So you want to write a song, and you've heard you need to learn how to write a chorus as one of the starting points.
Well today I'll show you how to put this chorus together, so you can get started on your songwriting adventure!
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What Makes A Good Chorus?
It's important to say that a chorus is the part of your song that's repeated two to four times in your song. Sometimes there's variations of the chorus, other times they're all exactly the same.
They're often catchy, and the part of the song most people will recognize. If your song makes it into an advert for example, normally the chorus will be used.
Because of this, a song chorus needs these important elements:
- The chorus needs to sound different than the verse.
- The chorus is catchy.
- The chorus is simple and easy for people to remember.
Let's look at each of these more below.
Create A Strong Contrast Between The Verse & The Chorus
When it comes to creating a contrast been the verse and the chorus, musicians like Nuno Bettencourt (guitarist from the band Extreme) are absolute masters at this.
Try looking up the songs “The Temp” and “Paint The Town Red” by The Mourning Widows (one of Nuno's bands) on YouTube. In particular, “The Temp” is a really great example.
The song goes from outright dissonant and in-your-face in the verses to unforgettably catchy and epic in the chorus.
The trouble many songwriters encounter is that they set out to write a catchy song, and they run out of ideas by the time they've hit the chorus, because they put all of their ingenuity into the intro and verse parts. Then the chorus ends up sounding exactly the same as the rest of the song.
Don't forget – you can paint a multitude of colors with music, not just one. When a so-so chorus is surrounded by verses and interludes that are darker, dissonant, minor, or different in some way, it can really pop.
And if you find that you're still running out of steam by the time you start writing a chorus, keep in mind that you can always rearrange the order of the parts. You can take the catchiest hook and move it to the chorus, for example. Doing this will allow you to change your songwriting style.
Write An Unforgettable Melody For Your Chorus
I know this tip sounds really obvious, and while some musicians do it really well, many others forget that the melody even exists (it's music 101 – music is comprised of three components: rhythm, melody, and harmony).
I can't think of a better band (duo?) than They Might Be Giants when it comes to writing melodies that you can't get out of your head.
It probably helps that they write really quirky lyrics as well. Their songs are often witty and funny, as they tend to put a spin on familiar clichés.
But you have but to listen to songs like “Ana Ng”, “Purple Toupee”, or “Don't Let's Start” to see exactly what I'm talking about.
Another band (that I like) that has a strong emphasis on melody is Harem Scarem. And while their music is certainly reminiscent of hair metal, rarely if ever do they have a song that doesn't have a really epic, really catchy chorus. “Die Off Hard” is a prime example.
Make Your Chorus Easy To Sing
A song can't really be considered catchy and epic if others can't sing along with it, can it?
In other words, there probably isn't a lot of room for exotic scales, atonal chromatic runs, or rapid time signature and key changes in your music (if you're trying to write something catchy).
Not that these elements can't be utilized at all. We already talked about how creating contrast can really make a chorus stand out.
But your chorus needs to have an anthem-like quality if you want it to be memorable. It should be conducive to a sing-along.
So far, I've made a few obscure references to bands and musicians, but here I will use the example of U2. “Where The Streets Have No Name”, “Desire”, “With Or Without You”, “Beautiful Day”… you can take your pick. If the fans are singing along with it, it means it has a catchy quality to it.
Van Halen's “Jump” is also a great example. Not only is it instantly recognizable from the first note, you don't have to be a master musician to yell out “jump!” at exactly the right moment and feel like you're a part of it.
Simplify, Simplify, Simplify The Chorus You Write
You need to be able to strip a song down to its main components and still have it resonate with audiences.
Why is that important?
Because musicians over-complicate things. We go, “oh, but that's way too obvious”, or “that's just too trite – I couldn't do that.”
We wouldn't have songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or “Kung Fu Fighting” if Kurt Cobain or Carl Douglas held back.
I'm not a big fan of the homogenized pop music scene myself, but the songs almost always contain elements that are really memorable.
These days, I tend to cringe at the down-talking, patronizing, outright irritating pop music that's out there, although I will admit to liking Marianas Trench.
They're one of those bands that clearly caters to pop sensibilities, and yet they do it with a lot of style. They incorporate a myriad of instruments, stylistic elements, and a cappella sections throughout their music.
But they don't get too complicated. That's an important lesson.
How To Write A Chorus, Final Thoughts
I don't want to throw too many hard and fast rules out there, which is why I've written this piece the way I did.
More than anything else, I believe that you need to study, research, and go and find things that make you go, “awesome!”
After all, if you can't put your soul into your music, it doesn't really matter how catchy it is. You're not going to feel like playing it night after night, and your audience is going to know it.
Every song you write – over a period of time – will become less interesting to you. But when you write something that makes people want to tap their feet, you'll know instantly. There's no guesswork involved, but you might have to go back and remind yourself why you wrote it in the first place if you start to get bored of it.
So how would you define a catchy and epic chorus? Would you point to songs like Led Zeppelin's catchy riff “Stairway to Heaven”? Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars' “Uptown Funk?” Beyoncé's “Single Ladies”?
As you can imagine, there are probably as many opinions as there are songwriters out there.
And nobody is necessarily right or wrong, because music is very subjective. You might like a specific song or artist, while I may have no interest in them whatsoever (and vice versa).
And that's perfectly okay. Everyone has their option on how to write a chorus.