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It’s relatively easy to hear the difference between verse and chorus chord progressions. Mainly, chorus progressions are shorter and less harmonically venturous. They tend to stick closer to the tonic chord, and therefore contain features that keep that tonic chord front and centre.
Like everything in music, that’s not always true. On Rush’s album “Clockwork Angels”, the song “Halo Effect” features a verse with a rather straightforward progression: C G/B Em D C G/B C. The chorus is where the tonality becomes a bit more ambiguous: D5(no3) C Dm C Bb G.
But what about differences between verse and chorus melodies? What sorts of things should you keep in mind as you write your next song? The two most important ones, features I’ve mentioned often on this blog, are:
- Tonic focus. A chorus melody, like chords, tends to focus on the tonic note. So if your song is in G major, you’ll want to create melodic shapes that move in and around G. It’s common to see that a chorus melody will start on the tonic note, move away and then quickly back to that note, creating hook-like shapes that are easy for the audience to remember, and easy to sing.
- Repetitive ideas. A chorus melody will often be comprised of short ideas that get sung a lot.
To compare the two visually, this is what we’re talking about:
As you can see, the tonic note happens in passing, not often on strong beats or at the beginning or end of melodic fragments. In most cases, repetition can be an important feature of verses, and that’s certainly true of simpler, MOR pop songs. But if song melodies feature any kind of wandering characteristic, you’re more likely to find it in a verse, with the chorus tending toward repetition:
In a chorus, you’re more likely to hear the tonic note being highlighted, with repetitive ideas constantly moving away from and back toward that note. It gives a sense of closure and finality to the music. That’s one of the reasons that choruses are easy to sing over and over, while verses don’t work that way very often: they usually need the chorus to follow up.
Those differences between verse and chorus melodies are an important part of the contrast principle of musical composition. When an audience hears a verse with a wandering melody and infrequent visiting of the tonic note, they instinctively want to hear those elements in a chorus.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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