Do Songs Need A Chorus?

There are so many amazing wonderful songs that absolutely do not have a chorus! A few that come to mind immediately:

Blackbird, by The Beatles

The Mother, by Brandi Carlile

America, by Simon & Garfunkel

Will You Love Me Tomorrow, by Carole King

And more recently, Nothing, by Bruno Major.

What these songs DO have instead of a chorus is a REFRAIN LINE—a line of lyric that repeats in almost exactly the same way in the verse sections (usually all of them). The refrain line is lyrically and musically a part of the verse; it’s not a separate section. But it often confuses the ear of a listener – they hear a repeating thing, and call it a chorus, even though a chorus is really something else.

The refrain line usually appears as the last line of a verse section (as in, “there’s nothin’ like doing nothin’ with you” in Bruno Major’s song); or as the first line (as in “I can hear my neighbours making love upstairs” in Neighbour Song by Lake Street Dive).

In this video tutorial, we take you through 2 different approaches to song form: those with a chorus, and those without, and explain how and why to use one or the other.


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Why the title of your song is so important

When we are talking about ‘ideas’ in songs, it’s helpful to draw this distinction:

There is the ‘big idea’ – the broad story, experience, or concept we want to write about.

What Jimmy Webb is talking about here is when the BIG IDEA becomes a SONG IDEA. What’s the difference?

A SONG IDEA isn’t just what we have to say; it’s HOW we are going to say it.

It’s the specific angle we are going to approach it from. It’s not the house of the song; it’s the door we are going to walk through to get into it.

A big idea becomes a SONG IDEA when we give it a TITLE.

Deciding on a title gives you direction; it helps your song have an anchor, or a central point of gravity, and then indicates to you what lines and ideas you have already sketched really serve THIS SONG, and which lines were simply the stepping stones to get you there, but really need to now be edited out.

Every line of lyric in your song should ultimately clearly serve to set up the HOOK/TITLE.


Examples

Look at Ed Sheeran’s song ‘First Times’.

Let’s pick out a few Verse lines, and see how they clearly connect back to the hook:

I thought it’d feel different playing Wembley —>
I can’t wait to make a million more first times
Then we start talking the way that we do —>
I can’t wait to make a million more first times
This four little words, down on one knee —>
I can’t wait to make a million more first times

Have a listen to Taylor Swift’s ‘Anti-Hero’. Links to an external site. Let’s do the same thing with Verse lyrics and the hook:

I have this thing where I get older but just never wiser —>
It’s me
Hi!
I’m the problem, it’s me

Sometimes I feel like everybody is a sexy baby
And I’m a monster on the hill —>
It’s me
Hi!
I’m the problem, it’s me


The best advice I ever received

“Find the title at your earliest possible convenience.”

This advice came from Pat Pattison, author of Writing Better Lyrics. This was drummed into me again, and again, and it’s something I think about at every moment in a song’s development. You don’t need to START with a title, but be constantly on the lookout for it! By turning that searchlight on in your brain, titles will start popping out at you, inviting you into the house of the song, but showing you the special entry that is going to give your song a strong centre.


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Starting with loops is one of the most enjoyable and effective ways to spark new ideas and breathe life into your songwriting process. In this video, we write a whole song from scratch using loops as inspiration – featuring the sample-based instrument ‘Chromatic’ from LANDR.

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Creating the Perfect Pre-Chorus – Part 1

The pre-chorus is NOT just the bit before the chorus – it is the bit before the chorus that creates TENSION! Building up and releasing this tension is one of the most effective ways of writing big, beautiful and impactful CHORUSES! In this video, Part 1 of a 3-part series, we examine how to use chord choices to build tension in your Pre-Chorus before releasing that tension in a satisfying and powerful way. We focus on how to avoid the ‘tonic’ and and leverage the ‘gold coin magic trick’- as well as diving into some famous examples from Beyoncé and Adele.

6 Songs That Taught Us How to Write Songs

One of the best ways to learn how to write great songs is to learn from great songs and songwriters. In this video, songwriter Ben Romalis and I take 6 songs that each taught us a crucial principle or technique about writing great songs.

Drawing from a range of inspirations from Radiohead, Tom Waits, to Gillian Welch and John Mayer, Benny and I talk about the specific musical or lyrical technique that we learned from these 6 great songs.

Of course, these 6 songs are just a beginning! We picked these for this video because they showcase a range of different principles and techniques: we talk here about chromaticism in chord progressions, about borrowing chords outside the key, about balancing types of language in your verses, about narrative and non-conventional song forms, about verse development and great chorus writing, and how a great intro can set your song apart.

More will come out of this series, as we explore how to listen to music so that you can extract ideas, and put them to practice in your own songwriting.

Getting to Great Chorus Lyrics

A great chorus is more than just the bit where the lyrics repeat. This video dives deep into the craft of finding and writing great chorus lyrics. We look at what a great choruses really do (beyond merely repeating), and look deeply at one of the most important concepts in great chorus writing: RECOLOURING. We reveal our favourite writing prompts for getting to a great chorus idea, and play a song that shows these ideas beautifully.

Here is a downloadable PDF of the prompts that you can use…forever!