Lorde - Royals

The Secret to Writing a Great Song Verse

A good verse is vital to a song’s success. These days, a listener might not wait until the chorus.

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The tricky thing about pop songs is that they are usually short, so pulling an audience into your song is something you don’t get a lot of time for. By the time the song is a mere 15 seconds old, you’ve got to have given enough to your listeners that they feel compelled to keep listening.

It’s always been that way, of course, but these days it’s so easy to click away from your tune to something else that it becomes even more vital to grab listener interest right away.

And then, once you’ve got them, you’ve got to keep them. That places a special importance on the verse of your song. If by the end of your verse you haven’t done enough to get your audience sufficiently interested, you’re in trouble.

Here’s a list of tips, ideas and thoughts on the special significance of a song verse, and what you might do to ensure that it’s the best it can be:

  1. Make good use of repetition. Finding a short, catchy melodic bit and then repeating it as your opening line can be an important ingredient for a captivating song verse. That repetition doesn’t have to be exact; approximate repetition achieves the same thing. EXAMPLE: “Royals” (Lorde)
  2. Find an important motif. A motif is simply a short musical idea that gets transferred around to different aspects of the song’s verse. It’s a common feature that you’ll find in music from decades ago, as with”Mr. Tambourine Man“, where each musical phrase has a similar downward shape. (That song starts with the chorus, but the verse continues that downward motif, repeating and keeping the audience hooked.) And then in a more recent song, like Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble“, where the repeating opening motif has a similar way of grabbing the audience’s attention.
  3. Start low, move higher. It’s such a commonly-done thing in pop music styles to have, at some point, the vocalist moving to their uppermost notes, that starting a verse low is an important part of keeping people listening. It creates an important sense of musical anticipation.
  4. Use a predictable phrase structure. Most songs will feature 2- or 4-bar phrases, and that predictability is a vital strengthening agent for the structure of a song. Give “Royals” another listen, and you’ll notice that there is what we might call a “fragmentation” of that phrasing idea, where the 2-bar phrases of the start then shorten up (during the lyric “In a torn-up town, no postcode envy“) to become 1-bar phrases. That has a way of subtly increasing musical energy, and keeps people listening to hear where that’s going.
  5. Build instrumentation in the latter half of a verse. This doesn’t happen in every song, but if you find that musical momentum is lagging throughout your verse, try intensifying the instrumentation as the verse melody passes the middle point. Add guitars, more percussion, and fill out chords even more as a way of generating a stronger musical intensity. That should culminate, of course, in an even fuller instrumentation in the chorus.

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Gary Ewer

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle packages look at songwriting from every angle, and have been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics.  Read more..

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5 Comments

  1. Good stuff. I wonder if there are any statistical research done how pop songwriting has been evolving during the years. I believe the intensity has been growing a lot.

  2. Pingback: How to Write a Great Verse – Mella Music

  3. Not only win their attention but keep their attention right till the end
    Hone every phrase , remembering what looks good on paper does not
    always sing right . be prepared to re write until it all flows , Oh please guys
    no long intro’s, try a different key than the one you started the song with,
    try a different rhythm , it’s all part of the process of getting to a great song,
    not just a good song , Ask yourself is the meter of your songs basic rhythm
    the right one for your song ? These are the questions I ask myself constantly
    during the writing process;

    It would be good if Soundcloud and similar sites told us the duration each
    song was listened to, that could tell us a lot about the quality of are songs

  4. Great point about having to win the attention of the listener FAST. Even when i’m listening to spotify as a kind of “homework” to hear new music, I still hit the Next Track button remarkably quickly. Seconds. One of the reasons the stats on a site like soundcloud or spotify are probably not a great gauge of a song’s true effectiveness, at least the “number of plays” count. I’d be far more interested to see, maybe provided as a percentage, how many people who start one of my tracks finished listening til the end. Or maybe I don’t really wanna know haha

  5. Pingback: Interesting Links For Musicians and Songwritiers – March 30, 2015 | Creative Music | Inspiring Musical Creativity

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