Kelly Clarkson

Why Rhythms, Chords and Melodies Should Simplify in a Song Chorus

Most songs use several distinct melodies. If your song has a pre-chorus and bridge, that means that you might need to come up with at least four different melodies. Each one of those melodies will likely use a different chord progression, and they might also use very different rhythms.

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What most listeners don’t notice is that chords aren’t the only part of a song that progresses. The melody you find in a verse doesn’t just differ from the chorus melody; there is a sense of progression as it moves from one section to the next:

  1. A verse melody might wander considerably up and down as it seeks to describe the person, circumstances and/or basic story of the song. The rhythms of this melody, though locked into whatever the feel or groove of the song is, often make good use of rhythmic devices such as syncopation, and can tend to be the most complicated of the entire song.
  2. A pre-chorus melody typically moves upward as a way to build musical energy to set the song up for the arrival of the chorus.
  3. A chorus melody simplifies, along with the vocal rhythms and chords, to present a strong hook to the audience.
  4. A bridge melody, along with the chords and rhythms, will either build energy to give the final chorus repeats some added punch, or (if the song is very energetic in the first place) might try to provide contrast by calming things down a bit before the final chorus.

You’d think, since the chorus is often the loudest and most energetic part of a song, that the melody, chords and especially the rhythms might be busiest and most complex in that section. But the opposite is generally true.

If you listen to Kelly Clarkson’s 2012 hit “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” (Jörgen Elofsson, Ali Tamposi, David Gamson, Greg Kurstin), you hear this demonstrated very well. The verse melody is low in pitch, the rhythms work to make the words sound natural and conversational.

In the chorus, everything simplifies. The rhythms become a basic eighth-note patter, and the melodic range gives us some of the highest notes of the song. The bridge tries to build on that energy, with a small pause in that energetic level to make the final choruses pop.

The reason for the simplification of the melody and rhythm has to do with the duty of a chorus hook. You want something that the average listener can remember and sing. Simplification is key to audience recall.

If you find that your own song choruses typically lack the kind of punch they need, it’s time to go back and compare your verse and chorus sections. There should be a noticeable difference in the range of the melody (chorus should be higher), the rhythms (chorus rhythms should be simpler) and the chord progressions (chorus chords should simplify and lock into the tonic chord.)

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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