by Scott Ashley
The verse tells the main story of a song, it is where you tell your story of your song’s details. These are the longer sections that a listener hears in between the most anticipated choruses. Verses can be played out over strong, repetitive chord progressions with varying lyrics and strong rhyme schemes. A powerful verse leads into a great chorus and can support the overall purpose of the song.
Your goal is to write a song that grabs the listener, making them feel compelled to keep listening.
- How to write your first verse
Create a melody and then write lyrics to match that. The lines of the first verse will introduce the listener to the subject of the song. Start with solid imagery or imagery that moves in steps, from simple to complicated, from basic to more complex. Example: listen to the first verse of “Someone Like You” by Adele.
I heard that you’re settled down
That you found a girl and you’re married now
- How to write your second verse
Remember that songs are short stories. Ask yourself what your song is about and summarize its message. Breaking it into bite-size pieces can often help you move forward into the second verse, a continuation of your story. Remind yourself of the song’s message, and you should find a way to continue the story and stay true to the theme.
Take the melody from the first verse and write lyrics that utilize the rhythm pattern and tune you already established but without making it a carbon copy of the first verse. Example: listen to Adele’s second verse of “Someone Like You” and notice how she continues her story.
You know how the time flies
Only yesterday was the time of our lives
Here’s advice from some award-winning songwriters about writing verses and beyond:
“If the first verse is super-busy, a lot of words, maybe the next part should be the complete opposite, with long notes. It’s a good resource when you’re stuck. But the thing that happens within the method has to be free-flowing and creative in order to be great. That’s the magic part,” said Max Martin in a Variety magazine interview in 2019. Max Martin is one of the most successful songwriters today, with 70 US Top 10 hits and 22 No. 1s —including “Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears, Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl,” Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” and the Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face.”
“I’d say the easiest way to develop your verses is to simply make sure you know what you’re writing about,” said Scott Oatley, Overall Grand Prize winner of the 2021 USA Songwriting Competition. “Too often I see other writers start rolling with a vague feeling or thought that just isn’t fully developed or realized. You can’t write the details of a story if you haven’t decided who, what, when, where, why this is all taking place. Decide on your character, point of view, what you want to say (most likely what you end up singing in the chorus!) and fill in the gaps”.
Les Sampou, a singer-songwriter as well as a winner of the Lyrics category of the 2021 USA Songwriting Competition, said, “The best verses tell the details of the song, like the facts of a story. The melody and chord progress must support the emotion of the details. The chord progression for the Pre-chorus sets up the chorus to typically there is a build,” he said.
“I believe that keeping it simple while writing a song is essential, but it is always a huge challenge for every songwriter,” said Meg Pfeiffer, honorable mention winner of the 2021 USA Songwriting Competition. “Sometimes we think too complicated and it is an art to unfold the entire piece first, just to put it back together with a more clear and transparent vision.”
“One tip that I have found helpful in writing verses and a pre-chorus is to get visual.” Justin Ezzi was the First Prize winner of the Novelty/Comedy category of the 2021 USA Songwriting Competition. He continued, saying, “I often draw a picture of the title. Then in the margins of my drawing, I’ll answer who, what, when, how, and why. It’s kind of a mind map of what the song is trying to say. It’s an interesting exploration because, basically (as a songwriter), I’m trying to paint a picture with words and music. Try it. You’ll be amazed at what comes up,” he said.
Sonny King, first prize winner of the R&B category in the 2021 USA Songwriting Competition, said, “The verses, in my opinion, are the details of the story. Depending on how the chorus comes together, I want to expand on that concept more in the verses. If the chorus is about how much I’m in love, then the verses will explain why I feel that way. The challenge is to keep the listener engaged in the verse just as much as the chorus, so the song constantly builds with ups and downs. The goal is to take them on an emotional roller coaster with dips and turns and a surprise ending!”
This article is adapted and excerpted from the Book "How to Write Better Songs: Songwriting Secrets from Award-Winning Songwriters", which hit #1 on the Amazon Best Sellers Book Charts in August 2022. This is reprinted with permission.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Scott Ashley is a songwriter and graduate of the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. He is a voting member of the Recording Academy (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences). He is currently working as the Artist Relations director with the USA Songwriting Competition and IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards). Click here to purchase Scott Ashley's book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0B5PLFGKX
For information on the 28th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net