Tunes and Songs

Dateline: July 19, 2014

Day 3 – Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival


A lot of times the things I learn sort of “jump out” at me. I suddenly realize that I’ve seen or heard something, or experienced something, repeatedly without really paying much attention to it. Then, all of a sudden, I’m aware of it, I process it in a new way, and it becomes something new that I’ve learned. That happened today at the bluegrass festival.


Last night I heard Del McCoury say something about a “song,” and then he seemed to correct himself and say that it was actually a “tune.” That caught my attention. Why did he correct himself? Did he think there was a difference between a song and a tune? I’ve always just assumed the words were interchangeable. Well, his band then went ahead and played the tune. I noticed it was an instrumental piece. I began to wonder if a song was something with lyrics that a singer sings and a tune was an instrumental piece.


Today, the leader of the Lonely Heartstring Band told us they were going to play a tune that the banjo player had written. I listened, and it was an instrumental piece. Then, a little later, as if to just help me out with my learning, he said they were going to perform a song the banjo player had written. They performed it, and sure enough, there was singing. Now it seemed crystal clear to me. Song and tune are not interchangeable words! Who knew? Surely I hadn’t known before now. I don’t know if this distinction is something that only bluegrass muscians make or if it is used throughout music. I’ll have to start paying more attention!


I posed the question to google, and found that there has been some discussion about whether the two words are interchangeable or not. Apparently I’m not the only one to have thought about this.