In any song, the chorus is often the part most anticipated by the listener. However, it is also one of the most difficult parts of a song to compose for many songwriters, as it has to sound just right to complement the rest of the song, while at the same time leave a lasting effect on the listener.
Going by common definitions, the chorus is the part of a song that is usually repeated throughout the composition, often contains the hook, and forms the title for most songs. By default, it is often the catchiest part and is sung most often when people try to sing a song from memory. In fact, if a chorus is really good, it can get stuck in the heads of listeners for days, sometimes playing in their minds even while sleeping.
What are good choruses? Some of the best choruses are those that are relatable, have a unique sound or pattern (think “Mmmbop” by Hanson or “Loca Loca” by Shakira), make bold statements (“I’m the World’s Greatest” – R. Kelly), express sexual appeal, comical, highly graphic, or emotionally charged (“Miss you Like Crazy” – Natalie Cole).
Whatever approach you take, your main goal is to ensure the chorus stands out from the rest of the song – it should be able to stand on its own if you were to perform just that part to an audience.
Here are three tips for writing topnotch choruses:
1. Set up the chorus with a pre-chorus
Sometimes the hardest part of writing a chorus is transitioning from the verse. Including a pre-chorus may make it easier for you to express an emotion or intensity in the chorus that could otherwise seem forced, if it followed right after the verse. In Bryan Adams’ song, “Please Forgive Me,” a pre-chorus (“If you’re feeling lonely, don’t…”) is used before the main chorus. Maroon 5 also does this well in several songs, including “Maps” which uses the pre-chorus “I was there for you…” before going to the real deal.
2. Contrast the chorus with the verses
This is probably the most common way to make your chorus stand out. A song that sounds the same throughout will be avoided by listeners; a good way to prevent this is to make the chorus contrasting. Lorde’s “Royals” is just one of many examples of songs that do this very well. You can also contrast your choruses within a song, for example, making the last chorus sound different from the first and second chorus.
3. Ask a question
You can automatically cause your chorus to sound different from the rest of your song by making it into a question. In addition to the change of tone and melody, listeners are also intrigued by questions because they arouse the curiosity and make them think about the ramifications of what is being asked. “How Will I Know?” by Whitney Houston is one song that did this very well back in the day. Justin Bieber’s recent comeback is also due to several songs which ask questions in their choruses, including “What Do You Mean?” and “Sorry (Is it too late now to say sorry..?”).
There is no real formula for writing a good chorus, except that it should be catchy, easy to remember, and sound different from the rest of the song. But, always keep in mind that choruses which get more attention than others are those that leave a lasting impression on the listener.