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What Is Music Without Lyrics Called?

You could say that music without lyrics is known as just instrumental music. But, that does some genres of music that are instrumental a complete injustice. 

You might refer to some of today’s “modern instrumental music” as being “just” instrumental. But, you could hardly refer to a work like Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in that way. And that has no lyrics. 

So, is that Instrumental? Do you put that in the same category as the 60s hit record, the electronic “Telstar” by the Tornados? The question, “What is music without lyrics called?” goes a bit deeper than just music without words.

Contents

Not Genre-Linked

Another issue that needs to be considered is that instrumental music is not genre-linked. It crosses musical boundaries and is not limited to just one style. You will find instrumental music in all genres. But, of course, predominantly in Classical music.

How Do We Define It?

The easiest way is to refer to it as music without words. By words, we mean words that are either spoken or narrated. How it is recorded is not so important. 

Usually, you will find it has been recorded in a recording studio. But, with today’s technology, synthesized music can easily be created at home.

Does Instrumental Music Offer A Different Listening Experience?

Instrumental Music

It can. Music with lyrics tells a story or makes a statement. But, it is a defined statement that most of the time, is not open to very much interpretation. We tend to concentrate on what is being sung or spoken, and that is where the listening emphasis is usually placed.

Instrumental music has a slightly different basis. Listening to it, we can picture scenes in our mind that the composer creates. The tempos and styles can change quickly and easily to create these images. 

The Drama Can Be More Profound

The drama can be more apparent at times because of the freedom the composer has in not being constrained by lyrical context. That is why people prefer instrumental music. They are more dramatic and often more emotional.

What Types Of Instrumental Music?

As we have already said, instrumental music is not genre-specific. But, it can be organized or arranged by the instrument(s) that are used to play it. There are far too many options to consider them all, but the principal instruments might be:

  • Piano – As a solo instrument, with orchestral support, or in modern music, possibly with guitars, drums, etc.
  • Guitar – As a solo instrument or as part of a band
  • Synthesizer – usually played as part of a group of other synths or instruments.
  • Brass instruments, as in the case of Jazz.
  • Drums.
  • Orchestral instruments played in a solo capacity.

The latter option is worth a brief explanation before we look at them all individually. Classical music is one of the main providers of instrumental music. Breaking it down into which instrument is playing becomes a little more difficult because of how many instruments could be involved.

You might find pieces written for Piano, Violin, Viola, or Cello. And there could be Flute, Clarinet, or Oboe pieces. Furthermore, many of the instruments in a concert orchestra have solo pieces written for them.

Instruments Will Define The Genre

Define The Genre

From that very brief list of instruments, we can see that some will define the genre. Rather than use the term “instrumental music” to define the genre, the instrument used might help to define it for us.

However, there are crossovers even there. Most obviously in cases with brass instruments that might play jazz, orchestral, or rock music.

Why Do Some People Prefer Instrumental Music?

Once again, that is a too generalized statement to make. There are different forms and styles of instrumental music. Just because someone likes one style or genre doesn’t mean they will automatically like them all. Let’s try and break these styles down into manageable descriptions.

  • Classical Music.
  • Jazz and Big Band.
  • Early Pop Music.
  • Rock Music.
  • Electronic Music.
  • Progressive Rock.
  • Electronic Dance Music.

All of those genres include instrumental pieces, and they offer a different listening experience. Not only within the genres but also from music with lyrics.

I have already discussed the way that instrumental music can have a variety of interpretations. That can depend on the listener’s personal situation at any given time and even their mood. 

Instead of the main melody lines being offered by a vocal, it is given to an instrument. That can alter the whole atmosphere of the song. Let’s now briefly look at each of those we identified to better answer the question, “What is music without lyrics called?”

Classical Music

I don’t need too much in the way of explanation. You might argue that Classical music as we know it probably commenced in the Renaissance and went through the Baroque period with Handel and Bach. 

It progressed through Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss, Liszt, and the rest of the great composers. It can also include classical pieces on guitar.

Most of that work, but not all, was instrumental. I say not all because there were Operas and Chorale pieces written. And some composers, like Beethoven, included Choral pieces in otherwise instrumental works as he did with his 9th Symphony.

Jazz

Far too many musicians and songs to go into this genre. Quite a lot of Jazz was, and still is, instrumental and improvised by the great players. Plenty of creativity and instrumental development going on from as early as the 30s through to the modern-day.

Early Pop Music

This may have been the heyday of pop instrumentals. The Shadows, The Ventures, and many others. It was a popular style in that period, and there were many great tracks. It was mostly guitar-based, but there were exceptions. 

“Red River Rock,” a track by Johnny and The Hurricanes, is a good example. During this period, we also had drum solo music with a smattering of guitar, like “Let There Be Drums” by Sandy Nelson.

Rock Music

Rock Music

As music developed and created a heavier beat, then the instrumentals kept pace. In this period, the amount of instrumental work had become less. However, we still had great tracks like “Jessica” by the Allman Brothers. 

Albums by Jeff Beck, especially one called Blow by Blow. King Crimson created some interesting work and not forgetting Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield.

Electronic Music

This was not a recent introduction. “Telstar” by British band the Tornadoes was released as early as 1962. They referred to it at the time as ‘Space Age Pop.’ 

As technology advanced and instruments became more sophisticated, so did electronic instrumental music. Today, there are some exceptional creations.

Progressive Rock

Music started to become more abstract from the mid-60s as bands and producers forged a new path. There were bands like Yes and Pink Floyd, who used instrumentals, and Emerson Lake and Palmer. 

Also, there was a Dutch band Focus in the 70s, who had a huge hit with their instrumental “Sylvia.” They also produced a track called “Hocus Pocus.” I am not sure where that fits, there were no lyrics but quite a bit of yodeling. We’ll call it instrumental as most of it was. 

As we move into the 2000s, there are bands like the Scottish post-rock band Mogwai producing impressive, atmospheric instrumental work.

Electronic Dance Music

With the rise of the disco came music that was created electronically purely for dance. Some might argue that its sound doesn’t constitute music. 

This is because the majority of the sound is just drums and bass without a recognizable melody line. However, whether it fits an exact pattern isn’t relevant. It should still be classed as music.

Who Needs Lyrics?

Who Needs Lyrics

Well, we do. Music would be rather repetitive if there weren’t songs with lyrics to give us an alternative. And, of course, for those that prefer their music with words. 

Songs with lyrics tell us stories. They talk of friendship, heartbreak, and romance. Some have deeper political meanings. They tell you what the writer wants you to know.

Instrumental music tends to be more powerful in its performance… 

It is written that way because there are no words to build the emotion. The music must do it. As I said earlier, it also allows a level of room for interpretation.

There have been some outstanding instrumental tracks over hundreds of years. Here are a few to consider:

Want to Learn More About Music?

We can help. Take a look at our detailed articles on What is a Refrain in MusicWhat Is Timbre In MusicWhat is Melody in MusicWhat Is Homophonic Texture In MusicWhat Is Negative Harmony, and What Is AABA Form In Music for more useful information.

And, if you want to make instrumental music, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Beat Machines for Hip Hop, the Best Keyboard Synthesizer, the Best Electric Violins, the Best Small Pianos for Apartments, the Best MIDI Keyboard for FL Studio you can buy in 2023.

What Is Music Without Lyrics Called? – Conclusion

There can be no real doubt that instrumental music is popular in all its forms. It can lift and inspire, or it can take us to the depths of despair. 

The beauty of music is that it can do that. The beauty of instrumental music is that the emotions involved are often more intense.

Until next time, let the music play.

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About Joseph L. Hollen

Joseph is a session musician, writer, and filmmaker from south Florida. He has recorded a number of albums and made numerous short films, as well as contributing music to shorts and commercials. 

He doesn't get as much time to practice and play as he used to, but still manages (just about!) to fulfill all his session requests. According to Joseph, it just gets harder as you get older; you rely on what you learned decades ago and can play without thinking. Thankfully that's what most producers still want from him.

He is a devout gear heat and has been collecting musical instruments all his life. As his wife, Jill, keeps on saying, "You're very good at buying nice instruments, but terrible at selling them!".

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