What a Chorus is not
I have some important news about a Chorus—news that took me way too long to properly understand:
The Chorus of a song is not just the bit where the lyrics repeat!
If I had realized this a little sooner in my songwriting career, it would have saved me 10 years of learning the hard way.
One other thing that the Chorus is NOT:
The Chorus of a song is not just a summary of the main idea.
Thinking of it as the ‘summary’ idea is likely to lead you to write in generalities, or lead you to an idea that is the ‘average’ point of your story, emotion, or image.
So what IS a Chorus?
The Chorus of a song is: the RESPONSE to the problem (or conflict, or tension) explored in the verses.
The Chorus houses the peak emotion, the central idea, or core message.
‘Peak emotion’ is critically different from ‘summary idea’. One stands at the top of the mountain; the other is halfway down.
So what kinds of responses are there?
- The chorus is what most needs to be said.
- The chorus may be the question that most needs to be answered.
- The chorus may be the realization or insight that has been learned.
- The chorus may be the decision that has been made, or the action that will be taken.
- Most importantly, the chorus is not just ‘another idea’, or even a ‘summary idea’, but it is a response to the problem exposed and developed in the verses.
Chorus Writing Prompts
Below are a series of writing prompts, designed to drill straight to the core idea, central idea, or peak emotion of a song idea.
Think of these prompts as jenga pieces; you need to push on each one to see which ones move. They won’t all move; but we need to push anyway.
How to use the prompts
The prompts are most effective when you have a song idea on the go; maybe you’ve written a verse or 2, or just some lyric sketches, but you have in your mind a sense of what this song is about, perhaps even a clear scene, situation, or moment in your mind, but no chorus lyrics.
Spend 2 minutes on each prompt. Even if it feels like it isn’t moving much, stick with it for 2 minutes.
- So I realized…
- So I decided…
- So I’m going to…
- That’s why I always say…
- What I really need to tell you is…
- I’m scared that…
- What I really want to happen is…
- What I most want to know is (phrased as a question)…
- You make me feel…
- If I am a ________ then you are a ________ (use metaphor).
A few tips
- Use for the Verses too: A lot of the writing you do for these prompts can make great lyrics and ideas for the verses too! You are not contractually obliged to use them exclusively in your Chorus. What you will often find, however, is that some of them drive to the emotion heart of your song idea, and are touching that core element that is essential to the Chorus.
- Look for a Title: as you are exploring the Chorus writing prompts, keep a little searchlight on in your mind that is always looking for a title. It may not happen, but simply turning that light on will help you identify it if it arises as you are writing. This is a useful lens to use when reading over what you have written at the end of 20 minutes.
- Writing the Chorus first: Lots of songwriters will write the Chorus of a song first, before writing any of the Verses at all. This is a fun and effective way to write. You can try it out here too, by using your writing to the prompts, plus a strong song title, to craft your chorus, and then expand the Verse lyrics out of the Chorus idea.
- Repetition is fine: Don’t worry if you find that you are repeating yourself in several of the prompts. Each prompt is a slightly different angle or lens to explore your song’s central idea through. Remember the jenga! Push each one, and see how it moves.
Download a free copy of the Chorus Writing Prompts PDF here.