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Making The Most Of Your Chorus

By Lealean Peace

Recently, I was working on a new tune with a couple of co-writers. We traded lyrics back and forth quite a few times via e-mail, until we thought that we were pretty close to finishing up the song. We also were working against a deadline, since I was planning a trip to Nashville. Our plan was to finish the lyrics, I would then record a rough piano/vocal demo, forward copies to my co-writers, and simultaneously send a copy of it to Nashville for a full band demo. It would then be back to me before my trip to Nashville. Confusing, right? Right. And to make a long story short, it didn’t quite work out that way, but thats another article.

When my co-writers received the piano/vocal demo, one of the comments that came back to me was something like; “Lealean, the chorus doesn’t really stand out. It sounds too much like the verses”. They were absolutely right, and I knew better. But in my haste to make the deadline, I let that little detail slip by. If you are a songwriter, hoping for commercial success, and without any substantial track record, that little missed detail will cause the publisher, record label rep or whomever, to reach over and turn the song off. Even if you’re not writing songs with commercial intentions in mind, this little missed detail will cause your song to sound monotonous and your listener will lose interest.

If you want to make the most of your song, you really need to make the chorus sound different than your verses. For that matter, songs are composed of different sections such as verses, choruses, and bridges. All of these sections should sound different and contrast each other. This is especially true of the chorus, which really needs to stand out in the song. I looked at some of my songwriting books, and performed searches on the Internet trying to find ways to fix our problem. Here are some of the most common ways that I found to make a chorus sound different and stand out:

1) Make the chorus higher, melodically than the verses. For example, the verses may be sung in a comfortable voice while the chorus is sung in a higher register, (ie..higher notes than the verse).

2) Make the chorus lower, melodically than the verses. Though not as common as the previous option, this method does makes the chorus sound different than the verse. Using the above analogy, the verses may be sung in a higher register, (ie..higher notes than the chorus), while the chorus drops to a lower singing register.

3) Make the chorus different, harmonically, than the verses. The chords used in a song supply the musical foundation for the melody as well as assisting in developing the emotional feel of the song. If both the verse and chorus use the same chord progression, there’s a good chance those sections will sound too similar. The same goes for the bridge or lift section. Try to consciously choose a different chord progression for each different musical section. The easiest way to do this is to start each section on a different chord. If the verse starts on a G chord then begin the chorus on a different chord like C, and your bridge on an Am chord.

4) Change the rhythm of the melody between the verses and chorus. An example of what I’m talking about here might be the song written by Dolly Parton titled. “I Will Always Love You”. Notice how the verses use choppy short notes while the chorus holds out long notes on the words “I”, “Always” and “You”. You can also do the opposite of this and use long notes on the verses and short choppy notes on the chorus.

So what did my co-writers and I do to fix our verse/chorus problem? We basically used option #1 above, and modulated higher a full step, (key), when we got to the chorus, and went back down a full step when we returned to the verse. That worked in our case, and I actually received positive comments from publishers about how the verse and choruses sounded so different in that song.

Hope this helps you in your songwriting efforts.

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