The Hit Songwriting Formula

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3 Ideas for Finishing a Verse That Feels Stuck in the Mud

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It’s amazing how much music you can write with so few ideas. Here’s what I mean: A typical song will have a verse and a chorus, with the possibility of some other optional section, like a bridge. Each of those sections are usually constructed on one main idea, with other related ones.

So that means that most good songs use a lot of repetition. Just pick a random hit, like perhaps Pink’s “Just Give Me a Reason,” and consider how many times you hear something repeating either exactly, or even just approximately. In this particular song, the melody and chords for the first entire phrase is repeated for the second.

Even the second half of the verse, which represents a new musical idea (“Now you’ve been talking in your sleep”), which is repeated twice is itself linked to the original melodic idea.

The chorus then takes a descending musical motif, and repeats it several times in an approximate way, adding in new ideas mainly as connectors to join the repeating ideas together.

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The fact is, the more original ideas you add to a song, the harder it is for people to remember it, hum it, or ultimately enjoy it.

You can use that important principle of songwriting as you try to finish a verse that feels stuck in the mud. You’ve got, let’s say, a chorus, but you can’t get the verse working for you. Here are 3 tips that might help:

  1. Try a 2-part verse. “Just Give Me a Reason” does this. If you’ve got a good idea to base your verse on, but can’t seem to keep it going through to the chorus, just consider it as Part 1 of a 2-part verse. Try creating a second part that borrows ideas from the first one. By doing this, you have the freedom to create something that, while borrowing ideas from the first part, can stand on its own without having to refer back to the first part. Some advice: make part 2 of your verse higher than part 1.
  2. Move a verse idea higher. Let’s say you’ve created the first 2 lines of a verse, but don’t where to go from there. Try repeating the chord progression while bumping the melody a 3rd higher. You’ll be surprised that it often works.
  3. Try changing the key. Australian singer-songwriter Sia does this in “Soon We’ll Be Found“, starting the verse in C minor, and then switching to a brighter key of Eb major for the second half of the verse.

For whatever you do to get your verse working, remember that it needs to connect smoothly to the chorus. In that regard, creating a pre-chorus — a short section that is placed between the verse and chorus — might be the best connector of all.

The difference between a 2-part verse and a verse-pre-chorus design is that the second part of a 2-part verse is a necessity. It needs to be there to complete the verse. The pre-chorus, however, doesn’t complete the verse that happens before it. The verse in a song that has a pre-chorus should be a complete section that could otherwise move directly to the chorus.

Probably the best advice to take from all of this when trying to complete a verse is this: when in doubt, find something you can repeat in either an exact or approximate way.


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