Work Type for "Instrumental" Music


Following a dicussion between myself and @kellnerd here, it has come to light that no suitable work type exists for “instrumental” music.

Agreeing that the definition of a “song” is a piece of music with lyrics, we should surely have a type for a piece of music that has no lyrics, but does not fall into any of the other choices?

I propose a new type “Instrumental” to be added, as per this wikipedia article Instrumental - Wikipedia

An instrumental is a recording without any vocals, although it might include some inarticulate vocals, such as shouted backup vocals in a Big Band setting. Through semantic widening, a broader sense of the word song may refer to instrumentals.[1][2][3] The music is primarily or exclusively produced using musical instruments. An instrumental can exist in music notation, after it is written by a composer; in the mind of the composer (especially in cases where the composer themselves will perform the piece, as in the case of a blues solo guitarist or a folk music fiddle player); as a piece that is performed live by a single instrumentalist or a musical ensemble, which could range in components from a duo or trio to a large Big Band, concert band or orchestra.


I’ve been leaving them blank unless there’s a suitable work type (e.g. “incidental music” for score pieces).

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Indeed that seems to be current behaviour but that seems sloppy and unecessary, leaving something blank to me equates “unknown”.

Seeing as there are entire genres that are mostly comprised of “instrumental” music (most Electronic genres for example) it seems silly that we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of “works” without a type specified?

We already have “instrumental” as a choice when linking a recording to a work, surely this would indicate it would be worth having a type that matches as well?


There was a feature request for this:


I’m not sure any more I want the burden of a new work type.
As no lyrics is quite meaningfully precise, already.


But we once again head into the world of unset properties, which seems unintuitive. This is such a common work “type” that it should surely have an item in the list, we have many others present that are less common to occur?

I’m happy to re-open a case as I dont think this has been fully fleshed out.

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The edge cases were works that (only) include instruments and humming, scat, … Vocals with no lyrics. Some say voice as an instrument.
Are they songs or instrumentals? :sweat_smile:

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Very true, but edge cases are just that - something that occurs sometimes but not often, instrumentals with a bit of an educated guess would outweight edge cases by a considerable margin.

Agree with this.

I always have seen them as songs with no lyrics. But MB taught me that it is not a song unless it has words to sing. Which is confusing as what does the song writer get paid for on his\her invoice when they write music without words?


If people insist that a “Song” requires words and intent to be performed by a voice, despite modern usage of the word “song” not requiring voices or words in many circles, then we definitely need a new work type to cover instrumental music, with the emphasis on “Music”.

After all, I count 5 existing Work types which aren’t themselves a piece of “Music” that you would have a recording of:

  1. audio drama (words)
  2. play (words)
  3. poem (words)
  4. prose (words)
  5. soundtrack (an unordered collection of songs and/or instrumental music)

I don’t agree that setting the lyrics language to “no lyrics” is enough.


when speaking of corner cases, don’t forget about whistled languages. If it sounds like somebody just whistling, in fact he may be singing “Ave Maria” in whistled language :slight_smile:


Where would Mongolian throat singing fit? Well I generally use, World, Folk.
As for non classical works without lyrics, I’ve always just used “Instrumental” for pieces from Percy Faith, Mantovani, etc. Some songs without lyrics like Glenn Miller could be tagged as “Swing” or “Big Band”.
Are works like Tubular Bells, Pop or Instrumental?

When you get into areas like “swing” or “big band” you’re really talking about arrangements and performances, not the work itself, and that’s a different topic.

Keeping to the original question, I think an “instrumental” work type could be useful, with a couple of caveats:

  • We’d want to encourage use of more specific types when appropriate. Most symphonies are instrumental, but you wouldn’t want them categorized as such.
  • There would need to be validation to prevent a combination of “instrumental” with a language other than [no lyrics].

You might want to see Are works that consists solely of sampled vocals really songs?

Not sure if anyone cares anymore, but at least one editor has taken it upon themselves to change all video game-related works into Songs, despite being advised that it is ill-advised.


I think it’s a pity that, because in English the word song apparently includes instrumental wrongly, the MB Song work type then includes instrumentals.

Then for me, this work type (Song) has no longer much meaning or purpose.
Maybe it’s only a Classical type, like the other types, after all.

I will continue to use song only for vocal works with lyrics and no type for instrumentals but there is no guideline preventing other editors to break/change this afterwards.

This argument pops up again every few months due to the confused definition in English. Like in many areas, MB diverges from standard English with its own terms. Newbie editors often will not have seen the previous discussions and maybe it needs some better clarity on the guideline wording. It would be simple to solve with an “instrumental” type, but that is lost in a ticket somewhere.

It always seems odd to me that we have to leave a space as that just reads like “undefined” to me.


When I look up anything related to works on a soundtrack, they are called “songs” by everyone. I find “song” to be the most appropriate of the given types for these works. Until a “more correct” work type is introduced, “song” remains the “most correct” of the given choices of work types, and certainly better than a blank field.

That’s… highly debatable. I personally consider a blank field a lot better than “song” :slight_smile:


It should be noted that the style guidelines don’t say anything about what Musicbrainz officially considers as the definition of “song”.

Maybe it’s time to correct that.