Many songwriters will find the chorus to be easier to write than the verse. That’s because a chorus design is typically simpler than that of a verse. In particular:
- A chorus melody features repetitive hook-like cells that are easy to sing and easy to remember.
- A chorus chord progression targets the tonic chord (i.e., they’re tonally strong) and are often shorter than the progression you might find in a verse.
- A chorus lyric is simple, emotional and catchy — even fun to sing.
Those features, by the way, might also be characteristics of verses, but not necessarily. No matter what happens in your verse, though, choruses usually need to exhibit those three main characteristics.
Verses often tend to be slightly more complex, because the job of a verse is to communicate a story or circumstance to the listener. In so doing, a verse progression might wander around a bit as the story twists and turns. The melodies often wander as well, as it tries to portray and otherwise represent the various aspects of the story.
So how do you make sure that the verse you’ve written is making a proper connection to the chorus? Here are some tips. They are simply possibilities, not requirements. You need to examine your own song to be sure of which ones apply and which ones don’t:
- Keep the verse melody low, but allow it to move upward to connect smoothly to the chorus. Since chorus melodies are often higher in pitch than verse melodies, you’ll want that upward motion to make the right connection, but also to allow musical energy to increase to match that of the chorus. Be aware that “smoothly” doesn’t necessarily mean to move to an adjacent pitch. You can have the melody leap to the start of the chorus, but usually only if it’s leaping to a chord tone, as you hear in R.E.M.’ “Stand.”
- Connect the chords. Play the last 2 chords of the verse, and then the first chord of the chorus, and make sure that they connect in a musically satisfying way. If they don’t, you may have to go back to the last 3 or 4 chords of the verse and make adjustments if necessary.
- Try moving from a minor verse to relative major key chorus. That relationship has many benefits, including the brightening of the mood, and access to a new set of chords. The fact that minor and relative major are connected by virtue of the fact that they use the same key signature makes it an easy/obvious choice for making a solid connection.
- Add a pre-chorus. Sometimes, if your verse is particularly short or unadventurous, a pre-chorus section — an extra 4 bars or so — might help to make a better connection. Consider adding a pre-chorus also if the range of your verse is considerably lower than the chorus.
- Allow the end of a verse lyric to be the kind of line that demands some sort of emotional response. There are lots of ways to do this. You can end with a question (“What do I do?” “Where did we go wrong?”, “Who can say…?”), or simply increase the emotional content of that final verse line, as Michael Jackson does at the end of the pre-chorus section of “Billie Jean”: “And be careful of what you do ’cause the lie becomes the truth.“
As with all suggestions for improving songs, don’t fix a song that’s already working. Some songs seem to move from verse to chorus just fine, even though the transition might be bumpy. Your ears, as always, need to be the final judge on this.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.
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Gary is also the author of “Beating Songwriter’s Block: Jump-Start Your Words and Music“, from Backbeat Books (Hal Leonard)