Pulling Different Melodic Ideas Together To Finish a Song

If you look at your most recent song’s verse and compare it to the chorus, you’ll usually notice:

  1. There is likely a similarity in the kinds of chords you’ve used in both sections.
  2. The lyrics are probably different, with verse lyrics setting up a scenario, and chorus lyrics expressing the emotions created by the verse.
  3. The verse melody often doesn’t bear a lot of resemblance to the chorus melody.

But those are, you will likely agree, vague generalizations. It’s not hard to find songs where those generalizations don’t particularly apply. With a song like McCartney’s “Golden Slumbers“, the kinds of chords you hear in the verse (mainly diatonic, with a few added sevenths) are very similar to what you hear in the chorus. But the verse chords for Paul Simon’s “My Little Town” are long and wandering, while the chorus is short, with a much different feel.

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When it comes to song melodies, it’s usually understood that the verse and chorus melody — at least most of the time — won’t sound much alike. And if you find songwriting a struggle, and in particular finishing songs, you can use that dissimilarity to your advantage… more about that later.

You might think that for most songs, even though the verse and chorus melodies are different, that there must be some similarity. What else would account for a verse and a chorus working so well together on most of the world’s biggest hits?

The fact that a completely dissimilar verse and chorus partner up well has more to do with all the other elements of the musical performance — the fact that the tempos are the same, the keys are either the same or strongly related, and the instrumentation is the same or strongly similar.

In my years of looking closely at verse and chorus melodies, and trying to find the similarities that might account for their strong partnership, the only characteristic I’ve noticed is that in many songs, a verse might be comprised of melodic ideas that chiefly move in one direction, moving to a chorus that might move chiefly in the other direction.

But even that characteristic is rather vague. In fact, there are many songs for which the relationship between the verse and chorus melodies seems to be almost nonexistent. You can have a successful song where the two sections use melodies that seem to share no specific characteristics.

(I should note that there is an advantage, though, in creating melodies that do share characteristics, and that is particularly true of songs where other partnering characteristics appear to be lacking.)

Saving the Bits

The point I’m getting around to making here is that if you find that you’ve written a chorus or a verse, but you can’t seem to write a partnering section to go with it, it’s often a good idea to simply put it away and save it for another day.

On some other day, you’ll likely find yourself in a similar circumstance where you’ve written a verse or chorus for which you can’t immediately create a partner section. But if you’ve saved all the bits of songs from previous writing sessions, you’ve got a treasure trove of song sections you can try placing together.

Many songwriters have had success doing this. Probably one of the most well-known examples is The Beatles’ “A Day In the Life”, with the main section of the song composed by John Lennon, and the middle bit (which bears no resemblance) written by Paul McCartney.

So no matter how unsuccessful you think your songwriting has been, never toss out anything simply because you couldn’t expand it beyond what you’ve written on any given day. That small section, that seems to have no future, can suddenly be useful when you add to something you’ve written on a different day.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary EwerFollow Gary on Twitter

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