Not sure how to write a chorus?
Well, here’s the thing…
It’s the most important aspect of any great song. So chorus-writing is a skill every songwriter needs.
In this post, I’ll share some exercise-specific steps you can use to write a better chorus.
What’s the Point of a Chorus?
We all know the chorus is the main part of a song.
But why is it so important? What’s its purpose?
For that, we turn to the ancient Greeks.
The word “chorus” comes from theater performers in ancient Greece. This is when a group of a dozen or more performers would dance, sing, or speak in unison.
The point of the chorus was to summarize what was happening in the play so the audience could follow along.
And that’s what the chorus of a song is meant to do.
It should give the listener the big idea of the song. It shares the takeaway point that you’ve been hinting at during the verses.
The listener should say, “Ah, I see,” when you get to the chorus.
A great example of this is Emily King’s “BYIMM.”
In the verse, you think she’s saying one thing. But the chorus flips that on its head.
That’s just one way to do it.
It doesn’t matter if the chorus subverts expectations or goes hand in hand with the verse. As long as it underlines the point of the song.
We will go through the specifics of writing an impactful chorus. But first, here are some exercises that will help improve your chorus-writing skills.
Rewrite Someone Else’s Chorus
We have a plethora of great choruses at our fingertips. Why not learn from them?
Take a chorus you love, learn how to play it, then rewrite it how you would’ve written it.
Obviously you shouldn’t plagiarize anyone. This isn’t about copying, it’s about putting your spin on things.
Start with the same idea (maybe the same main lyric), but use different words and chords. Base the melody on the original but make it your own.
You’ll learn something. I can almost guarantee it.
Choose one of your favorite songs. Listen carefully and pick out the chorus.
It’s usually the catchiest part of the song, with the punchiest lyrics.
Take note of what makes it stand out.
Is the melody higher? Is the rhythm different from the verse? Is it more repetitive?
Write a Few Variations
When you’re writing your chorus, write a few versions of it.
It’s easy to get attached to one version of your chorus, most likely the first.
But force yourself to write two or three versions of it. By pushing yourself, you may end up with a great chorus instead of an okay one.
A fun exercise is to limit the time you have to write.
It pushes you to be more decisive. It lets your subconscious mind break through your internal editor.
This is something called Parkinson’s law. And it works wonders.
How to Start Writing a Chorus
All right, now let’s go through exactly how you can write a chorus.
These steps can happen in any order, and you can include or exclude any of them.
These steps are meant to just get you started…
Step 1: Find Your Thesis
The first step is to know what your song is about. This directs your lyrics, your melody, and even your chord choice.
If you had to sum up your song in one sentence, what would it be?
Remember the ancient Greeks. Use your chorus to summarize the big idea of the song.
Step 2: Come up with the Chords and Melody
I usually find the chords and melody simultaneously. It feels more natural that way.
That’s because you can find the melody in the notes of the chords. Doing this marries the two very well.
So if you’re having trouble finding a chorus melody, play every note in the chord. Then try starting your melody on one of those notes.
The key thing that makes a chorus stand out is contrast.
If your verse is in your lower register, bring the chorus into your upper register. If your verse has rhythmic phrasing, open up the chorus’s phrasing with longer notes.
Make sure the listener knows when they’re hearing the chorus.
Step 3: Write the Lyrics
Once you’ve got the chords and melody of the chorus, it’s time to fit the lyrics into your melody.
Remember, your main idea is in the chorus.
It helps to make the main lyric the last line. You hear this especially in pop music.
When I write songs, I find myself bookending the main idea, meaning it’s the first and last line of the chorus.
Either way, people should be able to sing along with your chorus, especially the main lyric.
Step 4: Use a Hook
A hook is the thing that gets stuck in people’s heads. It could be your main lyric, or it could be as simple as a vocal “ooh” melody.
Take, for example, the Beatles’ “She Loves You.” The combo of “she loves you” and “yeah, yeah, yeah” is super catchy.
Hook the listener with your hook.
Step 5: Focus on Rhythm
Another way to make your chorus more memorable is with rhythm.
We’re rhythmic creatures. So a catchy rhythm can be as earwormy as a catchy melody.
Remember, make the rhythm of your chorus melody different from your verse.
Step 6: Use Repetition and Structure
Repeating a melody or lyric is another way to write a more impactful chorus. (Just like bookending your chorus.)
The more you repeat something, the more it sticks in your brain.
Here are a couple of repetitive formats you can use:
Lyric 1 + melody 1
Lyric 1 + melody 1
Lyric 2 + melody 2
Lyric 1 + variation on melody 1
Lyric 1 + melody 1
Lyric 2 + melody 1
Lyric 3 + melody 2
Lyric 1 + melody 1
This is called structuring your chorus.
If you have four different melodies in your chorus, it won’t be as memorable or powerful.
It needs to have repetition somewhere. Definitely in the chord progression, most likely in the melody, and probably in the lyrics.
Step 7: Simplify Things
When in doubt, cut it out.
Sometimes, removing something from your chorus makes it better. You might have to pick the best idea and throw away the other three you had.
It’s one of the hardest things to do as a songwriter. Every idea feels special, I get it.
But for the sake of the chorus, you may have to do a little surgery on it.
These exercises and chorus-writing steps will help you write better choruses.
You have to spend time on your chorus. It can make or break your song.
It’s really what makes your song sound professional (or amateur).
So focus on your chorus, and it will make the whole song better.