The conventional wisdom is that a song’s chorus should be happening by the time you get to the 1-minute mark, or even sooner. A chorus that happens after the 1-minute mark can work just fine, though, particularly if the song is in a slow ballad style.
Deciding when it feels right for the chorus to begin has everything to do with your song’s verse. If a verse goes on for too long, you risk boring the audience. That’s because the chorus is usually the hooky bit that everyone loves. It’s harder for a verse to have that same captivating quality. So when a verse is too long, the audience’s attention can wander.
If you like starting songs by working with a chord progression, you need to read “Writing a Song From a Chord Progression.” It will give you the pros and cons of this songwriting method, and help you create songs that really work!
Let’s look, though, at a kind of opposite sort of problem: when the chorus happens too soon. Let’s say that you’ve written a nice verse that is 8 bars long, maybe two phrases of 4 bars each. So after two phrases, it’s pretty much done by the time you get to, say, the 30-second mark, meaning that you’ve got a chorus happening at 30 seconds instead of the more traditional 45-60 seconds.
If it feels like the chorus is happening too soon, your instincts will likely tell you to do something to lengthen your verse. So your first go-to might be to do a couple more run-throughs of that short 4-bar verse phrase. That gives you a chorus that starts at about the 60-second mark, and that might be a good solution.
But because you’ve repeated the same verse fragment four times, you run the risk of having an audience become bored with your verse. The better solution, instead of repeating your two verse phrases, might be to write a pre-chorus melody.
A pre-chorus is a short melody that serves to connect a verse to a chorus, and one of the main reasons you’d ever use a pre-chorus is specifically to elongate the time before you start a chorus.
There are no particular rules about what a pre-chorus should sound like, but keep these things in mind:
- It works well for a pre-chorus melody to start low and move higher. That helps musical energy to build.
- The chords accompanying a pre-chorus can be anything you’d like, but the last chord needs to connect well to the chorus.
- The pre-chorus shouldn’t go on for too long. Its main job is to provide a connection, not to be an independent section that goes on for too long.
The pre-chorus is optional, so not every song uses one. The pre-chorus of Adele’s “Rolling In the Deep” solves a couple of problems: 1) a very repetitive verse, and 2) bringing the vocal range upward, since each iteration of the main verse phrase ends on a low note.
In “Rolling In the Deep”, the pre-chorus builds energy, not by moving constantly higher as so many pre-choruses do, but by repeating the same short fragment over and over. Generally, musical energy builds when the same fragment keeps happening over and over with a constantly changing progression underneath.
When the chorus finally happens, it’s almost as if you could feel it before it occurs, and the pre-chorus helps that explosion of chorus energy happen.
If you’ve written a pre-chorus, you’ll know that it works by doing this: try removing your pre-chorus and jump right from the verse to the chorus. If it sounds like the chorus is happening too soon, you know that your pre-chorus is working.
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