Unpacking Our Worship, Pt. 1: The Verse-Chorus-Verse Structure
Songwriter Bobby Gilles explores this popular way of writing modern worship songs.
This week, we’ll look at the most basic, popular structure in 21st century music: V-C-V-C. Remember, as we noted last week, when we speak of the verse (V), it may or may not include a pre-chorus/climb at the end, leading into the chorus.
The first verse begins a story or thesis, introduces the characters and ideas, and leads the congregation (lyrically and musically) into the chorus. The verse doesn’t usually include your song’s title. When it does, the title is often the first line of the verse.
The chorus typically follows the first verse, although songwriters occasionally begin with the chorus. Matt Redman’s “10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord)” is a good example of this alternative pattern.
Remember, the chorus usually includes your song title and main melodic hook, and summarizes the idea of your song. In God Songs, Paul Baloche and Jimmy and Carol Owens describe the relation of verse to chorus like this:
“The verses develop the theme, and the choruses celebrate it. Each verse sets up the chorus and leads logically into it. The chorus with its repeated hook capsulizes the main point of the song.” [i]
Tim Hughes says, “I like choruses that are quite anthemic — I love to really scream out a chorus.” [ii]
For this to happen, you must do more than just make your melody soar. The lyrics must be simple, and the phrasing should allow worshipers to hang onto words and syllables — short words, long notes.
In an interview with me here at My Song In The Night, Aaron Ivey of The Austin Stone Community Church illustrates this when discussing his song “Love Shines”:
“The idea for this song came from a Valley of Vision prayer entitled, “Love Lustres At Calvary.” Every since I stumbled across the Valley of Vision (a collection of Puritan prayers from the 18th and 19th centuries), I have been mesmerized by the way in which they describe the gospel.
“So, with this song, my co-writing friend, Philip Edsel, and I wanted to uphold the integrity of the Puritan prayer in the verses with intricate, hymn-like and weighty lyrics. But, we also wanted the congregation to be able to belt out an anthemic and simple chorus celebrating the truths of the gospel. Since the verses were a little more complex in content, we felt like the chorus called for simplicity.”
The second verse continues your story, provides additional information and leads back into the chorus. When we get to the chorus, we should understand its message on a deeper level.
Some songs contain a third verse (so the structure would be V-C-V-C-V-C). Indeed, there is no end to the number of verses you could write, although each subsequent verse after the second will decrease the chances of your song “making it” (whether “making it” means your church’s catalog, a publishing deal, radio airplay or downloads/sales). It’s harder to maintain interest with each verse.
Still, good writers can occasionally write songs that maintain interest through three verses. Jennie Riddle does it in “Revelation Song.” Each verse is only four lines long, and the story develops through vivid scenic description and a melody that makes us want to keep “going along for the ride” as we build to the powerful chorus.
Examples of V-C-V-C worship songs include “Everlasting God” by Brenton Brown and Ken Riley, “Hosanna (Praise Is Rising)” by Paul Baloche and Brenton Brown, “How Great Is The Love” by Meredith Andrews, Jacob Sooter and Paul Baloche, “Refiner’s Fire” by Brian Doerksen, and “How He Loves” by John Mark McMillan (this is a three-verse song, although most churches and recording artists only sing the first two verses).
One popular variation to V-C-V-C is “V-C,” in which the first — and only — verse is repeated a second (and sometimes third) time, as in “Shout To The Lord” by Darlene Zschech. Is this bad? No — if you’ve said all you want to say after the first verse, why add a second? Just make sure your verse is strong enough that worshipers will want to repeat it.