Verses and choruses are usually completely different, but there are ways to make a successful connection between them.
It’s common for a verse and chorus to be different in most respects. While key, tempo and basic rhythmic feel are usually the same, the melodies, chords and lyrics are typically different. And these days in the pop music world, it’s becoming more and more common to see verses and choruses use the same chord progression – a possible commentary on the lack of imagination in the genre.
Though a chorus may differ from a verse, that’s not to say that there’s no connection at all. Songs work best when there’s a relationship between those two sections, so that it doesn’t just sound like one section irrelevantly following another.
So what kind of relationship do verses have with choruses? Here are three that are probably the most important:
- Melodic motifs. Even though the melodies may be different, you can create a connection between the verse and chorus melodies by using similar motifs. Example: “Penny Lane.” The verse melody starts with a downward-moving melodic cell (“Penny Lane, there is a barber showing photographs…”), and then the chorus uses mainly upward-moving cells (“Penny Lane is in my ears…”) That’s a kind of idea that listeners won’t overtly notice, but it does its work mainly on a subconscious level (as most motifs do).
- Rhythmic motifs. You can take rhythmic ideas that happen in the verse and modify them to work in the chorus as well. Example: “Take It To the Limit” (Randy Meisner, Don Henley, Glenn Frey). Many lines in the verse start with a long note, followed by a couple of shorter, faster notes (“All alone at the end of the of the evening…”), and this is an important verse motif. In the chorus, they modify that rhythm (“So put me on a highway…”), and then ultimately once again (“And take it to the limit one more time.”) Each of those rhythmic modifications sounds similar enough to the opening of the verse that it acts like musical glue to pull all the ideas together.
- Lyrical interaction. Chorus lyrics interact with verse lyrics by serving as a kind of answer to the questions/situations we find in the verse. It’s important to note that these are emotional responses to a verse narrative. In other words, you can kill the effect of your song by using your chorus to simply give more verse-like information. A chorus needs to take what you’ve said in the verse, and offer an emotional commentary on it.
To that last point: this is one reason why it’s satisfying to repeat a chorus over and over, but repeating a verse is trickier. Repeating an emotional response is satisfying, but repeating the facts of a story sounds awkward. America’s “Sister Golden Hair” repeats a verse, but that verse is quite full of emotional release, and so repeating it seems to work fine.
And a point about verse and chorus key often being the same: Some songs will place the verse in the relative minor key of the chorus’s major key (e.g., a verse in A minor and a chorus in C major), and that can be a really effective way of creating a difference while at the same time connecting those sections successfully.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.