Classifying Music

Often we talk about music in terms of genres like Pop, Alternative, Jazz or Classical.  I’d like to step back from that and work out some different definitions. I’m proposing that there are three different types of music:

  1. Music with words (songs)
  2. Music without words (instrumentals)
  3. Words without music (poetry)

Songs – We are surrounded by songs.  Wherever you turn, whether it be the grocery store or your phone, songs are constantly available and being piped into your brain.  Songs are composed of a melody that conveys and carries the words. Instruments build supporting harmonies to both support and move the melody along.  The words can tell a story.  The song, Coal Miner’s Daughter, is a good example of a song that tells a story. The words can also be used to convey an emotional tableau much as is done in Sand and Water. Either way, melody is used to convey the words to their fullest meaning.

Instrumental - Music of this type conveys meaning without the use of words.  Again, music can tell a story like in Peter and the Wolf or it can be strictly emotional in nature.  It is important to remember that the voice can be used as an instrument and sometimes is used to imitate an instrument.  Beatboxing is the modern form of this, but there are other examples like The Mills Brothers’ version of Caravan. Often we think of Instrumental music as something relegated to the Classical music genre, but instrumentals exist in other genres as well.  In pop music the instrumental rarely exists outside the break of the song. Jazz, however, seems to be almost all instrumental.

Poetry – I know what you’re thinking, ” How is poetry music?”  I think most people forget that poetry is something meant to be spoken as it is presented to us as words on paper.  Poetry is, however, meant to be spoken aloud.  Many of the same concepts that go into the writing of a song exist in poetry as well, like rhythm and meter.  All of this is used to evoke an emotional tableau or to tell a story.  One of the more recent examples that I can think of is the former US Poet Laureate, Billy Collins.  Listen to this reading of Litany to get an idea of what I’m talking about.

What do you think?  Am I crazy for thinking this way?  I don’t know, but the purpose of this site is to explore these three aspects through my own and other contributions.  Please comment.  We’ll see you soon.


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