Songwriting: Getting a 2-Part Verse Working

Writing a song with a 2-part verse means creating a short musical journey that moves away from – then back toward – the tonic chord.

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The BeatlesA 2-part verse simply means that you’re writing an 8- or 16-bar verse that sounds to be clearly in two distinct sections. Think of The Beatles’ “In My Life” as a good example of this. The first 4 (or 8) bars are solidly in A major. The next 4 (or 8) bars make a short (very short) journey that visits other chords, including an altered chord on Flat-VII, before quickly sitting strongly back in A major.

Most songs in this format, therefore, follow this kind of plan:

Typical 2-Part Verse Structure

Since most songs are very short (“In My Life” is only 2-and-a-half minutes in length), giving the impression of having taken a musical journey is tricky. But it’s done with a combination of music, and of course the right lyric.

The verse of “In My Life” (key of A major) is followed with an instrumental bridge, and it’s certain that you’ll have to follow it with something, or your song will be either too short or too repetitious. By changing key at the end of the second verse, it’s possible to get the “freshness” required to do a 3rd and 4th verse without needing a bridge. Your ears will tell you if it’s working.

If you take “In My Life” apart and look at it from a chord progression point of view, you get this:

VERSE, PART 1:

A  F#m  A7  D  Dm  A

DESCRIPTION: A nice little journey around the A-major neighbourhood. The Dm is a so-called modal mixture chord, and in this context it tends to add a touch of melancholy to the music.

VERSE, PART 2:

F#m  Bm  G  A | F#m  B  D  Dm  A

DESCRIPTION: This progression is a bit longer than the one for Part 1. The inclusion of the B chord gives the feeling that the music has modulated (changed key) to F# dorian. The B chord makes it relatively easy to get to D, and the verse then ends the way that Part 1 ends, which gives a nice sense of symmetry.

And not just symmetry: it makes for a really nice, short, musical journey.

If you’re working on improving your abilities to write a good, captivating verse-without-chorus structure, here are the things to consider:

  1. Part 1 should be a short, self-contained melody that’s 4- or 8-bars in length. “Self-contained” means that it sounds largely musically complete, often starting and ending on the tonic chord with only 1 or perhaps 2 other chords. It’s often desirable to avoid overuse of the tonic note in the melody.
  2. Part 2 should feature a few more chords where the musical journey takes flight, moving away from the obviousness of the tonic chord. This section is often where you’ll find the song’s highest notes. It should end with a tonic chord, making Parts 1 and 2 a complete verse.

Once you’ve got that much, you then need to think about how you’re going to extend the song, since 2 verses isn’t much, and simply repeating the verses can get repetitive and boring. So you’ll then want to consider:

  1. An instrumental bridge.
  2. A sung bridge.
  3. An instrumental solo.
  4. A repeated verse in a higher key.

If you find it hard to work out the chords that might serve this kind of form well, here are a few to experiment with:

Part 1: C  F  Am  G|| Part 2: Am  Bb  F  Bb |Am  Bb  F  C

Part 1: C  Dm  Bb  C || Part 2: Dm  Em  D7  G  |Am  F  G  C

Part 1: C  G  Am  C || Part 2: Em  F  C  D  |Em  Dm  F  C

______________Gary Ewer

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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6 Comments

  1. This post is a keeper for me. I am so curious about the movement of chord progressions. And thank you for the comment to remind me to stay curious and experiment. There are some of my songs I don’t even know what the chords are!

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  3. It’s simply amazing that 50 plus years ago The Beatles were so much
    ahead of even the established Song Writers of the day

    They neve had books on songwriting all they had was Burt Weedons Guitar
    Guide

    The fact that Joihns mother showed him some banjo chords when he was
    young and Pauls dad ran a Jazz band , must hane helped and we all know
    The Beatles influences were Buddy Holly Chuck Berry to name just two
    and both of them were established writers in America

    • That’s a really good point, Peter. I’ve often marvelled at the same thing. The Beatles were incredibly imaginative and creative songwriters, Harrison included. I think the thing they had going for them was that they were very curious as musicians, willing to try almost anything. I think they were also strongly influenced by more than rock & roll. I would say that the music of the old stage musicals were a strong influence on their early music especially. And then they just had these amazing musical instincts. For them, there were no rules. They also had a record company and producer who were willing to let that musicality blossom and grow.

      -G

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