There are many songs that have an instrument (my favorite usually involve a trumpet) playing a high melody (or maybe "melodic flourish") above the main melody. I would call this is a "descant", except that searches for that term yield almost exclusively postings/videos/recordings of vocal (generally religious) music.

Is there a separate term used to describe this when the descant is played by an instrument rather than sung?

For example:

  • The trumpet part in this rendition of "Hark the Herald Angles", starting at 0:15. This is actually described as a "trumpet descant", but looking for that term only seems to find religious music.

  • The trumpet part in Sharkia's "Hips Don't Lie", starting at 0:29.

  • 1
    Songs? What kind? Feb 22, 2020 at 20:05
  • I've heard similar techniques in classical music, popular music, etc. I'll see if I can update the question with some particular examples.
    – larsks
    Feb 23, 2020 at 0:41

1 Answer 1


I don't think there **is* a term to describe a descant that's played rather than sung.

You could call a descant a type of counter-melody - "a sequence of notes, perceived as a melody, written to be played simultaneously with a more prominent lead melody." But unlike a counter-melody it's always pitched above the melody, and is restricted in having to accommodate the same number of syllables as the melody itself. And, because we mostly encounter descants in hymn-singing, they've got a reputation for being glorious. Counter-melodies generally manage to avoid that!

So when such a thing appears in "classical" music - and I'm struggling to think of an example, though they're surely common enough - it would probably be described as "a descant-like counter-melody."

That'd be a rather academic way to describe what the trumpeter's doing in that Shakira song! He/she could just be improvising it. But that's how the Whole Thing started a thousand years ago: with monks improvising counter-melodies to the plainchants!

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