Simplifying Lead Vocal Rhythm in a Chorus

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Brian May (Queen)What do Queen’s “Sweet Lady” (Brian May), John Legend’s “All Of Me” (John Stephens, Toby Gad), and Lorde’s “Royals” (Lorde, Joel Little) all have in common? They all demonstrate a common principle in pop song construction where the vocal line of the chorus uses longer note values than in other parts of the song. In other words, the verses (and bridge, if applicable), use quicker, shorter notes, switching to longer notes when the title gets sung.

There is a logic to this that’s pretty clear when you stop to think about it. The chorus is where the most strongly emotive text occurs, and the song title specifically is usually the most passionate part of that text. By elongating the song title, you draw the most emotion you can out of those words.

That doesn’t often apply, by the way, to the instrumental backing rhythms of the chorus, and you can hear that fairly demonstrated in “Sweet Lady,” where the guitar and drums in the chorus play an intensely syncopated accompaniment even while the vocal long relies on basic “on-the-beat” rhythms:

Sweet Lady (Queen) chorus rhythms

It’s not just an issue of the vocal line rhythms elongating; there is a general sense of simplification when it comes to chorus rhythms. So not only do most song choruses revert to longer note values, you also see far less syncopation or other rhythmic devices. Chorus rhythms in general are more likely to resort to simple quarter note/eighth note rhythms, with less rhythmic gymnastics involved.

The difference is often not dramatic, but enough to allow lyrical emotions to rise:

John Legend: All of Me (rhythms)

Most song hooks are a catchy combination of melodic shape and rhythm that gets repeated over and over again. In chorus hooks, like the three songs we’re talking about here, the simplifying of the chorus rhythms has several positive effects when compared to the verse: it makes the hook easier to sing, easier to remember, and most likely to tap into the emotional brain of the listener.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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