Amanda McBroom

Controlling the Emotional Build of a Verse-Only Song

Some songs make use of a verse-only construction, and Bette Midler’s hit “The Rose” (written by Amanda McBroom) is a good example of this. There are other songs that are mainly verse-only, with a short one-line refrain, like Lennon & McCartney’s “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

Those two song formats, verse-only and verse-refrain, both have a similar problem to solve, which is this: how to provide an emotional build to contrast the mainly narrative style of the verse.

Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting ProcessThe ideas in this article come from “Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process.” That eBook is FREE right now with your purchase of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle”

In songs that are verse-chorus in design, the chorus allows the songwriter to express strong emotions to contrast with the mainly narrative style of the verse, and it’s what makes that form work.

In verse-only songs, you don’t get a chorus to allow for emotional build-up, so what do you do if your song doesn’t have a chorus? You’ll notice in most verse-only songs that the emotional value increases as the verse proceeds.

The difference is subtle. In “The Rose”, the emotional content is high throughout the lyric. You get phrases like “…a river/ That drowns the tender reed”, and “Some say love, it is a hunger/An endless aching need…”

In a verse that’s rife with emotion, how to do make an emotional build? By doing one simple thing: switch from “Some say…” to “I say…” That simple switch ensures that the listener experiences a bump upward of emotional energy, an increase that comes specifically by making it personal (“I say…”).

That takes care of the verse. But what about the song as an entirety? It’s in that final verse where the format of the lyric changes. It’s suddenly a mini story where the listener feels the emotional exhaustion of a night that’s “been too lonely”, and where love is only for “the lucky and the strong.” It’s enough to make the hardest heart melt.

So what Amanda McBroom got right in writing “The Rose” is that on the micro level — the verse — we feel a build from narrative to emotional, and then we get the same thing on the macro level.

If you’re writing songs that don’t use a chorus, you need to think carefully about this element of design, and how to incorporate a nice contrast between less and more emotional.

And remember, this doesn’t just apply to songs that are tear-jerkers. Every song is a study in emotion, at least on some level.

It’s up to you as the writer to be sure that you’ve properly contrasted low and high emotive content, both on the verse level, as well as with regard to the entire song.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook bundle comes with a free copy of “Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process.” Learn how to make the writing of a good lyric the starting point for your own songwriting method.

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