Sometimes it’s hard to be unbiased with our own song, and it’s hard to decide if it’s good or it may need some fix here and there. One of the examples is when we don’t know if our chorus is long enough and we can’t decide if it’s too long or too short.
I don’t believe that we should follow strict rules and patterns, and there are many different kinds of forms in songwriting. However, it’s always good to have a “benchmark”, or a guideline, something we can compare our songs with. So it’s always good to check out what are the most common forms in highly successful songs.
And don’t forget that there is a reason why certain song forms are very popular in songwriting. There are songwriting tools that are used by many successful songwriters because they are effective. They influence the listener on an emotional level.
So you can always experiment with your music, but keep in mind that the more your song differs from these popular forms, the more risk you take!
I analyzed a huge amount of songs (mostly in popular genres), and here is the result to answer your question: what is the average length of a chorus. In terms of the number of bars, seconds, and lines.
1. How many bars in a chorus
One of the many ways to measure the length of a chorus is if we count the number of bars. Though this is a little bit tricky, because different people may count different numbers of beats in the same song.
This is because you can notate the same music in many different ways. For example, take a look at the following example:
This is the very same melody but notated in three different time measures. If you play all three one after another, you will hear they are the same melody. In the first line the melody takes up two bars, in the second line it takes up only one bar, and in the third line it takes up four bars.
So different people may notate the same melody in different time measures, and they will have different numbers of bars. However, we can still find a pattern in the structure of the songs.
Songs usually have 8 bar periods, or any multiply of 8, like 16 or 32. (Of course, a period can be 4 bars if we notate the music with sixteenth notes, as we see it in the example above.)
There are exceptions, for example, the song “Yesterday” by The Beatles built up with 7 bar periods, but it’s a very rare example. 99.99% of the songs are using 8 bar periods.
For a good rule of thumb, a chorus should be the same length as the verse! We can see this in the next 10 examples, there is only one song with a chorus that is half the length of the verse.
(I took these songs as examples because I analyze these songs in the Songwriting Essentials course in much more detail, and you can learn more about how these people write songs if you go through the course.)
|Ed Sheeran – Shape Of You||16 bars||16 bars|
|Taylor Swift – Everything Has Changed||16 bars||16 bars|
|Pharrell Williams – Happy||16 bars||16 bars|
|Foo Fighters – The Pretender||1st verse 16 bars
(2nd verse 16 + 2 bars)
|Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran – I Don’t Care||16 bars||16 bars|
|Red Hot Chili Peppers – Dark Necessities||16 bars||16 bars|
|Ariana Grande – Thank U Next||16 bars||16 bars|
|Lady Gaga – Shallow||8 bars||8 bars|
|Ellie Goulding – Burn||16 bars||8 bars|
|Adele – Hello||16 bars||16 bars|
2. How many seconds a chorus should be
Another point of view if we measure how many seconds some of these choruses are. This number can change with the tempo, because obviously if you play 16 bars in a slower tempo, it can take a longer time than playing it in a faster tempo. However, as I measured the choruses of these 10 songs, I realized that they are surprisingly similar in length, even though they have different tempos.
The average length of a chorus is around 20 – 24 seconds. Obviously, if the chorus is only 8 bars (instead of 16), it will be about 10 – 11 seconds.
|SONG TITLE||TOTAL TIME||CHORUS TIME|
|Ed Sheeran – Shape Of You||4:23||20 seconds|
|Taylor Swift – Everything Has Changed||4:12||24 seconds|
|Pharrell Williams – Happy||4:00||24 seconds|
|Foo Fighters – The Pretender||4:30||23 seconds|
|Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran – I Don’t Care||3:42||19 seconds|
|Red Hot Chili Peppers – Dark Necessities||5:03||21 seconds|
|Ariana Grande – Thank U Next||5:30||18 seconds|
|Lady Gaga – Shallow||3:36||20 seconds|
|Ellie Goulding – Burn||3:58||11 seconds|
|Adele – Hello||6:06||24 seconds|
3. How many lines should a chorus be
It’s really hard to measure the length of a chorus in terms of how many “lines” of lyrics it contains. Because the rhythm of the melody highly determines WHERE we put the lyrics in the music.
We can say that musically speaking there are 16 bars in a chorus, and we usually divided them into 4 lines, and each contains 4 bars. But then again, maybe a song has the melody in the first three lines, but there is no melody in the last line.
Another example if there is melody in the first and third lines, and there is no melody in the second and fourth lines.
Listen to the song “Say” by John Mayer. He repeats the chorus lyrics “say what you need to say” eight times, however, it’s only four lines of music.
So instead of counting the “lines” of the lyrics, try to think about your chorus in terms of MUSICAL lines, or in other words: the number of bars. As you can see it above, a chorus typically builds up from 16 bars, and we usually divide them into 4 bar sections.
There are many different types of approach to create the structure of a song, but it’s always good to check out what is common in most songs, so we can compare those to our song.
The length of a chorus can be highly determined by the tempo of the song, however, as a rule of thumb, the length of the chorus should be the same as the verse, which is typically 16 bars, and if we measure the length in time, choruses usually last about 20 – 24 seconds.
The number of lines is not determined by the lyrics but we always divide the 16 bars into 4 bar section, which means that musically speaking, the chorus is 4 lines most of the time.
The secret pattern behind successful songs
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About the Author
Producer, songwriter at Bánhidy András, and Barrio Latino Hungría. Author of The Rhythm Code.