Bitesize has changed! We're updating subjects as fast as we can. Visit our new site to find Bitesize guides and clips - and tell us what you think!


Music for voices

Solo song

Different types of solo song include lieder, arias, ballads and folk songs.


Lieder (pronounced leeder) are German art songs from the Romantic period (roughly the 19th century). Learn more about lieder in this revision bite.


Arias are solo songs found in operas and oratorio.

An opera is a drama set to music, acted and sung by solo singers and accompanied by an orchestra.

One of the most famous operatic tenor arias is Nessun Dorma (No one shall sleep) from Puccini’s opera Turandot. This impassioned lyrical aria famously ends on a high sustained B. The voice is accompanied by orchestra and choir.

An oratorio is a setting of religious words for solo singers, chorus and orchestra. Unlike an opera an oratorio is not staged. Messiah by Handel is the most popular oratorio.

Listen to He was despised, a da capo aria from Handel’s Messiah. The voice is a contralto. Notice the harpsichord continuo and the ornamentation – both typical of the Baroque period.

Da capo arias were common in the 18th century. A da capo aria is one where the voice returns to the head of the score (da capo) and repeats the first section of the music. It was common for the soloist to add ornamentation when the first section was repeated.

Pop ballads

Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder


  • are slow, often sentimental, love songs
  • sometimes tell a story
  • are usually in verse and chorus form
  • emphasise melody and lyrics, the accompaniment is often secondary
  • are often accompanied on guitar or keyboard
  • are found in many styles of pop music

Some famous ballad singers are Frank Sinatra (eg My Way), Elvis Presley (eg Always on my mind) and Stevie Wonder (eg My Cherie Amour).

Folk song

British and American folk songs:

  • often have a simple strummed guitar accompaniment
  • are sometimes unaccompanied
  • are usually in verse form (strophic)
  • sometimes, but don't always, have choruses
  • emphasise lyrics, which often tell a story and sometimes have a political message
  • place secondary importance on the accompaniment, with simple harmony and strummed chords

Examples of well-known folk songs include The Foggy Dew (English), She Moved Through the Fair (Irish) and Freight Train (American).

Back to The western classical tradition index

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.