and choruses, differences that almost always show up no matter which of the popular genres you choose to write in:

  1. Chorus chords are simpler, shorter, and tonally stronger.
  2. Chorus lyrics are highly emotive, responding to the narrative of the verse.
  3. The chorus melody is higher in pitch than the verse.

There are other differences as well, relating to the production-end of the music, including building up instrumentation in a chorus, adding more backing vocals, and so on.

It’s the third point above — having the chorus melody sitting higher in pitch than the verse — that’s an important one for giving the chorus an important lift.

When the verse and chorus both use mainly the same pitches, you don’t become aware that there’s a problem until the chorus happens. The verse sounds completely fine, but it’s the chorus that seems to fall flat.

Audiences are instinctively trained through a lifetime of listening to expect, even if just subconsciously, a chorus melody to move upward. When that doesn’t happen, the opportunity for infusing an important sense of energy and even urgency in the music is lost.

If you find that the song you’re working on seems to lack energy in the chorus, check the following ideas:

  1. Compare lowest and highest notes in verse to chorus. You should see the chorus notes being higher, even if it’s just by a whole step or two.
  2. Compare important sustained notes. Look through your verse, and ask: Is there one or two notes that seem to play a more significant role than the others? Now do the same with the chorus. You should see sustained notes in the chorus sitting higher than the verse.
  3. Compare high chorus notes with most emotive lyrics. For high notes in your chorus, you should consider that the lyrics with the highest emotive value should be paired up with those notes.

All song elements work in partnership with each other, and when that relationship clicks, listeners are enticed. When that relationship isn’t working well, a song will sound lethargic, and it can be tricky finding a precise cause.

Amongst student songwriters, the most common cause of a sluggish song is too much similarity between the verse and chorus. The most common fix will be either moving the verse melody lower (preferable if the chorus on its own sounds great), or moving the chorus melody higher (preferable if the chorus on its own lacks energy.)


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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One Comment

  1. If your verse uses a fair share of eighth notes try using longer notes for your chorus, say more notes of two beats in length, that way your chorus lights up with the contrast, if your song has a pre chorus you could use the occasional triplets , again making the Chorus stand out. As Gary states in general the chorus is a summary of the action happening in the verses.

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