What Is A Refrain In Music?

This guide will answer what a refrain is in music, the difference between a refrain and chorus, examples of refrains, and where refrains belong in a song.

  1. What Is a Refrain
  2. Refrain vs. Chorus
  3. Examples Of A Refrain In A Song
  4. Is A Refrain The Same As A Chorus
  5. Is A Refrain The Same As A Pre-Chorus
  6. How To Structure Your Chorus & Refrains
  7. How Refrains Work In Popular Music
  8. Refrain vs. Chorus
  9. Refrain in Music Overview

What Is a Refrain?

A refrain in music is a line or group of lines repeated in a song. It is usually found in the chorus of a song. Although there can be more than one refrain in a song, the most common form is only one, which appears once in each stanza of the lyrics.

The refrain is commonly found in choruses, and it is often repeated for effect. Refrains are used to reinforce the message of the song’s lyrics and add emphasis, or they can be used to create an ambiance.

A refrain is also used as a unifying part of the song that impacts listeners. Refrains are usually quite catchy and sung with enthusiasm to help listeners remember the song.

What Is A Refrain In Music
What Is A Refrain In Music

Some artists, however, do not include refrains in their songs. One reason is that it can be monotonous to repeat one phrase continuously. Another reason is that they may want to give the listeners a break from the lyrics and allow them time for reflection or an emotional response.

What Is The Importance of Refrains In Music?

Refrains are very important in music. It is one of the ways in which the audience can get into the song. It is very catchy and keeps them attached to their seat.

Refrain vs. Chorus / Verse Refrain Structure / Refrain Song Structure

Also, it plays a major role in the appreciation of music. This is because many other people will repeat this part of the song, and they will like it and appreciate the music.

Other than that, once you listen to a song and get accustomed to it and familiar with the refrain, then the next time, you will enjoy it even more.

What Is The Difference Between Repetition And Refrain?

Repetition is the act of repeating a word, phrase, or idea over and over again. On the other hand, a refrain is an expression that is repeated throughout a song to create the desired effect.

Also, a refrain is a short phrase inserted in a song. On the other hand, repetition can create any desired effect, and it can be found anywhere in a song.

What Is The Difference Between Refrain And Anaphora?

Refrains are different from anaphora. Anaphora refers to the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of several phrases, lines, or verses.

While anaphora repeats the same word or phrase at the beginning of phrases, lines, or verses, the refrain does not necessarily do this. The refrain repeats the same phrase at the beginning of multiple stanzas of lyrics.

Related: What Is A Chorus In A Song | What Is A Bridge

What Is The Difference Between A Refrain & Chorus?

A refrain is commonly found in choruses, whereas a chorus is the part of a song that contains one or more refrains.

Refrains are usually found in songs that have choruses because they act as a segue into the chorus. Generally, a refrain is only one sentence or phrase repeated throughout the same verse. However, refrains can also be found between verses to introduce the chorus or after the chorus.

What is Verse/Refrain Structure?

You might also notice a chorus is a lot longer than a refrain. A chorus might consist of 2-6 lines that repeat, whereas the typical refrain is only one line.

What Is An Example Of A Refrain In A Song?

Countless songs have refrains in their lyrics. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

1. The Beatles – Hey Jude

The refrain in this song is “Na, Na, Na, Hey Jude.” It appears throughout the song right before the chorus and makes for an exciting lead-up to the chorus.

Paul McCartney sings the song for John Lennon’s son after Lennon and his wife, Cynthia Powell, separated. It was meant to cheer up the kid.

The Beatles – Hey Jude

2. Don McLean – American Pie

The refrain in this song is “So bye-bye, Miss American Pie.” It appears right before the chorus to help transition from verse to chorus.

The song is a popular classic rock hit and is known for its lyrics, which discuss the end of the 1960s era in America and the death of singer Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens.

3. The Doors – Hello, I Love You

The refrain in this song is “Hello, I love you/ Won’t you tell me your name?” It appears right before the chorus and helps transition from verse to chorus.

The song is a popular rock song from The Doors written by Jim Morrison. It was released as a single in 1968.

4. Fun – Some Nights

The refrain in this song is “This is it boys, this is war.” It appears throughout the song right before the chorus.

When played on radio stations across the nation, this song took America by storm and is part of Fun’s award-winning album Some Nights.

5. Rihanna – We Found Love

The refrain in this song is “We found love in a hopeless place.” It appears right before the chorus.

This song was released in 2011 on Rihanna’s album Talk That Talk. The lyrics of this song were inspired by the story of how Rihanna and her now ex-boyfriend, Chris Brown, met.

Rihanna – We Found Love ft. Calvin Harris

Is A Refrain The Same As A Chorus?

A chorus is often the part of a song that contains one or more refrains. But, generally, the chorus and refrain should be considered distinct because they are two different lines.

A refrain is only one sentence or phrase repeated throughout the same verse. However, refrains can also be found between verses to introduce the chorus or after the chorus.

Is A Refrain The Same As A Pre-Chorus?

A refrain is not the same as a pre-chorus. A pre-chorus introduces your song, whereas a refrain is repeated throughout each verse.

A refrain is a sentence or phrase that is echoed repeatedly throughout the song. In other words, it’s a line of lyrics that is repeated multiple times.

A pre-chorus is a set of lyrics that leads to your song’s chorus, and it usually occurs right before the central part of the song.

What Is A PRE-CHORUS? Pre-Chorus Explained

How To Structure Your Chorus & Refrains?

Choruses and refrains are found in the same spots in songs, but they play different roles. Artists who use refrains in their music structure them in their verses.

People make a common mistake when writing songs by repeating the chorus throughout their verses. This is not effective because it does not create a distinct form for your song, and it’s monotonous.

Instead of using the same chorus over and over again in your songs, you should structure them in different parts of your song, like between verses, after the first verse, after the second verse, etc.

The best way to understand how to use refrains and choruses in your songs is to listen to examples of artists who have done it successfully and learn from them.

The concept of the refrain in popular music genres can vary depending on what type of song it is. In folk music, the verse and the chorus are fairly common. However, in jazz songs, the verse and refrain can be used interchangeably because they consist of sung text. In pop music, the verse and refrain are also interchangeable.

In a song with a repeated chorus, it’s common for there to be a shorter section before the chorus where instruments are introduced and an extended bridge afterward.

It’s also common for there to be a pre-chorus between the refrain and the chorus. This is a section in a song that occurs before the main part of your song, which usually consists of a couple of repeated lines.

Which Word Should I Use? Refrain Vs. Chorus?

You might wonder whether you should use a refrain or chorus, and both work fine in sentences. However, if you are writing a song, it would be best to use refrain because it is the technical term music writers use.

In a sentence, both words are interchangeable, but if you are writing about music, then refrain is the correct word to use.

Most of the time, you will see refrains used in music essays and articles because it’s a specific technical term that music writers use.

However, it’s not unusual to see both words used in the same essay, so don’t worry about it too much.

Refrain in Music Overview

A refrain in music refers to a line or group of repeated lines during a song. Refrains are usually found in choruses. Although a song can contain more than one refrain, it is most common only to have one, which appears once in each stanza.

We must remember that song structure plays a crucial role in defining the use and effect of refrains. Within this framework, not all refrains are created equal, as seen in different musical genres, like jazz music, where we find a specific type of refrain known as a ‘shout chorus.’

A song’s repeating line or refrain line can often be distinguished by its catchy melody. This repeated line is frequently the song’s main idea, condensed into a single, memorable line of lyric that resonates with listeners.

The chorus structure in most popular songs usually involves this kind of repeated line, reinforcing the song’s central theme each time it’s heard.

However, refrain and chorus sometimes mean different things in music theory. While these terms can often used interchangeably, the term ‘chorus’ usually refers to a more formal section of the song that contains a distinct melody and lyrics.

The term ‘refrain,’ on the other hand, is often a recurring line or lines within the chorus or verse, serving to amplify the song’s main idea.

A great example of this can be found in the AABA form, a song structure where the refrain line (the ‘A’ sections) often has identical text and melody, but the ‘B’ section, or the ‘bridge,’ provides contrast with different verses. When the verse ends, the refrain typically returns, providing a sense of familiarity and cohesion.

And as we sing along to the catchy refrain of a song, it’s like echoing the main idea of a poem – it’s the line we anticipate and relish. This makes the last chorus or refrain line the most powerful – it’s the part of the song we are most likely to remember and repeat long after the song ends.

In the end, understanding the terms ‘refrain’ and ‘chorus’ and how they function within a song helps us make sense of music more nuancedly.

While the refrain may be just a single line or a handful of words, its impact is monumental – it’s the heartbeat of the song, the idea we carry with us, and the answer to what we will most likely hear when someone asks, “What’s that song stuck in your head?”

So, the next time you listen to your favorite tune, pick out the refrain and see how it shapes the overall feel and message of the song.

I hope you now have a good understanding of refrains in music.

Mark V.

Written By Mark V.

Mark Valenzuela is a professional blogger, entrepreneur, and educator with more than 15 years of experience in music production. In 2008, Mark founded Hip Hop Makers, a top resource for aspiring music producers and beatmakers. He specializes in content on music production, software, gear, and free music resources. Committed to empowering creators of all levels, Mark continues to inspire and help music creators pursue their dreams.

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