Sarah McLachlan

The Main Differences Between Verse 1 and Verse 2

Figuring out the differences between verses and choruses can be tricky enough, but sometimes the biggest problem you’ll have is figuring out what to do with a second verse in your song. And because songs are all about momentum and musical flow, the danger with a weak verse 2 is that the musical flow can stop.

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If you find that momentum stops or slows up too much during the second verse of your song, it’s a sure sign that something needs to be fixed. So here are four characteristics that you might want to consider for what a verse 2 usually does for a song.

  1. Verse 2 continues a story. The story in your song might not be an actual step-by-step story, but most songs have at least an implied story. So you need to look at verse 1 on your lyric sheet, then verse 2 (i.e., ignore the chorus for now), and see if the continuity makes sense.
  2. Verse 2 features a slight increase in emotional words and phrases. While it’s true that verses tend to be narrative, there is a slight increase in emotional value in verse 2. Why? Mainly because the chorus that precedes the second verse has featured an emotional outpouring, and so having shown your emotional hand, a bit more feeling in the second verse makes sense. The difference is subtle, but a good model is Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel.” Read the lyric, and compare the verses and see the subtle rise of emotional value in the second verse. (The second verse starts with the line “So tired of the straight line.”)
  3. Verse 2 might use higher notes. As you know, most verse 2 melodies are identical to verse 1, but verse 2 gives you opportunities to seek out moments to throw in something higher — the creating of a more significant climactic moment for the verse. You can hear this demonstrated in Chicago’s 1985 hit ballad “You’re the Inspiration” (Cetera/Foster)
  4. Verse 2 usually increases instrumentation, backing vocals and/or other production-related choices. This is not usually considered a songwriting issue, but works hand-in-hand with the design elements of a song to increase musical energy. You hear it clearly demonstrated in Adele’s “Skyfall“, which builds from solo piano to a light orchestrational accompaniment in verse 1, to a much fuller chorus. For verse 2, it’s dialled back again, but is still fuller for verse 2 than it was for verse 1. You then hear an impressive orchestral build leading into the second chorus. You won’t likely have a full orchestra playing your song, but the technique is the same even for a much smaller production.

It’s an important principle of songwriting that musical energy at least stays the same, but usually increases from the beginning to the end of a song. That increase is almost never a straight line; musical energy moves up (in a chorus and often the bridge), and down (in verses).

So if you’re noticing that your verse 2 seems to be where you — or more importantly your audience — lose their interest, you can be sure that musical energy has been allowed to diminish too much.

The solution might be something as simple as building up production value in your verse 2 in order to keep the song moving steadily forward.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

Hooks & RiffsHooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” shows you how a good hook can make the difference between songwriting success and failure. With great examples from pop music history.

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