and popular music
, the term ballad
denotes a short song
in a slow tempo
, usually with a romantic or sentimental text, though the term is also used for instrumental
pieces. Ballad is also used in modern pop
and folk music
for a (usually faster) strophic
narrative song, analogous to the older poetic term ballad
. The latter usage is usually meant when the word ballad
appears in the song's title. Ballads are often regarded as the blatant opposite of a true dance track
Jazz and traditional pop music
Evolution of the term
The common modern usage of ballad
may have evolved from usage in 19th-century Britain
were generally sentimental, narrative, strophic songs published separately or as part of an opera
(descendants perhaps of broadside ballads
, but with printed music
, and usually newly composed; see also ballad opera
). These were sometimes called "drawing-room ballads" owing to their popularity with the middle classes. By the Victorian era ballad
had come to mean any sentimental popular song, especially so-called "royalty ballads", which publishers would pay popular singers to perform in Britain and the United States
on "ballad concerts." Some of Stephen Foster
's songs exemplify this genre.
By the 1920s, composers of Tin Pan Alley
to signify a slow, sentimental tune or love song, often written in a fairly standardized form (see below). Jazz musicians sometimes broaden the term still further to embrace all slow-tempo pieces.
Most pop standard
and jazz ballads are built from the following elements:
- A single, introductory verse; usually around 16 bars in length, and ending on the dominant. This is often omitted in performance, especially for an instrumental rendition, and some ballads, especially later ones, lack it altogether.
- The chorus or refrain, i.e. the song proper. Usually it is 16 or 32 bars long, and in AABA form, though other forms such as ABAC are not uncommon, and more complex or irregular forms are far from unheard-of. In AABA forms the B section is usually referred to as the bridge.
- Optionally, a brief coda, sometimes based on material from the bridge, as in "Over the Rainbow".
Ballads form an important part of the jazz repertory especially, and a pop or jazz set
(period between breaks) will usually contain one or two ballads to provide a relaxed, intimate change of pace from faster material; or to feature a singer or instrumental soloist. As noted above, the introduction or verse is most often omitted, even by singers; though some ballads, for instance "Lush Life
" or "'Round Midnight
", traditionally retain their introductions. Repetitions of the chorus tend to be relatively few—often only the second half (BA) of the song-form is repeated—and improvisation, beyond ornamentation of the melody, is usually limited, though the singer or soloist often interpolates an improvised cadenza
before the final note of the song. Occasionally a ballad will be reinterpreted as an up-tempo number (and vice-versa), especially by instrumentalists. "Autumn Leaves
", for instance, will sometimes receive both treatments in a single performance (as well as being sung in two languages). Thus the identification of a particular song as a ballad can be contingent on the performer, and ballad
can sometimes refer to the performing style rather than the song itself.
Famous traditional pop
and jazz standard
Modern pop and folk music
usually use ballad
to refer to a narrative strophic song, traditional or newly composed, that may be fast or slow. Folk ballads often have several verses, and generally follow either a simple verse form (i.e. Verse 1, Verse 2...) or a verse-chorus form (Verse 1, Chorus, Verse 2, Chorus...). The chorus may consist of nonsense words. Multiple folk ballad texts may share the same melody; conversely the same text may be sung to multiple melodies.
Some exemplars include:
In modern popular music
(since c. 1955) one encounters both of the above usages for ballad
- When used generically, as in power ballad or rock ballad, it usually refers to a slow love song, in the American popular tradition. Musicologist Richard Middleton offers this broader definition: "[By] the time of the development of the rock ballad the genre can be defined simply as a slowish pop song, with subjectively orientated and often romantic themes and a personal mode of address.
- When the word ballad appears in the title of a song, as for example in Barry Sadler's "Ballad of the Green Berets" or Billy Joel's "The Ballad of Billy the Kid", the folk-music sense is generally implied. Ballad is also sometimes applied to strophic story-songs more generally, such as Don McLean's "American Pie". Modern pop ballads of this kind tend towards greater formal complexity than their folk antecedents. Thus for example: while The Beatles' "The Ballad of John and Yoko" and their "Hey Jude" differ greatly from one another in form, lyrical content and musical character, both are commonly referred to as ballads.
References and further reading
- Middleton, Richard. "Popular Music (I)". Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (subscription required). Accessed 2007-04-06.
- Randel, Don (1986). The New Harvard Dictionary of Music. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-61525-5.
- Temperley, Nicholas. "Ballad (II, 2)". Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (subscription required). Accessed 2007-04-06.
- Witmer, Robert. "Ballad (jazz)". Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (subscription required). Accessed 2007-04-06.