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How to Write a Song Verse

The best way to appraoch your verses

Last Updated: December 2023 | 2373 words (12 – 14 minute read)

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When you’re first getting into songwriting, it can be difficult to know the different nuances between different song sections.

In this guide, we’ll delve into how to write a song verse that is compelling and follows good song craft. You’ll learn what a verse is for, how it works and the best way to approach writing it.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a step-by-step method for writing the perfect verse – it’s more of a mindset/approach.

If you’re a complete beginner to songwriting, then first check out our guide on how to write songs. It goes through everything someone just starting out needs to know.

If you’ve already read that, then let’s get into it…


Microphone Month at Sweetwater

What is a Verse in a Song

There are many different song forms, but a song verse is a section of a piece of music that typically contains the lyrics that “gives the details” of the song’s story or message.

They often have a more subdued melody and rhythm, but the lyrics work to progress the narrative or explore different ideas within the story/message.

Verses are quite different from other song sections – pre-choruses, choruses, bridges and intros/outros – but are often similar to each other within a song.

While a chorus often just straight up tells you the main idea of the song, the verses before and after a chorus help to further explain that idea.

How Long is a Song Verse?

A song verse can be varying lengths depending on the arrangement and structure of a song (learn more) but, in more popular forms of music, verses are often multiples of 4 bars/measures.

In modern pop music, for example, you’ll often find verses that are 8 bars in length. In hip-hop, on the other hand, a verse can be 8 bars but is more likely to be 12 or 16 bars in length.

Some freestyle rap can contain verses that are much longer – 32 bars all the way up to 300+ bars.

There are no set rules to how long a verse must be, but the general convention for most songs is an 8 or 16 bar verse section.

How to Write Your Verse

As with anything in art, there are no set-in-stone ways to write a song. But one I’ve personally found most effective is to start with the melody (learn more) and work on lyrics (learn more) later.

With verses in particular, that line is often blurred.

Here’s why…

Start With the Chorus

One of the most effective ways to write a song (or even a story) is to start with the end in mind. So I personally prefer to start writing my song chorus (learn more) before anything else.

Why?

It’s because the chorus is the summation of the song’s message. It’s the “climax” of the story itself. And it’s often the most important part of a song if you want it to be impactful to the most amount of people.

So if you’re just beginning your song, I highly recommend you start it by writing your chorus – first develop it’s melody and then find the lyrics to fit that melody.

FYI; you can absolutely start with your verse if you prefer working that way. Try out different things and do what works best for you.

Working on Your Verse

With your verse section, it’s often more of a combination of developing the lyric and the melody together. 

This is especially the case when you start with the chorus, since now you’ve already got an idea of where your story/message is going.

In your verse, you just need to fill in the details/blanks.

So you may just start to freestyle lyrical ideas that already have a melody to them, rather than doing that separately, the other way around.


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Verse Melodies

The melody of your verse will often be the opposite of what your chorus melody is in terms of energy, rhythm, phrasing, notes sung, etc.

So if your verse uses a wide range of notes, your chorus will have a more limited range. If your verse is very staccato, with a fast rhythm, your chorus might work best with long, slow legato lines.

Most often verse melodies are more subdued and less in-your-face than chorus melodies, which are more energetic/soaring/wider/etc.

Some best practices (NOT rules) for your verse melody include:

  • Stay around a limited range of notes, close to the root note/key of the scale
  • Have a consistent “rolling hills shape” to your melody – no huge leaps, but step-wise movement + if notes go upwards, they also come back downwards
  • Use call and response with short phrasing in the melody
  • Introduce a melody idea/motif, repeat that motif, then slightly alter/change the motif but remain similar to it
  • The melody should build towards the chorus – whether that means gradually moving upwards to meet it or gradually moving downwards to meet it.

Verse Lyrics

As mentioned above, the lyrics (learn more) of your song verse should work to explain the actual story of your song. It’s meant to give context to the chorus.

The chorus is an overview, while the verse is the details. Your verse is where you take your listener deeper.

So when you’re writing your verse’s lyrics, focus in on the story of how/why your chorus is saying what it’s saying.

And take them on the journey towards your chorus.

Here are some best practices for nailing your verse lyrics:

  • Use a common rhyme scheme – AABB, ABAB, AABA, etc.
  • Your opening lines should “set the scene” of the story. Your next few lines should pull the listener deeper into the story
  • “Paint a picture” using descriptive imagery and vivid language. Don’t just explain the story to us, “show us”
  • Use metaphors, similes, wordplay and other poetic devices, but don’t over-do it. It’s better to be simple, clear and specific – don’t try to be too clever/abstract.
  • BE CONVERSATIONAL – write your lyrics like you normally speak
A Closeup of a Guitar Player Writing a Song Verse

Tips for Better Verses

Now that you have some best practices for your mindset when approaching a song verse, let’s get into some more tips to help you improve your verses.

Add the Right Context

We’ve beat to death the idea of your verses adding context to your chorus, but it’s important to add the right context.

You don’t want to have any verse lyrics that don’t serve the song – details that don’t matter to the story/message.

BUT… sometimes what might seem like a “useless detail” (like the color of someones hair, etc) can actually be important and impactful.

The trick is in knowing what serves the story and overall song. And unfortunately it’s an art that you get better at over time.

Use Conflict

Some of the best and most compelling content is based on conflict. 

It may seem unfortunate, but it’s a fact of humanity. We are attracted to conflict. That’s why reality TV is a thing. It’s why we all slow down around accidents and stare. It’s also why we love sports and politics.

So to help your story be more impactful, integrate conflict into your story.

It doesn’t have to be conflict with an outside individual, it can be a conflict within yourself or conflict with an institution or idea.

But it’s an effective tool in storytelling and, thus, in songwriting.


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One Big Idea

To write a great verse, don’t be all over the place when explaining the story.

Each of your verses should focus on one big idea that helps set the stage for the chorus.

In other words, go deep on one idea in your verse, instead of going wide with several different topics in a single verse.

And remember your verse should support the chorus, which is the main message and climax of the story. 

So if your chorus is about your girlfriend’s betrayal… your verses should each focus on ONE aspect of that story. Maybe the first verse is all about how she gained your trust under false pretenses. The second verse could then expand and show the timeline of her actual betrayal.

The chorus, of course, would bring them both home with your main message about the betrayal.

Empty Space is Your Friend

Something a lot of beginner songwriters fall into is using way too many words or syllables or phrases.

It’s like they’re afraid of leaving any open space within a verse.

But space and silence is your friend – even in music. You don’t have to fill up every nook and cranny with lyric or melody.

You can just let the song breathe. It’s ok…

Remember this – using short, concise phrasing on both your melody and your lyrics makes it easier for listeners to follow along and become engaged in your song.

It also gives you the opportunity to take advantage of the very effective “call and response” style of writing.

The Second Verse Can Be Hardest to Write

We all experience it… The chorus is set, the first verse just flowed out of us naturally… 

It’s time for the second verse and… crickets. You’re in full on writer’s block.

The second verse can be so hard to even start. But it’s essential that you finish it. Finishing your songs is the most important skill you can build. A half-done song does nothing for you.

So try and push through and get something down for that second verse.

An effective way to overcome that block, is to always ask yourself “and then what?”

Imagine you’re talking to your friend. You tell them the story of your first verse and even the main message of your chorus.

Then they look at you with intrigue and ask… “and then what happened?”

Answer that question, and turn it into your second verse.

Remember, each verse focuses on ONE aspect of that story. Usually a story will have multiple aspects to it before it leads to a payoff/climax.

You second verse is that additional detail/context/event that adds even MORE credibility to your chorus. It drives the point home to the listener.


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Write Lots of Verses, Listen to Lots of Songs

The best advice anyone can give you is to 1) study the greats, and 2) do lots of the very thing you’re trying to learn.

So it’s your job to just go out there and write a ton of verses – that’s the best way to become better at it.

Just keep writing. And you’ll notice yourself getting better and better with every turn.

But also listen to lots of songs. But don’t listen like everyone else – you need to study the songs. Print out the lyrics and read them as you listen. Study the words and the phrasing and the melody. Analyze how the songwriter is telling the story.

You want to try to internalize as much as you can from great practitioners of this craft. Start with your favorite artists, and then expand into artists that are universally renowned.

Then get to writing. There’s a common misconception about what it takes to be great – the 10,000 hour rule.

But it’s not really 10,000 hours of doing something. It’s more like actually doing the thing 10,000 different times.

So get to writing.

Always Re-Write Your Verses

There’s ONE unbreakable songwriting rule I like to live by – always re-write your songs.

That goes for choruses, bridges, melodies, basslines, chord progressions and everything else – including VERSES.

So you think you’ve written your full verse? Well, actually that’s just your first draft.

Now it’s time to refine it. Make it better. Get it tighter.

Maybe there’s a better word you could use in a particular line to make it more impactful. Maybe you could slightly change the melody ending to be more engaging. There are so many ways to sculpt and refine your verses, that you should never just write it once and forget it.

The key to great songwriting is the ability to rewrite your stuff.

Don’t sleep on this – it’s the realest thing I could ever tell you. Re-write your stuff.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Song Verse?

A song verse is a section of an overall musical piece that helps to provide context and buildup to the climax of the song, known as the chorus.

How Many Verses Should a Song Have?

A song will usually have at least 2 verses, but some songs will have less or more. Often, in place of a third verse, songwriters will use some type of “departure” section like a bridge.

How Long Should a Verse Be in a Song?

A verse should be between 4 bars and 16 bars in a typical song. Verses can be longer, but most Pop music will feature an 8 bar verse, while many Rap songs will feature a 16 bar verse.

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    Final Thoughts

    Writing a verse for a song doesn’t have to be a complicated process. I know I threw a lot at you in this guide, but it’s a pretty straight-forward process.

    The nuance of verse writing happens in the mindset you approach it with.

    It may be helpful to re-visit this page every now and then to serve as a refresher for some best-practices on verse writing.

    But the only way to really get better is to go out there and write some songs. Just study things, and try things. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you evolve if you do that regularly and consistently.

    Your verse is the story. The chorus is the payoff. Setup the story so that the payoff is most impactful and engaging.

    And remember to always re-write and refine your stuff. The first draft of EVERYTHING is trash.

    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 complete guide on how to write a song verse! I hope it was helpful.


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    About The Author:

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    Omar Zulfi

    Omar Zulfi is a music producer, rapper, singer, songwriter and digital entrepreneur. He is the founder and head writer at Deviant Noise. Learn more about what he's doing by clicking here.