Striking The Right Chord

One kind of “creative rut” that songwriters can easily fall into is when the chorus section of all their songs starts to sound the same. Some songwriters get into the habit of using the same chord to begin the chorus of every song they write. In this column, we’ll take a look at some of the many chords you can use to start your chorus and the successful songs that have used them in the past .

The I (one major ) chord.

Contrary to popular belief, there's nothing wrong with starting the chorus to your song (or bridge in an AABA song) on the "I" chord. Be careful though, to make sure your chorus contrasts from the verse - either rhythmically or melodically. For example, both the chorus and verse to hit song "She Believes In Me" (songwriter - Gibb) begin on the I chord, but the melody soars high in the chorus in contrast to the melody in the verse. Similarly both the verse and bridge to song "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" (songwriter - Howard/Arlen) start on the I chord, but the 8th note rhythm of the bridge makes it stand out in contrast to the half note feel of the verse.

 

The iim (two minor) chord.

The iim chord is similar in structure to the IV chord, but, like the iiim and vim chord, it is a minor chord with a different sound quality than the IV chord. It is not used very frequently to begin a chorus, but is used more often as a starting chord of a bridge section in an AABA song as in the old standard "I'm In The Mood For Love" (songwriter - Fields/McHugh).

 

The iiim (three minor) chord.

Another chord which is similar in structure to the I chord is the iiim chord. It is not used as frequently to start a chorus as the vim chord but has a similar sound quality. The adult contemporary hit, "All I Have" (songwriter - Chapman/Kaz) has a chorus which starts on the iiim chord, and the bridge of the Elvis Presley AABA classic, "Can't Help Falling In Love" (songwriter - Weiss/Peretti/Creatore) starts on a iiim chord as does the grammy nominated song "The Greatest Man I Never Knew" (songwriter - Leigh/Martine).

 

The IV (four major) chord.

Another common chord choice for starting the bridge or chorus of a song is the IV chord. Probably the reason it is such a popular choice among songwriters is because of it can be set-up easily. By ending a verse on a I chord, you automatically have set up the chorus to begin on a IV chord. This is because of the natural "pull" the I chord has toward the IV chord (technically speaking, the I chord acts as the dominant of the IV chord). Some of the many songs which use the IV chord to start the chorus (or bridge), include: "Lucille" (songwriter - Bowling), "Timber, I'm Falling In Love" (songwriter - Kostas), "Nobody Loves Me Like You Do" (songwriter - Dunne/Phillips-Oland/), and "Fallin' Out Of Love" (songwriter - Ims).

 

The V (five major) chord.

A common chord used to begin a chorus in a song is the V chord. The V chord is a naturally unstable chord and the I chord is a naturally stable chord. So when you end the verse on the I chord and start the chorus on the V chord, you create a contrast. The chorus in both, "Rumor Has It" (songwriter - Burch/Dant/Shell) and "Guardian Angels" (songwriter - Schlitz/Jarvis/Judd) starts on the V chord.

 

The vim (six minor) chord.

The vim chord is a chord which is fairly close in structure to the I chord. In fact, two of the three notes that make up these two chords are the same. The one note difference between these two chords results in the vim chord having a more "somber" quality as opposed to the "brightness" of the I chord. Starting the bridge on the vim chord can result in a change of mood in a song as in, "Through The Eyes Of Love" (songwriter - Hamlisch/Sager) or "What I Did For Love" (songwriter - Hamlisch). The grammy winning song, "Wind Beneath My Wings" (songwriter - Henley/Silbar) begins its soaring chorus on a vim chord as does the bridge in "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" (songwriter - Leigh).

That gives you seven different approaches you can try the next time you're looking for a different sound for that chorus you're working on. Maybe one of them will spark something in you that will help you create a standout chorus.

Hope to see you on the charts.

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About Danny Arena

facDannyArenaNewDanny Arena is a Tony Award nominated composer and professional songwriter instructor. He holds degrees from Rutgers University in both computer science and music composition. He is currently an Associate Professor at Volunteer State Community College in Nashville, a member of the faculty at Vanderbilt University and a columnist for the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) Newswire and American Songwriter Magazine. In addition to being a guest speaker at the Berklee School of Music, the NSAI Workshops, Belmont University and Vanderbilt University, he has also taught at regional songwriting workshops throughout the U.S. and abroad. He has developed songwriting lessons that have been used by over 3000 members of the NSAI regional workshops worldwide and his articles for American Songwriter Magazine, Musesmuse and Just Plain Folks have reached over 20,000 songwriters. He has been a keynote speaker for the NSAI Symposium, served as a judge in several national songwriting competitions and is a mentor for the songwriting organization Just Plain Folks. He is the co-author of the audio songwriters reference series entitled "The Songwriters Survival Kit". He has worked as a staff songwriter for Curb Magnatone Music Publishing and currently has songs in the musical "Urban Cowboy" which opened on Broadway in March 2003 and was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and a Tony Award for Best Original Score." He is also the co-founder, CEO and one of the main site developers of www.SongU.com, songwriting courses online.

Contributor to and owner of both Songu.com and craftofsongwriting.com.

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To sing is to love and affirm, to fly and to soar, to coast into the hearts of the people who listen, to tell them that life is to live, that love is there, that nothing is a promise, but that beauty exists, and must be hunted for and found.”
Joan Baez