Writing a Great ChorusThursday, July 22nd, 2010
It’s happened to all of us: you go an entire day with the chorus of a song in your head, unable to make it go away. You listen to the song over and over again, you listen to other songs to get it out of your head, but try as you might that tune is stubbornly stuck in your brain for good.
Infectious catchiness is the hallmark of many a great song. Usually, the catchiest part of the song is referred to as a “hook.” Not unlike the hook of a fishing pole, a song’s hook catches your ear and reels you in, making you remember the tune forever. Most of the time, a song’s hook is featured in the chorus. The chorus is the section of music that repeats itself several times and usually contains the theme of the song. A catchy chorus is essential in songwriting, but what exactly makes for a great chorus?
As with anything creative, there are no hard and fast rules for how to compose an optimal chorus for your song. And while there are great tips and guidelines to follow, there isn’t any one way to guarantee that your chorus is a good one. But while there are no rules in music, there are certainly a few things you might consider as you’re writing a song and hoping to have a global hit on your hands.
Focus on the Melody
By far the most important part of your chorus is the melody. If the melody isn’t strong, your chorus will suffer accordingly. Remember that when you get a song’s hook stuck in your head, it’s almost always the melody that sticks out as the centerpiece. Sometimes you won’t even remember the lyrics, but you’ll distinctly remember a great melody! A cool chord progression is certainly a nice thing, but remember that the chords are there to support the melody, and not vice versa. Make the melody line your number one priority for the chorus.
Keep it Simple
The name of the game is making something that’s memorable, right? Therefore, the less complicated your chorus is, the better. Some of the greatest choruses of all time have very simple melodies and chord progressions (think “With a Little Help From My Friends” by the Beatles), and that’s because complexity doesn’t make something memorable. If your goal is to write something that will have an arena full of people waving their arms and singing along, then your chorus had better be simple enough for someone to remember the first time they hear it!
Create a Lyrical Theme
So we’ve established that the melody is the most important part of the chorus, but you’re still gonna have to write lyrics for it as well. Lyrics can be tricky–they should sum up the overall theme and mood of the song, but also be simple and straightforward enough that folks can sing along and remember them easily. Also, people love songs that they can relate to, so the more universal the theme, the better. Think of how many hit songs are about partying, dancing, love, or any other number of ubiquitous themes. (You might also want to avoid using vocab words like “ubiquitous” in your choruses as well!)
The chorus can (but doesn’t have to) change the dynamics of a song. Many songwriters use the chorus to bring the energy of the song up from the verse, and this sort of dynamic shift can make a chorus stand out and sound particularly exciting (listen to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana). Experiment with how changing dynamics can affect the mood your song and bring out the chorus.
When it comes down to it, you’re writing music and music is fun. You can work hard all day on your craft, but what good will it be if you’re not enjoying it? The fun you have while being creative will really come out in the final product. And besides, you only have so much control over whether or not your song becomes an international sensation… There’s not much use in worrying about that while you write it!
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