A How-To Guide for Writing Choruses
A chorus is not just the bit where the lyrics repeat. It’s something else entirely. In this article, we tell you what a chorus is, different types of choruses, as well as 3 practical tips – one lyrical, one melodic, and one chord-based – that will help you write better choruses faster. Plus if you read till the end, there’s a bonus tip as well!
This article is a summarised transcript of our video “I Regret Not Knowing this Songwriting Tip Sooner”. Click here to watch the video for more details, explanations and examples.
What a Chorus Isn’t and Is
A chorus is not just the bit where you sing louder or where the lyrics repeat. To put it another way, a chorus is not a chorus because you repeat it multiple times. Instead, you repeat a section because it’s the chorus.
Now that we know what a chorus isn’t, we must ask ourselves “What is a chorus?”. A chorus can be defined as the central expression of the core idea, the central emotion, the central image or metaphor, that expresses the singular idea that is the beating heart of your song. A useful way to think about this is that the chorus is the response to the problem of the song.
However, it’s important to remember that response doesn’t necessarily mean answer. It just means that we address the song’s problem in some manner.
Types of Choruses
There are many different ways that we can address the problem posed in our song. For example, we could use:
- A question: We can see this done in songs like “What’s Love Got to Do With It” by Tina Turner, and “Where Is My Mind” by The Pixies
- An action or decision you’re going to make: “Chandelier” by Sia, “I’m Yours” by Jason Mrsz, and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel all use this technique in their choruses.
- An insight or realisation that you have: The song “Royals” by Lorde is a great example of this. It could also be framed in the form of advice such as in “Let It Be” by The Beatles, “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley & The Wailers, and “Put Your Records On” by Corinne Bailey Raye.
- An expression of the peak emotion: A good way to think of this is by thinking of something that really needs to be said. Examples of this are “You’ve Got a Friend” by Carol King, “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera and “Locked Out of Heaven” by Bruno Mars.
- A central metaphor or image: “The River” by Bruce Springsteen, “Rocket Science” by Lori McKenna, and “Slow Cooker” by John Legend all use this type of chorus.
All of these responses are really just about getting to the emotion underneath the story. By finding out this emotion, we can avoid blindly repeating lines to create a chorus, as if we’re throwing darts blindfolded.
Click here to download a free PDF which is designed to help you get to the core emotion of your song:
If we go back to that dartboard analogy, we can think of the title as the target in the middle of the dartboard. Your title needs to encompass the very core of your song, and sum up what it’s about in a few words. It’s the thing that people end up repeating in their heads over and over after walking away from your song.
Our job as songwriters is not only to ensure that our title is a crystallised target, but to also use our songwriting tools to put a neon sign around that central target. We want to make sure that the title connects with people. If you’re too vague, it ends up creating a shallow experience for the listener that they can’t relate with.
3 Practical Tips for Writing Better Choruses
Here are 3 tips for each of the categories – lyrics, melody and chords – that you can use to create a high impact chorus:
- Lyric Writing:
Once you’ve found your title – which is usually 6 words or less – repeat it at least twice in your chorus. A great technique to use to do this is one we call “Title Bookending”. This means that you should repeat the title as the first and last line of the chorus.
These two lines are known as the power positions in your song. Power positions refer to lines within the structure of a section that naturally draw more of your listener’s attention to them. Examples of songs that do this are “Chandelier” by Sia, “Stranger in the Kiss” by Lori McKenna, and “Stay With Me” by Sam Smith.
- Melody Writing:
Take the widest interval throughout your song’s melody, and place it on the most important words in the title. This sends a clear sonic signal to the listener that this is the part that they should be paying attention to. We can hear this in the chorus of Lady Antebellum’s song “Need You Now”.
In her song, the widest interval happens on the line “I need you now”. There is actually a wider interval that occurs later on in the song as the song’s emotion rises. However, up to this point, this is the largest interval our ears have heard, and it really causes the title to stand out.
- Chord Choice:
Use a different chord to start your chorus compared to whatever you’ve been starting your other sections on. When you change the starting chord of the chorus, it signals to your listener that this is a new, and important song section.
For example, the song “Someone Like You” by Adele is in the key of G Major. However, the G chord is completely avoided during the pre-chorus, and is instead used as the first chord of the chorus.
- Bonus Tip:
Flip expectations by making the chorus quiet and subdued, instead of an emotional high point. This helps your song’s chorus stand out by creating an unconventional spotlight on it. We can hear this used to great effect in Radiohead’s song, “Karma Police”.
Conclusion: A How-To Guide for Writing Choruses
To sum it up in a sentence, your chorus should be the billboard for the answer to your song’s story – not a line that’s simply repetitive and catchy. By doing that, you’ll be able to permanently embed your song’s core message in your listener’s minds.
If you would like more details, explanations and examples, then be sure to check out the video now.
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