Are instrumentals 'songs'?

TalismanRich

Well-known member
If you take a song which has lyrics, and play it on an instrument without singing the lyrics, is it no longer a song?
 
a song is "a short poem or other set of words set to music or meant to be sung." It is a composition that uses the human voice (or a voice, such as a bird's song). The word song is related to 'sing.' One sings a song. An instrumental is a composition, on the other hand. You will notice that only certain compositions were called Chanson (French composition for voice during Medieval/early times), whereas non-singing songs were called something else. Chanson(g). Forget Wiki... look into the actual history and root meaning of a term, of where it derives, together with its definition. A bit more information:

Old English sang "voice, song, art of singing; metrical composition adapted for singing, psalm, poem," from Proto-Germanic *songwho- (source also of Old Norse söngr, Norwegian song, Swedish sång, Old Saxon, Danish, Old Frisian, Old High German, German sang, Middle Dutch sanc, Dutch zang, Gothic saggws), from PIE *songwh-o- "singing, song," from *sengwh- "to sing, make an incantation"
 
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grimtraveller

If only for a moment.....
a song is "a short poem or other set of words set to music or meant to be sung."
Well, that's one definition. But what if it's a long poem set to music ? Is "Desolation Row" not a song ?
There simply are words for which there is rarely one fixed definition and 'song' is one of those words.
Wait till you get to 'flammable' 🔥 and 'inflammable'🪔 !
 
Well, that's one definition. But what if it's a long poem set to music ? Is "Desolation Row" not a song ?
There simply are words for which there is rarely one fixed definition and 'song' is one of those words.
Wait till you get to 'flammable' 🔥 and 'inflammable'🪔 !
OR OTHER SET OF WORDS (wouldn't that include a LONG poem)???? Whatever, I presented the HISTORICAL context for this word, from which it derives. You can call a cat a table if you wish.
 
By the way, it's best to get a definition from an actual dictionary (the one above is from Oxford's). Here's another, from Webster's

: the act or art of singing
2: poetical composition
3a: a short musical composition of words and music
b: a collection of such compositions
4: a distinctive or characteristic sound or series of sounds (as of a bird, insect, or whale)
5a: a melody for a lyric poem or ballad
b: a poem easily set to music

THE POINT... provide an actual DICTIONARY definition of SONG that does not involve SINGING and includes an INSTRUMENTAL.
 

Chili

Site Moderator
If a song were to be played in the woods and no one was there to hear it, then who the hell played it???
 

rob aylestone

Well-known member

Useful from a site with a musical perspective. Note the qualifications 'usually' and linking historic compositions. All I can say is that a pie ce of music with a recognisable form, with a melody is for me, a song. If Enya aaahed and oohed through one of her pieces of music, was that not a song? I'm comfy with instrumental denoting no singing of any kind, and the rights agencies like PRS and PPL recognise the implications of words to royalty distribution. You probably won't find the specific definition you seek in a general dictionary - but scholarly articles refer to songs where there are no words?
 

Useful from a site with a musical perspective. Note the qualifications 'usually' and linking historic compositions. All I can say is that a pie ce of music with a recognisable form, with a melody is for me, a song. If Enya aaahed and oohed through one of her pieces of music, was that not a song? I'm comfy with instrumental denoting no singing of any kind, and the rights agencies like PRS and PPL recognise the implications of words to royalty distribution. You probably won't find the specific definition you seek in a general dictionary - but scholarly articles refer to songs where there are no words?
Just because you want a song to be something, doesn't make it so. Yes, if she made VOCAL noises, it is a song... because she is SINGING. One does not have to sing a 'word,' but to use the vocal chords in a musical manner. Think of the word SING... it is related to SONG. It's that simple. Wow!!!!
 

Useful from a site with a musical perspective. Note the qualifications 'usually' and linking historic compositions. All I can say is that a pie ce of music with a recognisable form, with a melody is for me, a song. If Enya aaahed and oohed through one of her pieces of music, was that not a song? I'm comfy with instrumental denoting no singing of any kind, and the rights agencies like PRS and PPL recognise the implications of words to royalty distribution. You probably won't find the specific definition you seek in a general dictionary - but scholarly articles refer to songs where there are no words?
I suggest those scholars open a friggin' dictionary, lol
 

rob aylestone

Well-known member
No - your opinion is absolutely solid. no issues, but I take a hummed melody as just that - the tune, so it's a song. I don't worry about it being a human voice or a flute - I am happy with a piece of music with a tune being a song - even if it's an instrumental. What we can't do is agree on this one.

I'm not really even bothered if it has verses and chorus. It goes the other way of course. My own labelling system would say Eric Carmen's All by Myself is 100% a song, but when Rachmaninov wrote it, with the song tune played on the orchestral instruments it wasn't a song - so it was a human singing the words that made it a song. I realise this is the opposite of my entire point, which just proves songs may, or may not have words, and be sung ......... I think.
 
No - your opinion is absolutely solid. no issues, but I take a hummed melody as just that - the tune, so it's a song. I don't worry about it being a human voice or a flute - I am happy with a piece of music with a tune being a song - even if it's an instrumental. What we can't do is agree on this one.

I'm not really even bothered if it has verses and chorus. It goes the other way of course. My own labelling system would say Eric Carmen's All by Myself is 100% a song, but when Rachmaninov wrote it, with the song tune played on the orchestral instruments it wasn't a song - so it was a human singing the words that made it a song. I realise this is the opposite of my entire point, which just proves songs may, or may not have words, and be sung ......... I think.
No, we can't agree. I'm basing my opinion on actual dictionary definitions and the context of where the term 'song' came from. Definitions are descriptions of specific concepts in reality. A table is not a chair, a car is not a bicycle, etc. You WANTING or FEELING that the definition of song should include instrumentals are irrelevant. But hey, let's make a short story definition also include a poem, or a novel include the idea of a movie script, etc. Anything can be anything we wish. Your last point is not correct... a song cannot include just instruments (e.g., guitar, cello, etc.)... it requires the instrument of the HUMAN VOICE... that is what a song is and why it is a song... because there is singing. But if you want to list the scholarly works that claim a song includes instrumentals, I would like to view them.
 

gecko zzed

Grumpy Mod
Dictionaries provide definitions, but they do not define language. They document it. Usage defines language, which evolves over time, with words losing meanings, gaining meanings, and otherwise morphing into different forms. Dictionaries always have to catch up.

For example, 'mileage' was a word that described fuel usage in a car, i.e. mile per gallon. Since then it is often used to describe the value one gets out of somerthing, .e.g. "he got good mileage out of that story", and is still used here to describe fuel use, even though we converted to kilometres fifty years ago.

Language and music are oral phenomena that have post hoc structures (e.g. grammer) imposed upon them.

I generally regard a song as a melody rendered with voice, and an instrumental as a melody renderedwith a musical instrument, but equally I also use the term for both.
 
Dictionaries provide definitions, but they do not define language. They document it. Usage defines language, which evolves over time, with words losing meanings, gaining meanings, and otherwise morphing into different forms. Dictionaries always have to catch up.

For example, 'mileage' was a word that described fuel usage in a car, i.e. mile per gallon. Since then it is often used to describe the value one gets out of somerthing, .e.g. "he got good mileage out of that story", and is still used here to describe fuel use, even though we converted to kilometres fifty years ago.

Language and music are oral phenomena that have post hoc structures (e.g. grammer) imposed upon them.

I generally regard a song as a melody rendered with voice, and an instrumental as a melody renderedwith a musical instrument, but equally I also use the term for both.
Certainly people can bastardize language and twist meanings to the point that dictionaries will change a definition out of necessity. How sad for language that people are unable to educate themselves on terms so that they are not misused. However, I'm still waiting for a dictionary NOW to indicate that a song can be anything other than that with a voice, or any of the 'scholars' writing papers on the subject that suggest as much. We have to live in the NOW, rather than what we think it should be or could be years from now. Currently, I'm typing on a computer keyboard and not a cucumber.
 

rob aylestone

Well-known member
Gecko said it I think. Dictionary definitions are supportive , being examples of common usage, but an American Dictionary definition is pointless to a UK reader, and as a Brit - the Oxford English Disctionary is my standard - BUT - they have teams of people continually updating definitions to keep language current, definitions current and this modification is normal. Inclusion in a dictionary adds substance and assists many - but like laws, they mean little till a court takes the law definition and evaluates it to place it in a contemporary context. If you look in the music publications their definitions differ from a general dictionary. This is normal. Look in engineering circles and you find they have very specific versions of the generalist understanding.

BDJohnston wants his view to be the definitive one that we all have to agree on. This isn't going to be possible. His opinion is perfectly valid, and I think we're all content with it being an understandable viewpoint. Some of us differ. Our understanding of the the term is different. Location, culture, education and the context help me form my own one. I wouldn't say mine is the only one, but it is my viewpoint. I hear something and decide if it's a song. I might decide it's an instrumental - that title might fit. I don't see me ever using 'instrumental song'. I do get get it that singing might indicate a song - but I don't have that song=singing permanently linked view. So many of the definitions moderate themselves with 'usually', 'normally', ordinarily' etc because most times isn't the same as every time.
 

grimtraveller

If only for a moment.....
OR OTHER SET OF WORDS (wouldn't that include a LONG poem)????
It might do but that is by no means clear because one only has to then ask why utilize the term "short poem" and not just "poem" ?
Whatever, I presented the HISTORICAL context for this word
The historical context is valuable and really interesting but does little for the reality that words, meanings and phrases alter over time. Because that's how human beings are.
You can call a cat a table if you wish.
I tried that and it just meeeooowed.
It was quite a feat to eat dinner on the cat 🐱 though ! All those undulations and purring noises......
By the way, it's best to get a definition from an actual dictionary
I agree. But if you actually want to understand what some people mean, you sometimes need to bypass the dictionary definition and ascertain what the people you are seeking to understand actually mean by a word. I've worked with kids and young people for 38 years and believe me, if I went just by the dictionary, I'd have been no good to them because half the time I would never have known what they were saying !
Ironically, I'm always being told that I've swallowed a dictionary.
I play both sides of the fence, like a good double agent. 🕵🏿‍♀️
Certainly people can bastardize language and twist meanings to the point that dictionaries will change a definition out of necessity
True and that can be awkward.
But it's not always the case. Some word meanings change over time because of the way words can be used, even when it is felt they have strict definitions at the time. As someone that reads ancient documents like the Torah or the New Testament and is trying to determine what the original writers meant and the original hearers/readers would have understood, it is quite clear to me that evolving language is not just some modern sport. It is as old as the hills. People struggled with words and meanings even before the time of Christ and the growth of the Roman empire. Language and meanings are actually surprisingly fluid over time. And using current definitions to determine what was meant by the same word 2~3000 years ago is as useful as wearing socks while running on molten volcano lava.
How sad for language that people are unable to educate themselves on terms so that they are not misused
On the other hand, how sad that people can be so caught up in what something meant eons ago and can't acknowledge that through a lot of living in a lot of places, some meanings of words evolve and some change altogether.
Currently, I'm typing on a computer keyboard and not a cucumber
We only have your word for that.
I'm basing my opinion on actual dictionary definitions and the context of where the term 'song' came from
No one's disputing that. But it is also pretty obvious that for hundreds of years, peoples the world over have used the word 'song' {or whatever it is in the specific language} to denote pieces {aaahh....} that are instrumental. "Green Onions" and "Sylvia" are generally thought of as songs. In Nigeria and other West African nations there are many tribal songs that are not sung, just played. People just dance {or do other things} to them. There's an Indian raga called "Song before sunrise" ~ no words or singing. It wasn't written yesterday.
When I think of a word like 'song' I'm inclined to say "originally its meaning was.....but it now encompasses....." or something like that.
Dictionaries provide definitions, but they do not define language. They document it. Usage defines language, which evolves over time, with words losing meanings, gaining meanings, and otherwise morphing into different forms
Precisely. That's just the way human beings are. When jazz appeared on the scene, writers might say to a producer "here's a little song I knocked up" and over time the line between songs and instrumentals got blurred with the term 'song' also applying to a song that isn't sung.
 
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