Talking About Music in English: 50 Helpful Terms and Phrases [with Audio]

Is a lack of knowledge in English stopping you from having deep conversations about music?

Don’t worry! This post has you covered.

Maybe you love learning English with songs, or maybe you just think English music is very catchy (catches attention easily).

Keep reading this post, and I’ll teach you the 50 most useful words and phrases you need to know to have a basic English conversation about music.

Soon, you’ll be talking about music just like native speakers!


Common English Terms for Talking About Music

1. Beat

The beat of a song is the regularly repeating sound in it. This beat often defines the speed and the rhythm in which the song is played. If you ever find yourself tapping your finger or your foot while listening to music, you are most probably following its beat.

A song with a faster beat is often seen as more energetic, happy or even angry. A slower beat gives the feeling of being calm, sad or peaceful.

The beat of this song makes me feel so happy.

2. Tempo

Tempo is the speed in which a particular piece of music should be played. It defines the beat and is usually measured in “beats per minute” or BPM.

As mentioned, higher BPM usually gives the feeling of more energy. Most pop songs have high BPM, for instance.

I like to listen to slow-tempo songs when I need to relax.

3. Upbeat

A song or piece of music is called “upbeat” when it sounds happy and cheerful. Mostly, upbeat music also has happy lyrics and is designed to create such feelings in its audience.

Listening to upbeat music in the morning helps me feel good throughout the day.

4. Note

A musical note is a small bit of sound which has a certain pitch. A note is the building block of any song, with or without words. You can think of them like syllables for music.

She is a great singer because she always sings the right notes.

5. Chord

A chord is a collection of notes (usually three) in a song. It might help to watch this video to know what it sounds like.

A “chord” can also mean feeling or emotion in general English.

Sometimes these two meanings are combined in the phrase “to strike a chord.” It is used when someone is able to make their audience feel sympathy or a particular emotion about a subject. 

The chord progression in that song is totally out of this world.
(The “chord” in this sentence is strictly musical.)

That song about love really struck a chord with me.
(This “chord” is related to emotions.)

6. Harmony

Harmony in music is when two or more notes are heard together. In a more general sense, it is about whether a set of notes sound good together or not.

In many classical traditions, there are strict rules regarding chords used to create musical harmony.

That singer’s sense of harmony is simply amazing.

7. Tune

In music, a tune is a series of musical notes which sound pleasing or harmonious. “To tune” can also mean fixing the pitch of a musical instrument so that it sounds right.

In informal English a “tune” is simply a piece of a song or music.

I simply cannot get that tune out of my head.

That musician took twenty minutes to tune his instrument before the concert.

8. Melody

A melody in music is a set of notes that form a tune. It is the main theme of a song, and usually the part of the song that people will remember best.

She is my favorite singer because I love all of her melodies—I always have to sing along!

9. Rhythm

Rhythm is a pattern of musical sounds. Usually it is created by using repetition and predictable change in the notes of the song and the beat.

The rhythm of disco music is perfect for dancing at parties.

10. Groove

In casual English, when we use the word groove in music we usually talk about the rhythm of a jazz or pop song. Groove can also mean other things, however.

It might refer to habits in our everyday lives. Or it can be used for a long, narrow cut in solid materials like rocks or wood. It is important to pay attention to the context so that you know the exact meaning of this word in a sentence.

This new pop song uses old jazz grooves.

11. Lyrics

Lyrics are the words of a song. Usually each paragraph of lyrics is said to be a “verse” and is accompanied by specific chords and rhythms.

I like to focus on the lyrics of a song since I care about what the song is trying to say.

12. Chorus

This is the part of a song that is repeated over and over again.

A chorus can also mean a large group of singers who perform with other instruments. This video is a good example of both!

The chorus of this song is unforgettable.

The chorus of that school is famous for making covers of pop songs.

13. Track

A “track” is one of several songs on a device. In the days when CDs and cassettes were still used to listen to music, a track referred to a specific song on that device.

Now, since digital files usually do not have any individual tracks, people use it as another word for “song.”

There is a great Madonna track on that CD.

14. Album

An album is a collection of songs usually sold as a CD or as digital files.

Generally, an album is made by one singer and has a theme that connects all the songs. Sometimes, one album can have many artists, and then it is called a “collaboration.”

Michael Jackson’s first album was my favorite one.

15. Single

A musical single is a track released by itself. Often, a single is used as a preview of a new album, in order to gain attention and listeners.

Did you hear Taylor Swift’s new single? I can’t wait to listen to the full album now!

16. Band

In music, a band is a small group of musicians who play songs together in a certain genre of music.

Typically, a band has one or two main vocalists who use their voice to sing, and the other members play a specific type of instrument, such as guitars, drums or piano. A band should have at least two members to really be called a band.

All the new rock bands sound the same to me.

17. Orchestra

An orchestra is a group of musicians who only play instruments. Generally, an orchestra has groups of musicians who play different types of instruments, like string instruments (violin, cello, etc.) or brass instruments (trumpet, trombone, etc.).

The musicians in an orchestra are generally guided by a conductor. The conductor knows the whole musical piece and makes sure that everyone is playing correctly and on time. Typically, orchestras play classical music.

I love how orchestras can make you feel something by just using their instruments.

18. A cappella

This is a word with Italian roots. To sing “a cappella” is to sing without any instruments.

The word literally means “in chapel style,” because people in old churches sang without any instruments.

The chorus sounds best a cappella.

19. Ambient

A piece of music is called “ambient” when it creates a certain mood in people without distracting them. Usually ambient music has no lyrics (or very few lyrics). It is usually slow and not very noisy.

I always need some ambient music to help me study for exams.

20. Classic

A classic is usually an old song that is still regarded as good music of the highest quality. Generally, a “classic” is a piece of art which has survived the test of time.

The word “classic” can also mean “typical” in certain contexts.

Classic jazz reminds me of the good old days of music.

This is classic Beatles.

21. Anthem

This is a type of song that typically makes you feel proud or praises something. For instance, all national anthems praise their own nation. An anthem symbolizes certain values that every member of a group identifies with.

This song is an anthem of our times.

22. Genre

In music, a “genre” refers to a specific category or type of music. Songs in a certain genre share characteristics, styles and themes.

Knowing different genres helps listeners identify and connect with music they like—so we’ll go over genres later in the list!

My brother likes a lot of genres, but his favorite is rock music.

23. DJ

The full term for DJ is “disc jockey.” A jockey is a person who handles something in a skillful way. And “disc” refers to circular vinyl records that were used to record music in the past.

The work of a DJ is to select, mix and play music ideal for dancing. A DJ can either work in a club or in radio stations. Often, you will also see a DJ at a wedding.

Joe is the best DJ in the city.

Having a good DJ is necessary for a good party.

24. Concert

A “concert” is when musicians play music live for people. Concerts are fun gatherings where everyone enjoys the music together.

I got tickets to Beyoncé’s concert! You have to go with me to see her perform!

25. Jamming

When a few musicians informally meet together and play music, it is called “jamming.” Usually, the musicians experiment and improvise (modify, change) the songs they play to come up with something new.

The word became popular when jazz music became famous in the early 20th century.

I used to jam with the best musicians back when I was young.

26. Rocking

The verb “rock” means to move gently from side to side, or to shake. Rock music used this verb to define itself, and it is characterized by heavy beats and rhythms.

Now, “rocking” can mean that someone is doing something extremely well, especially in music.

That musician is rocking that guitar!

English Questions and Phrases About Music

27. Can you turn up the music?

To “turn up the music” means to increase the volume of the song that is currently being played. This phrase is a part of informal English and is mostly used in parties or other casual events.

Can you turn up the music? This song is my favorite.

The cars outside are so loud that I can’t hear the song. Can you turn up the music? 

28. Dancing to the beat

The act of dancing according to the rhythm of a song is called “dancing to the beat.” It is usually used when a person matches the beats of the tune almost perfectly.

Joe always impresses everyone when he starts dancing to the beat of a hip-hop song.

29. That’s a catchy song!

When something is described as “catchy,” it means that it is very attractive. Generally, a catchy song is a piece of music that instantly catches your attention and you cannot get it out of your mind once you hear it.

I hate its lyrics, but even I have to accept that it’s a catchy song.

30. Do you want to go to that gig?

A “gig” is a musical event, usually featuring songs by a local musician. Asking whether someone wants to go to a gig is either inviting them or confirming that they are coming for the musical show.

You may also hear the word “show” used instead of “gig.” A “concert” can mean the same thing, but it’s also used for the show of a famous artist or band.

I can’t go for that gig today since I’m not feeling very well.

Do you want to go to that show? I heard they’ll play songs they’ve never played before.

31. It makes my ears bleed!

When someone dislikes a particular song too much, they say that it “makes their ears bleed.” It is a way of expressing that you hate the song so much that you feel your ears are being damaged.

Please do not play rock music, it makes my ears bleed!

32. This cover is better than the original

When someone records a song made by another person in their own voice it is called a “cover.” Instead of perfectly copying the original artists, many singers change the song according to their own style.

To say that a cover is better than the original is to say that you like this modified version better.

I love the Beatles, but this cover is even better than the original song.

33. I love your playlist

When someone groups certain songs from various places according to a theme or purpose, that is called a playlist. Generally people share these lists with each other digitally.

This phrase is used when you really like the selection of songs someone has grouped in a playlist.

I love the playlist you use for jogging. Can you please share it with me?

34. This is our song

Sometimes friends or lovers feel that both of them connect to a certain song. When a song symbolizes their relationship, they may say that the song is their song.

I feel that this is our song because it summarizes all the memories we have with each other.

35. Dancing ’til we drop

When someone says they are going to dance ’til (until) they drop, they are going to dance with all the energy they have. Usually this phrase is used in parties and night clubs where everyone is supposed to enjoy the music.

Last night we danced ’til we dropped, and now I can’t even get out of bed!

36. I can’t get this song out of my head

When you keep repeating a song to yourself, you use this phrase to describe that experience. It is also used when you want to forget a particular song but simply cannot.

I hate this singer but I can’t get this song out of my head.

37. This song has topped the charts

“Topping the charts” is used to describe a song that has sold really well and is extremely popular.

In the English music industry, there are regular charts that show how many times a song has been bought or played. The songs which are given the first rank in these charts are said to be “chart toppers.”

Even though this musician’s last album didn’t do so well, her latest song has topped the charts.

38. I am so excited about karaoke night!

“Karaoke” is a Japanese word used to describe a favorite music-related pastime. A person sings along to a song by themselves, without the original singer, often while at a club or bar.

A karaoke night is typically when a group of friends go out together and sing karaoke.

I never thought karaoke could be so much fun. I am so excited about the next karaoke night!

Understanding Music Genres in English

39. Classical

Classical music has been around for centuries. It generally refers to music created in Europe in the 18th and 19th century or earlier.

Most classical music does not have vocals. It is always written in musical notation, which tells all of the different instrument players when and what to play.

Example: “5th Symphony” by Beethoven

40. Jazz

This category of music was created in the beginning of the 20th century. Its most striking feature is the use of brass instruments like the saxophone, and improvisation (changing the music while playing it).

Example: “Sunday” by Wild Bill Davison & Classic Jazz Collegium

41. Hip-hop / Rap

This sort of music came out of New York City in the 1970s. Its main features include fast, rhyming lyrics (rapping) and repetitive, rhythmic music played along with the rap.

Example: “It Was a Good Day” by Ice Cube or “Mockingbird” by Eminem

42. Electronic

Electronic music uses digital tools and electronic instruments to create songs and music. It is quite popular in our age and it has a distinct artificial (not natural) sound to it. This genre is sometimes called EDM, which stands for “electronic dance music.”

Example: “Just Dance” by Lady Gaga

43. Rock

Rock music started in the 1950s in the USA. Its most distinct features include the use of electric guitar and the “rock band” culture, where the band as a whole is more important than individual singers (unlike in pop music).

Example: “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses

44. Disco

Disco began in 1970s urban America and became world famous for its dance culture. Its characteristic reverb vocals and electric synthesizers are still used in many songs today.

Example: “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer

45. Fusion

Fusion music is the mixing of two or more genres together to make a new style of music. Generally it involves “Western” music and the musical characteristics of other traditions like Chinese instruments or Indian classical music (like in the example).

Example: “Norwegian Wood” by The Beatles

46. Pop Music

The full version of this is “popular music.” As the name suggests, it is the category of music that produces the most sales. Pop music is usually simple both lyrically and musically, so it is easy to sing and has some repetitive, catchy elements.

Example: “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran

47. Country

This music genre typically uses a normal guitar. The lyrics are important, because country songs usually aim to convey a message or tell a story.

The most distinctive features are the twang and the yodel—ways of singing influenced by accents you will find in the southern, rural regions of the USA.

Example: “Friends in Low Places” by Garth Brooks

48. Blues

“Feeling blue” means to feel sad and low, which is how this music tries to sound.

The blues genre arose in late 19th century America in the African-American community. It is best known for its repetitive lines and brass instruments. It had a huge impact on both the jazz and country genres.

Example: “The Thrill is Gone” by B.B. King

49. Reggae

This genre was created in Jamaica by combining blues and calypso (a Jamaican style of music). It is known for its offbeat sound, and its lyrics focus on social issues.

Example: “One Love” by Bob Marley

50. Indie

Like pop music, “indie” does not really mean one style of music. Instead, indie music is any music that is not produced by the big companies that normally produce popular and profitable songs. This allows indie bands to experiment a lot and create their own unique styles of music.

Example: “I Love You Baby, I Love You Doll” by Parekh and Singh


If you want to find more songs to listen to, the FluentU program has a variety of music videos with interactive captions.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

P.S. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

  FluentU Ad

FluentU also has videos of people talking about music, so you can hear how these words and phrases are used in English conversations.

So go on, get out there and rock your English conversation skills with your fellow music lovers using your new words!

And One More Thing...

If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:


If you want to watch it, the FluentU app has probably got it.

The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.


FluentU lets you learn engaging content with world famous celebrities.

For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:


FluentU lets you tap to look up any word.

Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.


FluentU helps you learn fast with useful questions and multiple examples. Learn more.

The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a truly personalized experience.

Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

Enter your e-mail address to get your free PDF!

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe