There’s a quick answer to why you’d ever use a pre-chorus in your song: by the time you get to the end of the verse, it feels too soon for the chorus.
A pre-chorus is that little optional section that sits in between the verse and chorus. Choruses tend to be more energetic than verses, and so a pre-chorus’s job is mainly to build some momentum and musical energy at the end of the verse so that it more smoothly connects to the chorus.
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That job, of building energy, is often why you’ll see a pre-chorus sometimes referred to as a rise or a build. Like a song’s bridge, it is optional. Not every song needs one, and not every song should use one.
Does Your Song Need a Pre-chorus?
How do you know if your song would benefit from having a pre-chorus? If your verse is short, or otherwise melodically or harmonically unadventurous, a pre-chorus can add a bit of time, musical energy and musical interest before the chorus happens.
If you’ve added a pre-chorus to your song, it absolutely needs a reason for being there. If your verse doesn’t build the necessary energy, or if the melody stays low, then jumps up at the start of the chorus, a pre-chorus would help that situation.
I’ve often used “Firework” (Katy Perry, Mikkel S. Eriksen, Tor Erik Hermansen, Sandy Wilhelm, Ester Dean) as a model for what a pre-chorus can do. Not because I particularly like the song, but because it clearly demonstrates how a pre-chorus should work. You can hear the melody rising to meet the chorus. You can hear musical energy building. It serves a purpose.
How to Build Musical Energy
And so if you’ve decided that your chorus is simply happening too soon, and you think that a pre-chorus would solve that, here are the characteristics most pre-chorus sections should display:
- The pre-chorus chord progression should end by connecting smoothly to whatever the chorus starts with. If your chorus starts on a tonic (I) chord, your pre-chorus should end with something that makes the I-chord sound like an important target. Example: if your chorus starts this way: I vi IV… you might use a pre-chorus progression that ends this way: ii IV V, or vi IV ii, etc.
- The melody should rise. If your verse melody is already reasonably high in pitch, and you need to build musical energy for other reasons, you might try moving the melody down at the start of the pre-chorus, and move it upward to meet the chorus melody.
- The lyrics should gradually become more emotional. While verses typically describe situations or tell stories, a pre-chorus lyric should switch to being more emotionally intense, and this often tends to be a gradual thing.
- Overall dynamics (volume) should increase. This is part of what helps to generate the kind of musical energy and sense of purpose that a good pre-chorus is known for.
If you’re not sure that your song needs the pre-chorus that you’ve written for it, try this: put your song away for a few days, then when you come back to it, try singing the song by going directly from the verse to the chorus. You’ll know right away that a pre-chorus would be a good addition, if it feels as though the chorus is jumping in too soon, and sounds like too much of a jump in musical energy.
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