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Is there a term for instrumental music where the song is typically sung vocally, but the singer's part has been replaced by an instrument?

I want to tell my Google Home to play instrumental music of this kind, but instead it typically plays pieces that are exclusively instrumental (not intended to be sung).

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  • Instrumental Parodies?
    – Lonnie Best
    Dec 1, 2018 at 17:57
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    Musak? en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muzak Or elevator music?
    – b3ko
    Dec 1, 2018 at 18:54
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    I was able to find some stuff in spotify by searching "instrumental pop covers".
    – b3ko
    Dec 1, 2018 at 20:36
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    The reverse (where a singer sings words or scat to emulate a previous instrumental solo) is called vocalese...
    – Daniel Griscom
    Dec 3, 2018 at 0:57
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    Try "Instrumental version" of a "song name/genre/chorus name" or "song with lead <piano> melody"
    – Bruce
    Dec 3, 2018 at 5:35

6 Answers 6

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The very short and simple answer to this question - Instrumentalize

instrumentalize: Verb - (third-person singular simple present instrumentalizes, present participle instrumentalizing, simple past and past participle instrumentalized)

(music) To transcribe for instrumental execution a piece of music written for the human voice

For your Google Home issue, I suppose you can attempt to tell it to play whatever song "instrumentalized".... But, I'm guessing ymmv...

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    I've been a musician for most of my 67 years and had to look up the word 'Instrumentalize' to check it existed. I doubt there's much point in asking Google to look for it.
    – Laurence
    Dec 13, 2018 at 0:26
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I think the best way to do this is "instrumental cover of 'x'" where x is the song name. Alternatively, "(instrument name) cover of 'x'".

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    Can you give an example?
    – user7708
    Sep 15, 2019 at 14:00
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This sort of thing might be named as the song title plus (Instrumental) or (Instrumental version). But I'm afraid this will be little use in a Google search.

Tracks where the vocal is omitted but NOT replaced by an instrument will be tagged 'Karaoke'. There's plenty of them!

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.Song Title + Orchestra Version 123456

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Quiet, instrumental covers of popular music, where the lead vocal is replaced with an instrument, were popularized by the "Muzak" company, which sold it as background music for stores and restaurants. Although it's a registered trademark, it is often used informally as a generic term for the genre.

"Instrumental cover" would be a non-copyrighted term that would also cover a wider range of styles. Due to its usage as background music, Muzak covers were all translated into the "easy listening" "soft rock" genre, no matter what genre the original song was recorded in.

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  • The Google Home is a voice activated music player, and "Muzak" probably sounds too much like "Music" for the Google Home to distinguish what I'm meaning. "Instrument cover" may work though. Sep 6, 2023 at 15:31
  • I recently read a book by Arthur "Babe" Cranfield, who was a World Pool Champion (in 1964 I think). Coincidentally, I discovered that his day job was running the "Muzak" company. Sep 6, 2023 at 16:25
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Most answers here seem to suggest, that this is a new process and therefore needs a newish sounding term.

I disagree, since this is just a special case of transcription or arrangement. In fact, Franz Liszt (1811-1886) transcribed quite a few Lieder (songs) from Franz Schubert, by incorporating the singers material into the piano score, so in this case creating a transcription for piano. Note, that the replacing instrument is mentioned here for precision.

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  • I could see a case for "arrangement" but surely the transcription is the written score, not the performance. Sep 7, 2023 at 21:02

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