I have written about this before, but thought I would do so again after reading another songwriting blog that suggested what the five “most successful” songwriting topics are. They were listed as “love, country, religion, nature, sports”. I want to take each of those topics and discuss them a little further. These are my opinions, of course, you might want to argue with me in the comments section below :-).
I actually read an article elsewhere on the web which had a similar theme to this, so I decided to write my own. No plagiarism here :-), just some of my ideas on what makes a great chorus.
1. The Lyrical Sum of the Song
Lyrically, the chorus of a song is its focal point, its summation, a kind of wrap-up of what the song is about. In pop and country/pop especially, the chorus is everything. You’ll notice that many songs in these genres have choruses that are longer than the verses, and sometimes they are inserted at the beginning of the song just to let you know that this is what the song is all about!
The chorus should be the very centre of the song. Make it stand out musically and lyrically (contrast) to the rest of the song. Think about it as being the sun, with the verses representing the planets spinning around it. Hmmm…I must be a songwriter…
2. The Chorus is the Part They Remember!
When you’re writing a chorus, you’ll want to pay special attention to its memorability. Often, the chorus contains the title of the song, and in many cases the title is repeated a number of times. Often, the title is at the very beginning or end of a chorus which certainly helps people to remember it. And if there’s a melodic hook, the chorus is where you’ll often find it. How many times has someone had to sing a song to you all the way to the chorus before you suddenly recognize it? Think about that!
3. Repetition, Repetition, Repetition
I talk about repetition a lot in this blog because it’s a critical point. The number of times you repeat a melodic phrase or a lyrical one can make or break a song. If it’s too much, it gets boring, if it’s not enough, it’s meandering. And how many times you repeat a chorus is also important. Having the chorus after the verses is obvious, but how many times should you repeat it at the end? The chorus is one of those places where you can effectively use repetition to drive the point of the song home. Let me repeat: the chorus is one of those places where you can…you get my drift 🙂
4. But The Chorus Doesn’t Have To Repeat Itself!
If you’ve never heard of it, get to know the term “progressive chorus”. For the most part, a progressive chorus is one that reflects the verse before it…for instance if you are going from past to present to future in your verse lyrics, the chorus might also reflect this tense change with different wording: “was”, to “is”, to “will be”. And sometimes to carry a song lyric along, the chorus needs to “update”, if you will, according to whatever is happening in your lyric. This can be a very effective tool in writing a great song lyric.
5. Sometimes There Is No Chorus
Not every song requires a chorus. In fact, a lot of song have simply what is considered a “refrain”; a line or a phrase that gets repeated at the end of each verse. A good example of that is “The Times They Are A Changin'” – an old Bob Dylan song. And guess what? The refrain is the title of the song! That’s because it is repeated, and because it is the whole point of the song, so it does the job of a chorus without actually being one. If you’re more of a folk songwriter, you already know this. Folk is one of the oldest song forms, with only verses: A, A, A, A.
And those are my five “secrets”. Not secrets at all, of course, but they might make you think more about how to construct a chorus in future.
A little background when it comes to choruses for those of you young punks :-). Up until only a few years ago, songs were discovered mainly on the radio. In some cases the DJ would either introduce the song and/or artist before or after it was played. But sometimes you would catch a song in the middle and not hear the introduction, or songs played back-to-back so they weren’t identified. If you really liked a song, it became particularly frustrating if you didn’t know its name or the artist’s name. Songwriters paid a lot of attention to this, which is why popular songs often had a lot of repetition especially in the chorus, or at the very least, something very memorable that could be identified by listeners when they were going to a record shop to try and find a song, like a powerful melodic hook.
The digital era has made it a lot easier to identify songs as you’re hearing them, but the old idea of a hook and a powerful chorus is still relevant. If your plan is to pitch your songs, or at the very least, write memorable ones, then spend a lot of time working on the chorus, if there is one.
One last point: you probably already know that the dictionary also defines a chorus as a “group” of singers. So why not think of your song chorus in terms of what it sounds like when a group is singing together, and the verses as the soloists? Just another way to think of it 🙂
No, it’s not a title for an article, it’s just the title of one of the songs on my CD Shades of Grey:
I was flipping through my most recent copy of SOCAN’s Words and Music and found some interesting songwriting tips from Matt Mays, a Canadian songwriter who finds himself on the road quite a bit. Check out his website.
Here is his list of tips:
1. “One thing that has really helped me is to be moving – whether it’s on a train, boat, or car, or even walking around my apartment while I’m writing, instead of sitting in one spot.”
2. “Try writing lyrics on newspaper. It rather distracts you because there are other words underneath. That means yours don’t seem so final. The words underneath may spark something else too.”
3. “Always change the key up. Learn the song in other keys, and that helps keep you from getting bored.”
4. “Change instruments. I’ll go to a ukulele, or piano, or try open tuning.”
5. “There is one tip from John Lennon: never leave a song until it’s done. You may never get that spark, that excitement, back. If you get an idea, finish the song, even if you have to miss your best friend’s funeral. Finishing that song is more important than anything else.”
Some excellent tips here…some of which I’ve encouraged myself, but some new ideas too. The newspaper idea is a good one, I’ll have to try that some day!
On a more personal note, I have come back to my old way of writing; on paper and without any technology (i.e. a computer) around. This was my “old” way of writing and it seems to be working again. Also, I’ve moved around the house to write in different places; not quite the idea of being on a moving train or boat as Matt suggests above. But changes places seems to have helped me too!
Best wishes to all of my blog followers for the New Year!
I was in the car on the way home today when I heard a singer/songwriter on the radio sing these lyrics:
I like ice cream when it’s cold
I like old time radio
It’s funny but it’s true
These things I do
The last two lines I’m not exactly sure of the wording, I was trying to remember them because they got me to thinking about writing lyrics and how we need to pay attention to detail.
I’ve been working on music all summer, but not lyrics. I spent the late spring and early summer working on theme music and tracks for one TV series, and all of August on music for another series. I consider myself lucky to have the opportunity to have my music on television, even if in a small way, and even if it doesn’t amount to much of anything money-wise. The biggest bonus for me was that it got me into writing again. Well, I shouldn’t come to any conclusions, I’ve only started on one song, but hey, for somebody who has had nothing but a dry well to draw water from the last three or four years, it’s something!
And that’s why the above lines struck me today. You should read them again before I go on and see if you can spot the inconsistencies.
Continue reading “Lyrics Are Important As Cold Ice Cream”