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From Hook to Completed Song: Understanding Typical Pop Song Structure

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It’s not unusual for songwriters to be able to come up with catchy hooks pretty quickly, but when it comes to moving beyond that chorus hook and coming up with a completed song, things can get difficult.

What do you do if you find yourself with a catchy hook that sounds just the way you like it, but you just can’t come up with anything that acts as a suitable verse to attach to the front end?

Understanding the basic principles of good songwriting will be your best way forward, unless you want to spend a lot of time experimenting and improvising until something finally happens. But how does knowing songwriting principles help in this case? These four song structure characteristics are important:

  1. We know that choruses are typically higher in pitch than verses. SO: Find the highest and lowest notes of your chorus hook. That’s your chorus melodic range. Now you need to get your mind thinking lower: your verse melody will usually be lower than your chorus, and it’s also normal for the verse and chorus ranges to overlap. So if your chorus range is, let’s say, C4 (middle C) up to C5 (an octave higher), your verse will be lower, like perhaps F3-F4.
  2. We know that the rhythm of verse melodies is a little more complex and creative than chorus rhythms. While the chorus locks in and gives us something solid, repetitive and predictable, a verse melody might use rhythms that are a little quicker and syncopated in nature. The difference is usually subtle (think of Adele’s “Rolling In the Deep” as a good example of this difference.) So as you improvise, consider that your verse rhythms work better if they resemble the creative rhythms of typical spoken speech.
  3. We know that verse melodies (and pre-chorus melodies) often rise near their end to connect smoothly to the energy and range of the chorus. (Think of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” as a textbook example of this.) So as you improvise, keep thinking about how you want that verse melody to connect to the chorus you’ve already written.
  4. We know that chorus lyrics “answer” any questions that might arise in the verse. So as you’re working on your verse, be thinking about the direction of your song’s story. You might know what the chorus has to say, but always be thinking about how you get to that point. What might the verse present that acts as a logical setup for the chorus?

Of course, these suggestions won’t give you the actual notes you need for your verse. There’s nothing that can do that step for you.

But if you want to avoid wasting a lot of time, it’s a good idea to think about typical pop song structure. It at least gets you thinking in the right direction so that you maximize your songwriting time and tighten up your process.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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