Creating A Standout Chorus
by Danny Arena
One of the most common musical traps songwriters fall into is having a chorus that sounds too much like the verse. Remember that the whole point of having different sections in your song is to have variety. As a general rule of thumb, different musical sections such as verses, lifts, choruses and bridges should contrast each other. This makes each section unique, which keeps the song musically interesting. This is especially important in the chorus section, which really needs to stand out from the rest of the song.
So how we can apply this idea of creating contrast to the music? Since music has three fundamental components (melody, harmony, and rhythm), we have three ways of creating a contrast between different musical sections. Let’s explore each of these methods of contrast a little more carefully.
- Melodic Contrast - To create an effective melodic contrast, make sure that the chorus is higher than the verse. The easiest test of this is to try and draw a line representing the melody in your song. If you have a hill or peak in the chorus compared to the verse, then you’ve probably done your job. On the other hand, if you end up with a fairly straight line, you have what I call a "flatline" melody (it means exactly what the term implies - the song has been pronounced melodically dead). Often this happens if a writer begins the verse in their highest singing register. When they get to the chorus, there’s nowhere higher they can sing, so it stays in the same range. The end result is a melody that doesn’t move enough. The simplest way to avoid this trap is to write the verse in a comfortable, but low melodic range. This gives you plenty of room to move upward in the chorus. If you write the chorus first, try to keep it in your upper singing register. This will give you room to make the verse melody lower while still creating an effective contrast. Naturally, you have to keep an eye on the overall range to make sure it’s not beyond a typical singer’s range (usually an octave plus three or four notes).
- Harmonic Contrast - A second way to make different musical sections contrast is harmonically. The chords used in a song supply the musical foundation for the melody as well as establishing 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 achieve 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. For example, the verse to the Grammy award winning song, "Wind Beneath My Wings" (Henley/Silbar) starts on a G chord while the chorus begins on an Em chord. This doesn’t mean you can’t start both your verse and chorus on the same chord, but if you do, be sure to include some other method of contrast.
- Rhythmic Contrast - A third way to create an effective contrast between sections is by changing the rhythm of the melody between the verse and chorus. The best example I can think of is the perennial Howard/Arlen song, "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" (which contains a bridge or "B" section rather than a chorus). Try to imagine the rhythm of the verse melody in your head. Hear those big long half notes on words like "way" and "up"? For the most part, the verse rhythm is composed of half notes. Now try to hear the bridge section of the song ("someday I’ll wish"). Can you tell the difference? The bridge section is comprised mainly of the quicker rhythm of eighth notes, which creates an effective contrast to the half notes in the verse. It’s also interesting to note that both the verse and the bridge begin on the same chord and are in the same melodic range. The rhythmic change supplies the only musical contrast between the verse and bridge sections and it’s enough to keep us tuned in to the song. If you’re solely a lyricist, rhythmic contrast is a great thing that you can build into your lyrics by simply paying particular attention to the rhythm of the words in each section
Just remember when you’re looking for a way to create a distinctive chorus, remember you have several options. Hope to see you on the charts.
Danny Arena is a Tony-Award nominated songwriter and co-founder of www.SongU.com. SongU.com provides multi-level song writing courses developed by award-winning songwriters, song feedback, mentoring, one-on-one song coaching, co-writing, unscreened pitching opportunities and more. For more information on the USA Songwriting Competition, please go tp: http://www.songwriting.net