Learn how to write a pre-chorus so you can build a bigger chorus that gets them singing along with you, and to spin a story that keeps them listening right to the end…
Then it’s time to learn how to write a pre-chorus!
Let’s learn how to write a pre-chorus!
In this article you’ll learn…
- What a pre-chorus is and how it works in a song,
- How to recognize a pre-chorus,
- The psychological function of the pre-chorus in a song and when to write one for your song,
- How to write the lyrics and music for your own pre-choruses,
- Where to put the pre-chorus in your song,
- And examine several different examples of pre-choruses.
What is a Pre-Chorus?
A pre-chorus is an optional song section between the verse and chorus. It creates anticipation for the chorus, usually by building the musical energy, giving the chorus a bigger emotional impact.
For example, love gone wrong. Verse we were in love, chorus we’ve broken up… pre-chorus could explain how things started to fall apart.
Typically a pre-chorus is the same throughout the song. Although slight changes can be added to increase the energy. For example, the second time for a pre-chorus, an instrumental part might be more complicated or a new instrument added to the arrangement.
How Do I Recognize a Pre-Chorus When I Hear It?
If the energy level of a chorus suddenly jumps, you’ve likely heard a pre-chorus move into the chorus. Both the chorus and pre-chorus have the same lyrics and music so sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart. The chorus is expected to have the most energy, but in some songs the pre-chorus sounds almost as exciting as the chorus.
Does My Song Need a Pre-Chorus?
Listen to and analyze songs in the genre you’re writing. If they have pre-choruses, consider writing them for your songs.
A pre-chorus connects the lyrics and music from the end of the verse to the start of the chorus. You don’t need a pre-chorus if there’s already a smooth flow from the verse to the chorus.
A pre-chorus can also add more depth to the story in your song. For example, if you’re writing a song is about “Bad Love” and the verses tell about “how you treat me wrong” while the chorus is focused on “I’m leaving you”… your pre-chorus could be about:
- I’ve realized this is your fault not mine, or
- I’m strong enough to stand up to you, or
- I’m ready to live my life, or
- You’ve been holding me back…
Each of these pre-chorus ideas creates a different story.
Songwriting Reference Tracks will help you analyze and learn from songs you love in any genre.
How Do I Write a Pre-Chorus?
A pre-chorus sets up the higher energy level of the chorus. I find it best to plan the energy level first and use it to inform your writing decisions. You could write a steady build of the energy towards the chorus or create tension with two alternating chords that is suddenly resolved by the chorus.
It’s easier to make a plan and follow it than to fake it than to waste time trying to figure out how to fix a broken song. You can always change the plan if you get a better idea later.
The pre-chorus essentially the same each time so the listener recognizes the pre-chorus and anticipates the chorus. This gives the chorus more impact.
How Long Should My Pre-Chorus Be?
If you aren’t sure, write a pre-chorus that’s the same length as the chorus. The pre-chorus is usually the same length or shorter than the chorus.
Writing Pre-Chorus Lyrics
The lyrics of the pre-chorus should connect the meaning of the verse to the chorus. If you’re writing a song about Bad Love, with the verse about how we used to get along and the chorus is about “I’m better without you!” then the pre-chorus could be about:
- How we started growing apart, or
- Why did you leave me? or
- Thanks, you did me a favour when you left me!
The pre-chorus lyrics should stay the same, but you can make minor lyric changes if it helps advance the story. The melody and chord progression rarely change for each pre-chorus. Occasionally, small changes in the music production and arrangement are made to add more energy when the pre-chorus is repeated. This happens in the Maroon 5 example below.
In the Linkin Park example, the pre-chorus is short enough it could also be considered the last line of the verse, instead of a distinct section, as it shifts the mood towards the chorus.
If you have too many words in your chorus, consider making it the pre-chorus. Write a new chorus by starting with the words in your title and keep it simple.
Writing Music for the Pre-Chorus
I find it easiest to write the chorus and the verse then connect them. It’s easier to write the music if you know where you’re starting and where you want to end.
For chord progressions, I often use several of the chords from the verse but put them in a different order. You can pick an interesting chord progression and transform it by changing some of the chords.
One of my favourite strategies is to back write… start with the goal and work backwards. In the case of a pre-chorus, start with the chord starting the chorus and choose the chord you want before it, then the chord before that one. Working backwards feels counter-intuitive but it’s effective.
My goto for a pre-chorus melody is to start low and work up towards the first note of the chorus. This is an easy way to build energy. Another melody option is to build tension by staying away from the roots of chords so the melody feels unstable.
Use contrast by writing melodies that are different from the verse and / or the chorus. For example, if your verse has a narrow range, using leaps will give the pre-chorus a different character. If the chorus melody is built from several short fragments, a contrasting pre-chorus melody might have longer phrases or longer notes.
Where Do I Put the Pre-Chorus in My Song?
The pre-chorus is usually before the chorus to build excitement towards the chorus.
V PC C (Verse, Pre-Chorus, Chorus) is a standard unit used to build pop songs.
When a song starts with the chorus, it’s common not to use the pre-chorus until later. This gives a little more surprise and excitement for the choruses later in the song.
When using a bridge in a song, it’s common to place the chorus before and after it:
PC C B C (Pre-Chorus, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus)
You can play the last chorus twice
PC C B C C
Or use the pre-chorus before the last chorus
PC C B PC C
Experiment and choose what sounds the best to you!
Emoji Girl: Pre-Chorus Musical Example
The first example is one of my own songs, Emoji Girl. As the writer, I know exactly how and why the song fits together. There are several famous pre-chorus examples afterwards.
Emoji Girl is the imaginary story of creating a romantic relationship with a woman obsessed with social media. Click here for a complete song breakdown of Emoji Girl.
The first verse describes our first few meetings. The pre-chorus explains how we communicate within the relationship before the audience learns in the chorus that “she’s lost in her emoji world.” Without the pre-chorus explanation it might be hard for the listener to relate to the story… why would I be interested in her?
Emoji Girl Chord Progression
The pre-chorus chord progression is in between the modal chord progression in the verse and the strong functional chorus progression. The chords in the pre-chorus were already used in the verse except for the last two that I borrowed from the chorus.
Emoji Girl Melody
The melody in the verse starts on A (in the key of A-), moves down to an F below and then and goes up to a D at the end of the verse. The pre-chorus has the opposite contour starting on the E and generally moving down through the pre-chorus.
The chorus melody has a similar range as the pre-chorus but sounds more energetic because it moves up and then down faster and emphasizes the note Eb which is outside of the key of A minor.
Other Pop Song Pre-Chorus Examples
Rolling in the Deep, Adele
Pre-chorus “The scars of your love remind me of us…” 0:40 & 1:43
The pre-chorus lyrics repeat twice, feeling like the lyrics are pulling back and creating contrasting tension with the increasing volume and drums pushing towards the chorus.
Written by Adele Adkins, Paul Richard Epworth.
Torn, Natalie Imbruglia
Pre-chorus “There’s nothing where he used to lie…” 0:41 & 2:30
The second lyric line of the pre-chorus is different the second time.
Written by Scott Michael Cutler, Anne Preven and Natalie Imbruglia
One More Night, Maroon 5
Pre-chorus “But baby there you go again…” 0:30, 1:35 & 2:35
The third repetition of the pre-chorus is quieter and has fewer instruments so the denser chorus that follows feels even bigger.
Written by Adam Noah Levine, Johan Karl Schuster, Max Martin, Savan Harish Kotecha.
One Too Many, Keith Urban and P!nk
Pre-chorus “Oh oh oh yeah…” 0:34, 1;32
The verses are sung solo, both sing together in the pre-chorus with more vocal harmonies and more instruments added in the chorus to increase the energy.
Written by Mich Hansen, Daniel Davidsen, Peter Wallevik, Cleo Tighe, Boy Matthews.
Numb, Linkin Park
Pre-chorus “Every step that I take is another mistake to you…” 0:42 & 1:30
The pre-chorus lyrics are less dense creating tension until the electric guitar bites into the chorus.
Written by Brad Delson, Chester Charles Bennington, Dave Farrell, Joseph Hahn, Mike Shinoda, Robert G. Bourdon.
Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana
Pre-chorus “Hello, hello…”
The pre-chorus lyrics repeat and chords float back and forth until the band erupts in the chorus.
Written by Chris Novoselic, David Grohl, Kurt Cobain
Writing a Pre-Chorus: Summary
A pre-chorus sets up the chorus to increase its energy and impact. You can plan the effect you want in the pre-chorus to speed up your songwriting. As shown in the many examples, the “rules” are flexible because the impact is more important.
Choose songs you love in the genre you’re writing to analyze and inspire your songwriting. It’s never a mistake to study what already works!