This article originally appeared on the DIY Musician blog.
It’s important to make your chorus stand out from the rest of your song since it’s usually your song’s central element. With that in mind, we’re going to look at a few ideas for creating a successful chorus.
Generally, the music in your chorus is going to be the catchiest, or hookiest, part of your song. This mainly applies to the melody since it’ll be the part of your song your listeners will get stuck in their heads.
A big way in which you can create a catchy chorus is to make it sound different from the other parts of your song, like the verses and the bridge. Musically, you can do that with both your melody and with the chords you’re playing underneath the melody.
A popular change to make in your melody to make it stand out from the rest of your song is to have the vocals in the chorus sung higher than they are in the rest of the song. That really pulls the vocals away from what’s being sung in the rest of the song. It usually helps to highlight the melody in the chorus, which is typically appropriate.
You can also change the rhythm of the notes in your melody. If your verses are quick and choppy, the chorus can be much more drawn out by comparison. An easy-to-decipher example of this happens in the song “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” by R.E.M.
You can even start your melody on a different beat than you did in the verses. That’s often overlooked, but can be a pretty cool way for creating contrast. You’re not limited to starting every melodic line on the downbeat!
Aside from changing the melody, you can also change your chords once the chorus kicks in. There are several ways to give your chords a new feel once your chorus hits. A great way to achieve this is to use different chords than you did in other parts of your song. At the very least you can start your chorus with a different chord than you did in your other sections. Just changing the first chord alone will make the chorus feel different when that new first chord hits. A lot of times I hear songwriters use the same chords (in the same order) for their verses and choruses, and it tends to make for a tedious song.
In addition to changing the chords from verse to chorus, you can also change how you play your chords. You can give your chorus chords a new feel by playing them for a different length than you did before. Or you can just change the rhythmic pattern (or strumming pattern if you’re a guitar player) of your chords once your chorus hits. Both can be effective strategies for a new sound in your chorus.
Lyrically, the chorus will be a summation of what your song’s all about. Titles also typically serve as a summation, but the chorus is usually a slight expansion of the explanation given by the title alone. That’s why the title is usually contained as part of the chorus. Also, since your chorus is usually the hookiest part of your song, it makes the title easy to remember, since it’s attached to a catchy melody.
When your chorus is used as a summation of what your song’s about, the language tends to be a bit more general and less detail oriented than it was in your verses. For that reason, your lyrics also contrast what’s happening in the rest of your song.
By having detail-specific lyrics in your verses, and a more vague chorus, it creates a lyrical contrast which adds to the contrast you’re already creating with your music to create a memorable chorus.
Song structures with a chorus
Not every song structure has a chorus, but there are three very common ones that do. In each of these structures, the chorus tends to be the central element of the song both lyrically and musically. It’s usually not until you get into different types of song structures (without a chorus) that you can let other sections of your song shine as the catchy hook.
The three most commonly used song structures with a chorus typically read like this:
verse / chorus / verse / chorus / bridge / chorus
(Example: “High and Dry” by Radiohead)
verse / pre-chorus / chorus / verse / pre-chorus / chorus / bridge / chorus
(Example: “Firework” by Katy Perry)
verse / chorus / verse / chorus
(Example: “Penny Lane” by the Beatles)
Of course, there are variations to all of these, but these three represent the most basic forms. The third one listed above tends to be the least common of the three, because the lack of a bridge to introduce a new sound can sometimes make a song sound tedious.
This information should give you a better understanding of how a chorus typically functions, which is especially important considering a great chorus is an effective way to make your songs much more memorable.
For another way to make your songs more memorable (so people will want to own them), download this free cheat sheet. It’ll show you a method that’s as effective as rhyming if used correctly.
Anthony Ceseri is a songwriter, performer, and publisher of an online magazine for songwriters called Success For Your Songs.