One of the main tools in your songwriting arsenal is the almighty Chorus. Sometimes it comes naturally, sometimes it is elusive. Oftentimes, it gets lost in the other sections and needs a way to stand apart. Here are nine unabashed ways to make a chorus sound more like a chorus.
1. Use your hook at the beginning AND end of the chorus. Bookending it gives the listener a chance to hear it again and makes it clear that it’s important.
2. Place a solid I (one) chord at the beginning. Example: if you are in the key of C, give us a nice big C chord (or A minor) for that sense of arrival that marks a chorus. Bookend it for a classic chorus, or make it the second chord, but the ear wants it in there somewhere, especially at the start of the section. Avoid it, and your song will sound like it’s in a constant state of transition.
3. Write big sweeping melodies (wide intervals, long tones) or short rhythms. Whatever you have in your verse, make it the opposite in the chorus–and make it extreme. These are often the most memorable.
4. Change the feel. It doesn’t have to be as dramatic as Alex Clare going into dubstep in “Too Close”. No Doubt did it in Sunday Morning to smokin’ effect going from half-time reggae to four-on-the-floor(ish).
5. Keep the chorus’s melody in a different range to differentiate it even more. Typically the chorus is higher in pitch, but not always.
6. Get vague. The time for lyrical specifics is usually in your verses. Let your choruses generalize/label, say how you feel, or have a catch phrase that will mesh with your entire song.
7. Add a pre-chorus or transitional bridge. Taking a few bars before the chorus to set up the change can make all the difference in defining your sections. (There are lots of ways to use this section, including making phrases twice as long or twice as short to highlight that something different is coming, especially if your chorus is similar to your verses.)
8. Color. This one is a little trickier but, if you can manage it, adds extra finesse to your lyrics. Create line in your chorus which, when repeated after each verse, takes on a new meaning. This is advanced stuff!
9. Know when you need a chorus. Sometimes, when you have a rocking verse, all you need is a refrain (a short hook that gets tacked on like “Come Together right now over me”). Sometimes the song calls for AABA and all you need is a bridge.
Serve the song and she will serve you. Happy writing!
Robin Yukiko is a Berklee College of Music grad, singer-songwriter, pianist, and music educator in San Francisco. She performs regularly and hosts the SF Singer-Songwriters’ Workshop at the Musicians Union Local 6. Robin is currently producing her second album and enjoying nerdly pursuits. Learn more at www.robinyukiko.com.