You might assume that a verse should have some connection to the chorus that follows it — something that makes the verse and chorus sound like musical partners. Creating musical partners of various sorts is usually a goal in good songwriting.
But (with the possible exception of the lyrics) it is possible to write a verse and chorus, and other sections as well, that don’t really have much of a connection to each other, as long as certain songwriting principles are being observed.
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Lately I’ve been reacquainting myself with the music of the Beach Boys, and in particular the way Brian Wilson composed his songs. My last post looked at “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, and the use of chord inversions to create musical contrast.
“Good Vibrations” is a really good demonstration of a song that is composed of several almost completely unrelated melodies, all pulled together to make a complete song.
It’s possible to see the entire song as a kind of verse-chorus design, with various melodies:
Verse (Mel 1) – Chorus (Mel 2) – Verse – Chorus – Bridge (Mel 3) – Bridge 2 (Mel 4) – Chorus – Bridge 3 (Mel 5) – Quasi-chorus
It’s an odd design, and worthy of a deeper analysis. For now, though, it’s worth pointing out that there is a “through-composed” nature to this song, and we eventually hear five different melodic ideas.
And what’s most important to note about these ideas is that, at least on the surface of it, there is little connection between those ideas. There is no obvious attempt to make any of the verse or bridge ideas connect to the chorus ideas. They are separate musical entities.
So why does the song work? Mainly, the return to the chorus melody at several spots throughout the song gives the audience a strong sense of form. Repetition is the great musical glue that pulls all ideas together, even if those ideas are basically unrelated.
It’s similar to what classical composers call a rondo: a basic idea (the chorus, if you will), that is played between new ideas (verses and bridges).
Assembling Bits of Songs
I mention all of this because you may wonder what you can do with all those song fragments that you’ve written, fragments that never saw their way into a song. If you’ve got a few of those melodic bits kicking around, you might try to see if they can live side-by-side in the same song.
One easy way to try this is to put all the song fragments in the same key, and try them at the same tempo. Arrange and rearrange them until you’ve got something that sounds good. Remember that choruses are often higher in pitch than verses, so that will give you some guidance as to how to assemble them.
“Good Vibrations” shows us that completely different ideas can live together, even if those ideas are presented in different keys and different tempos.
So take one of your fragments, call it the chorus, and that’ll be the one section that gets repeated often. You’ll want to be sure that you’ve got a chorus that sounds catchy, strong, and works well when it’s repeated.
If you’ve pulled a song together in this way and you’ve streamed it online, feel free to post the link below.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.
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Hi Gary, writing songs with lyrically unrelated sections is actually a good technique (called “narrative modulation”, because the audience will automatically associate the sections as having some sort of connected meaning due to the psychological concepts of pattern recognition and type 1/2 errors in thinking: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Type_I_and_type_II_errors
This results in suspense, surprise, and the human tendency to try to solve “the puzzle” of the lyric after it has been completed.
Many great songwriters used this technique purposefully such as
The Beatles – A Day In The Life, and Golden Slumbers
Bob Dylan – All Along The Watchtower
The Band – The Weight
And countless others.
Thanks for your interesting observations. This blog post was dealing with unrelated sections of music, but the same can be said for songs where the lyric of the chorus or refrain don’t connect strongly to the verse. In that regard, The Beatles’ “Come Together” might be the best example.