Lyrics & Songs > Songwriting > Song Structure > What Is A Song Chorus?

What is a Chorus? What's a Refrain?

"Just what's the point, huh...I mean really?"

Get to the point with your song chorus.

Let me ask you a question; are you the type of person who often talks on and on and on without getting to the point?

Or are you someone who's often short and to the point; lacking detail? There really isn't a right or wrong way to be.

It's much the same way with pop songs. A song is either short and to the point, or long and not really reaching a point until somewhere at the end, and often some songs are between these two extremes.

A chorus is the most repeated section of your song structure, so it's the easiest remembered.

Because of this, I believe the chorus is the part of your song listeners will judge first as to whether it's something they like.

It's also what often gets them hooked to your song, but we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Lyrically...

A Chorus is the summary of your song's story. It's the "and so..." or the "therefore..." A chorus can come at the beginning of your song structure, like "this is what my song is about"; it can start in the middle, or come at the end.

In fact, some songs don't have choruses at all. "How is this possible" you may ask? Well that's where "refrains" come into play. You can use a refrain to make a quick summary of your story without writing a full chorus.



Sorry but I must, refrain.

The easiest way to understand it is this; a refrain is ANY line that repeats in your song lyric, while a chorus is any group of lines that repeats.

If a refrain was a baby plant with a vine or two, a chorus is a large tree with many branches and leaves, and depending on the landscape of your song, you may want baby plants sprinkled in one spot and larger trees in other spots, or no trees at all...or no baby plat. It's really all your choice.

So a chorus is a "grown up", more complicated refrain. All choruses are refrains, but not all refrains are choruses.

Let's give a popular example, shall we?

As of August 2013, the #2 song on the international charts is Imagine Dragons, by Radioactive (listen to the song here):

Notice BOTH sections are repeated in the song, but one is only 3 lines long while the other is 6 lines long. Let's see another...

As of August 2013, the #1 song on the international charts is Blurred Lines by Robin Thick (listen to the song here):

Maybe you have more lines you want to repeat in your song lyric before your chorus (like in the above example). Well in that case you want a "Pre-Chorus".

But don't let the name confuse you, again it's just a more complicated refrain that is plopped right before your other, more complicated refrain (the ACTUAL chorus).

Again BOTH sections repeat in the song, but this time the refrain is almost as long as the chorus, so it's simply called a different name.

Ok here's a test...see if your can find the refrain in Iron by Woodkid (listen to the song here).

Musically...

Now you may be just a lyric writer who's more focused on crafting the words of a song and if this is true don't worry about this section.

Your music producer will worry more about your sound. But if you're a singer/songwriter, it's important to understand how your chorus should be handled musically.

The Chorus represents the high point of your music, when every musical element (including instruments and any harmony you wanted to include) is introduced to the listener.

This doesn't mean your chorus is musically louder but that the emotional intensity level is increased. In other words, for whatever emotion you are trying to pull out of your listener in your song, it should be at its strongest in this section.

For example, notice Taylor Swift's song "Safe & Sound" is a very soft song. It doesn't have much in terms of musical support.

But when her chorus hits, she adds strength to her melody with vocal harmony while traveling a few notes up the scale.

This increases the pull of pain & sadness just before bring it back down to ease the tension for the next verse.

Rules for adding Choruses (refrains) to your Song’s Structure

  1. Keep Melody & Lyrics Short Write your chorus between 4 - 6 lines (bars), so it's short enough to be repeated without your listener getting bored.

    If you rather use refrains, keep them between 1-3 lines to easily repeat.
     
  2. Give it More Music - Your chorus should be stronger - but not necessarily louder - add at least 1 more musical element to this section than with your verses.
     
  3. Make it Sound Different - There should be something that sets your chorus apart from your verse.

    Even if your lyrics are supposed to be more prominent than your music for this song, there's always "something" that changes to make the chorus stand out.

    Maybe change the lead instrument or use a different rhythmic pattern.
     
  4. Above all else KEEP WRITING – The more you work on writing lyrics the better you'll get.

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