What Is a Ballad?

Posted on February 27, 2024

The term “ballad” is commonly used across various musical styles, especially in folk music. You may already be familiar with ballads, but do you know how to distinguish between different types of ballads and their unique qualities? After all, a ballad is much more than just a slow love song.

The basics of ballads

Before exploring the lyrics of ballads, let’s start from the beginning. The history of the ballad began in medieval Europe, where the folk ballad was originally written as a dance. Nowadays, the word “ballad” is associated with narrative poetry or a simple song telling a story. Most ballads include strong emotions through narrative elements, expressive melodies, and dramatic structures.

A ballad is a narrative song

Ballads are historically important folk songs that have been passed down orally through generations. The structure of different ballad types may differ, but we can still observe some common similarities. You can learn to recognize ballad tunes by paying attention to these characteristics!

  • Narrative Song: Ballads tell a story, whether it’s a historical event or a well-known legend. Like fairy tales, ballads tend to have a clear introduction, middle, and ending.
  • Emotional Themes: Many ballads are traditional love songs, and songwriters typically include romantic topics and tragedy.
  • Simple Structure: The stories of ballads are told by using a simple structure and language. One common ballad form is the 4-line stanza structure, meaning that there is a break after every 4 lines.
  • Rhyme and Repetition: A ballad can be a narrative poem that is meant to be sung. The song often has a clear rhyme scheme where every second line, or even all lines, rhyme.

The typical rhyme scheme in a ballad is the ABAB scheme, where the first and the third lines rhyme with each other. Naturally, the second and fourth lines are also connected through a rhyme to create the traditional rhythm of a ballad. In addition to ABAB, ballads can also include AABB or even ABABBCBC rhyme schemes.

Ballad tunes in different musical genres

Ballads are present in many different musical styles. Traditional ballads follow patterns that come from strong folk traditions, while modern musical styles adapt the ballad to their needs. Let’s explore 3 ballad types and understand in which musical styles they belong.

Love ballads

As the name suggests, love ballads express emotions connected with new love, relationships, heartache, and attraction. Lyrically expressive love ballads are often played at weddings, thanks to their slow melodies and ability to easily capture people’s hearts. You can find love ballads in many musical genres, including country, rock, and pop.

Blues ballads

Blues ballads are known for their raw emotions, and some classic topics include personal experiences and the struggles of life. If you listen closely, you can often hear the guitar, piano, and harmonica in the songs.

Rock ballads

As a subgenre of rock music, rock ballads became popular in the 1980s. They are characterized by powerful vocals, emotional topics, and guitar solos, and they often have a slower tempo than traditional rock music. Commonly used instruments in rock ballads include acoustic guitars and keyboards, while electric guitars, bass, and drums feature heavily in traditional rock music.

Learn to play ballads

Now that you understand what a ballad is and how to recognize one, it’s time to play one! Since ballads tell a story, you should try to understand the narrative and its emotions before playing.  Follow these 3 steps to learn to play a ballad:

  1. Download Yousician, your personal music teacher, to learn to play a ballad.
  2. Find and understand the sheet music for the songs you want to learn.
  3. Playing a ballad requires time and effort, so make sure to allocate enough time for your practice sessions.

Develop your musical skills with Yousician

Yousician can help you to get started with your favorite ballads and you could even try writing your own ballad! You can download Yousician on your desktop computer and any Apple or Android device. Check out our full Musician’s Glossary and learn more about the language of music.

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