“If music be the food of love, play on.”
Most of us have heard this famous line from Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” but unlike Duke Orsino who says it in order to have an excess of music (therefore curing himself of love), I say it because I can never get enough music!
Chances are you can’t get enough, either, so why stop at just listening to and talking about music in English?
Furthermore, being able to talk about music is a great way to connect with others through engaging conversations while practicing your French at the same time.
So I’ve prepared loads of interesting French music expressions and vocabulary for you that will be… music to your ears.
Why Learn French Music Expressions and Vocabulary?
Music is an important part of French culture given their long history of famous musicians like Edith Piaf, Lucienne Delyle and Charles Trenet.
The magical city of Paris remains one of the world’s biggest hubs for jazz clubs and is also well known for having street musicians on every corner.
Today, French artists like Julien Doré and Zaz (Isabelle Geffroy) are trending all over the world and French lyrics from Francophone stars like Céline Dion can be heard on radios in any country.
Aside from music’s important cultural aspects, learners can benefit greatly by listening to French songs. But first, you must know key terms and vocabulary in order to better search for the music you want. For example, if you know French terms related to hip-hop, you’ll actually be able to gain exposure to French hip-hop artists in your search results.
Plus, as already mentioned, given music’s important status in society in general, it’s surely going to come up in many conversations you’ll have. So it’s important to learn the vocabulary to become a well-rounded French speaker.
Resources for Learning and Practicing French Music Vocabulary
Once you’ve read through this list of music vocabulary, you’ll need to make sure you really solidify it in your memory through practice.
There are many different resources for trying out what you’ve learned, such as:
- Audio clips of music vocabulary with BBC Schools Primary Languages, a website for language learners. This activity will greatly improve your pronunciation.
- Music vocabulary games, flashcards and quizzes on Quizlet, a website that offers study sets on a variety of topics.
- This Easy French YouTube video, in which they interview Parisians about music.
- The “Parzonnez-Moi” (“Excuse Me”) YouTube video in which Céline Dion discusses her music career in an interview. Céline is not only fun to watch but uses tons of great music terms when talking about her albums.
- FluentU, whose French video library currently offers 400+ videos in the “Arts and Entertainment” category. FluentU lets you learn French from real-world content like music videos, commercials, news broadcasts, cartoons and inspiring talks.
Since this content is material that native French speakers actually watch regularly, you’ll get the opportunity to learn real French the way it’s spoken in modern life.
One quick look will give you an idea of the diverse content found on FluentU:
Love the thought of learning French with native materials but afraid you won’t understand what’s being said? FluentU brings authentic French videos within reach of any learner. Interactive captions guide you along the way, so you never miss a word.
Tap on any word to see a definition, in-context usage examples, audio pronunciation, helpful images and more. For example, if you tap on the word “suit,” then this is what appears on your screen:
Don’t stop there, though. Use FluentU to actively practice all the vocabulary in any video through word lists, flashcards, quizzes and fun activities like “fill in the blank.”
As you continue advancing in your French studies, FluentU keeps track of all the grammar and vocabulary that you’ve been learning. It uses your viewed videos and mastered language lessons to recommend more useful videos and give you a 100% personalized experience.
Whichever style of learning you prefer, there are tons of great ways to practice the following important music vocabulary.
Strike the Right Note! Talking About Music in French
The following will be your go-to essentials when talking about any sort of music in French.
La musique — music
Le musicien/La musicienne — the musician (masculine/feminine)
Le groupe — the band
Chanter — to sing
Le chanteur/La chanteuse — the singer
Le chant — singing
As with the equivalent word in English, you can use chanter (the verb) or le chant (the noun) to almost say the same thing. For example, elle aime le chant (she likes singing) and elle aime chanter (she likes to sing) practically express the same idea.
Une chanson — a song
La voix — voice
You might use the above words in order to start a conversation with someone new.
Try asking them, “Quel groupe préférez-vous ?” (“Which band is your favorite?”) or “Aimez-vous chanter ?” (“Do you like to sing?”). These are excellent ways to strike up a great conversation.
Here are some of the most common music genres—without going into really technical (and probably not as useful) sub-genres.
These are extremely easy to learn as they’re all similar to their English counterparts. In fact, many of the French music genre terms are anglicisms, meaning they borrow the English word.
Le jazz — jazz
La musique classique — classical
L’opéra — opera
La pop — pop
Le rock — rock
Le hip-hop — hip-hop
Le rap — rap
La musique alternative — alternative
Le grunge — grunge
La musique country — country
La musique électronique — electronic
Le reggae — reggae
La musique folk — folk
Le heavy metal — heavy metal
Talking about music genres is another great way to connect with others.
Try asking someone, “Quel genre de musique aimez-vous ?” (“What type of music do you like?”) or offering up your favorite type of music. For example, you might say, “Je préfère le rock et le pop” (“I prefer rock and pop music”).
In this section, you’ll find some major instruments plus useful phrases to use when talking about playing them.
While many of them are similar to their English definitions, pay careful attention to the way in which each is spelled, as their spelling almost always differs by a letter or two.
Les instruments — instruments
Le piano — piano
La guitare — guitar
Note that an acoustic guitar is une guitare acoustique and an electric guitar is une guitare électrique.
La batterie — drums
Le tuba — tuba
La trompette — trumpet
La clarinette — clarinet
La flûte — flute
Le saxophone — saxaphone
La basse — bass
You can also use une guitare basse to refer to a bass guitar.
Le violon — violin
L’accordéon — accordion
Le violoncelle — cello
L’orgue — organ
Les cornemuse — bagpipes
L’harmonica — harmonica
Le trombone — trombone
Le banjo — banjo
Enregistrer — to record
Le groupe enregistre un nouvel album. (The band is recording a new album.)
Jouer — to play
You use jouer de when talking about playing a musical instrument. You must remember to add the preposition de before the instrument.
Je joue du trombone. (I play the trombone.)
Notice that, as always in French, the preposition forms the correct contraction with the article when appropriate. In this case, the article is le (the). In other words, you don’t say je joue de le trombone but rather je joue du trombone.
Here’s one more example:
Ils jouent du banjo. (They play the banjo.)
Aside from telling people what instrument you play, you can ask them if they play an instrument by saying, “Jouez-vous d’un instrument ?” (“Do you play an instrument?”).
Listening to Music
Here are some ways in which you might talk about listening to music.
Écouter — to listen
J’écoute de la musique. (I listen to music.)
Le casque — headphones
Note that le casque only refers to headphones that you put over your ears. If you want to talk about earbuds, use les écouteurs.
Un CD — a CD
Un lecteur de CD — a CD player
Un disque — a record
Un tourne-disque — a record player
Télécharger — to download
J’ai téléchargé sept chansons aujourd’hui. (I downloaded seven songs today.)
Un mp3 — an mp3 file
Une stéréo — a stereo
La radio — the radio
Un album — an album
Chances are you’ll use this vocabulary a good bit.
For example, you might say, “Avez-vous entendu le nouvel album du groupe ?” (“Have you heard the band’s new album?”) or “J’ai besoin d’acheter les nouveaux écouteurs” (“I need to buy new earbuds”).
The following vocabulary provides you with everything you need to know about discussing concerts.
Un concert — a concert
L’orchestre — the orchestra
Un micro — microphone
While it’s acceptable to use un microphone when referring to a microphone, it has become a bit outdated. Almost everyone just uses un micro in French today.
Jouer — to perform
In this case, you use jouer (to play) to denote performing in a music show.
Le groupe a joué de la musique au park. (The band played music in the park.)
La foule — the crowd
There are a number of ways to talk about a crowd in French. Le public (the public) and les spectateurs (the spectators) are acceptable substitutes.
La prestation — set list
Encore! — Encore!
You would think that this would be a no-brainer, as English adopted this word from French. However, while the French do use encore to request that a musician or band play more, they also use une autre (another) and bis (repeat/again).
To ask someone to go to a concert with you, simply say, “Veux-tu aller au concert avec moi ?” (“Do you want to go to the concert with me?”).
Musical Festival Vocabulary
As music festivals become more and more popular, it’s important to know how to discuss them in French.
Le festival de musique — the music festival
Un événement — an event
Une scène — a stage
Les volontaires — the volunteers
En coulisses — backstage
Un passe — a pass (such as the document that allows you access to the festival)
Se rassembler — to gather/to assemble
La programmation — the lineup
Fête de la Musique — Music Day
Fête de la Musique is a huge national day of music that has been taking place annually each summer in France since 1982. Anyone can register their band or themselves to play an event and all sorts of stages are set up across each city.
Music can be heard playing every block or so and lasts all day and night. The purpose of the festival is not only to celebrate music but to give amateur or lesser-known musicians a place and time to share their music and get noticed.
If you’d like to ask someone to attend a music festival with you, simply say, “Veux-tu aller au festival de musique avec moi ?” (“Do you want to go to the music festival with me?”).
On the other hand, if you’re invited to attend a music festival, perhaps you’ll want to ask questions like, “Quelle est la programmation ?” (“What is the lineup?”) or “Avons-nous des passes pour le weekend ?” (“Do we have weekend passes?”).
Now that you’ve had a crash-course in French music vocabulary, you’re ready to discuss festivals, concerts, singers and all that jazz!
Camille Turner is an experienced freelance writer and ESL teacher.
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