A friend of mine once said she’d have a lot more hit songs if they didn’t require a second verse. For anyone who’s ever written a song, this should make perfect sense. There comes a moment in the process of writing a song where you find yourself wondering how to follow up your first verse and chorus with an equally strong second verse. To that end, I’ve put together a few things to think about to help you handle the dreaded second verse.

1. Refer back to your song’s message

Remember that songs are, in essence, short stories. By reminding yourself of your song’s message, you can find a way to further the story by staying true to your song’s theme. By asking yourself what your song is about, you’re summarizing your song’s message which can often help you move forward into the second verse which is simply a continuation of your song’s story.

2. Ask yourself what you’ve already said

One of the dangers of second verses is that you can wind up simply restating the same thing you’ve said in your first verse only using different words. I understand the temptation. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in the sound of the words that you don’t hold them to the same standard of meaning as you do your first verse lyric. Given how little time you have in a song to tell a complete story, remind yourself not to waste a single line of your verses in repeating something you’ve already said. It can be extremely helpful to consciously think about what you want to say next to further the story as you go into your second verse.

3. Build up momentum by playing the first verse and chorus

Sometimes all we need is the proverbial running start to shake loose second verse ideas. I can’t tell you the number of times second verse ideas just pop out after playing and singing the first verse and chorus and almost tricking yourself into continuing the song from there. Give it a try.

4. Make sure your second verse rhyme scheme is the same as your first verse

Unfortunately, it’s not enough for a second verse to stay true to your song’s message and continue the story. Second verses also have to match first verses structurally – meaning the phrasing and rhyme scheme should be the same or, at least, very similar. The reason rhymes are so effective in helping people learn and remember your songs is that they set up the expectation of the way the lines are going to land on the ear. To be more specific, if your four line first verse has two rhymed couplets (A A B B), then your second verse should have a similar rhyme scheme (A A B B) and not, for example, an alternate line rhyme scheme (A B A B).

5. Front load your verses

Another brief structural note to consider is that while it is generally acceptable to have a double verse before your song’s first chorus, it is better for your song’s second verse to be a single verse length. The reasoning here has to do with your song’s momentum. Once you’ve played your chorus, you only need to offer a bit more information furthering your song’s story before your listeners are going to want to hear the chorus again. Making your listeners wait through another double verse after the first chorus can give them the impression that your song goes on too long.

Conclusion

Verse writing is an essential skill if you want to write songs that capture – and keep – your listeners’ interest. By being a bit more strict with yourself in terms of structure and craft and by incorporating a few of the tips above, you should be able to safely navigate the treacherous waters of the second verse.

Good Luck!

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4 responses to “A Few Tips on Writing Your Second Verse”

  1. Dan says:

    Good blog Cliff. I was/am having the exact problem with my latest effort. Thanks.

  2. Dave Kinnoin says:

    Sage advice, as usual.

  3. Gary Andrews says:

    And then you get to the third verse, which is often worse. By then you should be able to end the storyline in the lyric with a satisfying denouement, or ending. The Third Verse Curse.

    Sometimes I just haven’t conceived the ‘persona’ of the Singer-Character yet. Or ‘perceived’ him. Usually I ‘get’ that there’s someone in the song, telling his story, but it might take a little time for the Singer-Character and his point of view, what his issue is. Getting out of my head and into his might take letting the song idea incubate.

    That concept of this being his story, not mine, and what’s on his mind, sometimes comes through and helps me tell his story. I just have to give it time.

    If you’re struggling with it perhaps you aren’t ‘listening’ to the Singer-Character, assuming his persona, putting yourself in his shoes, his situation. I think that’s what the appeal of songs is, that we get to ‘be’ the guy in the song with the joyful emotion of an uptempo love song, or the lament of emotion of a sad story. In about 3 minutes and 30 seconds it’s over and we don’t have to retain his emotional distress, or his joy for that matter.

    As a Songwriter, you are the first listener. You should be hooked by what you hear the same way you hope others will be. So, are you listening to the Singer-Character?

  4. Thanks, Cliff! This is the hardest part of songwriting for me. I have a ton of “verse, chorus” unfinished songs for this very reason. I’m referring to your bullet points on some of them now.

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