Sometimes the song section you’re working on make better musical sense when you move it to a different part of your song.
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Back in the summer I did an interview with New York-based singer-songwriter Eric Leva. In that interview he described an interesting circumstance while working on his song “I Should Know” with co-writer Katie Costello, in which part of the song that he was assuming would be the chorus turned out eventually to be the pre-chorus.
He was describing something that happens a fair bit in the process of writing a song. You think you’re working on the chorus, or on the verse, but you eventually come to the realization that it’s not fulfilling what you think is required for that section. Your temptation may be to toss it, but it may be better to consider trying it in a different part of a song first.
Let’s say you’ve got a great idea for a new song. It’s got a hook-like quality, and you’ve been assuming that it’s going to serve as your chorus, but your not sure. How can you know? Check out the following signals that indicate that it might work better as a verse or pre-chorus:
- The lyric is more descriptive of a situation rather than being an emotional release. A chorus lyric should speak to the emotions of the song topic, responding to situations and circumstances described in the verse. (You should be able determine the character of your lyric even if you haven’t written the verse yet.)
- It sits low in your vocal range. Chorus melodies should reach higher, helping to support the emotion of the lyric.
- The chords don’t necessarily point to one chord as being an important tonic chord. In verses, you’ll find that wandering chord progressions, ones that seem a bit ambiguous regarding key, work really well. But chorus progressions need to tighten up, making the key of your song very clear and targeted.
- The melody has a wandering quality. Chorus melodies are often comprised of short, repetitious melodic cells, and it’s enjoyable to sing it over and over again. If your melody doesn’t have that quality, try it out as a verse melody.
- It sounds good when backed by a quiet, transparent accompaniment. If you feel that things are just getting too noisy when you try to build some instrumental excitement, it might be better in a part of a song that doesn’t necessarily need a loud accompaniment: the verse.
To see if your suspicions are right, try composing a new section of your song that uses a higher melody with tighter, shorter chords. At this point, don’t worry about lyric, just see if you can get something that follows your original idea.
Then sing through your first idea, the one you thought would be the chorus. Now follow it immediately with your newly composed chorus. It should be quickly obvious if your original chorus will work better as a verse (or even pre-chorus).
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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