If your verse is dying and you can’t figure out why, try this checklist.
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It’s easier to tell if a chorus is working well than if a verse is working well. That’s because most good choruses are based on a strong, catchy hook, and so to evaluate a chorus is usually a matter of making sure that the hook is doing its job.
But verses are trickier because they have a different — you could even say more complicated — structure. Because they’re telling a story or describing a situation, a verse melody can meander and wander about more than a chorus melody usually does. And then that often means that it will tolerate a longer, more complex chord progression than what you’d normally find in a chorus.
What follows is a checklist you can use to evaluate the verse of your latest song. Use it only if you have concerns about it; some verses work really well, even though it may seemingly be “breaking the rules.”
If you find that your verse sounds boring, or is just not clicking somehow, check the following list. If you find that many or most of the statements don’t apply to your verse, it may be time to do some reworking.
VERSE CHECKLIST (You want the following statements to be generally true):
- The melody is generally lower in pitch than the chorus that follows it.
- There is a nice sense of repetition in the melody: short melodic ideas that get exactly or approximately repeated.
- The melody is comprised of mainly stepwise (one note to its adjacent one) motion, with a few leaps.
- The melody tends to move higher as it moves toward the chorus.
- If the melody is short, you may have included a pre-chorus to make for a better attachment to the chorus.
- There is a nice mix of strong progressions and fragile ones — ones that wander a bit and avoid the tonic chord.
- The tonic chord becomes more obvious as you approach the chorus.
- There is a good sense of harmonic rhythm — a recognizable pattern to how frequently chords change (every 4 or 8 beats, for example).
- The lyrics describe situations and people, and leave strong emotional responses for the chorus.
- The lyrics present a compelling storyline that requires the listener to wonder, and to look for answers (either literally or metaphorically) that will be found in the chorus or bridge.
- The lyrics use a good mix of various literary devices: metaphors, similes, imagery, alliteration, etc.
- The rhythm of the verse lyrics tend to be busier than what you’d find in a chorus, and make more use of syncopation and other rhythmic complexities.
- The rhythms of the lyric fit the natural pulse of the words.
Remember to use this checklist (or any song checklist) only if you perceive problems with your song. Some songs succeed in spite of doing things that are not the norm in the chosen genre, and that’s to be expected in any art form.
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