How much of a connection should a listener hear between the verse and chorus? In other words, except for tempo, key and general feel, can a verse melody set up a chorus well if it bears little to no similarity to that chorus melody?
Take the classic hit “Witchy Woman” (Don Henley, Bernie Leadon). Compare the verse and chorus melody, and you can hear an obvious interconnection. Many of the melodic shapes are similar, using similar pitches and general downward-moving phrases.
But other songs will use a chorus that seems to show little if any link to the characteristics of the verse melody:
- “My Little Town” (Paul Simon) – 1975
- “Bad” (Michael Jackson) – 1987
- “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Nirvana) – 1992
- “When I’m Gone” (Brad Arnold, Todd Harrell, Chris Henderson, Matt Roberts) – 2002
- “All of Me” (John Stephens, Toby Gad) – 2014
And even without noticeable similarities between verse and chorus, they seem to do just fine. So what do we do? If a chorus sounds fine even if it shares no obvious connection to the verse that precedes it, is it even an issue worth thinking about?
The admittedly unsatisfying answer is that it probably depends on the song. As you work out your next verse-chorus song, here are some things to think about:
- A song can benefit from the structural strength that comes from a verse that sounds similar to a chorus (like “Witchy Woman”).
- Point #1 notwithstanding, a verse does not need to share melodic ideas, chords, or any other musical element with the chorus.
- The point of connection between a verse and chorus (i.e., the bar or two at the end of the verse, and the first bar of the chorus) is usually a more important feature than the relationship between verse and chorus.
- Chorus melodies that move in a generally-opposite direction from that of the verse (like “All of Me”) can be a nice way to cleverly connect verses and choruses.
- The relative ranges of the verse and chorus melodies is more important than the actual melodic shapes. Most of the time, a chorus benefits from sitting higher in pitch than the verse.
Point #2 means that you may have a chorus hook you’ve written a year or two ago, and you can often have success by throwing it together with a verse you wrote this week, with little to no tweaking of those ideas.
If you do that, it’s the connection point between verse and chorus that may require some finessing. Just make sure that you like the way it moves from the end of the verse to the start of the chorus. Look at the chords you use, and possible adjust the melody of the verse so that it begs a little bit for the chorus, use lyrics to pull the two ideas together, and it should work.
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