One of the biggest problems we see with Christian songs that come our way is a structure that seems random or strange to listen to.
Now, songwriters, I hear you. You say, “I want to write original stuff that no one has heard before!” Oh if that were only true. What you really mean is “I just wrote it down this way and I’d rather go write something else than change it at this point.”
While it is interesting to hear songs that have different lengths in their verses, or don’t have a traditional chorus, or change from 3/4 to 5/4 every other section, the problem is this: you run the risk of no one understanding the song. This is especially troublesome if you really want the world to hear your songs.
Most writers want to be able to eventually interest a publisher with what they write, and maybe even get published or have an artist choose to record their song. If this is your goal, then you better be writing songs that the general public can understand and sing along with by the second chorus.
Like or not folks, we live in an ABAB world. Verse chorus verse chorus. That’s what people like to hear when they listen to the radio. That’s what they are accustomed to, even trained to like and prefer. It’s how American music has been since the 1800's.
Now, yes, songs can start with a chorus, and you see this often in contemporary worship music. If you have a chorus that needs to be stated first, either for melodic, rhythmic, or lyrical reasons, I can get with that. But most times, contemporary pop songs start with a verse that sets up the chorus and hook.
The verse provides the back story. It is the set up for the big hook that is coming. If you are careful, you can make your verse have musical and lyrical hooks too. Hooks are repeated phrases that catch the ear, and the more hooks in a song the better if you’re wanting people to want to listen repeatedly.
Cliché alert: Christian songwriters take heed. What seems like a great lyrical hook to you may be a stultifying tired phrase to others. We Christians can live in our own little bubble where phrases and titles we love and cherish seem to keep popping up in our minds. A hook isn't a hook if it drives a listener away because of a worn out cliché. Read more about that here.
Once the verse has been established, or perhaps repeated the first time through, then the chorus that we will repeat comes in. This is where your strong melodic and lyrical hooks come in.
Now sometimes, a song can be very strophic (verses) and then have a B section that is more of a bridge than a chorus. But the verse – chorus –verse – chorus – (bridge) – chorus structure is most prevalent in western popular songs.
Now, I won’t say this is the only way to write a song of course. And please, no comments telling me I’m blind to the creative process and that your music transcends the noise that is popular music.
But for most of you hoping to get published, get a cut, or get audiences hooked on and buying your music, this structure is a great place to start.
Have a great week, and write something great this week!! (In fact, show us your lyrics in a comment below and let's talk about your song's structure!)
Eric Copeland is a songwriter and arranger/producer for Christian songwriters. His company Creative Soul works exclusively with Christian songwriters and artists helping them find new levels of success and growth. Check out http://www.CreativeSoulOnline.com