Difference Between Refrain and Chorus – Explained!

Are you also curious if there’s really a difference between refrain and chorus? Well, for those who aren’t into music, these two are just words. Yet, for aspiring songwriters and those who want to understand music theory, refrain and chorus should be intelligently distinguished and not interchanged.

Refrain and Chorus – Their Similarities and Differences

According to learneverythingabout.com, ALL choruses are refrains, but NOT ALL refrains are choruses. This explains why many of us use the words refrain and chorus interchangeably.

When you check Wikipedia.com, refrain and chorus are used to refer to a recurring part of a song – repeated at least once both lyrically and musically. Both are a crucial part of a song that contains the made idea or the part that you’ll hook your listeners to your song and music. Although they serve the same purpose, they differ in structure. Let’s dig deeper as we explain their connotations.

What is Refrain?

Refrain is a phrase or line/s that may be repeated several times in your song. It’s like a tagline that contains the theme of your song – in this case, can be synonymous with chorus. In more modern usage, for songs with an elaborate chorus, the refrain may appear before it.

When making a good refrain, think of something that you want to say over and over to your listeners to help them understand the thought of your song. It’s an idea that reinforces that point of your whole song.

What is Chorus?

At least, everyone knows about chorus, which is the part of the song – a complete section sung by more than one singer. This is the summation point of the verses, and the refrain, if you have any. This is the “hook” of your song. In the chorus think about what you want to hear altogether. You can find a few lines and phrases in a chorus.

As mentioned, the chorus section may be sung by more than one singer. This is where all your instruments and other musical elements play together. While the refrain contains the one thing you want to say over and over, the chorus holds the idea of your song. You might want your audience/listeners to sing along with you in the chorus.

It should be very clear to you by now that you can’t interchange these two words. Refrain could be a passage, but it’s also different from the verse. Structure-wise, refrain can only be a certain phrase or line, while the chorus contains several lines and quite a few words. While refrain and chorus introduced to the theme of the song, chorus generally holds the more important aspect of the song – both musical and emotional intensity. Here’s a table summarizing everything.

Refrain and Chorus in a Song

Now that you know the distinction between the two, it’s time for you to check these elements in the following examples.

Refrain in a Song

Check out Bob Dylan’s song “Don’t Think Twice (It’s All Right)”. This song doesn’t have chorus, but it has refrain that used to hook the listener to ponder about the message of the song.

Wellit ain't no use to sit and wonder why, babe
Ifin' you don't know by now
An' it ain't no use to sit and wonder why, babe
.
.
.
And it ain't no use in a-turnin' on your light, babe
The light I never knowed
An' it ain't no use in turnin' on your light, babe
I'm on the dark side of the road
.
.
.
Noit ain't no use in callin' out my name, gal
Like you never done before
Andit ain't no use in callin' out my name, gal
I can't hear ya any more

Chorus in a Song

Some songs have a verse-chorus structure. A good example would be Bee Gees’ “How Deep is Your Love.” It has a block of chorus repeated after the verse all throughout the entire song.

I know your eyes in the morning sun
I feel you touch me in the pouring rain
And the moment that you wander far from me
I wanna feel you in my arms again
And you come to me on a summer breeze
Keep me warm in your love, then you softly leave
And it's me you need to show

How deep is your love?
How deep is your love?
How deep is your love?
I really mean to learn
'Cause we're living in a world of fools
Breaking us down when they all should let us be
We belong to you and me

I believe in you
You know the door to my very soul
You're the light in my deepest, darkest hour
You're my savior when I fall
And you may not think I care for you
When you know down inside that I really do
And it's me you need to show

How deep is your love?
How deep is your love?
How deep is your love?
I really mean to learn
'Cause we're living in a world of fools
Breaking us down when they all should let us be
We belong to you and me

These examples will definitely give you some light on the difference between the two. Yes, they have similarities, but from now on, you shouldn’t interchange these two. Here’s a song structure chart of the song “Impossible” by Barbadian singer Shontelle. It has both chorus and refrain.

Conclusion

Since you’ve already read about the differences between refrain and chorus, and you saw some examples, you shouldn’t use them interchangeably now. All choruses are refrains, but not all refrains are choruses.

Refrains are phrases and lines – contain the thought of the song – that can be found repeated in the verses or in the pre-chorus. Chorus, on the other hand, is part of the song that can be repeated as the song progresses, usually after the verses.

In terms of structure, refrains can be shorter than the chorus. And, when it comes to musicality, refrains do not have music buildups, while choruses have. While these two are among the powerful segments that can effectively convey your message, they are uniquely different.