Join Julian Velard for an in-depth discussion in this video Break up the verse and chorus with a pre-chorus, part of The Songwriter's Toolkit: Learning from the Masters.
- [Narrator] There are countless songs that use the same three cords the entire time and allow the melody and lyric to show us the difference between the verse and the chorus. It's a technique I talk about at length in the songwriter's toolkit: new perspectives. One variant on this technique is a song that uses the same harmony for the verse and chorus sections but breaks it up with a distinct pre-chorus. Some great examples where a distinct pre-chorus breaks up a verse and chorus that use the same cords are Michael Jackson's Billie Jean, Billy Joel's Piano Man and Marvin Gaye's I Heard It Through the Grapevine Let me show you how we can create a song that uses a pre-chorus in this way with the top 40 smash I Don't Know You. Here it is in its original state. (piano music) (Singing) It was only yesterday met you while I was on the way to the corner grocery store, didn't think it would be much more than a talk on my five minute walk. My heart's flying high like a hawk. Girl you're getting too close to me. You don't know all the things that I've been through. Girl I want everything you say to be true. But I don't know you. (speaking voice) Did you hear how that works? Let's take a look at what I did. One of the keys to using this technique is to create a compelling harmonic structure in the verse that acts as a secondary hook to the melody and gives the listener something additional to latch onto. This can be done in several ways. In Piano Man, Billy Joel uses an ascending chord progression that acts as a counter melody of sorts. In Billie Jean, Michael Jackson uses a repeating ostinato bass line that's extremely catchy. By using a hooky harmonic structure in the verse, it creates a desire in the listener to hear that part over and over again. Therefore, when we move away from the verse to the pre-chorus, we're building an anticipation for that harmonic structure to return in the chorus. Did you notice how much catchier the chords in the verse feel? Let me just play you the chord progression and take a listen how there's actually a melody kind of inside this chord progression. Listen how musical it sounds. (piano playing) Can you hear that? (piano playing continues) You can kind of just keep going and going. (piano playing continues) The catchiness of that progression allows us to use it again with a new vocal melody for the chorus. That said, we need a section to break these apart and build anticipation. That's where the pre-chorus comes in. Let's take a listen to it one more time and notice how the pre-chorus will break up this circular chord progression that we have in the verse. And we're going to return to it again when the chorus comes around. (piano playing) (singing) It was only yesterday met you while I was on the way to the corner grocery store didn't think it would be much more than a talk on my five minute walk. My heart's flying high like a hawk. Girl you're getting too close to me, you don't know all the things that I've been through. Girl I want everything you say to be true. But I don't know you. (speaking voice) Also did you notice how I built the pre-chorus out a bit? It's a little bit longer than it was in the original version. This serves to create a little more space for the listener between the verse and the chorus progression. It let's them get away from it just long enough to want to hear it again. Using a pre-chorus to break up your verse and chorus is a great technique for when you have a catchy rift or a chord progression that you want to turn into a song. If you've got eight bars that you love just lying around, try creating a pre-chorus that can lead you back to that same part. It just might be the kickstart you need.
- Using your bridge as an intro
- Adding an outro to your song
- Reharmonizing a chorus as an outro
- Ditching a verse
- Experimenting with multiple bridges
- Using modulation in a duet
- Using the tonic chord