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What Is the Function of a Refrain in Lyrics?

By Lee Johnson
Updated May 23, 2024
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The refrain in lyrics is used to give the listener a familiar line to latch onto, and even to join in with. This part of the song is commonly called the "chorus" or the "hook," and literally serves as a catchy repeating lyric which will stick in the listener's mind. The refrain is also used to establish a sense of familiarity within the song itself, so that after the verse or a bridge section, the song can return to the well-known line or group of lines.

Lyrics are the words to a song, usually written down in the same way as a poem. The words typically compliment the music and often more blatantly betray the overall meaning of the song than possible through the medium of musical instruments. Verses are used to tell the story of the song, which unfolds as the song progresses. The refrain in lyrics is a repeating section, which generally occurs at the end of each verse, and is usually used to cement a theme or a line.

The function of the refrain in lyrics can be different, depending on the song, but it can generally be thought to serve several purposes. The refrain encourages people to like the song; refrains generally have a catchy melody or lyric which sets them apart from the verses. Catchy refrains are ones that stick in the listener's head for a while after he has heard the song. This often makes the person want to listen to it again, but it can also have the opposite effect and become annoying.

Another reason for the inclusion of a refrain in lyrics is to provide the listener with an anchor within the structure of the song, which helps provides a sense of familiarity. A song with no refrain would constantly leave the listener not knowing what is going to happen next, and wouldn't be as enjoyable for many listeners. For example, Tom Lehrer's "The Elements," is a list of all the chemical elements which had been discovered at the time the song was written; it has no refrain, and it would be unlikely that anyone would sing it walking down the street.

People often enjoy singing along with their favorite songs, and this is another function of the refrain in lyrics. Repeated sections of a song are easier to remember than the verses, and therefore are more likely to give people the chance to join in. This can be positive in both giving people a section to sing to themselves and for creating an electrifying moment in a live concert.

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