John Legend

Paying Closer Attention to the Rhythm of a Chorus Melody

I’ve aterritten a fair bit lately about making a verse more effective, either by creating an interesting key change, or by paying closer attention to how the verse connects to the chorus. In this post, I want to look more closely at the chorus itself, and address an issue when the chorus itself just doesn’t seem to have the punch that you think it needs.

The chorus is the section where everything comes together emotionally for the singer — and by extension, for the audience. Specifically, you’ll notice the following with a good chorus:

  1. The lyrics express an emotional reaction to whatever the verse has been about.
  2. The melody tends to sit a bit higher than the verse melody.
  3. The instrumentation is busier and often louder.

But let’s say that those traits are present in your chorus, but you still feel that it’s missing something. That missing quality may be the simplifications of the rhythms of your vocal line.

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While it’s common for music to sound rhythmically busier in a chorus, the specific rhythms of your vocal line should tend to become simpler, and it’s typical for a vocal line to use longer notes, particularly when the words of the title are being sung.

A classic example is Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over troubled Water,” and you’ll notice that the quality I’m talking about is a subtle one. If you compare the rhythms of the verse melody to the ones you hear in the chorus, you’ll notice this slight elongation on “bridge”, “troubled” and “water.”

You’ll notice the same effect in John Legend’s “All of Me.” As he sings the title words, the rhythms get longer and simpler.

This makes musical sense when you think about it: elongating a rhythm on certain words, particularly words that carry a lot of emotion, allows for an intensification of those emotions, and that’s particularly what a chorus is supposed to do.

And it may be the missing element in your chorus. So if you find that your song’s chorus doesn’t seem to be rising to the occasion, check these tips:

  1. Sing your chorus and make note of the rhythms of the title words. Do you find yourself lingering on the words of the title? (You should.)
  2. Simplify the rhythms of a chorus melody in general. It’s typical for verse melody rhythms to be busier, and slightly more rhythmically involved. Chorus rhythms should lock into a kind of groove and become less rhythmically active. Example: “Just Give Me a Reason” (Pink)
  3. Try making emotionally important words longer. Think of Tom Petty as he sings “Now I’m FREE” in “Free Falling,” and how effective it is when he stretches that word out.

We usually think of melodic rhythm as something that just happens naturally as part of the inherent rhythm of your lyric. But there is much you can do to pump up the emotional energy of your music.

And drawing a clearer distinction between what you do rhythmically in a verse and a chorus may be the missing element to having your song’s chorus stand out a bit more.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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  1. Pingback: Paying Closer Attention to the Rhythm of a Chorus Melody — The Essential Secrets of Songwriting | I Write The Music

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