Guitar and music

The Placement of Your Song’s Highest Note

Many songs have a noticeable climactic high point — a spot where the highest note happens. It’s often found in the chorus, because choruses in general use higher notes than verses.

Though you can find the highest note in the bridge, the high note of the chorus often comes with a higher impact. That’s because the chorus tends to use shorter, stronger progressions, and more emotional lyrics. Those things together can make a chorus’s high note sound more significant.

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Rather than simply allowing a high note to occur randomly, it’s worth thinking about where to actually place it. Here’s a suggestion: placing the high note at the start of the chorus or refrain has certain benefits that can make your song more memorable and more powerful.

This is certainly not to say that songs where the highest note happens later in a chorus (or later in a verse in verse-only songs) have a problem. Many songs do this: “Imagine” (John Lennon), and “Billie Jean” (Michael Jackson), for instance.

And some songs, though they obviously have a highest note somewhere, may not treat that note with any special kind of significance. Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” (Ed Sheeran, Amy Wadge), just as one example, doesn’t make a big deal out of using a high note as a climactic high point.

But placing the high note at the start of the chorus (and sometimes again later in the chorus) has the advantage of setting up the chorus hook as being noticeable and structurally significant.

“Penny Lane”, “The Times They Are a-Changin'”, “Firework”, “Payphone”, “Pumped Up Kicks”, “Poker Face”… many songs feature the placement of the highest note at the start of the chorus.

What are the specific benefits to placing a song’s high note at the beginning of the chorus? There are 3 main ones:

  1. It draws immediate attention to the chorus hook.
  2. It’s easier for listeners to remember the chorus hook.
  3. It draws a cleaner distinction between the verse and the chorus.

To make this work for you, try starting your song by working out the chorus first. This can happen any number of ways, including creating a chord progression and then working out a melody that begins high in your vocal range.

Then as you switch to working on the verse, you’ll want to keep the range below that of the chorus you’ve just written.

As you work out a chorus melody that starts with the highest notes of the song, keep in mind that the lyric will likely feature the song’s title. So your songwriting process might well start by brainstorming song titles and lines that pair well with it.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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