I think there must be a good word for this, but can't think of what it might be.

Harmony and Melody are pieces of it, beat seems simplistic, Instrumentation seems too scientific and dull.

Any Ideas?

  • 1
    Backing track? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backing_track May 4, 2016 at 9:31
  • 4
    I strongly suspect you mean "everything except the vocals", otherwise this question doesn't make a lot of sense. I mean, not every subset of anything has a name. What do you call a song without its guitar notes? What do you call a room without its wallpaper?
    – Mr Lister
    May 4, 2016 at 16:52
  • 3
    @davea0511 I think you completely misunderstood my comment. I was recommending use of the word "music" to refer to all of the elements of Handel's Messiah except the words. I'm not sure how what I wrote seems to suggest I would not call something "music" for any reason, but the point is, every song would be made up of music combined with lyrics (except maybe Cocteau Twins - I don't know what you call nonsense syllables that are sung - I suppose they are "lyrics" of a sort?) May 4, 2016 at 18:32
  • 2
    @Kevin the term instrumentation is commonly used in music to identify the particular set of instruments used in a given orchestration. For example, the instrumentation of a baroque overture might be 2 trumpets, tympani, 2 oboes, bassoon, strings, and basso continuo.
    – phoog
    May 4, 2016 at 19:44
  • 2
    If you wish to include the melody of a song while excluding the lyrics, then your accepted answer ("instrumentals") does not really work. In many songs, the melody is only present in the voice, so it would be absent from an instrumental-only performance of the song.
    – phoog
    May 4, 2016 at 19:48

8 Answers 8


plural noun of instrumental

It's very commonly used to refer to music (minus the lyrics)

noun Music
A composition for one or more instruments, usually without vocal accompaniment.

"the opening tune is an instrumental"

adjective Music
Performed on or written for an instrument.

"They played instrumental music at the wedding."
"an instrumental version of a song"

Or called backing tracks, karaoke, etc.

For further reading, here's a quote from a highly-upvoted and accepted answer to a similar question on ELL:

Instrumental can mean two things:

  1. a "karaoke" version with the vocals removed; or

  2. a song which was written without vocals in the first place.

  • 5
    "Instrumental" is used to refer to a song that never had lyrics. The question is different.
    – Octopus
    May 4, 2016 at 21:36
  • 8
    @Octopus Nonsense. You can have an instrumental version of a song, just as you can have a lyrical version of an instrumental.
    – Rich
    May 5, 2016 at 0:49

From both the legal and writing process standpoints, the components that make up a song (by "song" I mean a musical piece that includes vocals, and may (often) include other musical instruments that accompany the vocals, with the vocals almost always including words in a specific language) are almost universally divided into music and lyrics.

When those two words are used in this sense, the word lyrics refers exclusively to any and all words that are sung or spoken or rapped as part of the song, and it does not refer to the melody or rhythm or any purely musical aspect of the vocals for the song. Often the word words is used in place of lyrics.

When used in these senses, the word music refers to everything but the lyrics (in the sense above) themselves, and therefore music in this sense does refer to the vocal melody, harmonies, and rhythms.

One visual way to separate lyrics from everything is to look at how a song is most commonly written down.

"Fight Song" Sheet Music

Image source

The top line of the music represents the vocal melody (and often includes vocal harmonies), and shows, in musical notation, the rhythm and pattern of notes that are to be sung. Right underneath the top line of music we see the words or lyrics written out, with each syllable aligned underneath the musical note that is to be sung at the musical time and on the pitch and for the duration indicated.

Is is clear in this case that music and lyrics (or words) separately refer to those two elements as written. In practice, especially among song writers, those words are used in the same exact way for the sounds as well.


  • Music usually refers to all of the musical elements, including vocal notes and rhythms, but not any words or lyrics.
  • Beat and instrumentation refer to the music played by any musical instruments along with the singing, with beat being used more often in the contexts of techno, rap, hip-hop, and R&B. Instrumentation can also refer to music played by instruments when there is no singing involved, or it can refer to simply the instruments chosen to play, without any reference to the music that is played.
  • Backing track is often used as a synonym for beat or instrumentation, but sometimes includes any harmony vocals (along with the relevant lyrics) and sometimes omits solo and/or lead parts played by instruments.


I randomly remembered the lyrics to a "Weird" Al Yankovic parody of George Harrison's Got My Mind Set On You this morning. In the parody, "Weird" Al refers to the "music" and the "words" and "lyrics" as separate parts of making a song.

Relevant excerpts:

You really need words
Whole lotta rhyming words
You gotta rhyme so many words, mm-mm
To do it, to do it, to do it, to do it
To do it, to do it right, child


Oh, you gotta have-a music
You need really catchy music
This song has got plenty of music
But just six words, child

And so I'll sing' em over
And over and over and over
And over and over and over, mm-mm
And over and over and over
And over and over and over again

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tI4oRt7PLnc

  • +1 good answer, minus the instrumentation part. Like we discussed earlier, I disagree on that part.
    – NVZ
    May 4, 2016 at 18:42
  • @NVZ I think we agree on one of the multiple ways that I hear the word instrumentation used, and I've added that sense to my answer. I feel like it would be confusing to discuss all the different senses possible for the word beat, so I'm leaving out those senses that are not relevant to the question. May 4, 2016 at 18:45
  • yes, mostly. But you haven't yet supported your answer with a reference. I wait for that. :)
    – NVZ
    May 4, 2016 at 18:50
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    @NVZ See the top corner of the image where it says "Words and Music by". I could include a huge number of images of the first pages of sheet music, but I feel like that would make the answer overly long. The senses for both words in this context (plus the word lyrics) could be considered industry jargon, but the asker does not mention any wish to exclude jargon as a possible for source for the word. May 4, 2016 at 19:04
  • If you Google "instrumentals" you'll find plenty of reasonable-looking hits that refer to music played by instruments. Whether or not this is a proper music term, it's a term a layman would recognize and likely use for this purpose. I can't argue that "instrumentation" never has this meaning, but "choice of instruments" is a more familiar meaning to me. But this is my favorite answer so far because music includes the melody of the song, which is part of what OP requested (although OP then ignored it when selecting an answer).
    – David K
    May 4, 2016 at 19:37

I'd go for 'music'.

Bing defines a 'song' as:

a short poem or other set of words set to music or meant to be sung.

The Free Dictionary describes a song as:

a piece of music, usually employing a verbal text, composed for the voice...

Oxford Dictionaries take on the word:

short poem or other set of words set to music or meant to be sung.

which is exactly the same as Bing's.

And Merriam-Webster say:

a short musical composition of words and music

So, without words, a song becomes just music.


I want to draw the distinction between the tune and the accompaniment.

If we take away the lyrics we are definitely left with one thing, the tune (or melody) and may be left with another the accompaniment.

I claim that it's not a song unless there is a tune to be sung. There are examples of pieces of music that are called songs by their creators, but which do not have words; Felix Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words being a well known example.

Not all songs have an accompaniment, many folk songs are sung unaccompanied. However in many cases the instrumental accompaniment is intrinsic to the character of the song. This seems very much the case for concert music such as Schubert's Lieder, but also in popular music the riffs, or intricate acoustic guitar parts are a formal part of the song.

Considering songs by Rogers and Hammerstein, Rogers is referred to as the Lyricist and Hammerstein as the composer. Hence we could argue that everything of the song except for the lyrics is the composition. However I don't think I've ever heard "composition" used in this way. I would say that a song has three elements: Lyrics, Tune and Accompaniment, so no single term for what's left when lyrics are removed.

  • 1
    I would at least change "Tune" to "Tune(s)" as there isn't a clear definition of tune other than most consider it to be the melody, which ignores the other harmonizing vocal parts which are generally not represented in the accompaniment. Then again, I'm not sure the individual vocal parts may be considered "tunes". I think "tune" is more specifically considered just the melody. Perhaps one would say there are 4 elements: Lurics, Tune, Harmonizing tunes (not to be confused with harmonizing accompaniment), and Accompaniment.
    – davea0511
    May 4, 2016 at 18:06
  • The distinction between tune and song is particularly sharp in some folk music circles, c.f. this discussion: thesession.org/discussions/8203 .
    – Dave
    May 4, 2016 at 20:19
  • The point about the special status of other vocal lines is well made, but I do think of them as part of the accompaniment. My argument would be that in, say, a 4 part acapella version of the song you could drop any of the vocal lines except for the the main tune.If we wanted to do a new arrangement of the song the one part of the composition we would retain is the tune. If we changed the tune I think we'd have a whole new song.
    – djna
    May 6, 2016 at 13:06

[instrumental] accompaniment

A musical part that supports or partners a solo instrument, voice, or group.

Oxford Dictionaries

(music) Instrumental part.

Gwen sang for us, with Muriel providing accompaniment on the piano.



As someone with a Bachelor of Music, I can tell you there is no simple answer--surprisingly, perhaps. The simplest answer would be 'accompaniment', meaning the instrumental parts that accompany the vocal line. But if we were talking about a Wagner opera, for instance, and we just took out the vocal parts, calling what remained the 'accompaniment' would seem like belittling it. If you wanted to describe what remained of a popular song after the vocal line is gone, you could talk about 'the instrumental parts' or 'the accompaniment'. Neither is totally satisfactory but they are the best available options. Or you could refer to specifics, by saying 'the orchestral part' or 'the rhythm section' or 'the keyboard part' or whatever.

Or you could refer to the structural elements, 'the harmony' or 'the chord progression'. It was common practice for Jazz musicians to discard the melody of a song and write a new melody to the chord progression, and copyright the result as their own composition. Approaches to copyright have changed, though, and you might not get away with that nowadays. That approach rested on the fact that traditionally copyright rested only in the melody and lyrics. Legal practice has changed, as indicated by the fact that Led Zeppelin were recently sued (unsuccessfully) over the instrumental introduction of "Stairway To Heaven".


The “Score” I believe is the term you are looking for.

synonyms: score. type of: sheet music. a musical composition in printed or written form. Definitions of musical score. a written form of a musical composition; parts for different instruments appear on separate staves on large pages.

From score 7 (noun) at vocabulary.com

  • Hi Sam. Please provide a citation or source to justify this answer, and do take a moment to see the helpful help center and take the tour.
    – livresque
    Feb 17 at 7:57

As suggested in @NVZ's answer, consider composition

Composition consists in two things only. The first is the ordering and disposing of several sounds...in such a manner that their succession pleases the ear. This is what the Ancients called melody. The second is the rendering audible of two or more simultaneous sounds in such a manner that their combination is pleasant. This is what we call harmony, and it alone merits the name of composition.


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