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    Materials and preparation

  • The preparation for this activity is about the same as for the previous activity, but this time choose songs that have refrains. It's best to use refrains that are musically very different from the verses (different melody , chord progression , texture , etc.). It is more difficult to draw parallels between verses and refrains and instrumental music, but you might play for your students some instrumental music that has a section that keeps returning, in between sections that are different from each other, ( rondo form, for example), discussing the similarities and differences between this and vocal-music refrains.


  • If is is appropriate, using the discussion in Form in Music as an outline, discuss the process of labelling sections of music.
  • Ask the students if they know the difference between a verse and a refrain (or chorus) in music. Even if they do know, they may have trouble explaining. Ask if they can give an example or sing the refrain (or chorus) of a song. If they have no idea, even with prompting, tell your students that the words are the same each time you sing a refrain or chorus , but the words to each verse are usually different.
  • Sing together or play a recorded song for them. Let them point out (or point out for them if necessary) when each verse and each refrain starts.
  • Continue to sing together or play more songs, letting them identify the verses and refrains, until they can do this with confidence. (You may have to play unfamiliar songs for them more than once.) They can raise one hand during a verse and the other during a refrain, or clap at the beginning of a verse and stomp at the beginning of a refrain, or sit for verses and stand up for refrains.
  • Ask your students why they think some songs have refrains? (Everyone can learn the refrain and join in on it.) Why do they have verses? (A song with only refrains would get pretty boring.)
  • If the students can do the above easily, you can include a more formal study of musical form. Pick a couple of the songs and put their form on the board with A's and B's. Let the students decide whether the verses and refrains are different enough to get different letters (in some songs, the refrain has the same music as the verses), and whether and when primes need to be used. Do any of the songs have a bridge , or a verse that's different enough that a C should be used?

Further practice with form

If your students are old enough and experienced enough with music, try stretching their ability to identify form by giving them some unfamiliar music that is not in verse form or verse/refrain form (some classical music for example, or music from another culture), and see if they can identify A, B, and maybe C sections. You may wish to prepare a short lecture and/or handouts on the subject using the information in the course Sound Reasoning , or in Form in Music , or at least remind them that they are listening for big changes in the music to identify the beginning of each main section. You can use the examples in Musical Form or Time's Effect on the Material , or find your own examples.

General discussion of form in the arts

If your students are also studying form in some other subject - art, poetry, or stories, for example, or even geometry - include a discussion of how form is the same and different in each subject. Do the poetry forms they are studying have anything that comparable to the verses or refrains of a song? Does a painting or story ever have anything that acts like a refrain or a repeated section? If a song or other piece of music tells a story, how does that affect its form? Does anything about these musical forms resemble geometric forms (in the way that a "round" is like a circle, for example)?

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Source:  OpenStax, The basic elements of music. OpenStax CNX. May 24, 2010 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10218/1.8
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