Regardless of genre, songs always have a structure. This isn’t to say a song’s structure is always obvious, but pop music especially relies on well-established formulas, and one device that is employed in just about any song with vocals is the verse.
But what is a verse in a song? Let’s explore the subject in detail.
What Is A Verse?
A verse is the “body” of the song. It’s the section that tells a story and moves the plot along.
In most songs, the verse is the section immediately following the intro and is sometimes even the first part heard in a song. In other songs, however, the chorus (the main hook that gets repeated throughout the song) comes first and is then followed by a verse.
Verses can touch on anything, but usually include places, people, emotions, colors, and even specific references to products or brands (especially in country music).
Verses can be sung a cappella, but usually contain musical backing that is complementary or contrasting depending on the desired mood and subject matter.
Where Does A Verse Fit In A Song?
Song structures can take many forms and don’t necessarily follow a formula. That said, the most common sections in a song are as follows:
- Intro: Usually a musical opening. A guitar solo. A piano riff. Strings. A beat drop. A few chords. Something to hook the listener.
- Verse: The section of the song that tells the bulk of the story. Usually the first part of the song that’s vocalized.
- Pre-Chorus: A section of music to bridge the gap between the verse and the chorus. “The climb.”
- Chorus: The main hook of the song, usually with repeated lyrics. The chorus is typically the most musically exciting part of the song.
- Bridge: A contrasting section to the rest of the song. Sometimes slow or quiet compared to other parts, oftentimes with a very different chord structure and/or melody. May contain a lyrical twist.
- Coda: Also known as the outro or the ending. It can sometimes be a repeated chorus, a chorus with a variation or improvisation, a variation on the intro, an entirely new section of music, or some combination thereof.
Most popular songs follow formulas like these:
- Intro – Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus – Bridge – Chorus – Coda
- Chorus – Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus – Bridge – Coda
Though you can find plenty of other song structures being used in other types of music.
Summarily, verses usually fit between intros and choruses, intros and pre-choruses, and between choruses too.
What Role Does A Verse Play In A Song?
While there aren’t too many hard and fast rules in songwriting, most agree that verses offer a nice contrast to the chorus, which is usually repetitive.
Verses are less repetitive by comparison and are sometimes of different lengths, can be accompanied by different chords, and can even be rapped or spoken.
For instance, have a listen to The Mourning Widows’ “The Temp.” You’ll notice that the verse and pre-chorus are dissonant and aggressive. By contrast, the chorus is uplifting and melodic.
I happen to think this is a brilliant use of a verse, as its discordant nature makes the melodic chorus shine all the brighter.
Another way to think about it is…
Each verse can tell a part of the story, building on the other. In the first verse, you’re giving the listener a taste of what’s to come. The second verse builds on the first verse, revealing more crucial details. The third verse offers a twist. And so on.
Def Leppard’s 1987 release, Hysteria, spawned an impressive seven singles. The lead single was “Animal.”
The song has two verses. The first verse starts with the lyrics:
“A wild ride, over stony ground…”
The second verse starts with the lyrics:
“I cry wolf, given mouth-to-mouth…”
Have a listen to the song and see if you can identify the verses:
As with most Def Leppard songs, “Animal” has a bit of an unusual song structure. That said, it’s not hard to figure out if you listen closely. This is how I decipher it:
Intro – Verse – Pre-Chorus – Chorus – Verse – Pre-Chorus – Chorus – Interlude – Guitar Solo – Pre-Chorus – Coda
The coda section is effectively the chorus repeated but is a little different in its delivery as it has two false endings.
I call it the “3, 2, 1 Ending” because the chorus goes through three repetitions (of the chord progression) and a false ending, two repetitions and a false ending, and one repetition to end.
And, by the way, if you’re trying to figure out how to write a verse, I suggest reading our guide on the same topic.
How Many Verses In A Song?
Most songs have two to three verses. That said, there is no specific requirement or quota to hit. Some songs have no verses. Others have five or more.
The question is – what do you want to get across in the song? What information would the listener need to know about the story you’re telling? Or would you want to keep the song intentionally vague and open to interpretation (like a Nickelback song)?
Depending on the direction of the song, and what you want the listener to experience, you may write more or fewer verses.
Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen is said to have drafted 150 verses for his infamous “Hallelujah,” which he managed to contain to four verses upon release.
What Is A Verse In A Song? Final Thoughts
Now that you know what a verse is, listen to your favorite songs to identify just the verses. This is a great exercise for anyone looking to get a better understanding of song structure as well as how to write original songs.