Writing a Chorus
The chorus is where the Hook should be, in my opinion. I rarely just write
a chorus, I just wait for a hook. That's how it's normally done, for me.
If you look on my profile, [skagitup's - http://profile.ultimate-guitar.com/skagitup/]
, the song "Do You Agree?" is a
strong example of how, in the verses, I've just thrown a talkative type of
storytelling melody with a basic progression, and then on the chorus there
is a definitive melody. Although the chorus in the song is horrifically sung
(mic broke after one [bad] take) you should be able to notice the strong
definite melody. Kind of descends down and around on the "And it started
raining, I saw the street light fading" and then ascends back up. I got that
in my head just while I was messing around on piano, and thought yeah I'll
write a song around that. That's an example of what I think is a hook.
I don't think there's any way that you could possibly TELL someone how to
create the melody for a chorus, that's just something that you do naturally.
If there was a certain method to follow, then a computer could make a
catchy melody, and songwriting would be a lost art. Lets all be grateful
for that. I do believe, however, that there are certain things you can do,
to try to push your mind into finding one, and to try and emphasize it, once
you've found it. That's what i'm going to try to explain.
First of all, to push your mind into finding a melodical (or other) hook, I
think it's essential that you're inspired. Look at some of the greatest
songwriters, people like Bob Dylan, John Lennon, David Bowie (of if you go
into heavier music, Jimmy Page). You'll find that they are all constantly
changing their style, or getting influenced by different types of music. I
know that once I've listened to a certain style of music for a certain time,
and keep writing the same type of songs, I'll become blocked. Uninspired.
Eventually I'll just disappear. That's when I look for a new artist to
inspire me. Luckily, today, we have so many great songwriters that you can
get into, that you can dig, and that will throw inspiration at you. Now is
a time for me to recommend some. First of all, if you're taking musical
songwriting seriously, get into Randy Newman. Go out and buy The Randy
Newman Songbook. That record changed me as a songwriter forever.. Inspired
me so much that I wrote song after song after listening to it. It's because
of all of these weird, but beautiful melodies he uses, they just unlock your
mind. Also, if you're not already into Bob Dylan, certainly get into him,
he's just in another world, but I won't go on about him too much. One of
the reasons Bob's writing is so inspired, I believe, is because of how far
back he dates as a listener. Through his autobiography I learnt that he
listens to folk records dating back to the 30s. I checked this out, and a
couple of my best songs were written whilst listening to some of these
records. If you're interested, go out and get into The Carter Family and
Woody Guthrie, as a start. Listen to those melodies and manipulate them
into your own. Listen to the way the vocal lines flow. I could go on with
artists to inspire you all day, It's a big part of my songwriting, and if
you find it helpful, PM me [skagitup] on the above profile and I'll be more
than happy to recommend you some more records. Just remember that good
songwriting is good songwriting, from the Spice Girls to Metallica, they all
have one thing in common, and that's a good melodical line, whether it be
through guitar or through vocals. I've been listening on the radio to the
Spice Girls before, and heard a melodical line that I thought was beautiful.
I put it on guitar, and now it's part of an intro to what I've been told
is one of my best songs. It's unrecognisable, but equally beautiful.
OK, so that's how I get inspired.
As I said earlier, I normally find my best melodical lines singing, whilst
I'm making something to drink or whatever. That's something that will just
happen, usually if you sing alot and have a decent voice. If you don't,
though, there are other ways that I have come up with great melodical lines,
which I will share with you.
Firstly, something that I'll do if I've got a fantastic verse, and need a
chorus, but haven't found anything that could suit it. This may or may not
work for you, but on the guitar, get on the chord you're playing in (say G
for now), and get ready to play a simple progression, for example G then D
then C. Try and sing a melodical line that stands out deliberately, and try
and hit a weird note. Hit a note that has no purpose being in that melody.
A lost note. Sometimes you'll just come out with allot of rubbish, but I
once did this when I was on Am, and came up with probably my favourite
melody ever. It's sort of like the melodical line in The Terminator theme
music. Just sounds strange, but at the same time so beautiful. Just try
and hit a lost note, and sometimes it will sound great, and there's your
Actually, that makes me think. I've been talking so far about melodically
catchy choruses, but as you know a large majority of songs (especially in
more rock styled genre's) have hooks from the guitar, bass or even Drums (I
think In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins really shows a drum hook, that bit
at the end where the drums come in blows me away). David Bowie does this
allot as well with Rebel Rebel, Ziggy Stardust, etc. Actually yeah, David
Bowie is a great person to get into if your taking songwriting seriously,
but I think you need to be careful with Bowie, because allot of his work
either works fantastically or just fails totally. He did something
interesting with Starman, taking the melodical lift from "Somewhere over the
rainbow" or whatever that songs called, and stealing that then adapting it.
Great idea, I've done that a few times, but tried to make it less
recognisable, but anyway, back to the instrument hooks. I think the way you
find them is similar to the way u find melodic hooks, your just playing and
stumble across them, but this is when being a good guitar player comes in
handy, because the amount of great riffs I've found where I tried to record
them and they just sounded... thin.. Because I can't kind of play them in
the correct way, just note for note. That annoys the hell out of me. I
normally take them to one of my friends who are a much better player than me
and get them to work on them, and then kind of collaborate with them, but
it's still annoying.
Another way to create choruses, the only way (I think) which doesn't feature
around a melodical hook, is one that I did in one of my songs ("Down, Over,
Out"). Do something really weird or creative. On this one, I came up with
this really weird strumming rhythm, and kind of put a melody over it that
went along with the rhythm, and got the drums doing the same. It made for
this really catchy kind of stick-out point in the song, that I THINK is
probably one of the strangest choruses written in a while, but if it works -
it works. Something Rhythmic.
That's another thing, I've been going along talking about the catchy
choruses, but there are so many artists that don't really rely ATALL on
being catchy, and are still really catchy, if you know what I mean. They
rely more on kind of the soul of the song, and the melodies throughout to
make it catchy, and there's nothing specific punching you in the face and
pulling down your trousers when you first read it. I think one of these
artists is Randy Newman. I Love Randy Newman. And I love recommending him,
but that’s enough about him!
I think a big mistake people make is trying to make both the verse AND the
chorus catchy. I think only one of them should be catchy; otherwise the song
starts to get annoying really quickly. The catchy parts are generally the
parts that become irritating when they are heard too often. If you think
about songs that irritate you, they are usually catchy songs that you've
heard way too much. Heard so much they now live in your head.
That's a way to emphasize your chorus. To make it stand out even more.
Have a boring verse. By boring I don't mean one that will make people turn
the song off. Quite the opposite. Just try one that's not loud, that's
quite predictable. By all means make it sound good, but just don't make it
sound too big. Nirvana mastered that. They mastered the little verses, and
it made their choruses just look so big. Don't be scared that you'll be
thought of as Nirvana wannabee's if you try to have quiet drum and bass
verse's. As long as you make it your own it will sound great. Bring
everything in for the chorus. Bring in the elephants.
Another way to emphasize the chorus, and let me make it clear that I have
little to no musical theory knowledge at this point, but I find personally
that a way to make a chorus more powerful is to go to the note that builds
it up. I'm sure there is a technical term for that note, but I sure don't
know it. But for A, that note is E. For G, that note is D, etc. It's the
note on the same fret, one string lower. If you stay on that note for a
while before going back to your original one, it will build it up. Great to
use before a chorus. Again, I use it on “Do You Agree”, on my profile.