Why are instrumental (non-vocal) tracks also called "minus one tracks"?

What does it mean and how did this term come about?

  • 4
    I'm not submitting this as an answer because I'm not sure, but I believe it's because the mixdown contains every track except the vocals, hence "minus one".
    – Babu
    Commented Aug 14, 2011 at 0:59
  • 1
    @Babu: Based on the answer by Wheat Williams, you are on to it. All except vocal is an example of this, but it can also be another part that is taken out. If you play the guitar, you can be interested in a recording where everything (including vocals) is there except the guitar. So you can use that as playback when you play along.
    – awe
    Commented Aug 16, 2011 at 14:07

1 Answer 1


"Music Minus One" is a trademark of a company that makes accompaniment tracks. They have been in business since 1950.


Accompaniment tracks that are not made by this company are colloquially referred to as "minus one tracks".

Let me explain this at a more basic level.

Let's say you have a piece of music that has four parts: a vocal part, a piano part, a bass part, and a drum part.

If you then remove one of the parts, you have a three-part arrangement.

Four parts minus one part equals three parts.

Accompaniment tracks are called "minus one" tracks because one part has been subtracted. There is a part that is missing. You use this type of recording for one or more of these reasons:

  • you want to record your own missing part onto it
  • you want to exercise under more realistic conditions (externally given tempo)
  • to get more acquainted to the piece, e.g. what happens before your solo, how sounds the complete piece vs. your own voice
  • @Pacerier: What do you mean, what's the toothpaste definition of "minus one"? Commented Aug 15, 2011 at 17:51
  • @Ben Alpert i mean what is the official term for "minus one" ? or before the establishment of "Music Minus One", what will a "minus one" track be called?
    – Pacerier
    Commented Aug 15, 2011 at 22:38
  • Presumably simply an "instrumental track", as you noted in your original question. Commented Aug 15, 2011 at 22:42
  • 2
    Pacerier, the term "Music Minus One" was established in 1950, which was even before the invention of multi-track recording. Therefore there was no such term before they coined it. The term "track" did not exist as applied to music before about 1955 when the engineer Les Paul, and shortly thereafter, Tom Dowd, developed both the technology and the terminology used to describe it.
    – user1044
    Commented Aug 15, 2011 at 22:52
  • 1
    Let's emphasise the last paragraph. It's "music minus one" because it needs "one more" to become complete. When you play along with it you are the "one" that completes it.
    – slim
    Commented Feb 24, 2012 at 12:31

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