The Difference Between Refrain And Chorus

The Difference Between Refrain And Chorus

If you listen to musicians or songwriters you’ll often hear them talking about the chorus or the refrain. They will often mix these two terms so that it would seem they’re the same thing. Well, in some ways they are the same thing, but in others, they’re totally different.

It all sounds confusing but the reality is there is a fine distinction between refrain and chorus. In this article we’ll explore the difference between refrain and chorus and explain it in plain English. Let’s start with a definition of each.

What Is A Refrain?

According to Dictionary.com a refrain is;

a phrase or verse recurring at intervals in a song or poem, especially at the end of each stanza; chorus.

Music.

a musical setting for the refrain of a poem.

any melody.

the principal, recurrent section of a rondo.

The word “chorus” is actually used by dictionary.com to help explain refrain, it’s no wonder these two words often get confused. The main part of this definition to focus on is “a phrase or verse recurring at intervals in a song or poem”. 

However when it comes to music the refrain is usually just a phrase, often no longer than two lines that is repeated at the end of each verse, contained within the verse but before the chorus. A refrain typically has no melodic build up to introduce it. Probably the best way to describe a refrain is as a mini-chorus.

What Is A Chorus?

Dictionary.com describes a chorus as;

a piece of music for singing in unison.

a part of a song that recurs at intervals, usually following each verse; refrain.

There we go again, did you notice the last word of the description, Dictionary.com uses the word “refrain” to describe chorus. However, in most songs, the chorus has a melodic build up for the introduction of the chorus.

The chorus is the main hook of a song, the part of the song that everyone remembers and with luck is constantly singing. If you can write a song with a chorus that’s so memorable that people are always singing it, you have a hit on your hands.

listening to music

What Are The SImilarities Between Refrain & Chorus?

Both the chorus and the refrain include words and lines that are repeated. The song’s title is usually contained within both the chorus and the refrain. Both the refrain and the chorus are usually the most memorable parts of the song.

What’s The Difference Between A Refrain And A Chorus?

Refrain and chorus both occur at the end of the verse, and are both the most memorable part of the song. They are both similar in many ways, but they’re not the same. The difference between a refrain and a chorus is all dependent on the length of the phrase and the melodic build up. The refrain is almost always shorter than the chorus, a typical refrain has one or two lines that are repeated at the end of each verse becoming part of the verse. Acting as the resolution to the verse.

Almost every song has a chorus but refrains are less common nowadays. Back in the era of the crooners, refrains were common in fact, that’s where a refrain works best at the end of each verse in a ballad or love song. A chorus is the most catchy part of a song, the refrain leads to the chorus. It’s like the refrain gives notice that the verse is over and the chorus is on its way.

Chorus V Refrain

So to summarise, the chorus and the refrain are similar in many ways, they both;

  • Include the title of the song
  • Are memorable parts of the song
  • Both occur at the end of the verse

But they also have differences including; A refrain is almost always shorter than a chorus (typically one or two lines) and is included as part of the verse and acts as the resolution of the verse. Almost like a full stop at the end of a sentence.

The chorus is usually as long as a verse but repeated after each verse and has a melodic build up different to the melody of the verse. 

Refrain Example

A good example of a song that uses a refrain is “Why did it have to be me” by ABBA, it doesn’t have any chorus at all but every verse ends with the lines  “It’s only natural, but why did it have to be me?”

Chorus Example

A good example of a song that uses a chorus is “sweet home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, the chorus which is repeated after the second and subsequent verses, repeats the lines

“Sweet home Alabama

Where the skies are so blue

Sweet home Alabama

Lord, I’m coming home to you”

There is no refrain in this song but the chorus is repeated and easily identifiable.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a refrain?

A refrain is best described as the last line (or two) of a verse that is repeated at the end of every verse. Many songs that have a refrain do not have a chorus. It is often used to describe the chorus, but in reality they are totally different things.

What is the difference between verse and chorus?

The main difference between a verse and the chorus is that the verses have different words every time, but chorus’s repeat the same words after the verses.

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