What is a Pre-Chorus?

We’ve already looked at the three main section types in popular music: verse, chorus, and bridge.

But sometimes songwriters place another section in between verse and chorus to build tension and add interest. This is called the pre-chorus.

Let’s find out what makes it tick.

Recognizing a pre-chorus

It’s not always easy to spot the pre-chorus in a song. And sometimes knowledgeable people even disagree if a particular song has one.

But let’s start by considering some of the most obvious features.

The pre-chorus is a section that follows the verse and anticipates the chorus. It often builds tension that is resolved when the chorus begins.

It’s common for the pre-chorus to be shorter than other sections in a song. For example, it might be half as long as the verse.

In a verse/chorus song, the verse often ends with an unresolved feeling which leads into the chorus. But in a verse/pre-chorus/chorus song, the verse is more likely to feel like a complete thought. In this case, it’s the pre-chorus that creates the pull toward the chorus.

Sometimes the pre-chorus lyrics repeat every time (like the chorus). And sometimes they change from pre-chorus to pre-chorus (like the verse).

The pre-chorus can be a very catchy part, and it can even be more interesting or memorable than the chorus (though this isn’t necessarily desirable).

Finally, in many cases, the pre-chorus introduces a new idea to set up the chorus. Let’s consider how this can be done.

Lyrics in a pre-chorus

The easiest way to introduce a new idea in a song is through the lyrics. Pre-chorus lyrics can deepen or complicate the verse lyrics, and build up to the payoff of the chorus.

For example, if the verse uses more matter-of-fact narration, the pre-chorus can use more subjective or emotional language.

As a different example, the pre-chorus can provide a twist on the verse lyrics, changing the meaning or raising questions in the listener.

If the pre-chorus lyrics don’t repeat, then they can add more depth to the repeating chorus lyrics each time.

But if the pre-chorus lyrics repeat every time, then it will be the job of the verse lyrics to add more depth to both pre-chorus and chorus on every repetition.

Harmony in a pre-chorus

The pre-chorus can introduce or reinforce a new idea through harmony as well.

The chorus frequently emphasizes “tonic harmony”. Roughly, this means that it likely begins or ends on the tonic (or home) chord (written as I in Roman numeral notation).

So if a song is in the key of C major, then the chorus will emphasize the C major chord somehow.

For contrast, the verse often emphasizes another chord than the tonic. But when there’s a pre-chorus, this can change.

For example, if both the verse and chorus begin on the tonic chord, the pre-chorus can begin on some other chord. Then, when we get to the chorus, starting on the tonic will sound fresh again.

The pre-chorus doesn’t need to travel too far. Focusing on the IV or V chord can be effective. These are the closest chords harmonically to the tonic. In C major, these are the F (IV) and G (V) chords.

Whatever technique is used, the pre-chorus often uses harmony to create anticipation for the balance and stability of the chorus.

When to write a pre-chorus

So as a songwriter, how do you decide if your song needs a pre-chorus?

Often times this is not a conscious choice. As you develop a song, you might find that you naturally write a pre-chorus just because it sounds right.

But other times a pre-chorus can help you solve problems you run into.

For example, imagine that you come up with a chord progression you really like. You write a great verse over it. Then you come up with a great chorus over the same progression.

So far so good. Verse and chorus can certainly share the same progression. But maybe in this case you find that the transition between verse and chorus is boring.

Try writing a pre-chorus in between!

As we’ve already mentioned, you should probably start your pre-chorus on a different chord. This can be IV or V, but anything is possible.

It might be worth trying to leave the I chord out of the pre-chorus altogether. This can strengthen both the uniqueness of the pre-chorus, and its pull toward the chorus.

Of course, nothing is stopping you from writing a few different pre-choruses and picking the best. This will allow you to try out different degrees of contrast and figure out which best serves the song.

A few more problems a pre-chorus can solve

We’ve looked at one example where a pre-chorus can help solve problems in a song. Here are a few more where it could be worth a try:

  • Verse and chorus use different chord progressions, but the transition is boring. The beginning of a chorus should normally feel like we’ve arrived somewhere satisfying.
  • For emotional or narrative impact, the chorus lyrics could use more context before they first appear.
  • You like the individual parts of a song, but as a whole the song sounds too repetitive.

All of this said, don’t feel like you need a pre-chorus, or that your pre-chorus has to be a certain way.

Think carefully about the meaning and effect of your song, experiment with different approaches, and pick the one that works best for this song.

Write better chord progressions.

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