We’ve all heard the common advice: Make your Chorus stand out by jumping up in vocal range. Sometimes it feels like the only way to create a catchy Chorus that has everyone singing along. However, if we take a listen to many pop songs in the last five years, singing higher notes for the Chorus seems to be falling in popularity.
While using a higher vocal range for the Chorus works, there are many different ways to make a Chorus the focal point of your song. Creating contrast is important, but almost every single one involves the use of tension and release.
Tension and Release
Almost every song that has a “satisfying” Chorus has a build-up that leads to the title/hook line. The hook can be at the beginning of the Chorus, the end of the Chorus or in the Post-Chorus (if you’re not sure of the difference, click here). The hook can also be a repeated line as the Chorus (like in “Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen) or a repeated line in the Post-Chorus (like in “you broke me first” by Tate McRae).
In each of these options, you can create tension in your sections leading up to your hook. Your hook can have the feeling of release and resolution, which makes it memorable and hit home.
Lyrics: Conflict and Resolution
Creating tension in the lyrics doesn’t mean your song can’t be happy, but even happy songs might not be joyful all the way through. The Verse can describe a sort of conflict that creates the feeling of tension. The Chorus can hit home by portraying the resolution to the conflict.
Even a happy song like “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz has some internal conflict in the Verse:
Well, you done done me and you bet I felt it
I tried to be chill, but you’re so hot that I melted
I fell right through the cracks
Now I’m trying to get back
Even if it’s not deep or particularly painful, there’s still a little bit of emotional conflict that leads to his Chorus resolution:
But I won’t hesitate
No more, no more.
It cannot wait,
The Verse melody can vary, but generally, you can sing lines that do not end on the first note of your key. Some songs do this only in the Pre-Chorus. This creates tension, especially if you end your line on the dominant note, which wants to resolve immediately. The longer you wait to resolve it, the more tension you create.
While the melody doesn’t always have to go up in the Chorus, it almost always resolves for the Chorus section or just the hook line itself. This means the melody centres around the tonic note or “home note”.
Like in melodic resolution, you can avoid using the tonic chord at the end or beginning of your lines to create tension. Many songs will use the tonic chord in their Chorus to make it stand out as the point where things resolve. Using cadences in your song will also help you maximize the amount of tension you can create before you resolve.
Use a Post-Chorus
A Post-Chorus is a great section to resolve to. It means you can have three sections (Verse, Pre-Chorus and Chorus) that build up that tension. A Post-Chorus almost always stands out because of the repetition of the hook line. Repetition coupled with the sense of resolution makes your hook line stand out (if not the Chorus itself).
You might begin your song with having more sparse melodic rhythm in your Verses, then build up to busier rhythms in your Chorus. You might do the opposite and build the other way. Either way will create tension in the Verse and release in the Chorus, making your Chorus stand out.
Combine These Ideas
Combining a few of these ideas will do even better to make your Chorus stand out! While singing your Chorus higher is always a solid way to write a Chorus, hopefully you will keep these tools at hand to create many memorable, catchy and interesting Choruses.