British people have a real passion for music and love to talk about the latest songs they have heard or music they already know and love. However, as a native speaker and teacher of English, I know that there are many informal ways to talk about music that are commonly used. In this article, I present 15 of these informal phrases and words to describe music that are not likely to be in your textbooks. So if you're looking for music adjectives or words to describe a beautiful song look no further.
Firstly, I am going to introduce informal words for songs, secondly, words for expressing your musical likes and dislikes, thirdly, words related to dancing and music and finally, a quick way to describe music by turning music genre names into adjectives.
Informal Words for Songs
There are two ways to define tune, the traditional way is as follows: A melody, especially one which characterizes a certain piece of music.
If you use tune in this way you are referring to a part of the song. However, people sometimes will just say “tune” rather than song in everyday speech. The meaning is exactly the same. So when someone says, “I like the new Blur tune” they simply mean, “I like the new Blur song,” referring to the whole song not just a part of it.
- The DJ played some great tunes yesterday.
- I heard a great tune on YouTube last night.
Track can also simply be used instead of song. In the days of compact discs, the songs were numbered so you could easily find the song you wanted to listen to. People would say, “Tracks 2, 3 and 5 are good but skip tracks 4 and 7, they’re no good”.
- The latest track by Blur is amazing!
- What was that track you just played? I liked it.
Banger is a word used mostly to describe electronic dance and hip hop music. You can use banger to refer to the latest club tunes. “Hey did you hear the new banger by Daft Punk? It will blow your mind”.
- The new Jay Z track is a right banger!
- The Chemical Brothers first album has some bangers on it!
A song that becomes super popular can be called a classic. However, in everyday speech anyone can call a song a classic. There are no rules. So, if you hear a song and you really like it you can say “That song is a classic!” But be warned, this does not mean that other people will agree with you!
- Dylan has got so many classics.
- Bob Marley made some classic records.
- Last night the DJ played all the ‘80’s classics.
Note, classic can also be used when talking about films, books or even experiences as well as music.
This refers to a very popular song. In music festivals, when this type of song is played, most of the crowd will know all the words and sing along. If it is a dance track everyone will get up and dance to it. It is very similar in meaning to a classic but there is more of an emphasis on the song being loud and that you would sing along to it or dance to it, kind of like the national anthem, just way cooler.
- Oasis has got some anthems.
- The new track by Calvin Harris is going to be a summer anthem.
So now we know there are a few different ways to call a song such as tune, track, banger, classic and anthem. Hopefully, knowing these variations can help you express yourself more like natives and has increased your understanding of musical terms.
Next, I am going to introduce five phrases that natives use to express their like or dislike of music( how to say a song is good or not).
Oh my God! That’s a wicked tune!
I remember when I was at school in the ‘90’s, my friends and I started saying wicked as an alternative to cool or great. The old meaning of wicked was bad and was often used like this by the older teachers, “That boy did a wicked (bad) thing”. As young people do, the meaning was changed so when someone says “That was a wicked tune” they mean “That was a cool/great tune”. This a one way that you can use when you don't know how to describe a song you love.
Why do we say it this way? I guess at first, just to be different from our parents and teachers, and then later it just became a habit.
- The Gorillaz is a wicked band.
- The DJ on Saturday will be wicked.
- The club last night was boring. They didn’t play any wicked tunes there.
Lastly, wicked can be used in a non-musical context. So if your friend suggests you meet up and hang out, you can reply, “Wicked, let’s do it!”
What a sick tune!
Have you ever heard someone say “What a sick tune!” and wondered what they meant? Well, they didn’t mean the drummer had thrown up all over the drums and somehow that got recorded onto the final cut of the record. Actually, sick also just means great, cool or amazing. So, next time you hear a song you like on the radio, on YouTube or in the club you can tell your friends, “Wow I just heard a sick tune”. You might also hear people say, “That was the sickest (greatest) thing I have ever heard”.
- Goldie has made some sick tunes.
- The Beastie Boys were the sickest.
Just for your notes, skaters or other adrenaline sports junkies might say “Hey, did you see that trick, it was sick!” The meaning is the same: “It was amazing!”
Last night, the band we saw had some killer tunes
For every DJ or band when they go to play a gig they must have some killer tunes to play to their audience. But, what are killer tunes? A simple definition is that these are the DJ’s or bands best songs. But this doesn’t mean that any killing is going to take place! No, it is a metaphor meaning these songs are so good that they cannot be compared to any other songs. They would metaphorically kill off any competition. ( now you know, how to say a song is good)
- It was amazing, the DJ played killer tunes all night long.
- They are a good band. But they haven’t got any killer tunes.
Turn it off, it’s too cheesy!
If the music is very simple and without subtlety, and/or the lyrics are corny and obvious (“I will always love you”, “You are my one and only,” etc.) you can say “This music is cheesy”, and accompany this phrase with a pretend sick noise “Urgh” for added effect. Just joking, you don’t need to do this last bit!!
So, when I look back at the music of my youth a lot of times I think, “That music is so cheesy, I can’t believe I liked it!”
It is not all negative though, liking cheesy music can also be a reminder of good times. In this case, you could say, “That music is so cheesy, but I don’t care I love it!”
- This music is very cheesy.
- The lyrics are too cheesy.
You can also just say cheese which is simply the noun form.
- I can’t listen to this radio station, all they play is cheese.
- The DJ played cheese all night long.
If you need examples of cheesy songs check out; ABBA: “Dancing Queen”, Survivor: “Eye of The Tiger” or anything by the Spice Girls.
It’s not really my thing
If someone asks you, “Do you want to listen to the new One Direction album?” you may instinctively want to reply, “No, I would rather eat a bowl full of broken glass.” But, you don’t want to annoy the person asking, so instead you can use the phrase, “It’s not really my thing”. It has a soft and indirect meaning, but still means no. By saying “not really my thing”, you are being vague as to the reason why you don’t want to listen to the song, therefore avoiding any clash with the other person.
Friend 1: Do you want to go to a heavy metal gig tomorrow?
Friend 2: Sorry, it’s not really my thing
Again like wicked and classic, this phrase can be used in other conversations such as when talking about films or books.
So those were five informal phrases that can be used to express our likes and dislikes about music. In the next section, I will introduce some words and phrases you can use for music that makes you want to dance. Then the article finishes with a quick and easy way to make adjectives from the names of music genres.
Words and Phrases Related to Dancing:
That groove is amazing!
Oxford dictionaries (2015) define groove as: a particular rhythm in popular or jazz music. In everyday usage, if you listen to a song and the rhythm makes you want to dance, it’s likely that the song has a good groove. So, when your head starts to move in time with the music, or you start to tap your feet you would be, feeling the groove, meaning you are getting yourself into the rhythm of the music.
- Great groove on that track.
- We were grooving all night long (verb form meaning: dancing or enjoying the music).
- This rhythm is really groovy (adjective form).
That is a funky tune
What is a funky tune? The definition in the Oxford Dictionary (2015) is: music that has, or uses a strong dance rhythm, in particular that of funk.
Examples of funky music are those made by any funk musician (James Brown, Parliament, George Clinton, etc.) but also some music by pop artists like Madonna. Funk rock bands like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and dance music such as house and techno tunes can be funky. Generally speaking, when people say music is funky in everyday speech, they are usually just saying this music is good to listen and dance to.
- I love to listen to funky tunes.
- Heard anything funky lately?
- The DJ played some funky tunes, we danced all night.
Next Saturday, there’s a wicked rave happening!
So, we have looked at wicked already. It’s just a superlative, a word that makes the thing that follows sound good or special. But, how about the following word, rave?
Well, a rave in today’s language is a large electronic dance music party. When you go to a rave you might hear house, techno, dubstep, drum and bass music, or one of the other many genres of electronic music.
In the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s in the UK, raves might have been in fields in the summer time, but now they are more likely to be in super modern clubs with superstar DJ’s.
A person that goes to a rave is called a raver, and rave can be used as a verb as well, you can say, “I love raving!” So, next time you go to an all-night party with electronic dance music and DJ’s and you end up dancing all night, yes, you are now a raver!
- I’m going raving this weekend.
- I love rave music.
- I was a raver.
Who feels like throwing some shapes?
So, imagine you are having a good time with friends listening to music. Your friend asks you, “Do you want to throw some shapes?” You don’t know what she means. Throw shapes? Surely she doesn’t mean she’s going to get a triangle, a square and a circle out of her pocket and throw them at you, does she?
Well, actually no, what she’s asking you is, “Do you want to dance?” So when someone next asks, “Do you to throw some shapes?” You can reply, “Yes, as a matter of fact I do!!”
- We were throwing shapes all night.
- She can really throw some shapes.
- I love throwing shapes.
How to Describe Music: Add a -Y
The last of the fifteen words is not actually a word but a letter: the letter -Y. If you think that describing music is hard, you can just add a -y to the name of the genre and you have made it into an adjective. Then, you are able to describe music in a very simple but effective way.
Here are some examples of how to do this:
- Blues: Bluesy
- Folk: Folky
- Jazz: Jazzy
- Punk: Punky
- Pop: Poppy
Examples in sentences:
- My friend writes bluesy songs.
- I know you like folk music so I got you this CD. It’s very folky.
- Mark plays funky music.
- She likes jazzy music.
- That band last night was kind of punky.
- I like pop music but that is too poppy for me.
Also, I should explain that it is also perfectly fine to say “It was a blues tune, or “It was a funk tune”. By adding the -y, you are saying “The song is a little in the style of blues/pop/folk/jazz” or, “It has something of the blues/pop/folk/jazz about it.”
Lastly, with rock and rap music please be careful as we do not say, “That song is rocky” or, “That is a rappy tune.” Sorry, that’s the English language for you, full of irregularities that you just have to learn.
Now you’ve read some tips on how to speak about music like natives do. You have additional vocabulary you can use instead of plain song all the time. You can talk about the music you like, and I have introduced a few words related to music and dancing.
Hopefully, next time you have a music conversation, you can participate in the conversation more and also understand a little better what people are saying. Good luck with your language learning, and please get in touch with me if you want English lessons on italki!