Coming from the question about distinguishing songs from tracks based on presence of vocals, I wonder if track is a term that can be used for every kind of musical work?

In the comments, Noach mi Frankfurt thinks that a track has to be recorded on a medium, while Unihedro thinks that the definition of the term has changed.

So, how do we define track?

  • Some pieces of music are performed live and never recorded. – Kyle Strand Sep 15 '16 at 17:39

Most literally, a 'track' is a section of a medium (tape, wax, vinyl) on which a physical (or magnetic) track has been created due to a recording being made or pressed there. Even during times when audio usually did correspond to a physical track, when people said 'track' they were often talking about the song/piece of audio, rather than the physical track.

Now that many media (e.g. mp3 files) don't have a physical track, the word 'track' seems to mean a recording of the type that would have been a track on a record (or other medium). So a two second mp3 file of someone laughing isn't a 'track' unless it has actually come from a sequence of other sound files arranged like an album; A song can usually be called a 'track', because we are used to songs being tracks on albums.

  • I agree here. I am a musician who records on a frequent basis, and someone who listens to a lot of music. Using this term to describe the discrete units on an album is slang. Another way to think of the appropriate way to use this term, think of a 4-track recorder. With this device, you can record 4 separate tracks of the same song, and mix their levels to attain the optimum sound. – Jason P Sallinger May 31 '16 at 2:18

According to the definition a 'track' (when referring to music) is

one of several songs or pieces of music on a CD or other musical recording:


a part of a magnetic strip onto which sound can be recorded, with several tracks on one magnetic strip: When a piece of music is recorded, each instrument is recorded separately on a 24 or 48–track tape.

Definition of track

So a song is a song whether live, sheet music, cd, tape, vinyl. But a track is a song or piece of music when recorded onto a physical medium.

  • I think your second definition refers to each recording on the tape, not to the tape. "Each instrument is recorded separately on a 24 or 48 track tape" -> Each instrument is it's own track. Each tape has multiple tracks, so a tape is a collection of tracks, rather than just one. – cat40 Sep 26 '16 at 19:59
  • Maybe the 'or' should be an 'and'. It's one of those definitions that mean one thing to the general public and another to the professionals involved in the recording industry. – Pat Dobson Sep 27 '16 at 8:03

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