Songwriting Exercise: Verse and Chorus Melody Writing

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Singer guitarist songwriterIt’s common to hear songwriters say that they’re good at one or another aspect of songwriting, and bad at others. It’s OK to acknowledge your weaknesses, as long as it’s not meant to imply that your talents are set, with no ability or expectation to improve.

But like sports, your abilities can be honed and refined. This happens through experience, but it also happens from practice. Even excellent home run sluggers will do batting practice to polish their skills.

Similarly, melody writing can be improved by studying the structure of good melodies, and then practicing.

What follows is a set of steps that can help you work out the ins and outs of composing good melodies, and especially help you focus on the chief differences between verses and choruses.

As you hopefully know, a good chord progression can almost always make a good verse progression (though not always the other way around), so let’s use the following strong progression as our practice progression:

C  F  Dm  F  C

Play through the progression several times, in different ways and performance styles to get it firmly in your mind. Now follow the steps:

  1. Sing an E, the one above Middle C.
  2. Start improvising a VERSE melody that moves back and forth between the E and the C below it. You’ll find that as you switch chords, that either the C, D or E pitches should work well.
  3. Now, because you’re inventing verse melodies here, let the melodies you create wander around a bit. Remember to keep them relatively low in pitch. Explore the notes below middle C, and see if you can repeat some ideas occasionally as you move to the next chord in the progression. Also remember that verse melodies often avoid the tonic (C) note from being over-used.
  4. Now start improvising some potential CHORUS melodies. Start on the G above middle C, moving upward from that note. Chorus melodies use a lot more repetition, and move generally higher than verse melodies. So explore the upper ranges of your voice, and try to find a hooky, catchy fragment that will work with all or most of the chords.
  5. In working out chorus melodies, try to make the tonic note more significant than you did in the verse. Let melodies end and/or start on the tonic note, as if that note is a beacon that keeps pulling the music back.

Each time you work through the progression, start again with some new melodic ideas. Record the process, because you never know when you’ll come across something that catches your attention, something you might be able to use in a song.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. $95.70 $37.00 (and you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

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  1. hello gary! i want to ask a question.
    can i end my chorus melody on note other than tonic note?
    i have few songs in which my chorus melody is ending on 6th scale degree of a major scale.(e.g chorus being in C major key and chorus melody ending on 6th scale degree i.e A note) and ending chord is 1 chord which is tonic chord.
    so ending chord is tonic chord but note is 6th degree of scale.
    will it work gary?

    though i can easily harmonize chorus of these songs in minor key(A minor) which ends on tonic chord and tonic note , a complete resolution. the only reason i am trying to harmonize it in major key is that my verse is in A minor so i want to make my chorus in C major to provide contrast. everything works well i am able to come with strong major chord progression for chorus which works with melody but one thing is bothering me which is, though melody cadence on 1 chord ( C major home chord) but melody note does not cadence on tonic note( ends on A note) .

    gary can you plz tell me will it work? or should i avoid this?

    • Sure you can end on the 6th degree. To my ears, the end of the chorus of “She Loves You” (Lennon & McCartney) ends on the 6th degree.

      By ending your chorus on the 6th degree, you’ve got several options:

      – End on the 6th degree, but still use a major key tonic harmonization (like “She Loves You”)
      – End on the 6th degree, using a vi-chord as a harmonization. This would be called a deceptive cadence, and might actually prepare you well for returning to a minor key verse.
      – End on the 6th degree, using a IV-chord or ii-chord as an interesting deceptive cadence.

      Even though a chorus typically puts the spotlight on the tonic chord, there is certainly no rule, or even principle or guideline that suggests you must have your melody end on a tonic note.


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