A refrain (from Vulgar Latin refringere, "to repeat", and later from Old French refraindre) is the line or lines that are repeated in music or in verse; the "chorus" of a song. Poetic fixed forms that feature refrains include the villanelle, the virelay, and the sestina.

The use of refrains is particularly associated with where the verse-chorus-verse song structure typically places a refrain in almost every song. The refrain or chorus often sharply contrasts the verse melodically, rhythmically, and harmonically, and assumes a higher level of dynamics and activity, often with added instrumentation. Chorus form, or strophic form, is a sectional and/or additive way of structuring a piece of music based on the repetition of one formal section or block played repeatedly. See also verse-chorus form.

In music, a refrain has two parts: the lyrics of the song, and the melody. Sometimes refrains vary their words slightly when repeated; recognisability is given to the refrain by the fact that it is always sung to the same tune, and the rhymes, if present, are preserved despite the variations of the words. Such a refrain is featured in "The Star-Spangled Banner," which contains a refrain which is introduced by a different phrase in each verse, but which always ends:

O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

A similar refrain is found in the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," which affirms in successive verses that "Our God," or "His Truth." is "marching on."

Refrains usually, but not always, come at the end of the verse. Some songs, especially ballads, incorporate refrains into each verse. For example, one version of the traditional ballad The Cruel Sister includes a refrain mid-verse:

There lived a lady by the North Sea shore,
Lay the bent to the bonny broom
Two daughters were the babes she bore.
Fa la la la la la la la la.
As one grew bright as is the sun,
Lay the bent to the bonny broom
So coal black grew the other one.
Fa la la la la la la la.
. . .

(Note : the refrain of 'Lay the Bent to the Bonny Broom' is not traditionally associated with the ballad of The Cruel Sister (Child #10). This was the work of 'pop-folk' group Pentangle on their 1970 LP 'Cruel Sister' which has subsequently been picked up by many folk singers as being traditional. Both the melody and the refrain come from the ballad known as Riddles Wisely Expounded (Child #1).)

Here, the refrain is syntactically independent of the narrative poem in the song, and has no obvious relationship to its subject, and indeed little inherent meaning at all. The device can also convey material which relates to the subject of the poem. Such a refrain is found in Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Troy Town:

Heavenborn Helen, Sparta's queen,
O Troy Town!
Had two breasts of heavenly sheen,
The sun and moon of the heart's desire:
All Love's lordship lay between,
A sheen on the breasts I Love.
O Troy's down,
Tall Troy's on fire!
. . .

Phrases of apparent nonsense in refrains (Lay the bent to the bonny broom?), and solfege syllables such as fa la la, familiar from the Christmas carol Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly, have given rise to much speculation. Some believe that the traditional refrain Hob a derry down O encountered in some English folksongs is in fact an ancient Celtic phrase meaning "dance around the oak tree." These suggestions remain controversial.


In popular music

A pop chorus is not the same as a refrain. A writer on pop-song theory, Davis (1990),[page needed] opines that a refrain musically and lyrically resolves a verse and therefore ends it, whereas a chorus begins a distinctively new music section of at least eight bars. A refrain is often a two line repeated lyrical statement commenting on or summarizing the preceding verse, for example:

"Like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down.
Like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down"

This contrasts with the chorus of a typical modern pop song, which often consists of more than one line repeated, for example the chorus to Cher's "Believe":

"Do you believe in life after love
I can feel something inside me say
I really don't think you're strong enough, no."

Arranger's chorus

In jazz, an arranger's chorus is where the arranger uses particularly elaborate techniques to exhibit his skill and to impress the listener. This may include use of counterpoint, reharmonization, tone color, or any other arranging device. The arranger's chorus is generally not the first or the last chorus of a jazz performance.[citation needed]

Shout chorus

In jazz, a shout chorus is usually the last chorus of a Big Band arrangement, and is characterized by being the most energetic, lively, and exciting and by containing the musical climax of the piece. A shout chorus characteristically employs extreme ranges, loud dynamics, and a re-arrangement of melodic motives into short, accented riffs. Shout choruses often feature tutti or concerted writing, but may also use contrapuntal writing or call and response between the brass and saxophones, or between the ensemble and the drummer. Additionally, brass players frequently use extended techniques such as falls, doits, turns, and shakes to add excitement.

See also


  • Davis, Sheila; 1990, Omnibus Press

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.


Look at other dictionaries:

  • refrain — [ r(ə)frɛ̃ ] n. m. • 1260; altér. de refrait, de refraindre (lat. pop. ° refrangere) « briser », et par ext. « réprimer, contenir; moduler la voix » 1 ♦ Suite de mots ou de phrases qui revient à la fin de chaque couplet d une chanson, d un poème… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • refrain — REFRAIN. s. m. Un ou plusieurs vers, ou quelques mots seulement qui se repetent à chaque couplet d une chanson, d une balade, d un chant Royal, &c. Le refrain de cette chanson est fort agreable. le refrain de la balade. On appelle aussi fig.… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • refrain — refrain, abstain, forbear are comparable when they mean to keep or withhold oneself voluntarily from something to which one is moved by desire or impulse. Refrain is especially suitable when the checking of a momentary inclination is implied… …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • Refrain — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda «Refrain» Canción de Lys Assia Álbum Festival de la Canción de Eurovisión 1956 Publicación 1956 …   Wikipedia Español

  • Refrain — Re*frain , n. [F. refrain, fr. OF. refraindre; cf. Pr. refranhs a refrain, refranher to repeat. See {Refract},{Refrain}, v.] The burden of a song; a phrase or verse which recurs at the end of each of the separate stanzas or divisions of a poetic… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • refrain — ‘chorus of a song’ [14] and refrain ‘desist’ [14] are different words. The former comes via Old French refrain from Provençal refranh. This was a derivative of the verb refranhar, which went back via Vulgar Latin *refrangere to Latin refringere… …   The Hutchinson dictionary of word origins

  • Refrain — Sm Kehrreim erw. fach. (18. Jh.) Entlehnung. Entlehnt aus frz. refrain, eigentlich Rückprall der Wogen von den Klippen , einer Ableitung von afrz. refraindre brechen , aus l. refringere (refrāctum) aufbrechen, zerbrechen , zu l. frangere brechen …   Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen sprache

  • refrain — Ⅰ. refrain [1] ► VERB (refrain from) ▪ stop oneself from (doing something). ORIGIN Latin refrenare, from frenum bridle . Ⅱ. refrain [2] ► NOUN ▪ a repeated line or section …   English terms dictionary

  • refrain — ‘chorus of a song’ [14] and refrain ‘desist’ [14] are different words. The former comes via Old French refrain from Provençal refranh. This was a derivative of the verb refranhar, which went back via Vulgar Latin *refrangere to Latin refringere… …   Word origins

  • Refrain — Re*frain (r[ e]*fr[=a]n ), v. t. [imp. & p. p. {Refrained} ( fr[=a]nd ); p. pr. & vb. n. {Refraining}.] [OE. refreinen, OF. refrener, F. refr[ e]ner, fr. L. refrenare; influenced by OF. refraindre to restrain, moderate, fr. LL. refrangere, for L …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Refrain — Re*frain , v. i. To keep one s self from action or interference; to hold aloof; to forbear; to abstain. [1913 Webster] Refrain from these men, and let them alone. Acts v. 38. [1913 Webster] They refrained therefrom [eating flesh] some time after …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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