Are you trying to make your lyrics more important in your songwriting process? This eBook can help: “Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process.” Take advantage of this FREE offer.
In most songs, a vocal line will become rhythmically simpler in a chorus, often favouring notes of longer rhythmic values.
There are good reasons for this, and getting the balance right between a rhythmically active verse and a rhythmically more predictable chorus can be an important key to success.
A Verse Vocal Line
In a song verse, you’ll usually find that the vocal line uses shorter, quicker rhythms. In addition, you might find rhythmic devices such as syncopation (a displaced beat).
The shorter, quicker rhythms have a particular purpose: they tend to make the vocal line sound a bit more narrative in style as the lyric tries to explain a situation or circumstance, or to describe a person. These are important roles for song verses.
So there is a sense of freedom that comes from rhythmic complexity in a song verse. A good example of this is “Closer” (The Chainsmokers featuring Halsey).
In this verse, you get it all: the quick, short rhythms, the syncopation, and it all is designed to give the music a relaxed, “I’m telling you a story” feel.
A Chorus Vocal Line
Then notice what happens to the rhythm at the chorus (“So baby pull me closer…”). Everything becomes rhythmically simpler, and locks into a kind of repetitive pattern where the vocal line becomes more predictable and hook-like.
In some songs that difference is considerable, as we hear in “Closer.” In other songs, like Pink’s “Just Give Me a Reason”, the difference is more subtle.
That simplistic chorus rhythm has the effect of pulling the audience into the chorus hook, making it more memorable and perhaps even fun to sing. Most songs exhibit this characteristic to at least some degree.
In your own songs, you can benefit from the musical energy that comes from starting the song with relatively quick, short rhythms, and then switching to a more predictable, rhythmically simple chorus melody.
If you’ve chosen a song form that doesn’t use a chorus, but opts instead for perhaps a verse-refrain design, you can do something similar: start your verse more rhythmically active, and then simplify as the refrain happens.
A good example of this is Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. Lennon & Mccartney’s “When I’m Sixty-Four” shows how subtle the rhythmic change of a refrain can be. What helps the sense of simplicity with that song’s refrain is the sudden change to a static pitch on the words “when I’m sixty-four.”
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter
If you’re ready to study — to learn why a great song succeeds — and then to apply those discoveries to your own songs, you’re ready for “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle.”
The technique is called “augmentation/diminution.” Choruses don’t have to have longer notes than verses, but it’s more common. The main just is that there is a contrast between sections.
The Beatles – Blackbird
Neil Young – Down by the River
Ronnie Hawkins – Who Do You Love
The technique I’m describing in this post is not augmentation/diminution. That’s the notion that a musical idea — usually a motif or melody — can be modified by elongating its note durations, or by shortening them. That was a favourite compositional technique in the Baroque era, very common in fugues for example. What I’m describing is less specific, where a verse in general will use shorter, quicker rhythms, and then switch to longer values in the chorus.