There are many songs that seem to show no particular relationship between the verse and the chorus, except for the fact that they both exist in the same song. Take a hit song like “Somebody That I Used to Know” (Gotye), and you’ll notice that the verse and chorus bear no obvious similarity. For the verse of that song to work, he could have gone with a completely different chorus.
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But every now and then you’ll notice songs where the chorus seems connected in some way to the verse, even if how it’s connected is hard to place. A great recent example of this is “Motion Sickness” by American singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers.
She uses completely different verse and chorus melodies, but you’ll notice that there’s a kind of connection that’s hard to pinpoint. Part of what makes the two sections connect is due to typical production decisions:
- Simliar instrumentation.
- Similar rhythmic feel.
- Similar vocal delivery.
But those are production-level decisions, and pretty typical ones. There’s something else going on that helps to make the chorus sound like a logical follower for the verse, and it has to do with melodic shape and direction.
The verse starts with a large leap upward (a major 6th), but then notice how much many of the short melodic cells describe a downward motion. Even shapes that move upward eventually work their way downward:
In slow to medium tempos, downward moving cells often imply a sigh. It’s a great way to help a lyric with a melancholy message.
The chorus uses a similar pentatonic scale (Db major pentatonic: Db Eb F Ab Bb Db), with the occasional Gb thrown in, and yes, that will help pull the two sections together. But I think what really makes the chorus communicate with the verse is the continuing of the mainly downward motion of the melodic ideas:
This isn’t the sort of thing that an audience is likely to pick up on any sort of conscious level, but it’s a common choice for songwriters, and the structural strength that comes from a design like this is undeniable.
It’s often not even the sort of thing that a songwriter might be aware of during the writing process. Sometimes these things happen because of good musical instincts, creating happy accidents.
But if you find that the structure of your song sounds a bit weak, and the non-connection between verse and chorus is bothering you a bit, you might benefit by spending some time redesigning either your verse or chorus to exhibit some sort of connection between those two sections.
Besides thinking about similar melodic direction, here are some other ideas to experiment with:
- Try opposites. A verse that moves mainly upward followed by a chorus that moves mainly downward can subtly grab the listener’s attention, even if they can’t label the specific connection they’re hearing.
- Contrast minor and major. Once you’ve got the key of your chorus, try the opposite mode in your verse. So if you’ve got a chorus in C major, try experimenting with verse chord progressions that mostly use the minor chords from that key: ii (Dm), iii (Em) and vi (Am). The contrast, and in particular the brightening you get from moving from minor to major, will inject musical energy into your song.
- Experiment with point of view. If your lyric describes a situation you’ve found yourself in, experiment with a chorus lyric that offers an emotional response from another’s point of view. Most songs wouldn’t do that, but the switch can be powerful. (“Somebody That I Used to Know” does this between verse 1 and verse 2).
I want to reiterate that in the pop music genres it’s not vital to create a connection between song sections. Most songs will succeed in spite of no obvious connection, as long as the lyric is strong, the melody/chord combination is enticing, and as long as there is an obvious rising and falling of emotional content in those lyrics.
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