The Definition of a Chorus in Jazz

What Jazz Musicians Mean When They Say "Chorus"

Jazz band on stage
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Chorus—you've probably heard this popular music term before. But what does the word mean in terms of jazz? 

The definition of "chorus" slightly changes depending on the context and music genres, ranging from choral chambers, musical theater, pop songs, to jazz. With so many different lexicons, it's easy to get terms mixed up! 

So let's clarify what a chorus is in the jazz world. 

Definition of Chorus in Jazz Music

In jazz, a chorus is defined as one full cycle of a song’s form played through, whether that form is a 12-bar blues progression, 32-bar popular standard, or so on.

Can You Hear It?

In the jumble of all the notes, melodies and riffs, how can you figure out what the chorus is?

When you listen closely, you'll realize that jazz music is a compilation of cyclic themes. While there are variations, modulations, and improvisations keeping things fresh, there is a base melody that is continuously repeated. Typically, the length of a chorus holds that repeated melody.  

Perhaps an easier way to hear a chorus in jazz is by paying attention to solos. During a song, each musician will typically go off on an improvised solo. The duration of a solo ranges between one to multiple choruses. Longer solos tend to be performed if the song has a short form, such as the blues, or if the genre is post-bop or experimental jazz. Try and listen for a consistent melody that the soloist is playing, putting a new spin on it each time it is repeated.

Next time you're enjoying a jazz tune, listen closely and see if you can catch the chorus!