One Person Production Machine Part 5: Verse vs Chorus
Welcome to part 4 of our One Man Production Machine series, where fellow Audio Issues contributor Ed Elefterion shares his experience with songwriting, arrangement, and production. If you’re a one-person home studio musician, this series for you.
Check out the previous posts below if you haven’t read them already:
- One Man Production Machine Introduction
- OMPM Part 2 – Capture the Audience With Your Songwriting
- OMPM Part 3 – How to Write Lyrics
- OMPM Part 4 – Writing Memorable Melodies and Killer Chords
Last week, as we applied Melody and Chords to our Lyrics, we touched on the musical structure of the Verse and Chorus. Let’s continue by defining each and then generalizing wildly to keep things simple.
What Makes a Verse a Verse?
- About smaller moments or incidents
- More words
- Specific details
- Tell the story
- Fewer instruments playing
- Less energy
- Repeat a pattern of chords and melody
What Makes a Chorus a Chorus?
- About the big picture
- Fewer words
- Fewer details
- Sum up the story
- Boldly (and clearly) stated
- More instruments playing
- More power
- Repeat a pattern of chords and melody
- Bookend the Chorus (start and end it with hook)
- Or…repeat that single line (almost always the title)
With all those differences, it looks like it’d be easy to differentiate them when writing. But it can be tricky.
Usually, choruses come easy for people and verses are more challenging. I think that has more to do with lyrics than with music. I find that both develop very naturally when I’ve got lyrics in front of me. They just sort of happen.
But during those few hundred times I need help, I use the following tips:
Same or Different?
The one basic question you have to answer is:
Do your verses and choruses use the same chords or not?
If so, the question becomes: are they structured the same or different?
So many songs use the same chords in both verse and chorus in the exact same structure. You don’t notice it unless you focus on it. The thing that differentiates them when the structure is the same? The melody of each is different.
That is: the melodies are arranged differently. Nothing more sophisticated than that. Beck’s Loser jumps to mind. And Jersey Girl by Tom Waits. Look around for this, and you’ll see it everywhere.
Just as many songs use the same chords in both verse and chorus but in a different structure.
That’s the approach I used in Since I Gave Up Hope (I Feel Much Better). The verse and chorus chords are the same, but the structure is different. In this case, the chorus uses three of the four chords from the verse, and the timing is different. It’s a matter of arrangement. Listen, and you’ll hear it.
Shape and Specify
Here are some tips to help address those times when you want to shape a melody for specific use in either the Verse or the Chorus.
- The verse melody is usually more conjunct (no big leaps between notes).
- The notes in the verse are usually lower in pitched.
- There are more words in the verse (more details).
- The chorus melody is usually more disjunct (bigger leaps between notes).
- The notes in the chorus are usually higher pitched.
- The chorus is often the repetition of just one phrase (or only one word).
Building On Steps
Another way to differentiate the chorus from the verse is to build one on the root and the other on another step of the scale. The most popular options are 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th. The 2nd and 6th are both minor chords. The 4th and 5th are major.
Don’t forget to try adding a 7th and play around with other steps (color tones) for inspiration…or just to add variety.
Another decision that will impact the difference of your verse from your chorus: rhythm. If you want to make an impact with your chorus (who doesn’t?) let it start on the downbeat.
This strategy loses power when your verses also start on the downbeat. Solution: try starting your verses on the off-beat. Now that I’ve pointed it out, listen for it in your music collection and you’ll see it’s a popular formula.
Of course, it doesn’t work that way all the time.
Born To Run (away from formulas)
While preparing to write about this subject, I was listening to Springsteen’s album Born To Run. Almost every song on that album goes contrary to this arrangement approach.
Springsteen starts nearly every verse with pick-up notes from the previous measure. But almost all of his choruses hit exactly on the downbeat. Strong, simple, very easy to sing – and his fans are grateful for it.
Imitate, Mutate, Originate
The takeaway here is to think about how Verses and Choruses are different. Listen to your favorite music and pay attention.
That’s how humans learn. We imitate everything: ideas, actions, sounds, words, gestures…it’s a fact of life. And while we’re imitating we can’t help but shaping the shoes to fit our own feet. Before you know it, repetition mutated the thing you were imitating, and it’s changed into something original that you can call your own.
Now that we’ve explored the main components of a song…we’re going to examine my favorite part of songwriting…the Bridge.
What’s your biggest struggle with songwriting in general? Leave a comment and let us know!