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When is a chorus not a chorus?

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Three of us were working on a song and there was some discussion about what exactly makes a chorus.  The traditional argument is that the chorus is very similar each time it occurs - a repetition.  But someone pointed to Grateful Dead's "Truckin'" and how the only thing similar in it's choruses are the chord progressions.  Are those really choruses?  And is this the sort of question allowed on this forum?   

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Hi Gearheart, YES this is the kind of question that is good for the forum! It starts a conversation between artists on many levels so it works here for sure.

When I write lyrics (especially without a melody included) I think it's important that a chorus be similar each time. This way who ever creates music/melody for it will have that guidance of the lyrics.

Musicians that are songwriters have a more leeway and can create the chorus or refrain how they hear it in their heads.

Really if there were rules to make songs all the same, it would be a boring creation process and would quickly fade away. Artists that can find a new way to get the music or their story out musically have a better chance of making their stamp on the world. I mean what would the music world be with out  Pink Floyd, Prince, or Joni Mitchell?

Great to have you on the boards! Don't forget to "Introduce" yourself on that board so we can know a little about you.



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Well, a chorus really got it's name from a "chorus" of voices singing a section together. It involves repetition or melody and words (largely as the main copyrightable itemds in a song. Chords don't tend to be a significant enough thing... they are largely part of the arrangement, not the song itself. True copyright is about what is original, and chord sequences can be original... it's just rare.


Not all songs need a chorus. In the case of truckin, the melody is largely repeated, and at least some of the sections do repeat the word "truckin" as a hook. It's also multi-voice. So it definitely qualifies as a chorus... however, on two occasions the chorus melody is used without the hook "truckin", so on those occasions it functions more like a second section.


Another way to think of it would be that there are 3 sections. The verse section. A second section that often contains the refrain line "truckin". A 3rd "break" section. I think this way of looking at it works pretty well, because the words vary significantly even when the refrain hook is used.


The main difference between a chorus and a refrain would be that a refrain is a word or line repeated within another section. A chorus would be a distinct section that is largely repeated. In many ways a chorus is a refrain that has grown big enough to occupy an entire section.


The first section functions as a verse. There is no refrain. It is not a chorus. Lyrically it functions like a verse. The 3rd section is also not a chorus. The section section is not largely repeateda as alyric, therefor, not a chorus. However, when "Truckin" is repeated, that functions more like a refrain... a repeated line within another section.


The mistake of many in modern music is to think all songs need have a chorus. They don't. Not all need a refrain for that matter.


I hope that rambling makes sense. lol





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