How to Structure Your Song With a Pre-Chorus for the Best Flow
We’re in Week 9 of the One Man Production Man Series where you learn about songwriting, arrangement, and production if you’re doing it all yourself in your home studio.
Last time we left off we were talking about how to use tempo, key, and time signatures to improve your song.
Today we’ll be talking about song structure and the pre-chorus.
Start with the Middle
When I say “middle,” I’m talking about the song. Verses (at least 2), Chorus, Bridge (or not). If you’ve got those, you’ve got an entire song. So…why am I calling it a “middle”? Because before long, that’s the position the song will occupy after you’ve built an Introduction and an Outro. We’ll turn our attention to those very soon.
For now, let’s nail down the structure of the middle.
Structure is Meaning
In post 7, I explained how I use the modular nature of songwriting to create surprising arrangements that feel natural – even inevitable. I hope you’ve tried it yourself by now. If not, move the basic building blocks of your song around (Verse, Chorus, and Bridge).
Reposition them to create different meanings. Play around until you find their ideal order, one that best expresses your idea. Remember…you’re creating with a purpose for a specific audience.
What Comes First the Chorus or the Verse?
You’d think that the verse should come first, right? Most times, you’re right: verses usually come before the chorus. But…look around and you’ll notice…
Lots of songs start with the chorus.
Why? Let’s say you’ve got 2 verses (maybe even 2 long verses) before you get to the (always very hooky) chorus. You might want to teach that hooky chorus to your audience – always thinking about them – before you get underway with your story (in your verses).
It’s also great for sing-along kind of songs because it immediately establishes that All-Together-Now spirit.
Try doing it with a song of your own.
It’s a simple way to start off with a bang and bring your audience in because now that they know the chorus…they’re already waiting to hear it again.
This brings us to a building block that’s very powerful but isn’t always used.
While many songs move right from Verse to Chorus, I’m sure you’ve noticed that just as many have a short section connecting the two. This is called the Pre-Chorus. Its function is to build tension that gets released when the chorus hits.
There’s one basic question I ask myself when arranging a song that’s just Verse and Chorus:
Does it feel natural moving directly from one to the other?
If the answer’s yes, I’m golden. But if I feel that something isn’t flowing right – often the chorus feels too sudden. In cases like that, I’ll try creating a pre-chorus.
Keep in mind that sometimes I want an abrupt shift and I’ll intentionally arrange for one – maybe I’ll suddenly change the key, or I’ll remove a beat or two from the previous measure going into the Chorus (technically changing the time signature for that single measure), or I’ll use a different time signature that’s dedicated to just the Chorus.
But when sudden isn’t the goal, and I need some connective tissue between my verse and chorus, here are some things I try.
Keep It Short
Remember: Pre-choruses exist to set up your Chorus. Keep them short.
2 measures are enough.
4 measures are plenty.
6 measures and you’re pushing it.
8 measures and you’ve written an entirely separate section – maybe you stumbled on a bridge, intro or outro? (More on those last two soon.)
Home by 5
The 5 chord always leads to the root chord. It’s just a fact of hearing. Maybe it’s conditioning, I don’t know and I don’t care. If you want to feel like you’re heading home, use the 5-chord in the measure before. When that root chord (aka the 1 chord) hits, that’s just how it feels: like reaching home.
Add a 7th
In Since I Gave Up Hope (I Feel Much Better), the 5 chord (B7) always precedes the 1 chord (E minor). You’ll notice that the 5 chord is a major chord – with a 7th for extra sweetness, which also provides an extra pull towards home – E minor.
Go to your keyboard or guitar and try this trick out. It’s a powerful combo: the 5 to the 1.
Here’s that list of 5ths that I gave in the section on Chords. This time, the 5 chord (with a 7th) is on the left, leading to the 1 chord on the right.
C7 – F
D7 – G
E7 – A
F7 – Bb (B flat)
G7 – C
A7 – D
B7 – E
Experiment with using/removing the 7th and also with making the root chord (the one that says “home”) minor.
Also, experiment with the rhythm you use to play the 5chord. Remember its purpose (and your goal) – to set up that next chord, the one that feels like home.
These small variations are an important part of arranging. They add to what makes your song unique.
Apply This Idea
If your chorus is based on an E chord, construct your pre-chorus to finish on the B chord. It might look something like this:
- Pre-Chorus: A7 (for 4 beats) then B7 (for 4 beats) then…
- Chorus: E major.
Of course, you can repeat those 2 measures I outlined in this example to lengthen the pre-chorus to 4 measures. That might build more tension if that’s what you’re after. It’s entirely up to you and your overall goal.
Other Tips on Building a Pre-Chorus
Use dynamics to highlight the Chorus.
- Either build the sound of the Pre-Chorus steadily to really peak when you hit the chorus or…
- Pare down the sound of the Pre-Chorus so that the chorus really shines when it hits.
I’m really talking about orchestration here. And we’ll get to that subject soon.
But first, we need to complete the structure of our song and put on the finishing touches.
Are We There Yet?
You’ve got your Verses (at least 2), Chorus, Bridge (or not), and you’ve even written a Pre-Chorus to smooth out the transition from the Verse to the Chorus…and you’ve got them all in the ideal position. Ready to start recording!
You’ve come too far and done too much work to stop short of perfection. And in the next post, we put the icing on the cake.
Intros and Outros. What are they? Why are they important? And some ideas about how to create them.
If you’re overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Shoot me an email and I’ll help you out with a…
I’ll listen to your demo, we’ll Skype for 15 min and I’ll tell you what I’d do. You can take my ideas (or not) and execute them yourself.
Or, if you want more direct help, we can talk about how much (or how little) you want me to be involved.
We’ll work out a fair price…I’m not in this for the money. I’m an artist, too, and I won’t exploit other artists. But more on this later.