There are a few important spots during a song, moments that serve as connectors between one section and the next. What happens during those connecting moments will either enticingly pull the listener along and make them want to keep listening, or that moment will fail to do its job, and we feel a temporary “lull” in musical energy.
One of the most crucial spots is the moment where the verse connects to the chorus. The biggest factor in a successful connection between these two sections is the chord progression: how does the end of the verse connect to the start of the chorus?
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There are other factors as well, but those tend to relate in some way to chord choice. For example, how the bass moves from verse to chorus, and how the melody connects, are both important factors. But both of those factors relate strongly to chords.
So let’s look at some possible chord choices for connecting a verse to a chorus. Some are typical, some a little less common, but hopefully they’ll stimulate your musical imagination
- Dominant (V) to Tonic (I). Ending a verse on a dominant chord (i.e., a V-chord) makes for a very smooth transition. At the end of a musical section, a V-chord going anywhere other than I will sound like a surprise. Example: “All You Need Is Love” (Lennon & McCartney)
- Subdominant (IV) to Tonic (I). There’s something really nice about this transition, because the IV-chord doesn’t have the same intense need to go to the I chord. So ending the verse on a IV-chord gives a moment of pleasant indecision in the progression… a “what’s-going-to-happen?” kind of feel. Example: “Someone Like You” (Adele)
- Dominant (V) in a minor key, to Tonic (I) in the parallel major key. This is interesting, because it means you’ll create a minor key verse (F# minor, let’s say), ending on a V-chord (C#). But then instead of starting the chorus on F#m, you start on F# (the major version), and continue your chorus in major. That key relationship, where you switch from F# minor to F# major, is called parallel or tonic major. Example: “Happy Together” (Garry Bonner, Alan Gordon). In this song, the chorus actually flirts with minor (giving a minor V and a borrowed chord bIII, but you get the idea.)
- Tonic (i) in a minor key, to Supertonic (ii) in relative major. In this example, you do a verse in a minor key. Then for the first chord of your chorus, you play a iv-chord of that minor key, but immediately switch your chord choices to be in relative major. That iv-chord is “reinterpreted” as a ii-chord in relative minor. The best example of this is Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up“. Here’s the progression a few chords either side of the change from verse to chorus: Cm Eb Bb Cm ||Fm Eb/G Ab Fm…
- Tonic (I) to submediant (vi). In this one, you do a typical major key verse, and then, while staying in major for the chorus, you simply start that chorus on a vi-chord. Listen to Eagles’ “Take It Easy” for a good example: G D C G D C G ||Em7 C G…
Apart from the first example above, which is very predictable, the others each have their own “personality.” They provide a brief moment of musical interest, and like any moment of interest in music, it will help entice your audience to keep listening.
To create your own interesting connector between verse and chorus, start by identifying the verse chord you want to end with, and then a chorus chord you want to start with. From there, move back in your verse and forward in your chorus.
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