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What Is Refrain In Music? Best Things to Know 2023

What Is Refrain In Music Best Things to Know 2023
  • Max Kuehn

The refrain is often found in a song or piece of music. This can be found in many types of music, including classical, folk, pop, and jazz.

“Refrain” can be used interchangeably with “chorus,” but they have slightly different meanings.

In this article, Fidlar will cover everything you need to know about refrains including what is refrain in music theory and refrain examples, the difference between refrain and chorus, so you can know what to look for. 

What Does Refrain Mean?

The refrain is a French term that means “to repeat” and comes from the French word “Refraindre.”

A refrain in music theory is a repetition of a line or verse. It has two parts: the melody and the written lyrics.

This could be the chorus in a pop song. The chorus is often repeated multiple times.

This is Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call me Maybe,” and you can see the chorus because it is different rhythmically, melodically, and harmonically from the verses before it.

It is repeated approximately 8 times in the song, making it a great example for a song refrain. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the entire chorus of a popular song.

Here’s the Abba song “Why Did It Have To Be Me?”

Although it doesn’t have an actual chorus, all the main verse-chorus end in the two lines “It is only natural, but why did that have to be me?”

These two lines form the refrain of the song, even though there isn’t a chorus. Strophic Form pieces will often include a refrain at each verse.

This is a common theme in traditional songs like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”.

The refrain “coming for me to take me home” is sung in the middle of each verse.

Some pop songs have refrains, which are lyrics that refer to the title of the song, such as “A Hard Rain’s A-gonna Fall” or “The Times They Are A-changing” by Bob Dylan.

Some musicologists believe that the terms refrain should be understood as a repeated line of lyric or melody that is part of a larger section, such as the end of each verse in Bob Dylan song “Blowin’ In the Wind” and the beginning of “It Ain’t Me, Babe”.

However, the chorus should only be used to refer to the main repeating section of a pop song like “Call me Maybe”.

Refrains can include: the line “my fair lady” in the song “London Bridge Is Sinking” and the phrase “will you still be need of me, will you still feed us, when I’m sixty-four?” From the Beatles song example “When I’m Sixty Four.”

Some songs have refrains, which are lyrics that refer to the title of the song, such as “A Hard Rain’s A gonna Fall” or “The Times They Are A changing” by Bob Dylan.

Bob Dylan

What Is The Difference Between Refrain And Chorus?

What is the difference between Chorus and Refraom

While all choruses are refrains, not all refrains can be called choruses. A chorus is one type of terms refrain.

A term refrain refers specifically to the lyrics. A refrain is simply the repetition of the exact words. It could sing with a different melody (different musical notes) and still be considered a refrain.

A chorus is also a refrain, except it repeats the lyrics and the musical notes. Choruses are often mistaken for refrains because of this slight distinction.

All the instruments in a chorus play the same part throughout the great songs.

So, what is the difference between the terms refrain and chorus?

Poetry is the original meaning of term refrain. It refers to a repeated line or more, not words.

A refrain is a musical phrase or line that repeats repeatedly and creates a beginning and an end to a song. It ties them together in a composition. On the other hand, a chorus usually represents the main idea of the song and is focused on what is being musically and lyrically expressed.

The origins of the term ‘chorus” come from Ancient Greek theater, where a group (called ‘the chorus) would perform parts of the play together.

A chorus can be a separate section of a song, where several musicians perform the same part.

For example, you can find refrains in songs such as “She Loves You” (“yeah. yeah, yeah”) by The Beatles, AC/DC “You Shook Me All Night Long,” and the nursery rhyme “London Bridge is Falling Down.”

Which Word Should I Use? Refrain Or Chorus?

Which word should I use Refrain or chorus

You can refer to lyrics repeated in a song as a refrain if you mean the entire song. You could refer to the lyrics and music that are repeated together as a chorus.

It isn’t easy to distinguish between the two words nowadays, and many people use them interchangeably.

If you look deeper into songwriting, you will see many “songwriting styles” in a particular song structure.

The distinction between chorus and refrain isn’t that important for many popular songs.

However, if your interest is in musical theatre or music from the early 1900s, you will notice the importance of the refrain and the chorus.

What is the function of the refrain in popular music

The “choric” refrain can be used in two different ways when it comes to trendy music. To understand this part, you need to be familiar with its evolutionary history.

This music form defines the “chorus” section of a song. It is composed in a 32-bar AABA form. This was the only way the refrain could be used for older music.

A different form of rock music was first used in the 1950s. This rhythmic cycle was more open-ended than the 32-bar standard.

This form allows “choruses” to be woven in alternately with “verses,” which have fixed lyrics for each repetition. This structure has a chorus contrasts with the verse. It generally feels like it will end with a chorus. Most songs from this period are in both a “verse” and a choric/refrain form.

It is often thought that the terms “chorus” and “refrain” can be used interchangeably. However, it was suggested that the “refrain” should only be used to recurring line of text or melody.

These are parts of a formal section. This could be an A section of an AABA form or a verse. A “chorus” refers to a specific part of the form.

What Role Does The Choric-refrain Play In Jazz?

You would notice that many Tin-Pan Alley songs use the 32-bar format, which is essential to jazz. The term “chorus” in jazz music arrangements refers to the same musical unit that you would find in the Tin Pan Alley tradition.

The only difference between jazz music and Tin Pan Alley is the possibility of having one song, which could include multiple choruses.

What is the function of the refrain in popular music

What is an Arranger’s Chorus?

In the tradition of jazz music, the Arranger’s Choir is where the composer, or “arranger,” uses complex or elaborate techniques to showcase their talents. This could include “reharmonization,” “tone-color,” and “counterpoint,” as well as any other instrument used in orchestration.

The arranger’s chorus, however, is not always the first or final chorus in a performance.

What is a Shout Choir?

The Shout Chorus is often referred to by other names, such as the “out chorus,” and is the last chorus in an arrangement with a larger band. It is characterized by a lively and energetic performance, which culminates in a musical crescendo.

The “Shout chorus” is usually the last chorus in a jazz song. It’s where the entire band performs loudly and energetically.

Shout chorus includes extreme ranges and loud dynamics and rearranging existing “melodic motives” into short, accented riffs. These choruses may also include “tutti,” which denotes the inclusion of the whole orchestra, rather than just the soloist or “concerted writing.”

It may use “contrapuntal writing” or “call and reply” coordination between the brass and the saxophone. This may also occur between the drummer or the ensemble.

In these performances, brass players often make use of extended forms and techniques. These include turns, dois, shakes, or falls to add excitement.

What is the function of the refrain in popular music

Is it necessary for a refrain to be the same every time?

Even if your lyrics are not very different, they can still be considered to be a refrain. This is a great way to have fun with songwriting.

The refrain idea isn’t set in stone. It can be interpreted however you like, which is part of the joy of songwriting.


It’s not very hard to start to pick out songs that have refrains. I would suggest you start with the well-known American Folk Songs. Once you get used to looking for them, you will begin to hear refrains in all kinds of music you like!

If you have questions or comments about refrains, please let us know by commenting below!

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