Explosions In The Sky. Hans Zimmer. Clams Casino. Eluvium. Robot Koch. There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of these artists, and that’s probably only because of the genre their music belongs to. All of them specialize in music that has no vocals. All of them specialize in instrumental music.
I absolutely love instrumental music and it saddens me that my generation has pretty much made an unspoken agreement to just gloss over any song without vocals. I want to change that. There are a ton of reasons why instrumental music is so great, so here’s two of the biggest:
The story each piece of instrumental music tells is up to you
Songs are like short stories. Most of them tell a story, whether of heartbreak, of love, of anger, of oppression, or of triumph. The lyrics of a song tell you the story the writer wants to tell, but by embedding the music with lyrics, the song is closed off for listeners to participate in the creation of meaning. A break-up song will never become a song about death and the lose of life (metaphors-aside). Granted, break-up songs will mean different things to different people, but at its core, the song is, more or less, going to make you feel sad or angry.
Songs with vocals are what is referred to as “closed” texts as they’re meant to be interpreted in just one way. The only bit of wiggle room listeners have is the wiggle room that comes with the words and what they mean. This type of communication is very one-way, as opposed to instrumental music, which has no words (besides the title of the song) to restrict the listener from imbuing meaning into the song. You can listen to one song and find that it makes you feel like you’re looking down on a beautiful city from the rooftop of a skyscraper while your friend might listen to the same song and find that it makes them feel like they’re walking along a beach in Kauai.
Each song you listen to becomes an active experience as you participate in filling in the blanks of a story. The soundtrack has been given to you. Now all you have to do is create the movie.
Instrumental music is universal
We often hear that music brings people together and we often hear that music is a universal language, but that is not completely true. Instrumental music is a universal language. There are no words that serve as a language barrier, there are no ties to specific cultures, there is just music. Music in its most basic and more pure form: sounds. Sounds anybody from anywhere can understand, feel, and love, like the sound of birds chirping in the early morning, or the ambient noise of a sleeping city, or the grand, majestic, sound of fireworks.
Instrumental music is also universal in the sense that there is something for everybody.
Need a wicked beat? Clams Casino is your guy:
Need something peaceful on while you cram for your exam? Try Robot Koch:
Need something energetic? Can’t go wrong with Explosions In The Sky:
There isn’t just something for everybody, there’s something for everything you’re going through and every possible emotion you may feel.
If you ask somebody who loves instrumental music to describe how it feels, an answer you’ll here more times than not is “I can’t”, and that, perhaps, is how instrumental can best be described: indescribable.
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