Please your input on how to set the type for an original instrumental work of modern music

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Instrumental is a descriptor, not a work type distinct from “song”. True, the word “song” has its roots in the act of singing, but the definition of the word as used here is more about structure than content – a song is typically a short, independent piece, common in popular music, usually with a distinct melodic line. It makes sense: the word “sing” can be used to describe any pure tone sound, not just voices.

Many named work types or genres move away from their roots. “Canzona” literally means “song”, but is a genre of instrumental works. You can’t really dance to later a Chopin mazurka or most IDM, Preludes no longer always precede another work, and lyrics have very little to do with lyres. In modern songs, a verse can be a guitar solo, and the chorus might just have one singer. So don’t get too caught up on the etymology of the word “song” – it doesn’t require vocals.

If you don’t want to accept that, leave it blank. There are dozens of work types that aren’t covered by that list, and no obligation to fill in a work type that doesn’t fit. However, it’s definitely not wrong to label something like “Jessica” or “Feels So Good” as songs.

I’m not really thrilled with having “Soundtrack” as a work type either – it’s a functional description, not a structural one. A work can be a Soundtrack and just about any other category on that list.


I think “soundtrack” might be a useful descriptor for a “super-work”, in the same way that you might use “suite”. e.g. Star Wars

I agree that it seems out of place alongside forms and genres.


IMHO, the root problem is the (non) definition of the Type property and the associate guideline: It is evasive, whereas most of the current types actually are classical forms (appropriate term?) which should probably be gathered in the same fashion than Ottoman/Turkish forms (see the undocumented Work Attributes field group in work editor) added after STYLE-662.

I agree with @Torc that song has a broader meaning. Unfortunately, it is not documented in MusicBrainz, misleading most of non native English speakers. From the examples in the style guideline, I figure that the initial intent was to cover songs in classical music too.

I agree that soundtrack is not a musical form. From what I have seen so far, soundtrack release groups are linked to the IMDb entry for the corresponding movie(s). Why not do the same for soundtrack works? @CallerNo6’s example would be linked to the movie at IMDb then.

Last but not least, I feel like instrumental type would be totally redundant with [No lyrics] language. Edit: not anymore, now I just feel comfortable. :wink:


But this will not happen for at least another half a year. I don’t think I’ve even seen this suggested before(?). Is there a ticket for this feature?

Regardless, while this may be a solution in the future, it isn’t something that’s possible within the current schema as far as I am aware, which means that until a schema change release which includes this comes around, we’ll have to deal with it another way. And until then, what @chirlu said holds true:
As soon as another type is added, any entries which is of that type but currently set to “Other” become wrong. So it is better to not set a type at all. (“If in doubt, leave it out.”)


No @Yvanz, you forgot about works with vocals but without lyrics (scat, humming, screaming, whatever). I know quite several of those in bold, in particular.

Is it that important now that we have this?
Maybe it’s less important that when we didn’t have that zxx[no lyrics], but still. :slight_smile:


It was just an idea I had while typing up my response. If you feel it has legs, I’ll create a style ticket for it.

Introduction thread!

Hi folks! :slight_smile: I am so very happy that so many of you are giving such valuable input on the topic “how to set the type for a modern instrumental piece of music” ! Because, in my opinion, it is an important topic, regarding humans living not only now but also in the (far) future and looking for certain types of music( created by their ancestors). And isn’t that what Music Brainz is all about? Becoming an informative all time and complete online Encyclopedia?

My original request and subject of discussion was, if we should and could have a new “type” for works, classifying them as “instrumental”, because many modern instrumental works are hard or impossible to classify as one of the types given in the drop down box, now that those types mostly refer to classical pieces of instrumental music.

My motivation to add such a new type is, that Music Brainz pretends to become a complete Music Encyclopedia, (and now I am going to repeat my earlier words to make it extra clear) that people living not only today but also in the far future can use to look up certain types of music compositions (of their ancestors). When leaving the “type” field blank, a lot of compositions won’t come out of future search results, because people won’t look for an "unknown type" of music. The same for using “other” as a type, in my opinion.

That is what I wanted to share today with you, to keep in mind, in this discussion that in my opinion is progressing very well :wink:

P.S.: I do not care if we are going to name the new type “instrumental” or another term, because “what’s in a name” ? as long as everybody can understand the meaning of the new type, not only today, but also in the future :slight_smile:


Hi folks :slight_smile:
As nobody reacted in past two days to my previous post, and some of you gave likes to my post, can I assume that you all agree or at least are okay with the opinion that "instrumental" should be added to the types list?

Oh here are a few remarks on your discussions:

With “pop” is meant a song that pretends to become a hit. It needs another attribute to define what music type it is, see:
this page and hover with mouse over the “view all here” above the “please select the genre”

Visitors of the Music Brainz website won’t look for “other” types, they will look for “certain” types of music. Any “other” or “unknown” types will not show up in the search results!

“Vocals” is just an instrument, like any other instrument e.g. a saxophone. Vocals do not need to sing a text (lyrics), they can also do “la la la la” or “oh oh oh oh” or scat singing. Because vocals are an instrument, they are divided (just like a sax) into bass, baritone, alto, mezzo-soprano and soprano. The only interesting about vocals compared to other instruments is, that until now, vocals are the only that can perform the lyrics of a song: sung (what we call a song) or spoken (what we in modern music call a rap).
So, I stick to my earlier statement: works can be divided in two kinds: instrumentals (works without lyrics) and songs (works with lyrics). we can add attributes to a work, like: key, beat etc. You think “instrumental” a vague term. I have no problems with a more specific term for the same category, so please what do you suggest we call the “works without lyrics”?

Not only that is so true what you state, but even more important is, that visitors of the site, looking for “instrumentals” of a certain music genre from a certain period in time, cannot find them now, because the type field has been left blank![quote=“Zastai, post:32, topic:164558”]
The same would go here, just because “sonata” is more specific, that does not mean that “instrumental” is not already better than “dunno, don’t care”.

See my note to @jesus2099

I wonder where you got that from? As Wikipedia says otherwise.

So in other words, you do not want that future human beings are able to find instrumental pieces of music composed by their ancestors, or do I not understand you?

You indeed got the root problem :slight_smile:

Indeed @Yvanz :wink: so I wonder, why should only native English people be able to look for music works here in this World Wide Encyclopedia? I thought it is an Encyclopedia for all people from our World?!

Nice saying, "if in doubt, leave it out" :slight_smile: But on the other hand, when from now on we can set the proper type “instrumental” or whatever you want to call it (as long as it is also understandable for non English speakers), at least the future majority of instrumental works can be found when visitors look for those, while if we continue to leave the field blank or fill in “other”, then in future no instrumental work at all will show up in the search results when people look for those types of original works! Is that what you really want? I do not think so!

Yes please go ahead @Zastai and create a ticket for it, to enter "instrumental" as a “new” type of work!

Can you all agree with @Zastai so he can send in a ticket?
Yes? :slight_smile:


There’s already one:

I don’t know the process rules for the database here, but generally we’d reopen a bug if it pops up again. It might be better to clone it as a feature request instead though. I would rather see descriptors or attributes added then. Instrumental really isn’t a distinct work type.


There is very clearly opposition to having “instrumental” as a work type. You can’t get rid of that by just claiming that everyone agrees with you.


That was closed because it is a style matter, and its usefulness or even correctness is disputed.


I understand and sometimes agree.
Still I am not sure what I prefer.
FWIW, my vocal / non vocal work type dichotomy comes from Minc, the Japanese ISRC DB, has 3 or 4 recording types (I only remember 3 ATM):

  • V: Vocal
  • I: Instrumental
  • K: Karaoke


@jesus2099 I talk about the original work not about the several recordings or an original work. Any original instrumental can get a recording with lyrics when someone writes lyrics for it, and every original work with lyrics can get an instrumental recording when leaving out the lyrics :slight_smile: Happy weekend to you! Have fun! :wink:


Yeah, that’s a trash article with zero sources for the body of the article. I lost it at note #10: “Contains vocals, which total thirty words and thus contains the most amount of lyrics of any instrumental song to hit #1.” If you want to trust an article with a line like that, feel free. You can also have their article on Song, which says: “While the term ‘song’ usually refers to a sung melody, the term is also used in some instrumental music in which the composer wishes the performer to play in a singing style.” Or just check out the article on Instrumental Rock and count how many times the phrase “instrumental song” appears. I’ll go with the Harvard Dictionary of Music, which describes song form as “The simple ternary form A B A, a form that is actually much more common in instrumental (particularly piano) music than songs,” then goes on to lament that in more modern usage the term has been diluted beyond that. If you look up the word “Instrumental” it has… nothing, because “instrumental form” isn’t a thing.

Yep, you got me. Global warming. Zika. Making it difficult to find instrumentals. Satanism. It’s all part of my grand master plan to screw the children of tomorrow. Good on ya for sussing that out.

Instrumental as a work type is indefensibly useless. Half the existing work types can be instrumental, and the term tells us almost nothing about the work itself. If a work is labeled as concerto, opera, or symphony, it at least gives me some idea of form, scale, and instrumentation. If a work is labeled as an instrumental, it means it may not have any words, or just a few unimportant ones in the background. It might be Mahler’s 6th, or the “Dun-Dun” sting from Law and Order. If you want “Instrumental” to be useful for anything, make it a descriptor separate from work type that can be used in searches coupled with genre tags.


I do understand QA process, which is why I suggested cloning it as a new feature request. I’d hope the dev team would move it to the right project if it was filed to the wrong one. The idea is you’d rather keep the discussion from the old ticket around, (so people can read through it and dismiss it quickly), rather than open a new one and start all over.


I strongly agree that instrumental works best as a folksonomy tag, but then I’m biased. I have a thing for tags.

I strongly disagree, because work type has never been formally defined. Works were implemented in an intentionally vague state. The thinking was that they’d be further developed and refined once it was clear how people were using them. The type list was pre-populated with a few items, but nobody (to my knowledge) gave it much thought. It was a busy time in MB history :slight_smile:

On the other hand, I agree that the type field is itself fairly useless. More on that when I complete the first draft of my anti-type rant.


[quote=“CallerNo6, post:49, topic:164558”]
once it was clear how people were using them[/quote]

I think this is the important part, obviously there is a want for this or the thread wouldn’t exist.

Is part of the disconnect here that the type field has been useful, exclusively, to classical editors thus far, and so has taken on a certain meaning to them?
As someone who doesn’t use the field at all currently (it’s all ‘song’ when I’m editing), I don’t see why ‘instrumental’ isn’t a useful descriptor from my perspective (although the fact that any recording can leave out the lyrics is a factor that makes it tricky… but not useless)

I think Torc has already found the middle ground:[quote=“Torc, post:47, topic:164558”]
make it a descriptor separate from work type[/quote]

It’s just semantics really isn’t it.
If people are attached to the current useage of ‘types’, make another field like ‘attributes’ and put anything and everything in there.
Personally I (naively I’m sure) don’t see the problem with allowing setting multiple types, but I can already sense the outrage, as well as possibly changing the way the database is structured?


If MB had better tag support (specifically a seperate tag category for genre or something along those lines) I’d agree!



Use the advanced query “lang:zxx” to search for instrumental works. I don’t see how adding an instrumental work type would enable more accurate searches than this.

Scatting is improvisation, I don’t see how it’s got much to with works, and how many compositions exist that specify humming, but don’t contain any lyrics? Also scatting or humming is just using the voice as an instrument, and should not be enough to categorise a work as “not an instrumental”.


Because jazz, pop, rock, etc. don’t represent distinct forms of composition (I suppose rap might be an exception). They are types (or styles) of performance and therefore relate more to recordings than works. Determining styles can be subjective and therefore MBz only supports them via tags.
and finally…

Disagree, “instrumental” is not a commonly accepted form of classical composition (unlike sonata, song, concerto, etc.).


Well, On the score sheet of Images one can read it is for piano solo, nothing else. Apparently Debussy and/or his publisher did not want to classify it as one of the more common forms (Sonata or whatever). As far as I know a piano is an instrument and therefore it should be called an instrumental. If you want to be more specific you can add a tag or separate field for which instrument then… And YES instrumental is not commonly accepted type among classical compositions because they had other ways to describe their works (e.g. Sonata, etude, impromptu which are nearly all instrumental pieces of music). It is now nearly a 100 years since Debussy died (1918) and things have changed since then… Or not???

Because jazz, pop, rock, etc. don’t represent distinct forms of composition ??? As a composer myself just as my wife; a composition is written with a specific genre in mind. Satisfaction written by the Rolling Stones is not intended as a Sonata or a Jazz thing. Trust me; a composer knows what he or she is doing…