How to Write a Chorus
Writing the most important section of your song
Last Updated: December 2023 | 2959 words (15 – 17 minute read)
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A chorus is arguable the most important section of a song – so it makes sense to want to really nail it when you’re writing a song.
But it can feel a bit like trying to catch lightning in a bottle.
In this complete beginner’s guide, we’re going to deep dive into how to write a chorus that your listeners will love.
We’ll go over what a chorus is and does, the steps to writing one and we’ll finish with tips on making your choruses better.
If you haven’t read our complete guide to songwriting, be sure to check that out first.
Let’s get it…
Article Table of Contents
- 1 The Basics
- 1.1 What is a chorus?
- 1.2 What’s the point of a chorus?
- 1.3 How long should a chorus be?
- 2 Steps to Writing a Chorus
Audio Version of Article
What Is A Chorus?
A chorus is a song section characterized by it’s purpose and placement within the overall structure of a song.
It is usually an energy peak or an energy valley within the overall dynamics of a song.
In many ways, the chorus is the essence of a song – central areas of focus and often the most climactic parts of a piece of music.
They usually occur after a verse or pre-chorus section and are often the “funnest” part of a song.
You can often tell a “chorus” as soon as you hear it.
What’s the Point of a Chorus?
The main purpose of a chorus is to act as a sort of “payoff” to the listener. It’s the release of the tension that builds up during the verses and pre-choruses.
It’s also the section of a song that acts as the “summation” or “main point or message” of a song’s narrative/story.
It gives the listener a high or a low, depending on it’s purpose relative to the rest of the song.
But a chorus will always be the climactic point of a song’s story.
How Long Should a Chorus Be?
Most choruses – especially in modern popular music – are either 8 bars or 16 bars.
But even if they are 16 bars in length, that’s often simply a single 8 bar chorus repeated twice, back to back.
Of course, there’s no hard and fast rule that says this is the only length a chorus can be. But because the chorus is often the “fun” part of a song, songwriters try to incorporate it within the structure of a song as much as possible.
Of course, you can’t make the entire song one long chorus because that would get boring very fast.
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The Steps to Writing a Chorus
Below we dive into the 4 step process for writing a chorus. If you read our guide on how to write songs, you’ll remember that I usually prefer to start a songwriting session with the chorus, first.
That’s not a hard and fast rule, but it is an effective way to work. Because the chorus is the energy peak/valley and the summation of the story we’re telling in our song, it makes sense to start at the end.
Once we know what the song is about and what the song is saying, we can fill in the details/context of our verses and pre-choruses much easier.
Start With Harmony
I don’t mean starting by singing harmonies – that’s a different thing altogether. What I mean with “harmony” is the underlying chord progression of your song.
The “vibe” and the “mood” and the “feeling” of the music that will be underneath your melody and lyrics.
Before you actually start writing your chorus, it’s really helpful to have some sort of harmonic foundation – some sort of chordal movement that sets the tone.
So whether you’re writing to an instrumental beat/track or you’re playing a repeating chord progression on a piano/guitar/etc., set the mood before you start writing the chorus.
Once you’ve got a vibe you like, you can start to work on the “topline” of your song (i.e. the melody and the lyric).
Develop the Melody
I’m a lyricist at heart – I grew up on Hip-Hop music and have been a rapper since I was a child.
Lyrics are ultra important to me. But I can’t deny the fact that melody is king when it comes to songwriting.
What people remember most is a son’g melody – the notes you’re using to sing your lyrics. Hell, that’s why it’s easier to hum a tune you just heard rather than trying to recite some of it’s lyrics.
That’s why I always start by developing a melody for my chorus whenever I sit down to write a new song. I highly recommend you try doing the same.
Here’s how I recommend you go about it:
- Setup a recording device – your phone, a microphone, a digital recorder, whatever
- Loop your beat/chords for at least 3 minutes
- While recording, start humming or singing random little melody ideas that come to your mind – this is a brainstorm session, so let it all fly.
- Note, you don’t have to sing actual words here. Just use gibberish sounds that mimic words. It can mostly be vowel sounds if you prefer.
- Repeat this 3 times (3x 3-minute recordings of brainstormed melody ideas)
- Listen back to your recordings and pick out the melody ideas you like the most, and that fit (or sound like they’d fit) well to a “chorus” section.
- String those melody ideas together or refine them as needed until you have a finished 8 bar chorus melody
Write the Lyrics
Once you’ve got a good melody for your chorus, you can start on writing the lyrics.
The idea here is to fit words to the existing melody you have. Remember, the melody is key. It takes precedence over the lyrics.
That means that when you’re writing the words out, you want to try and make them fit the vowel sounds of the melody, rather than trying to make the melody fit whatever word you want to use in the lyric.
So if your “gibberish” melody ends on an “oooh” sound, try to use a word in your lyric that fits that vowel sound.
Find a Relatable Main Theme
Now, because your chorus is supposed to be the “summation” of your story/narrative, you have to find the main theme of your song when writing your lyrics.
And you need to make it something that’s relatable to a large group of people out there (i.e. your potential listeners).
There are reasons why most songs are about love and relationships – it’s something almost everyone can relate to.
So when writing your lyrics, try to come up with one big idea that’s relatable to most, and put it into words in a way that fits your existing melody.
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One of the most important steps to writing great songs in general is the “refining” (or “rewriting”) process.
I think it was Hemingway that said the first draft of everything is shit.
It’s true. The first draft of your chorus usually won’t be the final chorus you have. At least, it shouldn’t be.
There’s always room for improvement and taking things to the next level. Work your idea until it’s spectacular.
Although you don’t want to refine forever and ever – you need to finish the song. But it is worth putting at least some time into making your chorus section the best it can be.
Go over your lyrics and melody with a fine-tooth comb – maybe you could use a better word here, or mayeb the melody should go down instead of up there.
Try to sculpt your chorus into the masterpiece that lies within it’s existing potential.
Don’t sleep on the re-writing process. It’s crucial…
Tips for Writing Better Choruses
Below are some essential tips that will help you refine your chorus so that it hits as effectively as possible in your song.
Keep all of these things in mind whenever you’re writing song choruses.
Simple, Singable, Memorable
The first (and arguably most important) tip is something I learned from the amazing people at HitSongsDeconstructed (highly recommended).
They call it the KISS ME principle – “Keep it Simple, Singable and Memorable.”
You don’t want to use complicated rhythms, lyrics or melodic intervals in your chorus. You also don’t want to use abstract metaphors that no one will understand.
This section of the song should be simple to follow (unfolds logically), extremely easy to sing (uses a limited range of notes) and something that sticks in the listener’s head after hearing it.
Use Less Words and Notes
They often say less is more, and that’s absolutely the case when we’re talking about choruses. You don’t have to use a lot of words in your lyrics, or a lot of notes within your melody.
The more you add, the more complicated it becomes. And remember, simpler is better (especially for choruses).
So try to be as concise and succinct as possible when you’re writing your lyrics.
Another major characteristic of a great chorus is the use of repetition.
Your chorus melody and lyrics should both have a healthy dose of repetition. You don’t want 16 different melodies or 16 different lyric lines throughout your chorus.
You should have one main melodic motif (idea) that you repeat with some slight variations throughout your chorus.
Introduce the idea, repeat the idea and then alter the idea slightly.
This can go for chorus lyrics too. The reason “anthemic” choruses work so well is because they’re heavily repetitive in both lyric and melody.
If you study your favorite choruses, you’ll notice how repetitive they actually are. You can base your own writing on these, especially when you’re first starting out.
Try to Find/Use “Hooks”
Hooks are an important part of songwriting – especially in pop music – but they can be such a hard concept to really wrap your head around.
The word hook is sometimes used interchangeably with the word chorus, but that’s only because a song chorus is usually the “hookiest” part of a song.
A song “hook” is basically a unique, interesting and memorable element within a song.
It can be anything – a stellar lyric, a really cool vocal melody, a great bass line or even an infectious drum groove.
It’s something that “hooks” a listener and makes them want to, not only hear more, but hear that hook over and over again.
It’s like a hit of musical cocaine for the brain – we crave more.
It’s hard to “manufacture” hooks, but it’s something you want to be aware of when writing your chorus.
If you hear something really great in your freestyled gibberish, and your ears perk up and you take notice – there’s a good chance that is (or can be developed into) a song hook.
People love hooks). So try to find ways to make your chorus as “hooky” as possible, without going overboard.
You don’t need a TON of hooks, just a few great ones that you can re-package/re-use throughout your song (and especially your chorus).
Pay Attention to Rhythm
There’s been a lot of talk about melody in this guide on how to write a song chorus. But it’s important to mention that a big part of melody is… rhythm.
You need to pay attention to the rhythm of your chorus melody, because changes in how you chorus unfolds across time can change the impact it has on the listener.
You could have a melody of all quarter notes throughout your chorus, but that would get boring really quick.
But if you use quarter notes, eighth notes and rests in interesting rhythms, it can bring your chorus to life.
So pay attention to the rhythm/groove/feel of your chorus melody. The rhythm of the lyrics will then naturally follow.
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Space is Your Friend
Building off the ideas of “less is more” and also paying attention to rhythm is the idea that “open/empty space” is your friend.
You don’t need to fill in every nook and cranny of your chorus with a melody note or a lyric. Letting your chorus “breathe” a little is actually a very effective way to write it.
So don’t do too much in your chorus. Use rests within your lyric/melody.
Energy Peaks and Valleys
Remember how I said that the chorus is usually an “energy peak/valley” within your song? It’s important to remember that when you’re writing your chorus.
No song in the world in “energetically” the same throughout. There are emotional high points, low points and middling points within every song.
That’s the “energy flow” of a song.
If your chorus is high energy – like an “anthem” song – then it’s a peak. The rest of your song (verse/pre-chorus) will build upwards toward that peak.
If, on the other hand, you have a low energy chorus – like a “break down” chorus – then it’s a valley. And your verse and pre-chorus will build downwards towards that energy lull.
Either way, the chorus should act like an energy payoff or climax of the song – the “release” of the “tension” that is building throughout the rest of the song sections..
When you’re writing, make sure you’re aware of energy levels – how does your chorus sound? High energy or low energy? How do you want it to sound?
Study the Greats
One of the best ways to get better at writing choruses for your songs is to study your favorites.
If you listen to a lot of your favorite music you’ll naturally start to pick up the good habits of these songwriters.
But you need to be listening actively, not just listening like a fan. You need to study what they’re doing and why it works on you so well.
Ask yourself things like:
- What are their melodies like?
- What are their rhythms like?
- What words and themes are they using?
- What’s the energy level like?
- How are they using repetition and space?
It can be a great exercise to re-write your favorites bands’ choruses using your own lyrics or your own melody. Even just recreating their choruses in your studio software (i.e. DAW) can be eye-opening.
Try it out.
Get the Reps In
If the above tip was one of the best ways to write better choruses, then this final tip is the ONLY way you’ll ever write better choruses.
And that is… to write LOTS of choruses.
You have to put in the work and get your “reps” in. Treat this like an exercise/workout regimen. The only way you can build muscle is by working out and doing your “reps” every single day.
The same goes for getting better at chorus writing.
You have to write (i.e. practice) a lot. You should have a goal to write 100 full choruses over the course of the next year.
By the end of that year, your 101st chorus will be light years beyond your 1st chorus.
And that’s the real secret to mastery – doing something over and over and over again. Relentlessly.
Once of my favorite sayings is from Naval Ravikant – “It’s not 10,000 hours, it’s 10,000 iterations.”
What Naval is saying is that the whole “10,000 hours” to success/mastery thing is a myth. It’s not that you have to put in a set amount of time. It’s that you have to DO THE THING thousands and thousands of times to become an expert.
So get your reps in…
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, your different chorus sections can have different lyrics, but it’s not the best way to write an engaging and memorable song. The chorus should be the thing people sing along with most, and so it’s best to have the same lyrics across all your choruses.
Yes, you can write a song without a chorus but the chorus is often the climax of a song and the “payoff” listeners look forward to, so it’s best to include a chorus in your songs.
Yes, you should write your chorus first because it’s often the most effective way to build a full song. When you start with the chorus, it’s easier to fill in the rest of the song’s context based on it.
The chorus will always be the most memorable part of your song, so it makes sense to try and get it as good as can be.
Spend time studying great choruses and writing your own choruses. If you do that religiously, you’ll inevitably become a GREAT chorus writer.
But you have to do this diligently. It takes work, and no one is born a great songwriter. Songwriting is an art and a literal craft that you have to work at to get better at.
Try your best to follow the guidelines I just laid out when you’re writing. They’re not “rules” but they are best practices. Feel free to break them and experiment with things.
If you really want to level up your songwriting skills, I highly recommend you join HitSongsDeconstructed – they’re the best resource on the internet I’ve found on how to write hit songs.
Thanks for reading this guide on chorus writing – I hope it was helpful. Now, go write!
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