How to Write a Song Chorus with a Killer Lyrical Hook – 17 Tips You Need to Know
The chorus is arguably the most important section in a song and writers should know how to write a song chorus that is catchy and uplifting.
Creating original music is often hard, but writing a great chorus is the part that you always need to get right. Fortunately, there are some helpful tips on how to write your choruses below.
Writing the chorus of a song: If you don’t know how to write an effective chorus, you’re going to struggle to write a song that will grab people’s attention. Below are 17 of the best ideas for how you can write a chorus.
Writing a song’s chorus
Following these tips will assist you in knowing how to write a great chorus:
- Keep the lyrics concise
- Create an amazing melody
- Find a familiar chord progression
- Have subtle variations between choruses
- Make a hard-hitting rhythmic pattern
- Repeat the vocal hook
- Change the dynamics
- Incorporate musical devices
- Decide where to put your chorus
- Work-in a pre-chorus
- Work-in a post-chorus or ‘link’
- Vary the instrumentation
- Work in extra melodies as well as vocal hooks
- Hear what works and what doesn’t
- Get feedback
- Put in the final touches & produce it well
Song chorus overview
A song chorus is often regarded as the most vital part of the song and the part of the song that if done correctly sticks in your head for hours, even days after you’ve heard it.
Writing a song chorus is an art in itself but nail it and you can reap the rewards for a very long time. Read on for some helpful tips in trying to write a killer song chorus.
Be aware there are no guarantees and it can sometimes take people hundreds of songs before getting that one song with a killer song chorus!
How to write a chorus – lyrics
#1 Keep the lyrics concise
When it comes to lyrics, simplicity is the key to writing great choruses. Take a look at how simple the chorus to ‘We Will Rock You’ is.
A good idea is to imagine teaching your chorus to someone and having them grasp the whole thing in under 5 seconds. Sing-along choruses that perfectly capture the attitudes built up in the verses are the best.
In killer choruses, your lyrics should also be repeatable but not annoying – it’s sometimes hard to strike this balance. It’s prime time to use rhyming to your advantage to create something pleasant to the ear.
How long is a song chorus?
Chorus lengths can vary, but the quicker a listener can pick up a chorus, the quicker they can grow to love it. Keep it relatively short – no more than 8 lines.
If you’re looking for how to get started writing lyrics, check out this article here:
How do you write a catchy song?
#2 Create an amazing melody
Along with your amazing lyrics, you’re going to need a killer melody to go along with them. Your goal when looking to write a catchy chorus (or song in general) is to create what’s known as an ‘earworm.’ This is something that you’ll find yourself involuntarily singing over and over again!
Melodies are composed of both stepwise movement and melodic leaps, steps being semi or whole tones apart, and leaps being greater than a third up or down.
Think about which words or phrases you want to emphasise and position them accordingly. The most intense part of your chorus might be characterised by a sudden upwards leap, expressing intense emotion.
How do you make a good chorus?
#3 Find a familiar chord progression
Your chorus is also the place in your song where your chords need to be on point.
A great place to start is the home key of the song, also known as the tonic. This lets the listener realise that they’ve arrived in a musically central point in the song.
Take ‘Chocolate’ by The 1975. Excluding the intro, it’s not until the chorus that the start of a section in the song’s home key. Up until this point, the listeners have heard chords around the key of the song, but they haven’t had a ‘release’ where beat 1 of a section is the tonic chord. This happens clearly in the chorus.
Using the same chords as other sections
Alternatively, some famous choruses use the same chord pattern as the verse. Year 3000’ by Busted is a great example. Both sections use the progression of I-V-IV-IV.
A great technique to bring life to the chorus (whilst having the same chords as the verse) is by ramping up the melodic intensity. Changing the melody and singing in a higher octave is a great technique that many singers employ in their choruses.
#4 Have subtle variations between choruses
It’s easy when writing a song chorus to keep the same instruments you’ve been using for each of the choruses, but why not try layering up some extra parts to create depth and interest or the opposite and strip it back in later choruses.
Try this: Co-write, you’d be surprised by how many co-writers it takes to write a hit song with a killer song chorus in the industry. Although one artist sings it live, there’s a team of people working to help write it.
Don’t be scared to ask for help and advice, fresh ears can often give vital ingredients to suddenly take an ordinary song into a hit, for example, David Bowie needed that final piece to suddenly get his first hit and break and now he is a music icon.
How to write a chorus for a rap song
When it comes to rap choruses, you need to make sure the beat is absolutely perfect. Once you’ve got this down, next comes rhyming. Make sure your scansion isn’t too crazy in your chorus – save most of your delayed rhymes for the verses unless you’re feeling very exotic.
How to write a chorus – guitar
#5 Make a hard-hitting rhythmic pattern
It’s a good idea to give your chorus a rhythm that’s distinct from what you’ve got going on in the verses. Giving your chorus a unique rhythm will help you connect to your listeners.
‘Out of the black’ by Royal Blood is a great example. The main rhythmic riff that is heard for the first time on the guitar at the beginning of the song comes back during the chorus (after the steady 4/4 rhythm in the verses).
Your chorus absolutely needs to be the part that brings people together through singing and dancing – give people something to move their bodies to!
Song hook examples
#6 Repeat the vocal hook
Firstly consider this, most hit songs will have a repetition of the vocal hook line, but have it too much and it will become an irritation. Having the vocal hook and message must generally be clear.
Repeating the vocal hook line is a good idea and consistent in a lot of hit songs but changing the delivery and phrasing is key, it must flow and be catchy to be a killer hook.
Alternatively, you could repeat a phrase that just sounds good and may not necessarily mean anything in particular. A great example of this is “Hey Ya!” by Outkast. They simply sing the title of the song as the entire chorus.
Another example is “MmmBop” by Hanson. The chorus doesn’t even use proper words, but they sound extremely catchy.
Here are the lyrics at the start of the chorus:
“Mmmbop, ba duba dop
Ba du bop, ba duba dop”
How to write a chorus for a love song
#7 Change the dynamics
A great way to write a chorus for a love song is by building up the intensity and emotion throughout the song – dynamics are a great way to go about doing this.
If you play a song the whole way through with exactly the same dynamics, your audience will tune out without realising it so make sure to keep it varied.
Most modern pop songs feature a song chorus that is louder or projected with more urgency than the rest of the song. However, try experimenting with different dynamics.
Try this: Listen to the greats: Look to select out your favourite hit songs and really listen to them; listen to how they build the bridge to the song chorus and how they deliver the song chorus in particular.
#8 Incorporate musical devices
Literary devices can always help spice up a chorus.
Juxtaposition is a great example of a literary device, it’s when you put two things next to each other that are completely different, for example, “I love you, I hate you.” Think of ways you can use contradictory statements to create unique wording for your choruses.
Metaphors are great too. You want to have the main theme to your chorus, but don’t be too literal with your lyrics and music. Keep your listeners guessing as to what your song could mean.
Symbolism is also a great literary technique to use. In films, for example, it might rain when a character is sad.
In another example, a persona in your song might not be portraying their true emotions. The lyrics could seem happy and positive, but underneath, the music could hint at a darker narrative. Try and use this in your choruses.
Foreshadowing is a great technique to use – revealing things in your chorus that you’ve hinted to in your verses creates a great narrative for your listeners to enjoy.
Using all of these devices is hard and can seem overwhelming. If you’re finding that you’ve been struck with writer’s block, make sure to read this article below:
Can you start a song with a chorus?
#9 Decide where to put your chorus
You can absolutely put a chorus at the start of your song, but you may want to build up to it first.
Think about how you’re going to present your chorus. How’s it going to fit into your song? Building up or diving into a choruses are both valid options, but sustaining the anticipation is an effective way of making your chorus feel like an enormous payoff.
How do you structure a song?
#10 Work-in a pre-chorus
If you do choose to build up to your chorus, consider including a pre-chorus (a section before each of your choruses). Use these to leave your listeners waiting for even longer before you release your fantastic chorus to them.
Consider the example in ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ by Oasis. The section starting with the lyrics ‘stand up beside the fireplace…’ before the ‘And so Sally can wait’ really builds the music ready for the chorus. It’s like putting tension into an elastic band and then letting it go.
#11 Work-in a post-chorus or ‘link’
The same is the case for post-choruses (or links). Use these to help sustain the hype created from your choruses.
A good example of a post-chorus is used in ‘Who Do You Love?’ by The Chainsmokers and 5SOS. The section after the chorus lyrics ‘I wanna know, I wanna know ooh’ really keeps the song’s energy before dropping back down to the next verse.
More on songwriting here:
How can I write a good song?
#12 Vary the instrumentation
A great technique to employ in choruses is to have memorable instrumentation.
Vary the instrumentation throughout the song, but always have it come back to a memorable combination of instruments for the chorus.
You might have a specific instrument like a string synth or a cowbell that really makes your chorus stand out from the rest of the song.
#13 Work in extra melodies as well as vocal hooks
It’s not just the lyrics in a song chorus that make it what it is but also the extra hooks. Think of Beyoncé’s ‘Crazy in Love’ and notice how strong the lyrics are but how they are also backed up by an instantly recognisable brass section as a melody hook.
Try working in a little melody or countermelody alongside your lyrics to make your song chorus that little bit catchier. In recent years songwriters to the big stars have been cramming in the hooks at every given opportunity. Katy Perry’s and Rihanna’s songs are great examples of songs cramped with melody and vocal hooks such as in “Umbrella.”
Try this: Carry a notebook or use your mobile to record; inspiration can strike at the most random of moments. so Be on standby with a notebook and pen or mobile phone at the ready to record or write.
#14 Hear what works and what doesn’t
When you’re writing your choruses, always remember that until you’ve officially released the song, you can (and should) go back and improve on your ideas.
Before you’re at the stage where you want to record your song, make sure you’ve got an overall chorus ‘sound’ in your mind. The best way to do this is by making a demo.
Use Digital Audio Workstations
Use these programs to your advantage – input or record MIDI or audio into these pieces of software and put your choruses on loop. Press play and you’ll be able to hear a version of your song that is more realistic than the version you have in your mind.
You don’t have to be an amazing producer to make a demo. By inputting in the different instruments and their sounds you’ll discover which parts of the chorus work and which bits don’t.
If you want to learn some advanced songwriting tips, we have plenty on how to write better songs here:
Once you’re at the stage where you have a full draft of your chorus, experiment by changing small things about the music.
Experiment by changing the chords, instrumentation, harmony, melody, lyrics, rhythm, or structure of your chorus. You’re bound to find something that sounds better than the first idea you thought of.
Always keep your initial ideas as a backup though – it would be awful if you found a new melody and then decided you didn’t like it as much as a previous one down the line.
#16 Get feedback
Before something is 100% complete, share it with others to see what they think. You should have some kind of recording of your chorus at this point that will convey the emotion and power of the song. When you spread it around, try and have different people listen to it.
Ask other Songwriters (preferably ones who write for a living) to give it a listen and see what they think about your chorus, but also feel free to send it to people who aren’t writers.
Great songwriting should resonate with many different types of people. If you can connect with one person but not another, that might give some insight into what your potential target audience could be.
#17 Put in the final touches & produce it well
Once you’ve followed all the previous steps and you now have a great chorus, it’s time to put the finishing touches on it.
This stage of the songwriting process, also known as production, often comes when you take the song into the studio. Production is where you and a producer add extra parts or effects to your song to make it sound even better.
Working with a producer can help make the chorus ‘pop.’ They might add something that you might not have thought of, or they might make it sound radio-ready.
Have you ever written a good song chorus? What methods have you used to write it? We would love to hear about them in the comments below!