What Is a Song?


A song is a combination of music and words, usually with lyrics. It can be sung alone or with instrumental accompaniment, such as piano or guitar. Some songs are for one voice only; these are called solos or arias. Larger ensembles perform choral songs. Songs are a powerful medium, used to convey emotion and information, or simply for entertainment. A lyricist writes the words to the melody, and the composer creates the music to accompany it. The melody and the lyric are distinct works that may be protected by copyright separately (see Track 2).

The term “song” encompasses a broad range of musical styles. Some of these differ between cultures, reflecting variables such as ideals of social interaction, perceptions of the spirit world, and the extent to which a society uses writing as a primary means of communication. Other differences are more subtle and reflect the evolution of vocal technique, such as the degree to which a singer allows the nuances of a composition to speak for itself or the extent to which she or he draws on expressive dynamics.

Some scholars divide songs into broad categories, for example, folk or classical music. Others focus on particular genres, such as popular or folk songs, or on the historical context in which a song was created. Examples include American Song for the Parlor and Concert Stage; World War I and Popular Song; Songs of Women’s Suffrage; and Comanche and Kiowa Song and Dance.