Songs without words

Michael Covarrubias mcovarru at PURDUE.EDU
Sat Apr 24 09:48:06 UTC 2010

On Apr24, 2010, at 5:07 AM, Benjamin Barrett wrote:

> For "song," the AHD4 has "a brief composition written or adapted for singing."
> I personally use the word "song" to mean a musical composition without words, such as Pachelbel's Canon in D even though I have a sense that songs should have sung lyrics.
> The AHD4 meaning therefore seems prescriptive in a way that does not reflect common usage.

are you saying that you use 'song' to specify, and indicate a musical composition that doesn't have lyrics?

in my experience this is counter to the usual specification. the general pattern i've noted is that in common use, it is a vague term. any composition of music can be a song. 'pachelbel's canon in d' and 'happy birthday' both.

among more specialized musical circles, a 'song' has lyrics while a 'piece' doesn't. is purely instrumental. among people who use the words this way, i've heard complaining about those who use them interchangeably. ("'pachelbel's canon is *not* a SONG! it's a PIECE'! they might say.") the principle of 'eliminate vagueness/ambiguity' i suppose.

> Although someone subjective, my Mac dictionary does well at walking this thin line with an additional definition: a musical composition suggestive of a song.

the mac dictionary offering looks like a nod to the second specifying pattern, apparent for instance in the title given to a collection of Mendelssohn's piano compositions, "songs without words" typically described as having a lyrical quality -- tho they're instrumental.


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