Every song has a story.
Poetic images and gripping lyrics grab listeners’ heartstrings—it’s why music is so powerful.
Think of a song you loved. It probably has beautiful lyrics that tell a story.
While you may remember a song for its chorus, most song narratives develop in the verse.
It’s why a verse that entices the listener to get to the chorus and hook them in is so important.
The chorus might be memorable, but your song will lose its impact if you don’t have a good verse to support it.
In this article, I’ll explain what a verse is and show you how to write an effective one.
What is a verse in a song?
The verse is a section in music that tells the main story of a song.
In instrumental music, verses can be similar. They’ll often contain melodic variations, countermelodies, and different textures or layers.
Verses will often occur between choruses and feature rhyming lyrics and simple melodies.
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How a verse is used in songs
Verses are usually the first thing a listener will hear when listening to a song.
The first verse in a song can be prefaced by an intro.
In a song’s structure, the verse will often be called the A section. One of the most common musical forms that starts with a verse is: VCVC or, verse, chorus, verse, chorus.
When the second and third verses happen, there may be small changes in the dynamics, and timbre of the music. This helps push the song forward, and build it to that powerful double chorus at the end.
Like I mentioned before, the first verse is usually the first thing the listener hears. Keeping the first verse simple and catchy will give you tons of room to build into the chorus and other verses.
“Yesterday” by the Beatles captures the emotion of the song right in the first few seconds. It’s introduced with guitar, and Paul McCartney’s voice comes in after two bars.
The instrumentation in “Yesterday” is bare but the melody and lyrics are effective. There’s always a ton of room to develop the dynamics for the rest of the song.
Second and third verse
Usually second and third verse have completely different lyrics and some changes in timbre and dynamics.
This might mean an extra instrument, vocal harmony, drum beat–anything that you can add to build the song up!
In one of the best verses of all time in the song “Imagine”, John Lennon adds strings to the 2nd verse. He does this while keeping the same drumbeat from the chorus.
It’s much more complex than the first verse where you only hear piano and his voice.
The addition of the string section adds a ton of depth to keep the song moving forward.
4 things to consider when writing a verse
Writing verses that glue your songs together doesn’t have to be complicated.
Let’s get into some things to consider when writing your verses.
1. Stay close to the home key
When you start writing a song, you might start by singing or humming a melody that’s in the musical key most suited to your voice.
So, when you’re writing a verse, it’s important to choose chords and chord progressions that are the closest to that key.
By staying near the home key of your song, your story will have room to breathe. It will allow the listener to focus on what you have to say melodically or lyrically.
You can do this by choosing chords and chord progressions that stay close to the I chord of your key.
Chords like I (Cmaj) or vi (Amin) are the closest but ii (Dmin) and IV (Fmaj) are a bit further away. V (Gmaj) and viio (Bdim) are the furthest.
You can still use the chords that are the furthest, although hanging out on your V chord for a while could throw off your listener!
Doing this will help you slowly build towards the chorus.
So once you arrive at the chorus, use some chords or chord progressions that are further from the home key. It’ll make the transition between the two more impactful.
A great example of this in action is in Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. The chords I (Cmaj) and vi (Amin) have much more prevalence in the verse than in the chorus.
2. Tell a story
Use different verses to tell the main story of your song.
Let the chorus restate the main points of your story. Think of it as a punctuation mark after a sentence.
Leave it to your verses to take the listener even deeper into your story.
It’s your chance to move the listener with a compelling narrative and make them long for the second chorus.
Country music is famous for its stories.
In The Chicks’ “Travelin Soldier”, there’s an entire story of a soldier falling in love, going to war, and tragically dying leaving his lover behind. This is movie material!
3. Use rhyme schemes
The most effective verses contain powerful rhyming schemes.
Rhyme schemes are the ordered pattern of rhymes at the ends of the lines of a verse.
Rhyming schemes contain lines or stanzas that are organized into sections, similar to how we organize musical form.
For example, ABAB rhyme schemes have lyrics that rhyme on the last word of each stanza. All “A” stanzas rhyme together and all “B” stanzas rhyme together.
The Beatles eight days a week uses the ABAB rhyme scheme:
(A) Ooh, I need your love, babe
(B) Guess you know it’s true
(A) Hope you need my love, babe
(B) Just like I need you
Using rhyme schemes will hook your listener to your verse, as they wait to see what word you’ll rhyme next.
There are tons of different rhyme schemes you can use: ABAB, AABB, AABBCC, ABCB, and the list goes on. Experiment with them, and see which one can help you tell your story.
4. Use dynamics
Like I mentioned before, verses commonly use the same harmonic and melodic material. We looked at how “Imagine” by John Lennon has different dynamic levels between verses.
In my opinion, layering samples, sounds and textures is the most fun part about making music.
Percussion loops, background pads, and simple countermelodies are great elements to think about layering that will make your verses sound different.
Find out where there’s a gap in your arrangement, and use complementary sounds to fill that gap!
Employing Literary Devices in Verse Writing
We’ve discussed the structure and dynamics of verse writing, but another powerful tool in your songwriting toolkit is the use of literary devices.
These can inject additional depth and richness into your verses.
A few key literary devices to consider are alliteration, assonance, metaphors, and similes.
Alliteration and Assonance
Alliteration, the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of words, and assonance, the repetition of the same vowel sound in words close to each other, can add a pleasing rhythm and musicality to your verses.
Used effectively, they can make your lyrics more memorable and catchy.
A nice example of alliteration in a song is from the chorus of Taylor Swift’s hit “Love Story”.
“Romeo, take me somewhere we can be alone.
I’ll be waiting, all there’s left to do is run.
You’ll be the prince and I’ll be the princess,
It’s a love story, baby, just say yes.”
In this verse, notice the repeated ‘w’ sound in “somewhere we can be,” and the repeated ‘b’ in each line.
These alliterations give the lyrics a rhythmic quality adding to the catchiness of the song.
Metaphors and Similes
Metaphors and similes allow you to convey complex emotions and imagery in a concise manner.
A metaphor implies a comparison directly, while a simile uses ‘like’ or ‘as’ to make the comparison.
They can add layers of meaning to your song, allowing listeners to connect with your music on a deeper level.
Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”, for instance, uses metaphor to depict the uncertainty of life and the elusiveness of freedom.
He doesn’t directly mention these concepts but lets the listener feel them through his masterful use of metaphor.
Wordplay and Double Entendres
These are playful and creative ways of using language to add an element of surprise or intrigue.
Wordplay or puns involve playing with the meanings and sounds of words to create humor or emphasis.
Double entendres provide two possible interpretations for a phrase or sentence.
A classic example is The Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up”.
The moderately lascivious lyrics can be interpreted both in the context of starting a car and sharing an intimate moment—making a seemingly simple song that much more lyrically engaging.
Every writer I know has trouble writing
Songwriting doesn’t always come easy. The simplest and most effective ideas can sometimes be floating in the air, and you won’t realize it until five AM.
Put the time in, tell your story and get your music out there to the world.
There’s plenty of people who can relate to your journey. The most important part is writing it down and finishing what you’ve started.
Anthony is a composer and producer at RVRSPlay and founder of the jazz pop duo Elluisoir.
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