The chorus, also called “hook” or “refrain,” is, in my opinion, the easiest part of the song to write.
Think about it: you only have to write it once, and then a third of the song is done. The verses are where you tell the story and explain yourself. The chorus is where you hammer the main point home.
However, the chorus can still be confusing. There is a LOT riding on it, and a bad or boring chorus can derail the whole song. Your chorus needs to be memorable, catchy and should connect to your audience.
So, how do you write a good chorus for a song? How do you know if your chorus is good? Here’s what you need to know.
Writing a Song Chorus
First things first: This is supposed to be FUN! Songwriting is a fun, creative process. It can definitely get stressful and frustrating, but those moments shouldn’t last. If you’re stuck in a rut and you’re not having a good time, take a break! Your creativity will suffer if you force yourself to work through negative emotions.
If you’re simply stuck and not sure how to write the chorus, this post will walk you through it!
What is a chorus?
In my book, I talk about how the chorus is the part of the song that has the same words and melody in several places in the song. However, you can loosely interpret this however you want. Here is a song by Maria Mena that doesn’t really have an actual chorus, but repeats the melody in a way that lets you know it’s a refrain.
I’m sure you can find other examples of this. Basically, something needs to be repeating for it to have a chorus. It’s the memorable, catchy part of the song.
Other examples of choruses:
- “Don’t stop believin’/hold on to that feeling/Streetlight, people,” – Journey
- “And I will always love you, I will always love you,” – Dolly Parton, Whitney Houston
- “Shots, shots, shots-shots-shots shots, shots, shots-shots-shots- shots, everybody,” – LMFAO ft. Lil’ Jon
See how widely varied the chorus can be? You have all the freedom in the world to make the chorus unique. It just needs to be memorable.
How do I write a song chorus?
A chorus needs three elements in order to be great: A catchy vocal part, a noticeable instrument/production change, and it needs to connect to your audience on some level. Let’s examine each of these individually:
1). A Catchy Vocal Part (Melody + Lyrics)
Let’s use “Shots” as an example from above. You may not like the song, but you KNOW all of the lyrics. And I guarantee when you’re out with friends and this song comes on, you’ll chant along with everyone else, even if you’re not drinking.
Your chorus can be as verbose as you’d like. You can also use different lyrics each time as long as the melody is the same and the instrumentation changes.
One important part of the chorus is how it ties the verses together into a “theme.” The theme of “Shots” is pretty simple: partying and doing shots. The theme of “I Will Always Love You” is also pretty explanatory, but let’s look at the Journey song.
Don’t Stop Believin’
The chorus is such a well-known, uplifting hook that almost everyone knows it. The verses explain the storylines of the people they’re telling us about (“Just a small town boy, born and raised in South Detroit“) and goes into a more universal chorus that we can all relate to. Your chorus should be something that everyone can understand, whether or not they relate. The verses can get more specific, but the chorus needs to allow everyone to join in.
It’s important to remember that even if people don’t fully understand your verse lyrics, they’ll pay more attention to the chorus. This is due to the other auditory cues you’ll give them to listen closer (we’ll discuss that next). This means that even if your verses are important to the story, you’ll want to make the chorus separate enough that if someone didn’t catch the verse lyrics, they’ll still relate to the chorus and love it.
2). A Noticeable Instrument and/or Production Change
Artists and/or producers will often add more elements to the chorus: a bass drop, more drums, the full band, etc. These elements will then (usually) be removed going back into the second verse.
This part of the chorus is essential and will make up for any weakness in the vocal part of the chorus.
A lot of current music will use a synth melody as the chorus now, removing the vocals altogether after the pre-chorus. If you’re working on modern music, you can try this method and see if that works better for you than just writing a vocal chorus. You could also try this with different genres if you want to get creative! An example of this method is “Sorry” by Justin Bieber. The pre-chorus is “Is it too late now to say sorry? Cause I’m missing more than just your body. Is it too late now to say sorry? Yeah I know that I let you down, is it too late to say sorry now?” and then the actual chorus takes place.
You could argue that the vocals are the actual chorus and the synth is the post-chorus, but I feel like the synth is more memorable and whatever you remember is the chorus. There are important ways to label your chorus, which we’ll discuss in a minute.
3). Connect to Your Audience
You have complete freedom to make this anything you want lyrically. However, you should ideally make it something that most people can feel. If your verses were really specific, now is the time to become more general about the overall emotion of the song. If your verses were general, get more specific in the chorus.
Remember that “connection” doesn’t have to mean “we’ve all experienced these exact same situations.” It just means that, for those few minutes, we can all step into this story and make it our own.
Why do people love “dumb” choruses?
You might not relate to “Baby” by Justin Bieber or “Shots” by LMFAO, but these songs connect people. Both of these songs were made to sing along while having fun with friends. These aren’t meant to be literary masterpieces; they’re just songs for fun. If your goal is to write a fun party song, you’ll want to keep that emotion in mind. People aren’t trying to listen to a deep, reflective song in that moment. They want to throw their hands up and yell with everyone else in the room, even if they hate that song. That’s the “audience connection” part of these songs.
Of course, not every song will connect with everyone, and that’s okay. You’re not trying to please everyone. You are simply trying to write a great hook, and I promise you can if you follow these tips!
There is no one-size-fits-all for choruses. I can’t give you a template for you to fill out and guarantee a hit. However, if you keep these elements in mind, I promise you’ll have a better, catchier chorus.
I can also promise you that not everyone will like it, even if you follow “the rules” perfectly. You can bake the best chocolate cake in the world and some people will still hate chocolate. Don’t worry too much about the connection part. If your feedback is generally positive, you’re on the right track.
What if I don’t want to write a chorus?
You don’t have to! There are songs that don’t. I will say though, it will be a lot harder to pitch or place your song without a chorus (if that’s your goal).
Pitching Your Chorus
I think you have to be pretty high up in the music industry before you can ever pitch an unfinished idea (unless you’re collaborating with others). If you think your chorus is awesome and you want to pitch it to a major label or publisher, I highly recommend finishing the whole song. If you’re struggling with the verses, have a co-writer or producer help you finish it.
When pitching, your intro and your chorus are the most important. If your verses are a little weak, they may not accept it. However, they’ll be more forgiving on a weaker verse (and maybe give you tips to correct it) if your intro grabs them and your chorus connects to them.
My chorus is ready! How do I label it on my lyric sheet?
It’s important that the sheet is labeled clearly and consistently. Beyond that, it doesn’t really matter. The part of the song that makes up the chorus is open to interpretation. The example I use in my book is “Hit Me Baby, One More Time” by Britney Spears:
My loneliness is killing me (and I)
I must confess, I still believe (still believe)
When I’m not with you I lose my mind
Give me a sign
Hit me baby, one more time
So that’s obviously the chorus, right? It happens several times throughout the song. However, what about the end when “hit me baby, one more time” repeats several times? Is that still the chorus, or is that the post-chorus? Or the Outro?
This is where studio confusion comes in, which is why I wrote Way Less Cowbell. If you call it the Outro and the producer thinks it’s the Post-chorus, and the singer thinks it’s the Chorus, you’re all going to be really confused.
The easiest way to avoid confusion is to just label everything on your lyric sheet. That way when you reference the Outro, it’s labeled right there and we all know. And you can call it whatever you want, it’s your song! As long as we know what you mean, we don’t mind.
I hope this helped you write your song chorus! For more music tips and advice, check out my book here!
This post was originally published on June 10, 2016