How to Write a Chorus

We recently identified what is a chorus in a song but didn’t get into how to actually write one. The chorus is the most important part of a song; it’s the central thesis of your song both musically and lyrically – the main point you want to drive home. A great chorus is typically efficient in both of these areas for the best results, so let’s talk how to write a chorus now.

How to Write a Chorus

how to write a chorus

Let’s cover a number of tips which I use on a regular basis when I need to write a chorus.

Incidentally, a chorus is as great a place as any to start when you’re writing a new song in general. With no pre-existing confines that you’d get when you have other elements of a song established that you need to plug a chorus into, your imagination is the limit.

Sometimes it’s as simple as sitting down and putting your brain into songwriting mode. Simply imagine a handful of hummed notes with some instrumentation behind them. Don’t worry about assigning lyrics to them as it’s a lot easier to begin with music and fit lyrics to them than the other way around (although I do have one upcoming exception).

As a general and probably obvious rule, the key to writing a great chorus is to come up with a great hook (see hook vs chorus); once you have that everything else falls into place. If you’re not familiar, a hook is a catchy melody delivered either by a vocal or an instrument which is typically featured as part or all of the chorus. Typically the first thing you think of for virtually any of your favorite songs is that song’s hook.

Use the Title for Some Hook Inspiration

Let’s start with that exception. If you’ve already got a title that you like for a song, try to fit a melody to it to serve as part of or the main hook of your chorus.

If you don’t have a song, try this song name generator to come up with some random ideas and jump-start the creative process.

Try humming different notes on different words/syllables, trying different rhythms, holding one note on two or more words/syllables, fitting multiple notes on a single syllable, etc.

This oftentimes won’t give you the entire chorus (except for an example I’ve covered before like Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” whose entire chorus is the drawn out delivery of that title), but once you have that initial piece you can build off of it and the whole process becomes a lot easier.

Play the Verse of a Song You’ve Never Heard

The best inspiration for creating new music is through listening to music. This is a technique I’ve covered in my guide, “How to Write a Song“, and one which I’ve used many times to write some of my favorite hooks I’ve written.

It goes like this – start playing a song you’ve never heard before in the genre you’re writing in. It can be a song from an artist you’re familiar with or one from an artist you’ve maybe never even heard of. The important thing is to make sure you’ve never heard the song before.

Listen through the verse until you can feel that chorus about to hit. Generally you can anticipate when a chorus is coming as in most popular music there’s a clear distinction between the verse and the chorus.

As soon as that chorus is about the hit, pause the track and hum out the melody of what you think is coming next in the actual song’s chorus. Or maybe better said hum out the melody that YOU would write next had you been the songwriter for that song.

Have your phone recording while you do so in order to get the idea down in case you come up with something you like.

If you need to, play the verse back again to set yourself up, maybe coming up with a different idea the second time.

Oftentimes I end up really liking what I come up with. Of course the actual chorus is completely different with what you come up with, but the point is you can use this to come up with fodder for a fresh chorus which is all your own which you can build around.

You can also pause the song’s chorus midway through to come up with an alternative second half of that chorus. Sometimes this can lend itself to writing catchier hooks since you’ve got the first part of the song’s hook fresh in your mind.

Give it a try sometime, it really works!

Use a New Range

Now let’s assume you’ve already got a verse for your song and you’re having a little writer’s block for the chorus. One of the keys to songwriting (as well as mixing) is to keep the song fresh.

Introducing something new to the listener on the chorus not only contrasts nicely with the verse, but it keeps your listener engaged with the song.

Oftentimes we keep the energy lower in the verse to create that nice contrast so we can dial up the energy when that chorus hits to make it hit even harder.

Part of that change in energy is driving the vocal higher. Sometimes that’s literally all you have to do to make a great chorus and it’s something a lot of songs feature: the vocal melody for the chorus is virtually exactly the same as the verse, it’s just delivered an octave higher.

Lulling the listener in with a lower octave on the verse gets them accustomed to a certain range from the vocal, so when you go up an entire octave (which is not always easy to do) it can wow the listener. You’re still giving them a familiar melody in that it’s repackaged from the verse, but there’s a lot more energy to and emotion behind it in that higher register.

I’m not saying simply just raise the melody an octave; that’s just one idea which will work a lot better for some songs and melodies than others. The main idea is to catch your listener off guard by hitting that higher register on the vocal melody, whatever it ends up being.

Use New Chords

In the same vein, introducing a new chord at the chorus is incredibly refreshing to the listener. Whether they realize it or not, there’s a subconscious satisfaction which comes with holding back then unleashing a new chord you haven’t used yet at any point once you’re deep into a song.

While it’s most impactful when it’s the first chord when the chorus hits, introducing a new chord at any point will keep the song fresh at that point.

Introducing the minor chord within the key as the first chord of the chorus when you’ve only stuck to major chords to that point will not only catch your listener off guard but it can help to refresh your songwriting approach with regards to that particular song. Sometimes a new chord within the key of the song can be all you need to knock down that wall of writer’s block and make some serious progress in how to write a chorus.

Use New Instruments

Lastly, introducing a new instrument into the mix for the chorus can also be all it takes to clear away the writer’s block.

Admittedly this has more to do with the production side of things, but introducing a synth or guitar lead can be easier to come up with a melody for than a vocal sometimes.

Once you have some kind of instrumental melody, you can more easily come up with a vocal melody to play off of it so the two are working together.

Create a Chorus in the Mix

Aside from writing a chorus, we can actually enhance or even CREATE a chorus in a composition by way of the mix.

We can do this by emphasizing a section of a song through use of mixing automation. I did an entire overview on this in the linked to tutorial, but essentially we can change elements of the mix to make a section hit harder.

The two elements in particular which you can automate up for a section are the volume and stereo width of that mix at that point.

Keeping the mix a bit narrower with stereo imaging forces all of the elements closer to the middle, regardless of panning (speaking of which, check out my audio panning guide).

Once a section hits which we want to emphasize, we can restore the full size of the mix so the listen feels those far panned elements on the edges of the left and right of the stereo field. Not only does the mix feel larger, it feels more open as everything has its own space in the stereo field, making the mix much more interesting and engaging for the listener.

That contrast alone of the immediate change between the two sections keeps the listener engaged and interested in the mix and, as a result, the song itself.

Alternatively and additionally, automating the volume up for a particular bus like the drums or the entire mix when you want a chorus to hit also brings extra attention to that section. As the volume ticks up, even without the listener realizing it all of the sudden the mix will be more exciting and engaging.

Simple automation tricks like this more width and volume or adding in more instruments as a chorus section plays to build up that section can easily enhance a lackluster chorus or artificially construct a chorus in a song where it didn’t even exist before.

Check out my songwriting section here on MusicGuyMixing and don’t forget to check out my complete and dedicated tutorial on songwriting – “How to Write a Song” for all the tips and tricks you need to write the perfect song.

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