What Are Work Songs?

Happy Singing Woman Cleaning House

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Work songs are songs that are sung while working or performing a task. Singing at work is also a way to express a laborers' sentiments about their job and working conditions.

This type of song exists around the world. For example, Japanese work songs are called min-yo, while in Trinidad they sing what is called gayap. African Americans who were enslaved sang a lot of work songs from which spirituals and the blues were derived. Laborers such as miners, sheep shears and those who are in prison sing work songs as they perform their tasks.

Work songs are sung for different reasons including:

  • To express sentiments and frustrations
  • To encourage support and action
  • To communicate ideas or tell a story
  • To fight boredom
  • To increase work efficiency

These types of songs possess specific characteristics:

  • It's sung a cappella
  • It can be sung solo or by a group of workers
  • It incorporates the movements and sounds of the workers into the song
  • The lyrics may or may not reflect the task that is being performed

Work songs have been passed down from generation to generation. Although it's not as prevalent as it was before, these songs remain a strong testament of how music is used in daily life. Especially when working conditions were often horrid, these songs became a source of strength for hardworking laborers.