Fundamentals: SongDNA – Writing A Killer Chorus

In a song, the chorus  is kingSongDNA1536x1024. It is the main section. It contains the  hook of the song and usually  the title.  When well  written, a  chorus is  what people remember the most. When taken together, the choruses of a song (usually) encapsulate the main idea of the entire song. Individually, each chorus sums  up the section prior to it.

For the  ease of description, I’m  going to use some common songwriting conventions. First, choruses are 4-lines long. (In the “real world” choruses can be of any amount of  lines!) Second, the hook and title of a song are the same thing and they are sung somewhere in the chorus at least once. (This also isn’t always true. For example: the title “Bohemian Rhapsody” is  never actually sung  in that amazing song!) I am going to refer to any line that contains the hook/title of a song as the “Title Line”.  I will use  the term “Swing  Line” to indicate  any line of a chorus that does not  contain the hook/title. The symbol for a Title Line is a capital T. The symbol for a Swing Line  is a dash (“~“).  Combinations of Title and Swing Lines are called Chorus Forms.

~ ~ ~ T

The closing line of your chorus is a very bold place to reveal  your Title/Hook. You show patience by  putting your Title/Hook in a position to be heard last. Think about it – you are making  your listener wait  in anticipation  as the  lines build  up and  finally reveal  the Title/Hook. Scientific  studies show  that  a  listener’s  brain unconsciously emphasizes the last  line. This emphasis, (called  the “Recency  Effect”), is considered the 2nd most powerful position  in a  chorus.* This  Chorus Form is terrific for indicating shyness and  indecision, or it can also be used to present thoughtful consideration.

Examples of the ~~~T Chorus Form are: Somebody That I Used to Know  (Gotye), Everybody Talks (Neon Trees), Clarity (Zedd), and Viva La Vida/ When I Ruled the World (Coldplay).

Examples of the ~~~T

*(It doesn’t matter how many lines a chorus has, the closing line will always
have the Recency Effect).

T ~ ~ ~

The opening line has been shown to have an even greater impact on a listener than the closing line (called the “Primacy Effect”). The opening line is a very confident position for your Title/Hook. You immediately grab the  attention of your listener. This Chorus Form is great for indicating a conviction to your main idea.

Examples of the  T~ ~ ~  Chorus Form are: Fire and Rain (James Taylor), Royals (Lorde), Just Give Me a Reason (Pink/Nate  Ruess), and Rolling in  the Deep (Adele).

Examples of the  T~ ~ ~ 
~ T ~ T

Even stronger than ~ ~ ~T and T~ ~ ~  is this wonderful Chorus Form.  Listeners first  hear the Title/ Hook in the weaker 2nd  line and  they are  ultimately satisfied by its repetition in the closing position (further strengthened by the Recency Effect). Your listener still has to wait for the Title/ Hook, but not as long. This Chorus Form can be very intimate.

An example of the ~T~T Chorus Form is: Brave (Sara Bareilles).

An example of the ~T~T

T ~ T ~

This Chorus Form takes the strength of  the ~T~T and ramps it up another  notch. Listeners are treated to  the Title/Hook from the get go. This Chorus  Form revels in self-assurance  and confidence. Examples of  the T~T~  Chorus Form are: Bang  Bang (Jessie J,  Ariana Grande), Fancy (Iggy  Azalea), Take Me to Church (Hozier), Firework (Katy Perry), We Are Young  (Fun), Wake Me Up (Avicii), and Wrecking Ball (Miley Cyrus).

Examples of  the T~T~ 

T ~ ~ T

This Chorus Form showcases the Title/Hook with maximum utilization of the Primacy and Recency Effect. The Title/Hook is the first AND last thing a listener hears. This Chorus Form exhibits self-possession (but can also reveal a hollowness or emptiness). There’s a circular aspect to this form, that when  all is said and done, you come back to the original idea/thought. Imagine  using it to highlight that someone is the first and last person thought of in a day.

Examples of the T~ ~ T Chorus Form are: On Top of the World (Imagine Dragons), Feels So Close (Calvin Harris), and Coming Home (Diddy-Dirty Money).

Examples of the T~ ~ T

T T T T

The Godzilla of all Chorus Forms! The TTTT can be flashy, ostentatious, and extravagant. It can also demonstrate strong conviction and dedication. This Chorus Form is deployed in every genre and every style more than the other Chorus Forms combined. Ironically, I find most songwriters are apprehensive about the TTTT. Are you cheating by repeating the same lines over and over? In the spirit of full disclosure, I was on the haters’ side until after I analyzed hundreds and hundreds of songs and surprisingly discovered the sheer number of my favorite songs that  utilized this chorus form. I was genuinely shocked. Now, I completely embrace it!

Examples of the TTTT Chorus Form are: We Will Rock You (Queen), Happy  (Pharrell Williams), Boom Clap (Charli  XCX), Sail  (AWOLNATION), and  All About the Bass (Meghan Trainor).

Examples of the TTTT
There you have it…

These six  Chorus Forms are the most common in popular music. Yes, there are others (particularly: TTT~, T~TT,  and TT~T) but they occur far less (they  are still very valid and wonderful to use!).

Which of the Common Chorus Forms  should you use? I recommend commandeering the one that  most favorably represents the emotional intent  of your Title/ Hook. This allows you to connect with your song, and ultimately your listeners, on an emotional level.

QUESTIONS OR COMMENTS FOR SONGDNA questions@isingmag.com


Shane Adams is an award winning music educator, producer, songwriter, and author. He teaches lyric and songwriting for Berklee Online, and is President of Artist Accelerator, a music production and artist development company. www.artistaccelerator.com


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