Learn Music Vocabulary
acoustic (adjective): without inbuilt electrical equipment to amplify the sound – I can play acoustic guitar, but I can’t play electric guitar.
album (noun): a collection of songs released as a digital download or a 12-inch LP record – Do you have Michael Jackson’s album Thriller?
alternative hip hop (noun): any style that isn’t mainstream commercial hip hop – Have you heard much alternative hip hop?
alternative rock (noun): non-mainstream rock music inspired by punk and post-punk – My sister likes pop music, but I like alternative rock.
ambient music (noun): calming, atmospheric background music – Have you heard Brian Eno’s ambient music?
amplify (verb): to make sounds louder, esp. by using electrical equipment – If we don’t amplify the drums, they’ll be hard to hear.
artist (noun): a professional singer, musician or songwriter – Taylor Swift has become one of music’s best-selling artists.
art music (noun): music written and performed by professional musicians mostly for the upper classes, like classical Indian music and European opera – Wealthy Chinese lords paid musicians to play relaxing art music, while poor people played lively folk music for fun.
audio editing software (noun): software used to produce music, movie soundtracks, etc. – Before we had audio editing software, we used tape loops.
authentic (adjective): real or genuine – You can still see an authentic Chinese opera in Beijing.
autoharp (noun): a small harp with buttons to press for playing chords – Is the autoharp used much in bluegrass music?
avant-garde (adjective): new, unusual and experimental – Harry makes avant-garde electronic music in his spare time.
backbeat (noun): a beat counted as “two” or “four” in 4/4 rhythm – Can you hear the snare drum playing on the backbeats?
backing singer (also “backing vocalist”) (noun): a singer who gives vocal support to a lead singer – Tessa was one of Joe Cocker’s backing singers.
ballad (noun): a slow song usually about love – Janis sings up-tempo rock songs as well as slow ballads.
banjo (noun): an African American stringed instrument based on the African kora – Do you play four-string or five-string banjo?
bar (noun): one of many small sections in a piece of music that contains a fixed number of beats – Each bar in the song has four beats.
bass (guitar) (noun): an electric guitar with thick strings for playing low “bass” notes – We need someone who can play bass.
beat (noun): the regular pulse in music that dancers move to and audiences clap to – Dance music always has a strong beat.
beats (noun): the breakbeat rhythms that MCs rap to in hip hop music – Who produced the beats on this album?
bebop (noun): a complex style of up-tempo jazz from the 1950s – The best bebop player I ever heard was Charlie Parker.
big band (noun): a large jazz band, esp. one that plays big band jazz – Most popular singers of the 30s and 40s had their own big bands.
big beat (noun): an EDM genre with breakbeats, heavy bass, vocals and samples – Maxim loves that big beat sound.
block party (noun): a free party on the streets of a city block – Are you going to the block party on Saturday?
bluegrass (noun): a style of country music based on old-time Appalachian music – We’re going to a bluegrass concert tonight.
(the) blues (noun): African American guitar-based folk music that led to R&B and rock – I’m learning some old blues songs.
bpm (noun): beats per minute – The fastest drum and bass tracks are around 160 bpm.
boy band (noun): a group of three or more boys or young men who sing and dance – My little sister loves that Korean boy band Super Junior.
brass (noun): instruments made of brass, like the trumpet, trombone and tuba – Harry plays trumpet in a brass band.
break (noun): a moment in which most instruments stop, but one or two continue, esp. drums – We sampled a snare-drum break from an old jazz record.
breakbeat (noun): a syncopated jazz or funk rhythm of the sort sampled in hip hop music – Hip hop and dubstep use breakbeats, not disco beats.
breakdancing (noun): a style of street-dancing in hip hop culture – The breakdancing in this Turf Feinz video is incredible.
breakdown (noun): section of a dance track with less singing and more percussion – Does the track have a good breakdown?
call and response (noun): two musical phrases, one of which answers the other – The call and response is before the last chorus.
catchy (adjective): enjoyable when first heard, and difficult to forget – It’s so catchy! I can’t stop hearing it in my head.
(the) charts (noun): lists of the best-selling songs of the previous week – Our single got to the top of the charts!
chord (noun): three or more notes played together – Lots of great songs only have two chords, you know.
chorus (noun): the part of a song with the same melody and words each time it’s heard – I’ll sing the verses, and you sing the choruses.
classic (adjective): very good and highly-regarded for a long time – Neil loves those classic American cars of the 50s.
classical music (noun): European orchestral and keyboard music that’s written by composers – Sayoko loves classical music, especially Chopin’s piano pieces.
collaborate (verb): to work together with someone to produce something – Has Kanye collaborated with Drake yet?
commercial (adjective): made in order to be popular and make money –Garth’s country music is much too commercial for me.
contemporary R&B (noun): recent R&B that mixes soul, pop and hip hop sounds – Contemporary R&B is really popular these days.
crossover hit (noun): a country, dance or hip hop song that’s on the pop-music charts – We’ll all be rich if we have a crossover hit.
country music (noun): a genre of American music with origins in the rural folk music of Europe – Harry only listens to country music.
country pop (noun): a style that mixes pop and country music – Country pop is really popular in America these days.
country rock (noun): a style that mixes rock and country music – He doesn’t like country pop much, but he loves country rock.
dance-pop (noun): up-tempo pop music with a dance rhythm – Her dance-pop singles always become hits.
deejay (verb): to perform the skills of a club or hip hop DJ – Who’s deejaying for Nas these days?
disco (also “discotheque”) (noun): a 70s nightclub in which DJs played dance records – The gay discos in New York were fabulous.
disco music (also “disco”) (noun): 70s dance music with a steady four-on-the-floor beat – My sister loves dancing to disco music.
DJ (or “disc jockey”) (noun): someone who plays records at dance clubs or on radio – Do you like the tracks this DJ’s playing?
DJ mixer (noun): a small mixer made for DJs – All you need is two turntables, a DJ mixer and some records.
double bass (noun): a large stringed instrument for playing low notes – In jazz, double bass strings are plucked instead of bowed.
drop (noun): a point in EDM when the rhythm and sounds suddenly change – If it’s a really great drop, everyone goes crazy.
drum and bass (or “DnB”) (noun): an EDM genre with breakbeats, heavy bass and a fast tempo – Let’s make a drum and bass track.
drum kit (noun): a set of drums with a bass drum, snare drum, tom-toms, hit-hat and cymbals – How much did your drum kit cost?
drum machine (noun): an electronic instrument that makes sequenced drum sounds – Our drummer quit, so we’re using a drum machine now.
dubstep (noun): an EDM genre with breakbeat rhythms, very heavy bass and a slow tempo – My parents don’t even know what dubstep is!
duo (noun): two people who make music or perform together – Who’s on your list of best hip hop duos?
dynamic (adjective): lively and having a lot of energy – She’s one of the most dynamic singers I’ve seen perform.
EDM (noun): electronic dance music – That band didn’t start out playing EDM, did they?
explicit (adjective): offensive, obscene or “rude” language – Has the album got an explicit language warning?
fan (noun): someone who likes a particular artist or band very much – Our teacher’s a really big fan of Eminem.
feedback (noun): a high-pitched noise made when a microphone is close to a loudspeaker – How do you control feedback so it fits the music?
fiddle (noun): another word for “violin”, esp. in country and folk music – Who’s playing fiddle on that record?
flow (noun): the ability to rap rhythmically and stylishly – He’s been practising, so his flow’s getting better.
folk music (noun): traditional music from a particular region or country – Did you hear any folk music while you were in Chile?
folk rock (noun): a style that mixes folk and rock music – We heard lots of folk rock bands in San Francisco in the early 60s.
formula (noun): a method or plan that’s believed to succeed – What’s your formula for success in business?
four-on-the-floor (noun): a 4/4 rhythm with bass drum on the beat and hi-hat on the offbeats – Terry’s sick of playing those four-on-the-floor disco beats.
funk (or “funk music”) (noun): rhythmic groove-based music that developed from soul in the 60s – Bootsy Collins was the best funk bass player ever.
funky (adjective): having the feel of funk music, esp. rhythmically – That track Superstition by Stevie Wonder is incredibly funky.
gangsta rap (noun): hardcore-style rap from Los Angeles – My cousin still buys gangsta rap records!
genre (noun): a kind or style of music, movie, TV show, painting, etc. – In music classes at school, the only genres we studied were classical music and jazz.
G-Funk (noun): funk-based subgenre of gangsta rap – What’s your favourite G-Funk track?
glam rock (noun): a rock style in which male artists wore make-up and glamorous clothes – David Bowie had many styles besides glam rock.
gospel music (noun): rhythmic church music of African American Christians – They sang great gospel music in those old churches.
groove (noun): a highly-rhythmic pattern repeated for a long time, esp. in funk music – Hip hop artists still sample James Brown’s funk grooves.
grunge (noun): punk-based alternative rock that developed in the USA in the 90s – Wasn’t Nirvana the first grunge band?
hardcore rap (noun): a tough style of New York hip hop music – Hardcore rap’s like those old gangster movies.
harmony (noun): the combining of musical notes that sound good when played or sung together – If we don’t sing in harmony, it’ll sound terrible.
heavy metal (noun): hard rock with heavy bass, complex drumming and singers who scream – My dad used to be in a heavy metal band.
hi-hat (noun): a pair of foot-operated cymbals that’s part of a drum kit – Drummers play bass drum with one foot and hi-hat with the other.
hip hop (also “hip hop”) (noun): a musical genre in which artists rap over beats and sampled sounds – I love Kanye West’s hip hop albums.
hit (noun): a best-selling song on the pop-music charts – It’s a great song. It’ll be a hit for sure.
honky tonk (noun): a country music style known for its powerful, emotional songs – Who’s your favourite honky tonk singer?
hook (noun): part of a song that’s easily remembered, often a chorus – The Knack’s My Sharona has one of greatest hooks ever!
horn section (noun): a group of musicians playing brass instruments and saxophones – How many songs does the horn section play on?
house (or “house music”) (noun): 80s dance music similar to disco but with more electronic sounds – Those old house tracks still sound great.
house band (noun): a group of session musicians who work for a music company – House bands don’t become famous, but singers do.
house producer (noun): one of a record company’s full-time music producers – How many house producers does Sony Music have?
hymn (noun): a religious song that’s sung in church – My grandma loves singing those old hymns.
improvise (verb): to invent music spontaneously while playing – If you want to be a jazz musician, you have to learn how to improvise.
instrumental (adjective): played on instruments, without vocals – There’s a long instrumental section in the middle of the song.
jazz (noun): a genre in which artists improvise within a rhythmic and harmonic framework – We’ve got all John Coltrane’s jazz records.
jazz rap (noun): rap music made with jazz samples or instruments – Molly doesn’t like jazz rap much.
Latin music (noun): a genre of popular music in Latin America and Spain that has complex rhythms – Latin music makes me want to dance.
lead guitar (noun): a guitar on which melodic lines and solos are played – Who’s playing lead guitar in your new band?
live (adjective): played at a concert in front of an audience – You don’t hear live music in dance clubs anymore, only recorded music.
lyrics (noun): the words of a song – If you don’t listen to the lyrics, you won’t know what a song is about.
mainstream (adjective): normal and preferred by most people – Most people like mainstream hip hop more than alternative hip hop.
mandolin (noun): a stringed instrument like a guitar with a curved back – You can hear mandolin on those early old-time recordings.
MC (or “Master of Ceremonies”) (noun): a DJ’s onstage announcer, esp. one who raps – Does your MC ever forget his raps?
melody (noun): a tune, or the notes of a song – Can you whistle the song’s melody?
mixtape (noun): a collection of free tracks, usually downloadable or on cassette tape – Let’s download some more mixtapes.
modal jazz (noun): jazz that uses Arabic or Indian modes instead of European scales – McCoy Tyner played modal jazz with John Coltrane.
neo soul (noun): a style that mixes contemporary R&B and 60s or 70s soul – Angelina played some great neo soul tracks at our party.
offbeat (noun): a beat between the main beats, often counted as “and” by musicians – Disco has hi-hats playing on all the offbeats.
old-time music (also “hillbilly music”) (noun): country music originating in the Appalachian mountains of the USA – Do people still play old-time music much?
outlaw country (noun): a style of country music popular in the 1960s –Johnny Cash was one of those outlaw country singers.
pedal steel guitar (noun): an electric steel guitar on a stand with foot pedals for changing the sound – He’s teaching us pedal steel guitar.
pop music (noun): a popular music genre with catchy songs that are easy to remember – I love listening to pop music.
pop song (noun): any song that follows the pop music formula – Paul’s favourite pop song is God Only Knows by The Beach Boys.
pop soul (noun): a style of soul music with a pop-music sound – Mum’s listening to pop soul again.
popular music (noun): music that many people like and buy, like rock music and heavy metal, hip hop and rap, pop songs, etc. – Our music teacher knows lots about classical music, but nothing about popular music.
post-punk (adjective): of a style of experimental rock that developed after punk – Have you heard of a post-punk band called Joy Division?
pounding (adjective): having a very strong, loud and steady beat – Those pounding disco tracks are still great to dance to.
power chord (noun): a basic chord that can add power to music – The Kinks used lots of power chords in their song You Really Got Me.
producer (noun): someone who oversees the recording of music – Who was the producer on Nirvana’s first album?
progressive EDM (noun): EDM made for listening to as well as dancing to – I listen to progressive EDM when I’m on the bus.
protest song (noun): a song with lyrics that protest against war, injustice, etc. – Why don’t people write protest songs anymore?
psychedelic (adjective): related to powerful drugs like LSD – Lots of bands used psychedelic designs on their album covers in the 60s.
punk (rock) (noun): 70s and 80s rock music with short, fast, noisy songs – The first punk band I saw was The Sex Pistols.
rap (noun): a set of lyrics rapped to a hip hop beat – He’s never done a rap about getting a job, has he?
rap (verb): to speak rhythmically in rhymes over a hip hop beat – You want me to rap? I’ve never rapped in my life!
rapper (noun): an artist who performs raps over a hip hop beat – My daughter wants to be a rapper when she grows up.
rave (noun): a large dance party held outdoors or in an empty building – Did you go to any of those raves in the 90s?
record (noun): a thin disc of black plastic on which recorded music is imprinted and sold – I bought lots of punk records in the 70s.
recording (noun): a piece of music that’s recorded in a studio or at a concert – It’s one of the best recordings they’ve made.
recording session (noun): time spent recording in a music studio – We’ve got a recording session on Monday morning.
reggae music (noun): a genre of music that developed in Jamaica in the 1960s – If you want to hear reggae music, try Bob Marley and the Wailers.
remix (verb): to change a track’s sound-level mix and add effects – When he remixed our song, he made the bass drum much louder.
reverb (noun): an electronic sound effect similar to an echo – They used lots of reverb on those early Beach Boys songs.
revival (noun): the return to popularity of an old style or form – There was a rockabilly revival during the punk music years.
rhyme (noun): a word that ends with the same sound as another word – If you don’t use rhymes, you can’t call it rapping.
rhythm (noun): a pattern of beats and sounds that musicians play in time to and dancers move to – The rhythms of African music are really complex.
riff (noun): a repeated series of chords or notes, esp. on electric guitar – Justin wants to learn some heavy metal riffs.
rockabilly (noun): a style that mixes Western swing and R&B – Sam recorded lots of rockabilly songs at Sun Studio in Memphis.
rock music (noun): rhythmic blues-based music played on guitar, bass, drums, etc. – Let’s listen to some rock music for a change.
sample (verb): to copy a sound or section of music from a record or audio file – We sampled a snare-drum break from an old soul record.
sample-heavy (adjective): having many sampled sounds – If you like sample-heavy hip hop, you’ll love this album.
scale (noun): a series of notes in a fixed order from lowest to highest – The major and minor scales each have seven notes.
scratching (noun): moving a record quickly on a turntable to create a rhythmic scratching sound – There’s a lot of scratching in his beats.
secular (adjective): not religious, or with no connection to religion – Sam Cooke recorded secular versions of old gospel songs.
session musician (noun): a musician who can be hired to play on a recording – Session musicians don’t get much work these days.
set (noun): a group of songs performed one after the other – How many songs were in the band’s first set?
singer-songwriter (noun): a musician who writes and performs his or her own songs – Most singer-songwriters also play guitar or keyboards.
single (noun): a song released as a digital download, or as one of two songs on a 7-inch record – Have you heard their latest single?
standard (noun): a song that is often recorded and performed – Lots of Roy Orbison’s songs have become pop standards.
stand-up bass (or “string bass”) (noun): another word for “double bass”, esp. in country music – Rockabilly bands had stand-up bass instead of bass guitar.
soul (or “soul music”) (noun): a genre that combines elements of gospel music, R&B and pop – My favourite soul singer is Al Green.
soundtrack album (noun): an album containing music made for a film – Has the soundtrack album been released yet?
strings (noun): an orchestral string section with violins, violas, cellos and double bass – Only the biggest jazz orchestras had strings.
swing (noun): up-tempo jazz for dancing played by big bands or jazz orchestras – Benny Goodman wrote lots of swing tunes.
synthesizer (noun): an instrument that makes and combines electronic sounds – Matt played organ and synthesizer in Use No Hooks.
tambourine (noun): an instrument with metal discs that rattles when hit or shaken – Mick Jagger often plays tambourine when he sings.
techno (noun): an EDM genre from Detroit that led to many subgenres – Which style of techno do you like the most?
texture (noun): the musical pattern created when sounds are combined – The textures on this track are amazing.
tour (verb): to perform concerts in a series of cities or countries – The Rolling Stones are touring Europe later this year.
track (noun): a recording of a song or piece of music – Their new album has some really great tracks.
traditional music (noun): music that developed over a very long time, like traditional African drumming and Chinese folk songs – People still play traditional music in Peru’s mountain villages.
trance (noun): a subgenre of techno with electronic beats and dreamy textures – Dad’s dancing to his old trance records again!
tune (noun): a song or melody – I know the tune, but I can’t remember what it’s called.
turntable (noun): a rotating plate that records sit on while being played – Dad said he’d get me a turntable for my birthday!
twelve-inch single (noun): a special single that’s longer than usual – Twelve-inch singles of Sylvester’s disco songs are awesome.
underground rap (noun): rap music by artists outside the music industry – I never hear underground rap on the radio.
up-tempo (or “uptempo”) (adjective): having a fast beat – If you want to write a happy song, it should be up-tempo.
verse (noun): the part of a song with the same melody but different words each time it’s heard – The song has a chorus and three verses.
wah-wah pedal (noun): a pedal pushed with the foot to electronically change a guitar sound – Listen to Shaft by Isaac Hayes if you want to hear a wah-wah pedal.
Western (country) music (noun): a style of country music that developed in the western states of the USA – My dad likes Western music more than old-time country music.
Western swing (noun): a style that mixes Western music and big-band swing jazz – Those Western swing records are great to dance to.
woodwind (noun): instruments played by blowing across a hole (e.g. flute) or through a reed (e.g. saxophone) – Are you sure the saxophone is a woodwind instrument?
yearn (verb): to want something very much – His yearning for a better world is expressed in his songs.
yodel (verb): to sing in a way that quickly changes from a very high voice to a normal voice – When I tried to yodel, everyone laughed.
- adoring fans: people who love a particular band or singer
- background music: music that is played while something else is happening
- a catchy tune: a song that is easy to remember and makes you want to sing it
- classical music: music that is regarded as part of a long, formal tradition
- to download tracks: to obtain music from the Internet
- to have a great voice: to sing well
- to go on tour: to go on a planned series of performances around a region or country
- a huge following: a large number of fans
- live music: music that is listened to while it is performed (not recorded)
- live performance: (see live music)
- a massive hit: a record that sells lots of copies
- a music festival: music performances at a venue often over several days
- musical talent: skilled at music
- to be/sing out of tune: to not be in harmony/to sing the wrong notes
- a piece of music: an item of music
- to play by ear: to play without reading the musical notes
- a pop group: a small group of people who play or sing pop music together
- to read music: to understand and follow written musical notes
- a rock band: a group of musicians that play rock music
- to sing along to: to join in singing
- a sing-song: to sing informally, often with other people
- a slow number: a song with a slow tempo
- to take up a musical instrument: to begin learning a musical instrument
- taste in music: the music someone likes
- to be tone deaf: to be unable to distinguish the different notes in music