What are the main differences between a verse and chorus that you should be concerned about as a songwriter? You’re likely aware of all the commonly-known ones:
- Keep the verse melodic range a bit below the chorus.
- Allow melody notes of the chorus to elongate, especially on title words.
- Prevent your verse lyric from getting overly emotional. Use the verse to describe or explain situations, and use the chorus to emote.
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One of the most important duties of a good verse melody is to properly set up and prepare the chorus. In other words, once the chorus happens, you get the strong feeling that the verse has done its job in making that chorus feel like the focal point of the song.
But other than the things already mentioned, how do you get a verse to do that? How do you make sure that the verse isn’t just sounding like an aimlessly wandering tune that finally ends when the chorus starts?
Here are some tips to help:
- Be certain there’s actually a story in the verse. Even in lyrics that describe a state of mind, there should be an implied story. If you’re singing about that you’re not getting along with someone, let’s say, you need to be dropping bits of that story through the verse. If not, you’ve got nothing for the chorus to create an emotion about.
- Allow the end of your verse melody to connect smoothly to the chorus. That might mean that you need to allow the verse melody to rise as it approaches the chorus (“She Loves You” – Lennon & McCartney). If the end of the verse is far from the start of the chorus in vocal range, consider a pre-chorus.
- Use the lyric to pose questions (either literally or figuratively) that get dealt with in the chorus. This sets up an important sense of tension and release that is the hallmark of many great hit songs.
- Build musical energy as a verse proceeds. Musical energy can come from many things: instruments that get louder/higher, vocal range that rises, words that become a bit more emotional… that sort of thing. The building energy sets up the chorus perfectly.
- Be sure that the verse deals with topics and situations that typical audiences can relate to. It doesn’t do much for a chorus’s potential if the verse sets up a story that’s just not making any kind of emotional connection.
When all is said and done, a verse has done its job if it sounds like it needs an emotional release — one that happens in the chorus. A verse works when it sounds like the chorus is the next logical thing to happen.
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