Some songs get better and better the more you hear them — even after dozens of plays. How can you write a song that your listener will want to hear again and again?
I’m sure you’ve fallen in love with a song before.
You press the stop button and go about your day — but some piece of the song keeps playing in your head. You sing it to yourself as you walk down the street.
Whenever you find yourself singing part of a song under your breath like this, you’re probably singing the song’s chorus.
The Chorus is the Song’s Heart
The chorus is a section that repeats several times throughout a song, using the same words and melody each time. Because it’s sung repeatedly, it’s the part of the song that listeners quickly begin to recognize — and crave. It’s also the part that they’re most likely to sing along to.
The chorus contains both a song’s main melody and the lyric’s main topic. You can think of this as the heart of what your song is all about. Each verse’s lyric will connect back to that heart in some way. Verses flow out of the chorus and back again, much like your own bloodstream. Since the chorus gets repeated so often throughout most songs, writing the chorus section can mean that over half of your song is already written.
Where to find a song’s chorus (or refrain)
In some songs, the chorus is a complete section in itself.
In other songs, the songwriter uses a short line or phrase that shows up in every verse.
When a chorus is just one or two lines long, it’s called a refrain. The songwriter can place a refrain anywhere in the verse section — one popular choice is to place the refrain at the end of each verse.
In many genres of music like pop, rock, rap, and country, the chorus is found nestled between verses, like this:
If you ever have trouble determining what the chorus of a particular song is, try looking up the lyric. The chorus section might be labeled. If not, listen closely for a section that contains the song’s title and reappears several times throughout the song.
At the end of a song, repeating the chorus two or more times in a row signals to the listener that the song is coming to a close. Many recorded songs fade out during a final repetition of the chorus.
Quick tips on writing a chorus
Choruses are short — usually just one to eight lines long.
The chorus lyric should contain the main topic of your song. If your song’s about heartbreak, the chorus lyric should say something about heartbreak. If it’s a song about a beautiful landscape, the chorus could describe the landscape. And so on.
A song’s chorus will be more memorable if it’s emotionally moving. Choruses can be angry, sad, affectionate, playful — any state of mind can inspire a song.
Keep your listener interested by writing music that contrasts the verse: change up the rhythm, change up the chord progression, shift into a different vocal register. You might also try to widen the range of the melody so that it reaches for higher or lower notes than the verse does.
Highlight the chorus by performing it more loudly, or use more dramatic shifts in volume than the verses. You can thicken your sound during the choruses by adding more instruments or vocal harmonies.
If you already have a chorus lyric, here’s how to begin setting the lyric to music.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Like everything in this craft of songwriting, writing an effective chorus is a matter of studying your favorite songs and practicing. Choruses are all about repetition, and repetition also happens to be how we learn.
Keep learning, and keep writing.
Creative Commons image of a painted heart by PhotoSteve101