Sometimes in rock music you'll hear a guitar solo which reproduces the vocal melody: from the verse, for example.

Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana springs to mind - here's a link to the relevant part, just before the solo starts. https://youtu.be/hTWKbfoikeg?t=161

Can anyone think of a neat, ie terse but with a clear meaning, way to describe such an instrumental solo?

Something with a meaning similar to "vocal-melody-copying", but nicer. If there's already an Italian word for this from the world of classical music, then that's fine.

  • Karaoke, instrumentals, etc should work. There will not be a crisp answer to your question, I'm afraid.
    – NVZ
    Jun 27, 2016 at 15:50
  • A closely related idea is musical counterpoint. I think you need a word that can be directly compared to counterpoint, or perhaps is just a type of counterpoint. But the fact that there isn't a term for this in the context of BB King suggests there isn't a common word.
    – Phil Sweet
    Jun 27, 2016 at 16:18
  • 4
    What you are looking for is not really an English word so much as it is music jargon. You'll probably find the best answers at music.stackexchange.com
    – jpaugh
    Jun 27, 2016 at 23:01

5 Answers 5


I usually associate “an instrumental reprise” with an instrumental version of an entire song that was originally written with vocals, like the instrumental version of the Eagles' Wasted Time discussed in paragraph three of the “Song Facts” link.

However, this link seems to be using “instrumental reprise” (and the less ambiguous “instrumental response”) to describe what you are seeking:

The first verse is sung to the accompaniment of the instrumentalists; this is followed by an instrumental reprise of the melody in slightly altered form known as the jawab “response.” The second [sung] verse is then … [also] followed by the slightly different instrumental response.

(from The Concise Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Volume 2 edited by Ellen Koskof, via ‘Google Books’)

Of these two, “instrumental response” would be less likely to cause confusion with the “instrumental version” meaning of "instrumental reprise," but "response" would imply that the instrumental solo is somehow different from the vocalized melody, whereas "reprise" would capture better the notion of it being "copied" or "repeated" instrumentally.
("In music, a reprise ... is the repetition or reiteration of the opening material later in a composition ..." from Wikipedia.)

His solo was an instrumental reprise of the song's/the verse's [vocalized] melody.

  • 2
    I think you're on to something here - you could say that "the solo is a reprise of the vocals from the verse" for example. Jun 27, 2016 at 16:22

While it's not a single word, sometimes this is referred to as "restating the melody." The section itself would still be called a solo, if one player is featured, or an instrumental break, if it's an ensemble.

...the sax player who steps forward to restate the melody in the middle of a song is also soloing.

Complete Idiot's Guide to Solos and Improvisation (Google Books)


The word you are looking for is a musical lead. Typically it is because that part will play at the same time as the vocals "lead"ing them. However, it qualifies regardless of the order they are in the song.

Incidentally, this is also why the main guitar is called the lead guitar. Not because it's the main one and thus the leader, but because it plays the lead part.

  • 2
    "Musical lead" doesn't bring the concept of reprising the vocal melody that the OP asked for. A musical lead can go off in a completely different direction. Jun 28, 2016 at 7:09
  • I understand your point. It no longer has the connotation that OP described. However, it is a one word term that does definitionally mean exactly, when the instrumentation plays the melody that the singer sings. Jun 28, 2016 at 13:53

The closest musical term I can think of is eco: an effect in which a group of notes is repeated, usually more softly, and perhaps at a different octave, to create an echo effect.

What you describe also has some similarities with a call and response, but in that case the two musical phrases are usually different.


Informally, I might say to the lead "follow me after 3", meaning "start like I started, 3 bars later". The lead could then keep following me, duplicating me exactly, or diverge into a counterpoint.

To a technical audience, there are some precise words you can use. If the duplication is short-lived, that is the two voices start with the same melody (entering at different times) but diverge, imitation is appropriate:

The restatement in close succession of melodic figures in different voices in polyphonic textures


A polyphonic musical texture in which a melodic idea is freely or strictly echoed by successive voices. A section of freer echoing in this manner if often referred to as a "point of imitation"; Strict imitation is called "canon."

If the imitation is more rigid, to the point of being an exact duplicate in a different voice, then canon is the better term. From Wikipedia:

One melody is strictly imitated by a second part after a delay in the entrance of the second part. In order for the parts to end simultaneously, the canon may break down at the end of the composition. The canonic parts may occur at the unison or some other interval.

A familiar a capella canon is "singing in the round", like Row Row Row Your Boat.

These terms have been around since at least the Renaissance, as both canon and imitation form an important part of the sacred liturgy (eg choral mass) and secular chants (eg English ayres).

  • 1
    OP wasn't asking about canon or round, but what it's called in popular music when a soloist plays the vocal melody on their instrument.
    – johncip
    Jun 28, 2016 at 2:20

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