One of my favorite concepts in songwriting is writing contrasting sections. In other words, what you can do to make your verse sound different from your chorus and your bridge. Writing contrasting sections is too often ignored by aspiring songwriters, but it’s so crucial to writing a song that people want to hear.
I’ve talked about this topic before in relation to current pop songs, but the truth is this concept has been around forever. As evidence of that, I’m going to ask you to take a listen to “Over the Rainbow” as sung by Judy Garland in the 1939 film, the Wizard of Oz.
The big sectional contrast that happens in this song is at about forty-five seconds into the attached video. It happens on the words “someday I wish upon a star…” I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but check it out again for educational purposes. It’s here:
Just so we’re on the same page, let’s call the “somewhere over the rainbow” part the verse, and the “someday I wish upon a star” section the bridge.
There are two main things contributing to the contrast happening between the verse and the bridge. The big one is note length. The verse notes (on the words “somewhere over the rainbow”) are long and drawn out. There are a lot of whole notes and half notes sung in the verses, while the bridge is much quicker. A lot of the bridge is eighth notes whipping back and forth in contrast to the drawn out notes of the verses.
What’s important to note here is that we set the standard for contrast within our songs. We set this standard in the first section of our song. In “Over the Rainbow,” the first section is a verse that has a lot of half and whole notes. By contrast, the eighth notes of the bridge feel very quick, BECAUSE of the standard previously set in the verse. Had the first verse been all super fast sixteenth notes, then the eighth notes of the bridge would be a slowed down comparison. It’s important to realize that YOU set the standard to be contrasted against when you sit down to write a song.
Having said that, a second contributor to the contrast between the two sections of this song is the vocal range used WITHIN in each section. Right off the bat, the first two notes sung in the song jump up a whole octave. She sings “Some-“ and then “-where” jumps up an entire octave. So the instant we hear her vocals in the beginning of the song, we know there’s some range to the verse. It happens within the first two notes. This sets the standard for the verse to have a lot of range in it.
But then when Garland sings the bridge, most of the notes in “someday I’ll wish upon a star…” are very close together in pitch. Most of them are only two or three half steps from each other. The notes in that section are tight, from a pitch standpoint, based on the standard set in the previous verse. It’s a stark contrast from the wide ranging vocals of the verses.
The reason I bring this topic up in the context of the Wizard of Oz, is to show you that even songs that were written back in 1939 were benefiting from the idea of contrast between sections. In previous articles I’ve talked about this same concept being used in today’s pop songs. The point being that this idea of contrasting your sections hasn’t gone anywhere in this long and it’s not going anywhere any time soon. It can only benefit your songs to make use of this knowledge.
There are so many different ways to contrast your sections. More than the two presented here. I’d recommend you go back to a song you’ve written to see if you can figure out exactly how you’ve contrasted your verses from your choruses (if at all). Did you use longer notes in your verses and shorter notes in your chorus? Or vice versa? Did you change your vocal range in each section? If you haven’t contrasted your sections much at all, you may want to start by trying out the two techniques used in “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” It’s not like they’re going out of style any time soon.
BONUS: For more helpful information on why “Over the Rainbow” works so well, watch this video from PBS Newshour…