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There are truly endless examples of song melodies that demonstrate this common rhythmic principle: melodic rhythms become simpler and less active in a chorus than they do in a verse. The question is why.
The simplification of chorus vocal rhythm happens especially when the song title is sung. Take a look at this classic example:
“Blackbird” (Lennon & McCartney). The rhythm of the verse melody includes a mix of 8ths and 16ths, but it all switches to much longer note values in the chorus when the song title is sung: So you don’t think that it’s something that only happened back in the time of classic rock, take a listen to “Could Have Been Me” (The Struts), which achieves the slower rhythm by literally switching tempo/time signature, from a brisk “cut time” feel to a punchier “half-time” meter, effectively making melodic rhythms feel twice as long.
And so why is this a good idea? Mainly it has to do with the emotional value of the chorus words. The title of the song typically happens in the chorus in songs of most pop genres. That song title is often the hooky part, the words you want everyone to remember and everyone to hum.
You also want those title words to be ones that strike to the heart of your audience. It’s the part to which you want everyone to have an emotional connection. It’s not easy to have that kind of connection when the words are being spit out at a frantic speed, where they risk being missed entirely.
In many songs, it’s not just that the words use longer note values, but you’ll also notice that there is a simplification of rhythm. “Just Give Me a Reason” (Pink, Jeff Bhasker, Nate Ruess) achieves the simplification not so much by switching to noticeably longer note values in the chorus, but rather by switching to an uncomplicated 8th-note pattern: To maximize the emotional clout of your song, remember the following tips:
- If the song title is a bit of lyric from the chorus, elongate and/or simplify the melodic rhythms whenever it gets sung.
- Think about the average listener in your target audience, and make your song title singable to them (i.e., make it singable even to a non-singer).
- Shape your melody so that emotional words generally get placed higher in pitch than other words.
- Think about the way you say a line when you try to figure out how to sing it.
It’s important to note that this simplification of chorus melodic rhythm happens even though the instrumental accompaniment might be getting rhythmically busier. It can provide a nice sense of contrast between vocals and instruments when you hear a band really crank it up during the chorus while the melody simplifies.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.