It might be over simplistic to say, but one of the main jobs of a song verse, particularly in the pop genres, is to get the listener to the chorus. That’s certainly not to say that a verse is unimportant. A good verse does several important things:
- Through the lyric, it sets the scene and describes people, situations, events and circumstances. In that sense, it pulls listeners in.
- Through the chords, it establishes a kind of “harmonic language” for the song.
- Through the rhythms, it establishes the song’s general feel.
- Through the melody, it creates a pleasant kind of tension — a kind of musical suspense — that makes audiences want to hear what happens in the chorus.
In short, a good verse will make listeners want to keep listening. But how do each of those song elements — lyrics, chords, rhythms and melody — create the kind of intrigue that makes people want to keep listening?
“Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” – Discover the secrets of how great songs pull listeners in and keep them listening. Then apply those secrets to your own songs.
Here are some ideas to think about as you write your next song’s verse:
Each verse will usually have different lyrics, and the job of each verse is to give a bit more of whatever story or situation is being described. In and of itself, a verse lyric doesn’t need to explain much with regard to why or how you feel; that’s the job of the chorus. But a good song lyric needs to present a situation that most people can identify with. It’s why love songs still work. SUGGESTIONS: Keep words simple and common, express yourself in plain, basic language. Make listeners think, “I wonder what’s going to happen next.”
The chords for each verse will usually be the same, though it can be interesting to insert chord substitutions in later verses, just to keep a sense of variety. (Eagles do this in “Take It Easy”). Verse chords should entice listeners to keep listening – to want to get to the chorus. SUGGESTIONS: Allow your verse progressions to wander in and around your chosen key. As chords loosen their grip on the song’s key, listeners subconsciously want to know where it’s all going to wind up. So use the verse to create interesting progressions that use altered tones, non-diatonic chords, and non-tonic substitutions.. whatever keeps things interesting. Listeners will find verse chords to be interesting in hindsight if the chorus switches to chords that are strong, short and rhythmically predictable.
Songs typically right away establish a rhythmic pattern that’s attractive and memorable. So from the start, a good verse will settle into a riff or rhythmic pattern that gets listeners engaged and moving. SUGGESTIONS: Use syncopations and other rhythmic devices in a verse melody’s rhythm. This kind of rhythmic flexibility keeps listener interest up, and contributes to the song’s overall rhythmic energy.
A verse melody has a lot of the responsibility of keeping an audience locked in and wanting to hear more. Like verse chords, a verse melody can get away with a fair bit of wandering around, but there is also a strong responsibility to making the audience anticipate the chorus. SUGGESTIONS: Particularly in the second half of a verse melody, you’ll keep people listening if you gradually move your verse melody higher. Not every verse melody you write needs to do this, but it’s a great trick to apply if your song is lagging. A higher melody translates to more musical energy. Accompanying that verse melody with a gradually intensifying backing instrumentation and production can also help to build musical energy.
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