French rock music doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being spectacular.
When people think of French music, images of jazz bands in Parisian night clubs and street musicians on the Left Bank may come to mind. Crooners. Edith Piaf. Singers that put you in the mood for romance.
Many French people learn basic English because much of their popular music comes from the U.S. The reverse just doesn’t happen as often.
Now all this doesn’t mean that there isn’t great French music in every genre, but only that you’ll have to dig a little to find it.
Learning through French music can be fun, culturally informative and useful if you have trouble with comprehension. Who knows, you may end up singing and dancing by the end of it.
How to Improve Your French by Jamming Out to French Bands
While having French music on in the background may slowly increase your comprehension skills (or just serve as a good beat to tap your feet to), if you’re serious about improving your listening skills, then you’ll need to pay close attention to what’s being said and how.
Here are some fun practice activities to accompany your jam-out sessions and improve your French!
Just because the word is Japanese, doesn’t mean we can’t do it with French songs. You may not have access to a fancy karaoke machine and all the French tunes to go with it, but you can still print out lyrics and sing along to your favorite French songs.
If you have a language learning buddy, then challenge them to a sing-off. Or, if you’ve got a hairbrush lying around, go for a solo round. Look up words you don’t know for maximum comprehension. While you sing, you’re not only improving the listening skills it takes to hit those notes right, but your accent as well. Don’t forget to boogie.
Watch Without Music Videos First
Music videos aren’t always what you expect they’ll be; everyone has their own interpretation in their head. Whether you agree with the visuals or not, they are a great tool to help understand what the musician was trying to achieve.
Try listening to a French song two or three times without watching the music video. On the second or third go around, read the lyrics that go with it. Make sure you look up words you aren’t sure of so you understand what you’re reading. Then, write a paragraph or two (en français!) about what you imagine when you listen to it. Enfin (finally), watch the music video and see the differences between your visual interpretations and the artist’s.
Well, whaddya know? You just got listening, reading and writing practice with just one song.
Write Your Own Version
If you’re any good at rhyming, then this will be a fun activity to integrate into your French listening sessions. Become a regular French Weird Al and write a parody version of a French song you like. Keep the tune and rhythm of the song and use the existing lyrics as a jumping-off point. You can replace words, whole lines, make it funny, make it serious, whatever you want. If you’re feeling extra creative, record your own rendition and show it to your mom. She’ll be so proud.
Keep Up with It
Most people have music in their lives on a regular basis. Whether it’s something you put on while you do homework, drive or at every moment of the waking day, you can easily make French a part of your daily life. That’s immersion, after all.
Make a point to add French songs and albums to your playlists, pick up some French CDs for road trips and listen to French radio stations.
To take things to the next level, keep a music journal. Write down names of songs that you have a hard time understanding so you can work with them later on. Write down music people recommend to you or that you’ve read about. This way, when you’re hurting for some new French music to listen to, you’ve got a notebook of ideas and stuff to study in order to improve.
The key here is the same with French movies or TV shows, if it’s something you already do daily in English, then make an effort to switch some of those daily episodes, books, articles and songs to French. Soon you won’t even realize you’re learning French.
Music Platforms for French Listening Practice
Oh, but where can I find the resources to do this? It’s too hard to find these things! I couldn’t possibly manage! Oh hush, I’m going to give you enough resources to trump all of your excuses. Get to listening!
YouTube is a solid go-to for free access to songs and music videos. You can also subscribe to French channels here, make playlists and favorite your new preferred chansons (songs).
But you can get a lot more out of YouTube music videos by watching them on FluentU.
Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the French language and culture over time. You’ll learn French as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive subtitles.
You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used.
For example, if you tap on the word "crois," you'll see this:
Practice and reinforce all the vocabulary you've learned in a given video with FluentU's adaptive quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning and play the mini-games found in the dynamic flashcards, like "fill in the blank."
As you study, FluentU tracks the vocabulary that you’re learning and uses this information to give you a 100% personalized experience.
It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
To find lyrics to learn and sing along with, use LyricsTranslate. It will give you the song lyrics or paroles in French and English. Seeing the two side by side will help you get the gist of the song.
MusixMatch is a great way to listen to videos with synced lyrics. This way you don’t have to go digging around two separate sites for a match. Tubeoke provides a similar service, matching a song with lyrics for all of your sing-along needs.
For more of a challenge, use Lyrics Training, an online game where you can choose which language you are learning, browse for songs, then indicate a difficulty level. Then, it’ll give you lyrics with blanks that you fill out as you listen—either through multiple choice or by typing in the words.
If you’re going deep into the French music scene, you may want to check out some French music blogs to help point you in the right direction. Here are a few with great suggestions:
10 Killer French Bands That Will Sharpen Your Listening Skills
If you’re still drawing a blank when it comes to French music, here are some great bands, all in genres that stray from the usual French pop hits. Get started with these, and you’ll be a French indie music expert in no time. I promise there’s a little something here for every music lover.
They are listed from the easiest to comprehend to the most difficult, so start where you feel comfortable.
1. La Femme
La Femme is described as “psyche punk-rock,” characterized by their synthetic and hypnotizing sounds. The vocals are front and center here, many of which are sung in French. And lucky you, the lyrics are easy for beginners to follow. Bonus: It’s great music to dance to, you know, if you’re into that kind of thing.
Recommended Song: “Sur la planche”
For beginners who are heading to a French beach, here’s some beach vocabulary such as la plage and le sable to memorize while you listen to La Femme on your way.
Sur la plage, dans le sable (On the beach, in the sand)
Je recherche des sensations (I seek sensations)
Sur la planche, sur la vague, (On the surfboard, on the wave)
Je ressens des sensations (I feel sensations)
Here’s a more sentimental band, though depending on what album you listen to, you’ll get very different sounds. Based in France and known for their great live performances, Luke (named after the american film “Cool Hand Luke”), has seen many changes in their band line-up and consequently, their sound. Their songs are a little on the sad side and maybe not for dancing, but great for listening and sulking.
Recommended Song: “La Sentinelle”
This song seems to be all about wallowing, perhaps about something from the past? This song uses a mix of the imperfect tense and the perfect tense.
For example, J’ai vendu (I sold) is in the perfect tense, and les sourires étaient (the smiles were) is in the imperfect tense. So if you’re rusty on when to use which, this is a good song to study.
J’ai vendu ma misère pour une voix de soumission (I sold my misery for a voice of submission)
au fond de moi la sentinelle (deep inside the sentinel)
pouvait briller sans exception (could shine without exception)
et les sourires étaient les mêmes (and smiles were the same)
If you’re into ’90s alternative, then you may have heard this rock-pop band’s name. They’ve influenced generations of musicians, French and English alike. Although the band formed in London, England, their vocalist is originally from Paris.
Their songs are sung in both French and English, making them an accessible band for beginning French learners.
Recommended Song: “Eloge d’Eros”
Here we have un mélange (a mix) of fun tenses. You’ve got your conditional (Je pourrais), present participle (Voyant) and the simple past (Je crus).
Non rien en effet n’est pour moi de plus précieux (No effect is nothing more precious to me)
Que de me rendre le meilleur que je pourrais (that make me the best I could)
Voyant l’attention qu’il portait ma beauté (Seeing the attention that he gave my beauty)
Je crus que c’était pour moi une aubaine (I thought it was a godsend for me)
4. Louise Attaque
I said there would be a little something for everyone! Louise Attaque is a more folk-based approach to the indie rock scene. The songs are very lyric-driven and Gaëtan Roussel, the vocalist, has a certain sound to him that is difficult to forget.
Louise Attaque is recommended for beginner and intermediate learners. The lyrics are easy to understand, but the vocabulary isn’t always simple.
Recommended Song: “J’t’emmène au vent”
Having a tough moment with the subjunctive? Sing it out! Since these lyrics start with Je voudrais que… the following clauses take the subjunctive:
Je voudrais que tu te ramènes devant, que tu sois là de temps en temps (I would like you to come ahead, to be there now and then)
et je voudrais que tu te rappelles, notre amour est éternel et pas artificiel (and I would like you to remember that our love is eternal and not artificial).
Girl power! This French female duo is reminiscent of the good old days of 1960s French music. It’s a perfect band for dancing and sing-alongs. Recommended for intermediate learners, the vast majority of their songs are in French, so there is a lot of material to work with here.
Recommended Song: “Battez-vous”
If you need to brush up on the imperative mood (giving commands), then this song is chock-full of imperative phrases like battez-vous and soyez!
Faites-vous la guerre pour me faire la cour (Make war to woo me)
Maintenant battez-vous (Right now, fight with each other)
Soyez gangsters, soyez voyous (Be gangsters, be crooks)
Maintenant battez-vous (Right now, fight with each other)
This new wave era band has played pop music from 1981 to present day, and sports a prolific discography. Their decades in the business have been far from easy. They were criticized for their similarities to The Cure (but hey, if you love The Cure, here’s a French version for you). They suffered through a tragic loss of a key band member and years of commercial failure.
Though they maintain key new wave era elements in their music, they’ve evolved over the years, giving listeners, old and new, plenty to sift through. This is a good band for intermediate listeners (due to slightly droning lyrics).
Recommended Song: “L’Aventurier”
If you’re looking for some adventure book recommendations (man, bet you didn’t think you’d find that in song lyrics), this mentions pretty heavily an adventure books series, “Bob Morane.”
It’s a series of more than 200 novels written by a French-speaking Belgian novelist. The song makes direct mention of the characters from the books: Bob Morane, Mister Kali Jones, Bill Ballantine, etc.
Egaré dans la vallée infernale (Lost in the infernal valley)
Le héros s’appelle Bob Morane (The hero is called Bob Morane)
À la recherche de l’Ombre Jaune (Seeking a yellow shadow)
Le bandit s’appelle Mister Kali Jones (The villain is called Mister Kali Jones)
Avec l’ami Bill Ballantine (With friend Bill Ballantine)
7. Noir Désir
Noir Désir hails from Bordeaux and was active from the 1980s to the early 2000s. The band’s split was a direct result of the lead singer’s incarceration for manslaughter in the early 2000s. This alternative rock band has hints of darkness in the lyrics, though each of their albums offers up different sounds and themes. It has a little bit of everything for everyone, including a horribly gruesome backstory!
Recommended Song: “Le vent nous portera”
If the future tense isn’t your forte, then study up on these lyrics! Tout ira bien (All will go well) is the future tense of the common phrase tout va bien (Everything goes well); it’s a good phrase to remember!
Je n’ai pas peur de la route (I’m not scared of the journey)
Faudrait voir, faut qu’on y goûte (We have to see it, we have to taste it)
Des méandres au creux des reins (The twists and turns deep inside)
Et tout ira bien la (Everything will go okay here)
Le vent l’emportera (The wind will carry us)
8. Les Rita Mitsouko
This upbeat pop-rock duo began playing together in the ’80s. They’re known for doing film soundtracks and collaborations with other musicians (including Iggy Pop). This band is recommended for advanced listeners, as the lyrics are sometimes hard to follow.
Recommended Song: “Les Histoires d’amour”
Morbid love advice notwithstanding, there’s also a thing or two to learn about negating phrases when pronouns and past participles are involved. Like in the case of negating this part participle: Patrick n‘est jamais reparu. The negation goes around the helping verb, not the past participle.
Valérie s’ennuyait (Valerie was bored)
Dans les bras de Nicolas (In Nicolas’s arms)
Mais Nicolas, celui-là (But Nicolas, right there)
Ne le savait pas (didn’t know this)
Isabelle a attendu, attendu (Isabelle waits, waits)
Mais Patrick n’est jamais reparu (but Patrick never reappears)
9. My Diet Pill
Here’s a French band that dabbles in both French and English music. Originating in Nice, France, this indie rock band has a larger following outside of their home country than in it. The vocals are more mumbly, but a great band to have on in the background.
Recommended Song: “L’air de rien”
This song is helpful if you need more pronoun practice, because seriously, who doesn’t? Ceux, ce and que are tricky pronouns to master, so pay attention to their usage below:
Je ne suis pas de ceux (I am not one of those)
Qui, l’air de rien (who nonchalantly)
Oublient ces temps…ou font semblant (forgets these times… or pretends)
Et disent que ce n’était rien. (and say that this was nothing)
Only active between 1981 and 1986, Sortilège may be France’s biggest contribution to the metal scene. So if you’re looking to head bang and thrash about, maybe let off some steam, look no further. This group is recommended for both metal heads and rock music lovers alike (whoever said that the French didn’t rock, skipped over this group). They may be a better group for more advanced listeners; many of the lyrics are screamed.
Recommended Song: “D’ailleurs”
Well, well, well metal lovers. You’re probably wondering how you can sing about dark morbid things in the spirit of the night! Here’s some vocab like une ombre and la tannière to get you warmed up with.
Dans la nuit (In the night)
une ombre profile (a looming shadow)
sur les murs (on the walls)
sa marque indélébile (its indelible mark)
au crépuscule un être étrange sort (at dusk a strange being out)
de sa tannière issu (from his lair)
I don’t even want to hear the whining! You have plenty to work with now, so you have no reason you shouldn’t already be jamming out.
Who knows, you may be writing your own French music blog one of these days.
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