Instrumental music is just as precious as lyrical music – The Rocky Mountain Collegian
Editor’s Note: All content in the opinion section reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a position taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.
Popular music is dominated by lyrics. The most popular songs of the moment are as many works of lyricism as they are pieces of musical instrumentation; the radio stations also favor lyrical music.
When was the last time you heard a song without lyrics on pop music radio? It’s almost as if in American popular music the songs are incomplete without words.
But music is more than just written words to add to it. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word music as “the science or art of ordering tones or sounds in succession, in combination and in temporal relationships to produce a composition having unity and continuity”. For some reason, we’ve forgotten that music can be purely instrumental, with no lyrics to accompany the sounds and melodies we hear.
There are probably good reasons why Americans tend to prefer music with words to music without words. On the one hand, the meanings behind the lyrics are more easily shared than the feelings that come from the music.
Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin ‘” lyrics, for example, are easier to conjure and weave than the guitar solo at the end of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird”. Speaking of both songs, the explicit words sung are much easier to process and discuss among listeners than the abstract sounds of musical instruments.
Another reason why lyric music is more popular than instrumental music could be the influence of hip-hop / rap as a genre in the music industry at large since the 1990s. An article published by The Atlantic explains how no other genre of music has had the same lasting influence on popular music as rap. While this article highlights the structural changes in pop music since rap exploded in 1991, I would say that the significant stress of words and lyrics in music is also part of the influence of this genre on the rest of the world. pop music.
Whatever the reasons Americans prefer lyrical songs to instrumental songs, the value of instrumental music should not be ignored. Not only is music without words quite capable of expressing powerful emotions, but it’s a more honest and direct way of doing it.
While the lyrics are concrete and everyone usually understands the same words in the same order, the true emotional experience is rarely so consistent. This does not mean that the individual interpretations of the lyrics are one-sided; on the contrary, listeners can have very different understandings of the meaning of words in a song. But the words, nevertheless, cannot change. This way the lyrics are not as dynamic and they are more two-dimensional than the instrumental music.
The music itself, however, is much deeper. Our first listen to a song is usually just a scratch on the surface. Everyone has probably had the experience of listening to a song for the umpteenth time and suddenly hearing something (a bass riff, a guitar scratch, a drum fill) that they had never heard before. .
In this way, the music is multi-layered: a dynamic living being with a heartbeat that can change whenever we focus on different parts of it. Literally, there are more layers of instruments in the recording of a song than in the vocal track. Where adding more words can complicate the song, adding more instruments has better potential to enrich the music.
There is also something more visceral and poignant about sounds that are not words. For example, hearing a real cry of anguish elicits a more acute response than just hearing the word “anguish”. Likewise, Van Halen’s guitar instrumental “Eruption” communicates something strong and epic, something important about the power of music, that words never could.
While this feeling may be harder to express than the lyrics, that doesn’t take away from its emotional power. If anything, the fact that he’s indescribable only adds to his ability to affect his listener on a personal level.
Another flaw in lyrical music is the language barrier. The true depth of what a song or piece of music means can never be fully understood by someone who does not speak the language in which the lyrics of that piece are spoken. We can infer general changes in emotional state based on fluctuations in pitch and rhythm, but the full poetry of words is inaccessible.
The instrumental music behind this track, however, remains open to ears the world over. In other words, anyone could listen to a playlist of German orchestral music (purely instrumental) and have the same experience of that music as a German speaker.
Whatever the reasons Americans prefer lyrical songs to instrumental songs, the value of instrumental music should not be ignored.
Instrumental music is also a great option for students. Vaughn College posted an article which lists the best types of music that improve study performance or help reduce stress, and their suggestions are all voiceless. Now more than ever, students could benefit from studying methods that reduce stress and optimize performance, and instrumental music can deliver just that.
Music with and without words deserves listeners no matter what. But the trend today seems to unfairly favor music that emphasizes lyrics, leaving instrumental pieces on the fringes of obscurity. Hopefully we can start to enjoy tracks like (but not necessarily as long as) “Play” by Dave Grohl and understand that there is just as much popular appeal in music that doesn’t use words.
Cody Cooke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ CodyCooke17.