The chorus is obviously the most important part of your song. You want people to remember the song by remembering the chorus, and you want them to sing it. So it’s evident that we want to emphasize it, we want to make it sound big. Now, I saw many people talk about this topic online, and almost everyone wants to deal with this issue in the mixing phase when the song is already written and recorded. And of course, there are some ways you can enhance the chorus at the last phase in the studio, but the truth is, I believe that we can make the chorus sound bigger at the songwriting AND arranging phase. In fact, it’s even more important to compose your song in a way that the chorus is relatively bigger than any other part of the song. So let’s see some examples of how you can make your chorus sound bigger from a songwriting perspective.
Write a higher chorus melody
This is probably the most important songwriting tool you can use to make your chorus sound bigger. The vocal melody is the most important part of your song. It is probably the only thing that most people (non-musicians) will remember from your song. So you really have to write an effective chorus. What is common in most hit songs is that the chorus melody is almost always higher in pitch than other parts of the song. And a higher pitch means more energy. So just by writing the chorus melody higher, you already made more than you could do with anything else to make your chorus sound bigger. Just think about it, a really good song has to sound great even if they perform it with only a guitar and a single vocalist. But if your chorus is at the same level as the verse, then it doesn’t matter how smart are you with the mixing and recording phase in the studio, because your song will sound flat. So write the chorus melody higher than the verse.
Double the melody in octave
We are still talking about the vocal melody since as I mentioned, it’s the most important part of the song. And another technique many songwriters use is that they double the melody an octave lower. For example, Ed Sheeran uses this technique all the time. This is exactly what he does in “Beautiful People”, listen to the song here:
Double speed the chords
Another thing you can do to make your chorus sound bigger is doubling the chord progression in the chorus. Now, don’t get me wrong, the tempo of the song doesn’t change, but the speed of the chord changes change. For example, if your chords change every second bar of the verse, you can change the chords in every single bar of the chorus. This brings more energy to the chorus. Of course, today’s pop songs use the same chords in the chorus as they use in the verse. But if you are more of an old-school type of songwriter, you can use this technique to make a contrast between your verse and chorus. Listen to the song “The Voice Within” by Christina Aguilera. (Although, they start to double speed the chord progression in the pre-chorus in this song.)
The arrangement, instrumentation of the song is your other tool to increase the energy in your chorus. Simply adding more instruments to the chorus part will bring the chorus to a higher level. What instruments? You can use many different instruments to enhance to the level of the chorus. Most commonly we use instruments that add harmony to the instrumentation. For example, synths, strings (like a violin), or vocal harmonies. Listen to the song “Fire to the Rain” by Adele. In this song, you can hear the strings adding harmonies in the chorus.
In the song “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift, you can hear that the horns (trumpets) start to play in the chorus, giving harmony to this part. Notice that there is a difference between the first and the second chorus! The horns are playing an extra motif in the second chorus that you don’t hear in the first one. This brings the second chorus to an even higher energy level.
Another technique you can use is omitting the bass in the verse. This might sound weird because we used to hear the bass in all parts of the songs, but it can work pretty well. You can hear this in the song “Positions” by Ariana Grande. They put the bass only in the choruses in this song.
Make a different groove
You can also enhance the energy of the chorus by just playing a different groove with the rhythm section. So what is a groove? And what the hell is the rhythm section? The rhythm section is traditionally the bass, the guitar (and/or keyboard), and the drums. The rhythm section together plays a groove. A groove is a rhythmic pattern that usually repeats every 4, or 8, or 16 bars. You can enhance the chorus by making a rhythm section (mostly the drum and the bass) a little bit busier, which simply means we are adding more notes to them to play.
Listen to this song, “Heartburn” by Alicia Keys. In the unplugged version, they play the whole song acoustically. First, listen to the bass. The bass only plays three notes in the verses, but it’s much busier in the chorus. (Also notice that the backing vocals and the horns are only playing in the chorus!)
So how can you add more to the drum groove in the chorus? There are many small details you can add to the drum. You can make the bass drum (kick) a little bit busier in the chorus, or even omit it from the verses. You can also add rim click to the snare in the verse and use a regular snare hit in the chorus. You can also play with the hi-hats, for example, playing double-time with them.
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