Good music isn’t determined by adherence to rules; it’s more a case that the best songs are guided by certain musical principles. One of those guiding principles is that chorus melodies should normally be pitched higher than verse melodies.
“Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” describes several kinds of song hooks, and how good songwriters often layer those different kinds within the same song. Buy it separately, or get it as part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle.”
But in fact, that principle is a result of two other underlying principles:
- Good songs use musical contrast as a way to keep listeners interested.
- The musical energy of most songs fluctuates upward and downward, also as a way to keep listeners interested.
If this idea of fluctuating musical energy is new to you, take the time today to listen to several songs, from any genre, and make mental note of when you feel the music is becoming more energetic, and where you think it’s becoming less so.
As you think on that, make note also of when melodies move up and when they move down. I’m willing to bet that for every 10 songs, 8 or 9 of them will show the following characteristics:
- Verse melodies tend to start low in the singer’s range compared to the range of the rest of the song.
- Chorus melodies sit high in the singer’s range compared to the rest of the song.
- Vocal rhythms are shorter and sometimes more complex in a verse, becoming simpler and locked in to the basic beat of the song in the chorus.
- Instrumentation is fullest in the chorus, boosting the sense of musical energy from what’s perceived in the verse.
So for most songs, the fluctuating musical energy starts low, then moves high, and toggles back and forth until the song is finished. Sometimes the musical energy of the intro itself is part of the formula: it may start with high energy, then diminish for the start of the verse (“Call On Me” – Lee Loughnane, recorded by Chicago), or may start as low as the verse: “Billie Jean” – Michael Jackson).
The danger in having a chorus melody lower in pitch than the verse, or even just sitting in the same range as the verse, is that you’ve missed the important opportunity to build musical energy. You’ve also missed the obvious opportunity to create musical contrast.
Since verse lyrics typically describe situations while chorus lyrics give an emotional response, it makes sense to have the verse start lower in energy — and melodic range — than the chorus.
Moving the melody up and down is the easiest way to create musical energy. There are other ways, such as building instrumentation and playing around with key, tempo, and backing rhythms. So it is possible to have a chorus melody sit in the same range as a verse melody, as long as something is taking responsibility for building and relaxing musical energy.
The perfect combination: “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle” and a Study Guide. Dig into the songwriting manuals that thousands of songwriters are using to polish their technique, complete with a study guide to show you how to progress through the materials. Comes with an 11th FREE ebook: “Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process”