Amanda McBroom

Verses, Choruses, and How Much They Matter

The verse-chorus format of songs in the pop music genres is extremely common. Even people with no musical training in the least can tell if what they’re hearing is a verse or a chorus.

The thing is, some songs don’t use the verse-chorus format. And some songs that do use a verse-chorus format will use other sections that are more difficult to identify and label. Progressive rock songs of the 1970s variety are good examples of this. So a song like “Roundabout” (Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, recorded by Yes) has a fairly clear verse-chorus structure, but lots of other sections that aren’t as easily named.

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It makes you wonder: can you write a song where the whole notion of verse and chorus just doesn’t exist? You might wonder, for example, about a song that simply uses one long melody, like Amanda McBroom’s “The Rose“. If the entire song is comprised of one long melody that repeats a few times and ends… perhaps it’s not a verse, but simply a melody.

In other words, it would be fair to wonder if a verse is a verse because it gets contrasted with a chorus that follows it. (If there were only one tree in the world, could you describe it as very tall? You’ve got no other trees to compare it to.)

This discussion could get quite involved, and dig down into areas that have to do with the psychology of music, and what’s happening in our brains when we hear songs.

To offer the shorter version of this discussion, I suggest that humans need to compartmentalize music — divide it up into smaller sections — as a way of more fully understanding it. If you were to write an 8-bar musical phrase, like the verse structure of “Hey Jude”, that feels about right. It’s like a little 8-bar musical journey with a beginning, middle and end, and we get it.

But what if you were to write a melody that’s, say, thirty-two bars long, one that doesn’t sound complete until the thirty-second bar happens — that’s four times longer, and would be almost impossible for us to understand. It’s simply too long.

As a songwriter, though, you don’t have to remind yourself not to write a 32-bar phrase. It feels right to compose songs using much shorter phrases.

Here’s the point of what I’m trying to say: it doesn’t really matter to our enjoyment of a song whether we identify a section as a verse or a chorus. It matters that we hear two different sections, each contrasting with each other in some way.

It’s why we can enjoy “Bohemian Rhapsody” without wondering which is the verse, the chorus, the bridge, the… anything else. I had loved “I Know What I like (In Your Wardrobe)” by Genesis for many years before realizing (and ultimately not caring) that verse 1 and verse 2 use completely different melodies.

Most songs will contain at least two differing sections, and it almost always sounds right to put the lower-energy, lower-pitched part first and call it the verse, and follow it with the other more intense section and call it the chorus.

But what’s far more important than whether we label a section as being a verse or a chorus is the fact that they contrast with each other. That contrast is all that listeners are really wanting to hear.

And if in the writing of your songs you compose sections that contrast with each other, you’ve pretty much done what you’re required to do as a songwriter.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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