4 Music Theory Techniques To Help You Write a Great Chorus

[Editors Note: This article was written by Chelsea Ira of New Artist Model.]

 

I want you to think of some of your favorite songs. You know, those choruses you could sing over and over for hours and still not be sick of them.

How do you think those songwriters stumbled upon something so seemingly perfect?

Was it a bolt of inspiration out of the blue?

Or did it stem from their understanding of music and countless hours of practice?

More likely than not, it was a combination of the two. In songwriting, it’s important to find a balance between chasing inspiration and developing your skills. Too much or too little focus on either could leave you in a frustrating writer’s block.

But today I want to focus on the technical side of things. More specifically, I want to go through a few music theory techniques that you can use to spark killer chorus ideas and get your inspiration flowing.

Of course, these are only ideas to get you started. If inspiration strikes, follow your creativity and even break some music theory rules!

1. Simplify Things Down to a Motif

As songwriters we can sometimes get caught up in the big elaborate vision we have for a chorus. This top-down approach to songwriting can certainly work, but it’s very easy for the essence of the hook to get lost amidst everything else. And then you’ll end up with a non-descript chorus that falls flat compared to the initial vision you heard in your head.

In other words, the hook gets lost in translation.

An easy way to get past this is to simplify your idea, narrowing it down to one or two motifs – then build up from there.

In music theory, a motif is a short musical idea that is used to build phrases, melodies, riffs, and grooves. Typically, motifs are very short and simple. Think of them like small little Lego blocks that can be stuck together in multiple different ways to create larger things.

I can’t emphasize simple enough when it comes to motifs. Often it’s the songs that use the simplest motifs that really stick in our heads.

Blues songs are one of the easiest places to see motifs at work. Take a listen to Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues and you’ll hear a motif in the first line of the lyrics, starting on A, going up to B♭ and C, and then back down to F. That motif is repeated with subtle variations and is answered by a second motif.

Another example is Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. I know – it’s not exactly modern music. But, it’s a great example of just how powerful simple motifs can be. Almost everything in the song is created and derived from that iconic four-note motif. If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is.

Next time you’re stuck on a chorus, try simplifying things down and really think about the motifs you’re using. Try making small changes or variations to those motifs and stringing them together in different orders. Starting from the core of your hook and working out from there will give your choruses a very strong and cohesive sound.

2. Play With Sequences

Expectation and anticipation is something every great chorus harnesses. You want the listener to be expecting and waiting for that hook to come around – the hook and the sections leading up to it should almost act like a magnet that draws the ear to the most important part of your song.

In music theory, one technique you can use to create expectation for your hook is a sequence. A sequence is a musical idea that is transposed and repeated to create a pattern.

A motivic sequence is made up of a motif that is transposed and repeated using specific interval pattern. (For example you could move the motif down by a 4th and up by a 2nd.)

A harmonic sequence is made up of a set of chords that follow a particular interval pattern.

Our ears latch onto musical patterns by nature, so as soon as you establish a sequence your listener will catch on and begin anticipating where the music will go next.

In songwriting, you can use this to really build things up before or during your chorus and draw the ear into your hook.

Alternatively, you could also create expectation with a sequence and not follow through by playing something completely unexpected to create tension.

3. Pull From the Notes in Your Chord Progression

The notes in a chord will always be the strongest, so they can be a great starting point when you’re writing a strong melody for a chorus.

You see this all the time in popular songs. The hook will pull out one or two notes from the chord(s) underneath it, or even outline all the notes in the chord. Using your melodies to drive home the key notes in your chord progressions can create an overall more cohesive sound and a much stronger composition.

Of course, you don’t need to only use notes from your chords. Try using them as a sort of outline for your hook.

If you write melody first, try going back and creating a chord progression that incorporates some of those main melody notes. If you write chords first, try pulling out key notes to create an outline for your melody.

If you want to expand on this idea even more, try looking into modes. If you’re playing in they key of C Major, use the G Mixolydian mode to create the melody line over the G Major chord and the F Lydian mode to create the melody line over the F Major chord. This just allows you to pull out those strong notes that will really get your hook to stand out.

4. Harness the Power of Repetition and Subtle Variations

Repetition is often the thing that really drives a strong hook home.

Think about songs like “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk. The chorus is simple and it’s played over and over (and over) again. But despite all that repetition, it’s pretty tough to get sick of that song.

Why?

If you take a closer listen, you’ll notice that there are subtle variations in each chorus. Different instruments are added into the mix and small compositional changes help keep things fresh.

Once you have a great hook or chorus, experiment with it, see all the different ways you can subtly manipulate it, and use those variations in your song to really get that hook in your listeners’ heads.


It goes without saying that if you want to write hooks and choruses like the greats, you should study their work. Make a habit to try to really dissect some of the choruses from your favorite songs to see what’s going on.

We gave you a few examples in this article, but if you want more, you can download the ebook Inside the Hits: The Secrets Behind 10 Hit Songs for free here. In that book you’ll see what’s going on from a music theory perspective behind 10 big hits by artists like Rihanna, The Police, Bruno Mars, Mark Ronson, Jay-Z, Johnny Cash, and more.

Content Marketing – Why It’s One of the Best Ways to Promote Your Music

[Editors Note: This article was written by Chelsea Ira of New Artist Model.]

 

 

It’s the big question all musicians ask: How do I promote my music?

So today I’m going to key you in on the best strategy to promote your music, grow your fanbase, and make more money – and it’s something that can work for any musician and any career path.

We’re talking about content marketing.

Content marketing isn’t some big, intimidating strategy that you need to build from scratch. Chances are, you’re already using elements of a content marketing strategy. So today, let’s focus on optimizing and perfecting.

To get started, I have two great resources you can checkout:

But for now, let’s focus on what content marketing is and why it’s so important.

What is Content Marketing?

Content marketing is a more strategic approach to promoting your music where you create valuable and interesting content to attract and retain an audience, and, ultimately, to create fans who financially support your career.

Essentially, your goal is to pull fans into your world with awesome content and make them want to hear from you. (Instead of pushing your music in their face.)

That means instead of just posting “buy my new album” on Facebook, you first provide truly relevant and interesting content to your fans.

Let’s take a look at a great example that has become pretty popular these days: making-of videos.

In this strategy, you film the writing and recording process of your new album and release the videos leading up to the official album release date. The videos bring fans into your world, they get them excited and emotionally invested in the album, AND they can be used to drive pre-orders.

Why is Content Marketing Important?

In today’s music industry, it’s almost impossible to shout louder than everyone else. This push marketing tactic worked well in the past when labels had big bucks to throw into promotion, but it’s just not feasible on today’s indie budget. (And to be quite honest, fans are starting to get fed up with being shouted at.)

So let’s go through a few reasons why content marketing is so powerful.

1. Content Marketing Turns the Process into a Marketing Tool

Content marketing is all about selling the process.

What do I mean by that?

For a lot of musicians, the promotion cycle looks a little like this: release an album, promote the crap out of it, go comparatively dark to work on the next album.

But with content marketing, you start sharing before you have anything ready. You let your fans in on the album-creation process with blog posts, Instagram stories, and vlogs. You bring fans into rehearsals with Facebook Live sessions. You let email subscribers vote on merch designs.

This accomplishes three things:

  1. It gets fans invested in your work (both from an emotional and time perspective). Fans are much more likely to buy a shirt if they feel like their vote helped create it. Fans are much more excited about buying an album if they’ve seen the process and the stories that went into the songs. In short, it fosters trust and relationships.
  2. It keeps you present in fans’ minds. Especially with many social channels being driven by some form of algorithm, going dark will only hurt your relationship with your fans.
  3. More impressions = more sales. Sometimes it takes a fan being exposed to your offers a few times before they actually buy. So the more you can link to your website, blog, videos, and email list, the more fans will be exposed to your offers. The key is to be authentic and relevant about it.

2. Content Marketing is Long Term

A lot of musicians get really focused on the short term – you know, promoting the new single, building up hype for the tour, getting fans to watch the new music video – and wind up completely losing sight of the bigger picture.

In other words, the short-term goals completely overshadow the long-term goals.

Of course, having short-term goals is important – they help you see progress and stay motivated. BUT, the problem arises when they take over. Without a long-term goal you’re running blind. You’re taking a bunch of steps but there’s no guarantee they’re all in the same direction. And that leads to discouragement and burnout.

A good content marketing strategy blends the short term and the long term together seamlessly. Ideally, most pieces of content you share have a purpose, or some larger agenda.

Here’s an example:

  • You share a short video clip of the recording process for an acoustic track.
  • You link to your email list where fans can get that exclusive track for free in exchange for an email.
  • You use that email list to promote all your upcoming projects in the future.

And another:

  • You create a new cover video for YouTube.
  • You link to your Patreon where fans can support you and get early access to all new videos and can vote on the songs you cover next.
  • You use Patreon as a place to build a superfan community that will support you for years to come.

You see? It’s all concentric circles with the small things like Twitter posts leading into larger career goals and objectives.

 

The 3 Steps to Your Content Marketing Strategy

1. Know Your Audience

The first step is to really know and understand your audience. You want the content you create and share to be really relevant to your fanbase and their interests.

You can find some basic demographic information like age, gender, and location on social media analytics. Beyond that, you can use polls and surveys to learn more about your fanbase. Even posting a simple question on social media getting fans to vote on the kind of content they would like to see will be immensely helpful.

Some bands have found that a good portion of their audience is also musicians and release tutorials, gear reviews, and sound sheets. Others will find that their fans prefer longer-form vlogs to short music videos. Every fanbase is different. Know yours.

2. Know Your Goals

The next step is to know exactly where you want your music career to take you long term. Because quite honestly, there are more ways to be successful as a musician today than ever before.

If making most of your money from YouTube and Patreon is a goal of yours and you have no interest in going on the road, all the content you release should encourage fans to engage with you on those platforms. You might even consider dropping the traditional “album” for singles (which may be more relevant to those platforms).

3. Use Relevant Call to Actions

Once you know what kind of content to create, you need to tie in a relevant call to action.

In marketing, a “call to action” is just asking your fans to take some further step – like clicking a link or supporting your Pledge Music campaign.

Like we talked about earlier, each piece of content you release should have a purpose.

  • You’re not just releasing a studio vlog, you’re using that vlog to link to your pre-sale campaign where fans can buy the album early.
  • You’re not just sharing a live recording from your last house concert. You’re using that video to show fans how awesome house concerts are and give them a link to volunteer as a host.

Conclusion

Hopefully this article has given you some new ideas to promote your music. Remember, content marketing doesn’t have to be overwhelming. It’s not a completely new approach, it’s just OPTIMIZING content you’re already making.

That being said, it will be a bit of a transition. If you want some guidance, click here and take the short quiz. We’ll send you a series of free content marketing lessons.

We also have a content marketing checklist for you right here. Click to download it for free.