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Encyclopedia > Refrain

A refrain (from the Old French refraindre "to repeat," likely from Vulgar Latin refringere) 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. Old French was the Romance dialect continuum spoken in territories corresponding roughly to the northern half of modern France and parts of Belgium and Switzerland from around 1000 to 1300 A.D. It was known at the time as the langue doïl to distinguish it from the langue... Vulgar Latin, as in this political engraving at Pompeii, was the language of the ordinary people of the Roman Empire, distinct from the Classical Latin of literature. ... The Chinese poem Quatrain on Heavenly Mountain by Emperor Gaozong (Song Dynasty) Poetry (from the Greek , poiesis, making or creating) is a form of art in which language is used for its aesthetic qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its ostensible meaning. ... A villanelle (or occasionally villonelle) is a traditional poetic form which entered English-language poetry in the late 1800s from the imitation of French models. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with Virelai. ... The sestina is a highly structured form of poetry, invented by the Provençal troubadour Arnaut Daniel the late 12th century. ...


The use of refrains is particularly associated with popular music, especially rock and roll, 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. Popular music is music belonging to any of a number of musical styles that are accessible to the general public and mostly distributed commercially. ... Rock and roll (also spelled Rock n Roll, especially in its first decade), also called rock, is a form of popular music, usually featuring vocals (often with vocal harmony), electric guitars and a strong back beat; other instruments, such as the saxophone, are common in some styles. ... Verse-chorus-verse can refer to: Verse and chorus Musical form This is a disambiguation page — a navigational aid which lists other pages that might otherwise share the same title. ... Verse is a writing that uses meter as its primary organisational mode, as opposed to prose, which uses grammatical and discoursal units like sentences and paragraphs. ... Look up melody in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... // Rhythm (Greek ρυθμός = tempo) is the variation of the duration of sounds or other events over time. ... Harmony, Greek ἁρμονία harmonía meaning a fastening or join. The concept of harmony dates as far back as Pythagoras. ... In music, dynamics refers to the volume or loudness of the sound or note, in particular to the range from soft (quiet) to loud. ... Strophic form, or chorus 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. ... Verse-chorus form is a musical form common in popular music and predominant in rock since the 1960s. ...


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: crap!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ... Lyrics are the words in songs. ... Look up melody in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... A rhyme is a repetition of identical or similar sounds in two or more different words and is most often used in poetry. ... Nicholson took the copy Key had given him to a printer, who published it as a broadside on 17 September, 1814 under the title “Defence of Fort McHenry,” with a note explaining the circumstances of its writing. ...

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." The Battle Hymn of the Republic is a patriotic anthem written by Julia Ward Howe for the United States during the American Civil War as a replacement for the words to the marching song John Browns Body. ...


Refrains usually, but do 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: A ballad is a story in a song, usually a narrative song or poem. ... The Twa Sisters or Minnorie or Binnorie (Roud 8, Child 10), is a ballad existing in many variants. ...

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.
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.
. . .

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: For other uses, see Syntax (disambiguation). ... A narrative poem is an extended poem which tells a story. ... Dante Gabriel Rossetti (May 12, 1828 - April 10, 1882) was an English poet, painter and translator. ...

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,
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. See Wikipedia:Nonsense for the usage of Nonsense in Wikipedia. ... Solfege table in an Irish classroom In music and sight singing solfege or solmization is a way of assigning syllables to degrees or steps of the diatonic scale. ... A syllable (Ancient Greek: ) is a unit of organization for a sequence of speech sounds. ... Singing carols: John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together A Christmas carol (also called a noël) is a carol (song or hymn) whose lyrics are on the theme of Christmas, or the winter season in general. ... This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ... Folk music, in the original sense of the term, is music by and of the people. ... The Celtic languages are the languages descended from Proto-Celtic, or Common Celtic, spoken by ancient and modern Celts alike. ...


A pop chorus is not the same as a refrain. At least one well-known writer on pop-song-writing theory has stated this, for example, (Davis, 1990) says 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 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"


or


"The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind, The answer is blowin' in the wind".


or


"All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?"


This contrasts with the chorus of a typical modern pop song, which is very often more than just one repeated line, for example:


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


It is true that many pop-songs do just consist of a repeated line, so the difference may seem negligible, for example:


"I should be so lucky, Lucky, lucky, lucky, I should be so lucky in love, I should be so lucky, Lucky, lucky, lucky, I should be so lucky in love".


However, there are also crucial differences in the structural purpose and use of the chorus as opposed to the refrain. Choruses such as those cited are musically and lyrically designed so that they can be repeated, for example, in a double-chorus, or at the end of the song, when they form the repeated outro, which very often continues into the fade-out of the recording. (Other structural elements, such as the breakdown, where the sung melodic line of the repeated chorus drops out may also be present here). The point of this is, again crucially, that the chorus contains the lyrical and melodic hook of the song (usually the song-title), which needs to be repeated as often as possible in order to be memorable to the listening audience. Refrains are not intended to be repeated in this way, (although they may contain a hook, but not necessarily the title, as in Eleanor Rigby).


A chorus is also very often approached by a bridge, (also called a pre-chorus or climb), which serves to build the song up into the chorus, often using techniques of harmony, melody, instrumentation and production, which arrives as a climax to the song. This does not happen with a refrain. Again, the point is that the chorus is the main part of the song, containing its central message, not simply an ending to, and a comment on the verse.


In summary, the refrain belongs to an earlier tradition of song-writing, e.g. the folk-song, sea-shanty or hymn. The pop-chorus, on the other hand, belongs to a more modern tradition aimed at providing a song-format which, through its ability to repeat a hook with great frequency within the standard three or four minutes of a pop-song, will be most successful on media through which songs are marketed to the consumer, e.g. pop-radio.


See also

In music, the burden is the drone or base in some musical instruments, and the pipe or part that plays it, such as a bagpipe or pedal point in an organ. ...

External links and references

  • Complete lyrics to Cruel Sister
  • Poems of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, inc. Troy Town
  • Davis, Sheila; 1990, Omnibus Press

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