As you probably know, it’s quite possible (and reasonably common) to use the same — or almost the same — chord progression for a chorus that you use for a verse. If you do decide to use the same progression for both sections, it should be the kind of progression that would normally work well for the chorus:
- It should be relatively short. Just four or five chords repeated is normal for a chorus.
- It should target the tonic chord. A chorus progression normally makes the tonic chord sound like “home” — a kind of musical resting place.
- The chords should change with a strong sense of regularity. In other words, every chord should be strummed or otherwise played for the same number of beats — every two or four beats is most common.
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When a verse progression differs from a chorus progression, here are the kinds of things you’ll notice about that verse progression:
- It often uses more chords. The verse progression might use seven or eight different chords.
- It might wander about more, visiting other key areas. For a song where the chorus is in C major, your verse might actually focus on Am as a kind of “temporary tonic” chord, and you might toss in other chords that might support the story line of the verse lyric.
- The end of a verse progression will make the start of the chorus progression make good musical sense. One progression needs to flow easily to the next one.
When it comes to lyrics, we know that most songs will use verse lyrics that are observational and narrative in character, minimizing emotions and focusing on telling the story. It might seem strange, then, that verse progressions do tend to be more moody and expressive, and incorporating more musical surprises or unexpected directions.
But you’ll find that it makes a good deal of sense to partner up a moody progression with a narrative-style lyric. Those chords will help to establish the singer’s state of mind, even if the lyric is purposely unemotional in character.
The best way to troubleshoot your chord progressions is:
- Write out both your verse progression and your chorus progression, side-by-side so that you can easily compare them.
- Make note of the length of the verse progression and compare it to the length of the chorus progression. They should usually either be the same, or if one is longer than the other it will likely be the verse.
- Make note of the number of chord modifications you use in both progressions. If there are differences, it’s the verse progression that should feature more slash chords (inversions), more non-diatonic chords (chords that don’t specifically belong to the song’s key, like Bb in the key of C for example), and more added tones (Cadd9, for example).
This troubleshooting guide only really works for songs where you actually hear that there’s a problem with the chords. Keep in mind that some songs use chord progressions that defy standards and normal guidelines, and they work just fine.
But if you find that your chords are leaving you feeling like something’s amiss, start the process of fixing the problem by doing a comparison of verse and chorus progressions.
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