it's not called a song, dumbo

November 10th, 2006

When I was in junior high, we had a class called Music. This was a two year run. First year classical music (a little dry, but mostly fun), second year "the history of rock" (snore). Now I'm not saying this was an important class or a particularly exciting one, it was just a run of the mill "it's in the syllabus so we're doing it" class. The classical music part was appreciated by pretty much only me, whereas year two found greater support in our class, although I thought it was a snoozefest (Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Doors, The Sex Pistols, how fascinating, it's the 90s, jackass!).

Now, I know that sounds like a generic "when I was young" rant, but stay with me here. The point is that we covered a bit of classical music in some detail. Why does this matter? It's a bit like asking "why do we have to learn math, I'm never gonna use this for anything". Until you decide to buy a car, and get a financing plan on that. And the interest is screwing you, because you never learnt to calculate compound interest. Now, math has a lot more applicability than music education. But if you only take one thing from Music, let it be this. It's not called a friggin' "song".

Let's say you're at da mall with dem homies and for a strange, unexplained reason, they're playing classical music in the clothing store, just as you're picking out a suit for your imminent court appearance. Now, aside from looking like a douche for not having a clue what you're talking about, you want to express your dissatisfaction with the music, so you remark to your boy (let's call him Homeboy #1) "yo dis fruity song is wack, yo" (do ghangstaz use commas?). IT'S NOT. "A SONG". !.

Do you hear someone singing? No? Then it's not a song. Let's look it up, shall we?

song  /sɔŋ, sɒŋ/ – noun
1. a short metrical composition intended or adapted for singing, esp. one in rhymed stanzas; a lyric; a ballad.
2. a musical piece adapted for singing or simulating a piece to be sung: Mendelssohn's “Songs without Words.”
3. poetical composition; poetry.
4. the art or act of singing; vocal music.
6. an elaborate vocal signal produced by an animal, as the distinctive sounds produced by certain birds, frogs, etc., in a courtship or territorial display.

Aside from definition number three, which doesn't seem applicable, every single definition is very clear on the singing part. Definition number six is a little far fetched to our context, but even that clearly states that it's a vocal sound. I've left out definition number five for emphasis, as I think it captures this whole thing most clearly and succinctly.

5. something that is sung.

Clear? The reason people call it a song, is

  1. They don't know that there is such a thing as music that is "not a song".
  2. Or even if they do, they don't know what to call "that".

Let's start with the most hip and least descriptive word: tune. If you don't know what to call it, you can always call it a tune. I can't think of a case where that would be incorrect. For the more demanding customer, there are words like piece, composition, work, and depending on the context, theme. Finally, if you want to appear smart and cultured to people you just met, call it an opus. Beyond the generics, there's a vast nomenclature for works of music specific to the work's form.

Don't be a douche, don't call it "a song". [Can we get t-shirts printed?]

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2 Responses to "it's not called a song, dumbo"

  1. erik says:

    second year “the history of rock” (snore)

    fantastic

  2. john (mikhail) says:

    I tend to stick with "piece" myself. But then I'm a bit of a musical philistine.