What Are The Differences Between A Verse & A Chorus?

Let’s paint a scenario.

You’ve just started writing a song. You’ve pieced together a few lines of lyrics that describe a feeling you had when you were a child.

You love what you’ve written!

But you question if what you’ve written is suitable for a verse or chorus.

It’s a common question to ask yourself because verses and choruses are so different when you compare them together.

But at the same time what is the difference?

What makes a verse a verse? What makes a chorus a chorus?

Let’s learn more…

Definitions of a verse & chorus

What is a verse?

A verse is a series of lyrics or musical notes if it’s an instrumental that expands on the main point of the story.

A verse usually occurs twice in a song, and each time a verse would contain different lyrics.

What is a chorus?

A chorus is probably the most important part of the song. It is your main point, your focal point of the song.

It is constantly referred to throughout the song and is repeated between 2-4 times. Each chorus would contain the same lyrics with little or no variation in terms of melody.

How they impact a song

How does a verse impact a song?

A verse adds context to the story. You can add an event, a situation, or a feeling which gives more detail to the listener.

Each verse would contain a different focal point based on the main story. For example, verse 1 could explain the situation and verse 2 could explain how it made the person feel.

The further you get into the song, the more the listener understands about the story.

How does a chorus impact a song?

Your chorus is the centerpiece, everything lyrical or musical revolves around your chorus.

It constantly reminds the listener what the purpose of the song is whether its an emotion or an event, it is drilled repeatedly into the listeners head.

With this in mind, you can understand why choruses are usually the main part of the song that the listener remembers. A chorus is memorable, not only because it’s repeated, but also because the purpose is clear.

How are they structured

The structure of a verse

A verse can be anywhere between 4-8 lines of lyrics. However, depending on the genre of music this can be as long as 12-16.

Most commonly verses come in groups of 4 lines.

The length of the lyric lines can vary, but are usually in contrast to the chorus.

The vocal range is also usually more limited in the verses.

The structure of a chorus

This is where choruses are interesting because they do tend to be different and more ‘variant’ when it comes to structure.

The length can be shorter, sometimes only 2 lines long. However, the majority are between 4-8 lines similar to verses but sometimes they can be structured rather uniquely.

For example; a chorus could have a group of 4 lines and a single lyric line to end on, or a group of 4 lines and 3 lines to end on.

These lyric lines could be short or long, usually the opposite to the verses. So if you have long phrases in your verse, your chorus would stand out by using shorter phrases.

The vocal range in a chorus is usually more wide, but tends to focus on a different set of notes compared to the verse.

Rhyming schemes?

What sort of rhyming schemes do verses use?

Verses are pretty simple when it comes to rhyming. The rhymes usually occur at the end of each line and are consistent through each verse in the song.

Most commonly used rhyming schemes are rhyming couplets (AABB) and rhyming alternates (ABAB). One is usually chosen, and it is kept throughout the song.

What sort of rhyming schemes do choruses use?

The rhymes for choruses should be in contrast to your verse, so the listener can tell them apart immediately.

Therefore, the best way to contrast this is by using the opposite rhyming scheme. If the verse is using rhyming couplets, the chorus will most likely use rhyming alternates.

However, this is never a definitive rule, as there could be other elements that could distinguish a verse and chorus apart, for example we could use the same rhyming scheme for both, but our rhythm could differ, or our range of notes or our voice dynamics etc.

Rhythm?

Why is rhythm treated differently?

Rhythmically, this is a difficult one. As you can probably tell so far, contrast is definitely a major factor in the differences between verses and choruses.

However, with rhythm it can be more forgiving.

Ever wondered why the rhythm in Britney Spears ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ sounds sort of familiar throughout the entire song?

That’s because the rhythm for the verse and chorus are virtually the same, with a few minor variations of course.

Because rhythm ties in with the beat and the flow of the song, creating a major contrast between the two can make the song sound disjointed and uneasy, which would ultimately put the listener off.

The most common action to take in terms of rhythm is to create a rhythm with more movement in your verses, and use that (slightly simplified) for your chorus.

This is not a definitive rule, but you see it a lot in mainstream music. However, if that’s not your focus you can create more contrast and use alternate rhythms.

Examples of verses & choruses

So let’s look at 2 examples of verses and choruses to see how they vary from each other.

Example 1 – Britney Spears ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’

Well seeing that we mentioned Britney Spears, let’s compare the verse and chorus in ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time.’

Rhyming & Structure

Verse

Oh baby baby how was I supposed to know

That something wasn’t right here?

Oh baby baby I shouldn’t have let you go

And how you’re out of sight, yeah.

This verse contains 4 lines using end rhyming alternates.

The first and third line are slightly longer than the second and fourth.

The vocal range mainly focuses on notes C, D and G.

Chorus

My loneliness is killing me (and I)

I must confess I still believe, (still believe)

When I’m not with you I lose my mind

Give me a sign.

Hit me baby one more time.

This chorus contains 5 lines using 1 end rhyming couplet, then an end triplet rhyme.

The first 3 lines are almost identical in length, the fourth is short and fifth slightly longer. 

The vocal range mainly focuses on notes C and E, but also the range is higher than the verse.

Storyline

The core of the story is the feeling of loneliness that they no longer have someone they love, this is illustrated in the chorus.

The first verse explains how they lost that person, and the second explains that they would do anything to get them back.

Rhythm

I have highlighted certain sections that match in rhythm between both the verse and chorus.

Britney Spears Song Example - Verse And Chorus Comparison

So as we can see the first 6 beats are identical in rhythm with only 2 changes in pitch. There is a tied note in the exact same spot, and a few beats later we have 2 and ½ beats identical in rhythm but different notes.

This is how we get familiarity from the chorus, by taking the rhythm of the verse and change a few parts.

Example 2 – Metallica ‘Enter Sandman’

Okay let’s check out something a little different. Next we’ll compare the verse and chorus in ‘Enter Sandman’ by Metallica.

Rhyming & Structure

Verse

Say your prayers little one

Don’t forget, my son

To include everyone.

Tuck you in, warm within

Keep you free from sin

‘Til the sandman he comes.

This verse contains 6 lines using end rhyming triplets, each 5-6 syllables in length.

The vocal range mainly focuses on notes D, E and G.

Chorus

Exit, light

Enter, night

Take my hand

We’re off to never-never land.

This chorus contains 4 lines using rhyming couplets.

The first 3 lines are identical in length, the fourth is much longer.

The vocal range mainly focuses on notes E and F#, but the notes are held longer than the verse.

Storyline

The core of the story is the process of going to sleep and dreaming, this is illustrated in the chorus.

The first verse explains the act of getting ready to go to sleep, and the second explains the scary things their dreams could be.

Rhythm

I have highlighted certain sections that match in rhythm between both the verse and chorus.

Metallica Song Example - Verse And Chorus Comparison

With Enter Sandman, they are not many similarities between the two. There is a larger contrast, compared to Hit Me Baby One More Time.

The verse is more active, whilst the chorus has longer held notes. However, the pitches are relatively the same.

It’s your turn – verse and chorus exercises

Starting off creating verses and choruses from scratch can be daunting, so I’ve put together a two songwriting exercises which you can try for yourself.

As we all probably know, practice makes perfect.

So go through the exercises and complete them if you want, or create your own exercises.

Your story outline

Write a different story for each exercise. These won’t be your lyrics but act as a good starting point.

  1. Write down a few sentences about the key points you want to write about in your story, for example a specific event. This will be what your chorus focuses on.
  2. Write down 2 different scenarios that are based on the key point, this could be how the event made you feel for verse 1 and how it changed you for verse 2.

Exercise 1

Verse

  • Make 2 verses using rhyming couplets (4 lines in total for each).
  • Each lyric line is long (8+ syllables).
  • Focus on 3 notes in your lower vocal range.
  • Rhythmically very active.

Chorus

  • Make a chorus using rhyming alternates, then 1 rhyming couplet (6 lines in total).
  • 4 short lyric lines (2-6 syllables) and the last 2 long (8+ syllables).
  • Focus on 3 notes in your mid vocal range (different from verse).
  • Rhythmically slower, with longer held notes.

Exercise 2

Verse

  • Make 2 verses using rhyming alternatives (4 lines in total for each).
  • First and third lyric line are short (2-6 syllables), second and fourth are long (8+ syllables).
  • Focus on 4 notes in your lower vocal range.
  • First and third lyric line longer held notes, more rhythm on the second and fourth.

Chorus

  • Make a chorus using rhyming couplets (8 lines in total).
  • 8 short lyric lines (2-6 syllables).
  • Focus 6 notes in your mid range with 2 notes overlapping.
  • Rhythmically the same as the verse with little variation.

Hope you have fun these 2 songwriting exercises.

Good luck, and get creating! Bye!

Further reading:

Want to continue learning? Check out these related posts:

What Are The Differences Between Verses And Choruses

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