What Is a Song?

A song is a piece of music composed for singers, usually in vocal harmony. It can be written without instrumental accompaniment (a cappella), or accompanied by one or more instruments. Generally, songs are intended for performance by professional, or at least carefully taught, singers. They can be of any genre and are often considered an important component of a cultural identity.

For example, Bob Dylan’s lyrics have been described as “new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”9, and have even earned him a Nobel Prize in Literature10. In addition, like literature, songs are a reflection of society’s shifting norms, emotions and values over time. Lyrical themes such as love, angst, loss, politics and social change have been found to be highly influential in popular culture, and are also the focus of many songwriting classes and workshops.

It’s not always easy to turn a good idea into a great song. Sometimes you just need to keep working on it until it’s right. But where do you start? Should you write the music or the lyrics first?

Ultimately, it’s about finding a way to express something that connects with the listener. That’s why it’s important to know how to create a melody that compliments the lyrical content of your song, and how to craft words that work with melodic rhythms and cadence. That way you can develop a song that’s both enjoyable to sing and emotionally effective. The Library has curated collections on these topics, and there are also articles on specific styles of song such as The Boy Named Sue or the history of ragtime.