A lot of the time, the musical ideas you conjure up will be chorus ideas, because it’s often easier to think up short, “hooky” fragments that will serve as a good chorus. They’re the kind of musical ideas that are short, repeatable, singable, and generally fun to perform.
But sometimes a musical idea will pop into your head that sounds more like the beginnings of a verse than a chorus. The question is: how do you take a verse idea and create a chorus that sounds great?
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Most of the time, verse fragments (and here we’re talking about the melodic aspect of it) have the following 2 qualities:
- They’re pitched relatively low in the vocal range.
- They often avoid the tonic note. That is, if you’re strumming the chords C and F, and your melody is moving between E and F, it’s avoiding the tonic note (C).
Let’s say that you’ve been able to take that fragment and create something longer that sounds great as a verse. What do you do to create the chorus that sounds like a logical “answer” to that verse?
Every song is unique, so we can only talk about generalities here. But if you’re stuck, perhaps one of the following tips will get you moving in the right direction:
- Move upward from the verse. Remember that chorus melodies tend to be pitched higher than verses. That’s because singing higher in pitch generates more energy, and that goes hand in hand with a main characteristic of choruses: they’re more energetic than verses.
- Find an opportunity for a climactic moment. Not every song will have a climactic melodic moment, but choruses (especially ones that start with the title words being sung) will place a climactic high point right at the start of the chorus. It helps to draw a line between the verse and chorus, and it injects a good shot of energy.
- Seek out the tonic note and chord. While verses often avoid the tonic note, and often the tonic chord, a chorus will focus in on the tonic. The tonic note becomes a kind of musical beacon that strengthens the structure of the music.
- Write lyrics that express how you feel about whatever the verse has been about. Remember that the chorus lyric needs to give an emotional response to whatever you’ve been writing about in the verse. That verse lyric establishes scenarios that pull listeners in and describes situations that are common to most people (love, love lost, friends, family, social situations, etc.) So be sure that your chorus gives an emotional response that listeners will be able to tap into and feel for themselves.
- Simplify song structure when you create your chorus. Give “Love Me Again” by John Newman a listen, and you’ll hear this quality demonstrated. You’ll notice that the verse has the “wandering” quality we expect from a verse: it wanders from low to high, with different melodic fragments all coming together to make a great verse. The chorus that’s partnered with it is a short, 4-bar idea (“I want to know now, know now/Can you love me again.”). No complications, no wandering about. It focuses right in on the tonic note, it’s short, repetitive, fun to sing, and a great chorus.
I think the repetitive, simple nature of choruses is what makes them successful. Often when I write about this topic, I mention Paul Simon’s “My Little Town” as perhaps the best example of the differences between a verse and a chorus. The verse goes on an incredibly long wandering journey, but the chorus is short, catchy, and doesn’t try to be anything more than what it is.
Once you’ve got a verse working, all you need to to is find a short 1- or 2-bar idea, placed high in the voice, that sounds fun to sing, and you’ve got something that should follow it well. Don’t try to make the chorus anything more than what it is: a short, fun, catchy idea that repeats a lot and pulls emotion out of the listener.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.
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