What is a Song? - Definition & Examples

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: What is a Chorus in a Song? - Definition & Examples

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:04 What Is a Song?
  • 1:16 Types of Songs
  • 3:26 Examples of Songs
  • 5:05 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Do you have a favorite song? People have probably sung 'Happy Birthday' to you, but could you explain what a song is if someone asked? In this lesson, let's explore the meaning of the word 'song' and see some examples of famous songs.

What Is a Song?

At its most basic, a song is a short piece of music, usually with words. It combines melody and vocals, although some composers have written instrumental pieces, or musical works without words, that mimic the quality of a singing voice. The words of a song are called lyrics. Lyrics can include a series of verses, the longer sections of the song that tell the story, and a refrain, a short phrase repeated at the end of every verse. Songs can have a simple structure of one or two verses, or a more complex one with multiple verses and refrains. Songs usually have a meter or beat. Whether you sing or speak the lyrics, you can feel a pattern or pulse in the way the words move the song forward.

The word 'song' has been around for a very long time, and it connects back to Old English and Old Norse languages. As such a history suggests, songs are used for many purposes: to tell stories, express emotions, or convey a belief in faith. Sometimes they give instructions or help make difficult, repetitive work a little less tiresome.

Types of Songs

Because singing songs has been around for such a long time, there are many types. One of the oldest songs in the world is a hymn found in Syria that traces back to 1400 BCE. Throughout the world, many cultures had songs connected to their history, often passed down from one generation to another. Everyone knew them even though they didn't have sheet music. These are known as traditional or folk songs, and they reflect life and activities of common people.

Some folk songs existed for decades before later composers or music scholars finally wrote them down. An example of this type of song is 'Londonderry Air,' which came from Northern Ireland. It was written down around 1851, but probably heard for years before that, and given several different sets of lyrics before being connected to the words and a different title for which it's best known today: 'Danny Boy.'

Sea shanties are an example of another type of song. Sea shanties were sung on sailing ships and tended to be work songs. They had a repetitive rhythm to coordinate sailors' activities and help them work together in hard jobs like pulling ropes and anchors, and putting up or taking down sails. One famous shanty is 'What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor?'

Songs meant for children are another type of song, such as 'Blow The Man Down'. You might have sung it in elementary school music class. If you listen to it, does it sound familiar? It was adapted for use as the theme to Spongebob Squarepants!

Other types of songs include African spirituals, religious hymns, country music songs, rock and pop songs, and songs from Broadway musicals. Now let's look at a few examples of songs in more detail.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account