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At the moment, I feel like my choruses are, in fact, just a slight and arbitrary variation in harmony from the verse. Switch to the ride cymbal and maybe play straight eight notes on the guitars, and BOOM--a mediocre "chorus".

Is a chorus (in the context of pop and rock) simply a) a strong melody combined with a strong progression? Or, is it b) a specific structural moment that has to be appreciated in the greater context of a song?

I've tried to think about choruses differently (akin to the second posited definition). Perhaps the chorus is the consequent to the verse (antecedent)? And so the verse progression should end on a weak cadence while the chorus ends on a strong chorus? This approach is promising, though I find ending a progression in the chorus with a PAC to be very predictable and stale.

Similarly, an obvious harmonic flow from the verse to chorus would be: end the verse or bridge with dominant harmony and make the downbeat of chorus tonic harmony. The issue here is a) this is also quite predictable and while sounds promising, the excitement/momentum/energy vanishes once the tonic is gone.

I feel like my dream chorus neither begins nor ends with tonic harmony, but also feels like a significant moment in the context of the song.

What theory/structures/forms/harmonic or melodic devices/etc. should I be aware of to achieve my goal?

There is one example of a "chorus chord sequence" that a user on this stack exchange provided:

(IV -> V -> vi and then I -> I(1st inversion) -> IV)

It works like a charm. The only problem is, I have no idea where it came from, how it works, or how to modify it!

Do you have any suggestions for creating a catchy chorus sequence like the one above?

Note: Every now and then if I hear a catchy song on the radio or something, i'll try the progression in one of my songs, and they NEVER hit the same way. I heard a song recently with a killer chorus. The progression was iii - vi - ii - V. I played around with the chords for hours, and I was never happy with it. Aside from the production/performance aspect (which i'm sure is vital), I am wondering if the a) preceding verse or b) my arrangement/melodies are to blame for the chorus falling flat in my tune but sounding huge in another.

Also: In classical music there is sentence structure . . . there are presentation, continuing, and conclusion schema . . . can/should these phrases be adapted to contemporary/pop/rock music?

So many questions . . . so many . . .

If you can suggest an edit so that my questions are condensed into one, that might help this post from being closed by the admins!

Thanks as always!

  • I‘ve found this information in wiki: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Song_structure ( very interesting!) – Albrecht Hügli Jan 27 at 20:24
  • Sometimes, I swear I hear verses and choruses in instrumental video game music loops. They're generally split from each other by strong cadences. – Dekkadeci Jan 28 at 1:20
  • The only rule really is that there are no rules. It just has to work - i.e. be memorable, and communicate the main idea of the song. And note that there are great songs that don't even have a chorus, or any repeated section, or even use the title in the lyrics! (I'm thinking of Neil Young's "After The Gold Rush"). If it's good, it's good. That's it. – danmcb Jan 28 at 8:28
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    Agree with danmcb. There's no formula, no special chord sequences and no rules. It just has to work, while what 'work' means is up to the songwriter. . – PeterJ Jan 30 at 11:14
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    Of course there is no universal rule that all choruses fulfill. But there can be rules of thumb and patterns that individual songwriters use as guidelines. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Jan 30 at 20:57
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Is a chorus (in the context of pop and rock) simply a) a strong melody combined with a strong progression? Or, is it b) a specific structural moment that has to be appreciated in the greater context of a song?

A chorus in the context of pop and rock music is (usually) a refrain - or simply a section of the song that repeats. There is no right or wrong answer as to how to approach it... Same riff as the verse, on the tonic - sure thing. Sexy progression that ends on the dominant to pull me back into the verse - why not? Different time signature and key - yep.

But, I feel like the underlying statement is that you also want your choruses to be "hooks."

What theory/structures/forms/harmonic or melodic devices/etc. should I be aware of to achieve my goal?

Definitely start with a catchy melody. Then, try to begin varying your approach to the melody... Let's say you have a melody that goes C, C, F with an accompanying chord progression of I, IV.

Switch the chords up, try vi, IV instead (pretty classic move) and play the melody over that. Again, it's all art with no right or wrong answers - you will know when you have something catchy when it starts bugging the crap out of you because you can't get it out of your head.

Another thing, try back engineering your verses... Say you got a verse that's catchy, make that the chorus - write a new verse on the IV. Now you have a song with a new I and a catchy chorus that starts on the V.

Finally, in regard to your bounty:

“Hi! I will award this bounty to the user who can provide specific examples of chord sequences or phrases for me to try out for myself. Choose any sequences/progressions/phrases you'd like, so long as you consider them "chorus-y"!!”

I believe this is against policy on the SE (in the sense that it promotes a 'list type' answer as well as subjective responses considering what sounds "chorus-y" to one, may not sound "chorus-y" to another.) With that said, there are places for you to start. While there is much debate on whether to start writing a song by the melody or by the chords, I'd still recommend that you start with a melody. But, if you are set on beginning with chord progressions, there are a few time-tested combos for pop...

Try the I-V-vi-IV progression and it's variants, including I–V–♭VII–IV. And, look into lists of chord progressions otherwise. Hope that helps!

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...just a slight and arbitrary variation in harmony...

Consider I | V... an opening gesture versus ...V | I a closing gesture. Flipping the order may seem a small change, but it's profoundly different in terms of phrasing.

Notice that I put it a | for a barline to hint at the phrasing. If we had only ...I V I V I V I V... without barlines, no indication of phrasing, we loose the sense of starting or ending phrases.

Apply that to...

(IV -> V -> vi and then I -> I(1st inversion) -> IV)

...where are the phrases?

Assuming that progression repeats, compare ...IV | V... a half cadence followed by ...vi | I... a pairing of relative major/minor chords, to...

...I6 | IV... and initial strong progression followed by ...V | vi... a deceptive progression.

Neither is right or wrong.

The point is to say a mere list of progressions doesn't tell us enough to know what those progressions mean as phrases.

...In classical music there is sentence structure . . . there are presentation, continuing, and conclusion schema . . . can/should these phrases be adapted to contemporary/pop/rock music?

I think the important thing is to understand that those are syntactic harmony terms, but pop terms like verse, chorus, and bridge are not strictly syntactic and are a loose smattering of different ideas.

If you want to include 32 bar form jazz standard songs in the pop category, then pop does often conform to "classical" syntax and phrasing.

Some rock music will also work in a "classical" sense, but often it avoids any structural sense of cadence so that chord progressions repeat over and over for a groove or to be shaped into a form more by the instrumentation rather than harmonic phrasing. I often notice that such progressions avoid ...V | I....

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  • Thank you. Perhaps the more important question is: what are useful phrase pairings? For example, the progression I cited doesn’t follow, say, the circle of 5ths progression (except for the final I-IV. So then what forces are guiding its catchiness? – 286642 Jan 28 at 22:41
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The sense of a chorus is that everybody can join the singing. The chord progression is less important than the melody: pick out a motif of the verse or splitting a phrase, repeat it by augmentation of the tension, using sequences, repetition, eventually using call and response.

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Yes, it's common (but not required) for the chorus to have a quite different melody and chord sequence to the verse. And, of course, for the chorus to use the same lyrics each time while the various verses have different ones. The verses may be more adventurous in both words and music, we 'come home' to the chorus.

There are techniques, common to all eras and styles of music, for constructing a good song. Many of them boil down to a combination of repetition, variation and transformation. Repetition so that we know it's still THIS song, variation to give it interest.

Plenty of pop songs have been written over 'stock' chord sequences. I, vi, ii, V (or its variant iii, vi, ii, V) have a lot of life left!

Let's hear a couple of your songs?

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a) Strong melody helps people to recognize the chorus and remember the song for a longer time. It is also clear that if the melody is easy and the phrases repeated, it is even easier to remember (look up the chorus of The Calling - "Wherever You Will Go", the chorus repeats the same or almost same melody line many times and still the chord progression is the same as in the verse of that song, I V vi IV. Thus, I would say the chord progression, in the case of this song, is not as important as the melody.)

b) I would say yes, definitely. This has definitely something to do with mixing the songs and production also (like you wrote). The specific structural moment is created also with e.g. more instruments, more sung harmonies or different dynamics introduced to the chorus. Take Pain of Salvation - Sisters and its mixing as an example: the verses include percussions and first choruses do not. This creates variety to the song dynamics. The similar is with Pain of Salvation - To The Shoreline: the pre-chorus ends with a dominant chord (I think it is iii, you could substitute it with III), build-up and a leading/rising vocal melody to the chorus, but every instrument but piano and vocals drop out of the chorus to create dynamics.

  • Regarding your bounty “Hi! I will award this bounty to the user who can provide specific examples of chord sequences or phrases for me to try out for myself. Choose any sequences/progressions/phrases you'd like, so long as you consider them "chorus-y"!!”, I hope I introduced new music to you by using Pain of Salvation as an example, because listening to new music and trying out the melodies and progressions is the best you can do to familiarize yourself with the popular hooks. You should also listen to different genres of music, in addition to pop; try jazz and latin music also, because you would get ideas from outside of the box.

  • Another tip from me is that when composing songs, try singing or whistling the melodies yourself, because when produced by yourself without external instruments, you might produce more "human-like" melodies (compared with producing the melodies with the piano or guitar) that are easier to sing by other people also.

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