You may not think that music and business have much in common, but when it comes to language, the world of business will take phrases from anywhere!


Here is my ultimate guide to the eight most useful business phrases which come from the world of music. How many of these have you heard before?



1) Face the music


To face the music means to accept the difficult consequences for you mistakes or bad actions. For example:


  • “We need to face the music, our profits are down again this quarter.”
  • “Let’s face the music, we have had so many problems with this project that we’re never going to meet the deadline!”



2) Jazz something up


Probably one of my favourite phrasal verbs ever, to jazz something up means to make something a bit more exciting, interesting or stylish. It is most often used to talk about the appearance of something.


  • “The logo looks a little bit plain, I think we need to jazz it up a little bit!”
  • “The meeting room looks so boring, I think we need to jazz it up a bit if we want to have meetings with external clients in here.”



3) Drum up


To drum something up means to generate something. There are three main words which go very well with the phrase. All of these words are useful for business:


  • To drum up interest for something...
    • "We need to drum up some interest on social media for our new product.”


  • To drum up support for something..
    • “I’m trying to drum up some support for the charity run that I am doing at the weekend.”


  • To drum up business...
    • “We started a promotional campaign to try and drum up some new business.”



4) Fine-tune something


To fine-tune something means to make some very small changes to something. In order to make it complete or ready to use.


  • “I need to fine tune my presentation before I present it to the board on Friday.”
  • “The product just needs a little bit of fine-tuning before we can launch it.”


The phrase ‘fine-tune’ originally meant slightly turning the knob on a radio to get a good signal. In music, it is also used to describe slowly twisting the knob on a guitar. For example, ‘fine-tuning’ to achieve the optimum sound.



5) Playing second fiddle to somebody


This one seems a little strange, but it is perfect in a business context. It means to be in a less important position than someone else in an organisation. When talking about a business hierarchy, in a sense, it means to be the assistant to somebody.


  • “If the merger does go ahead, I don’t want to be playing second fiddle to anybody!”
  • “I’m going to be playing second fiddle to the boss until I have a bit more experience.”

A fiddle is another word for a violin. In an orchestra, the most important person is the lead violinist; while the other, less important violinists are known as the second fiddles.



6) Blowing your own trumpet


To blow your own trumpet means to boast about something; to tell other people how great you are.


  • “My colleague is a nice guy, but he hasn’t stopped blowing his own trumpet since he got his promotion.”

On a side note, if you want to tell people how great you are but don’t want to sound arrogant, you can use this classic phrase:


  • I don’t want to blow my own trumpet, but I have successfully and consistently delivered projects over the last five years. So I think I am the man to lead this team.”



7) Hit the right note with somebody


If you hit the right note with somebody, it means that you have had a good effect on somebody.


  • “We need an advertisement which will hit the right note with our potential customers.”
  • “Her presentation really hit the right note with the investors.”
  • “His performance in the interview really hit the right note with the boss. He gave him the job immediately!”

I’ve saved the best one until last.



8) Play it by ear


To play something by ear means to change the way that you deal with a situation according to how it develops. Rather than planning everything too far ahead and sticking to the same plan.


Of course in business, as in anything, most plans that you make will need to change at some point according to how a situation develops. For example:


  • “It’s difficult to have a strict marketing strategy for the product. Let’s play it by ear for now and see what works.”
  • “The negotiation is going to be a difficult process. Instead of rejecting their proposal immediately, let’s play it by ear and see what they have to offer us first.”

When you use this phrase, always use it with in conjunction with the word it in the middle; there is no need to substitute it for anything else. So, always say ‘play it by ear’, it will always be clear from context of what it means.


Wondering where this phrase came from? When a musician tries to play a piece of music without looking at the music sheet, the musician must use their ears to judge whether they are playing the correct notes. They may have to change some notes as they continue playing. Just as when you are carrying out a plan you may have to change some things as you go rather that sticking to a rigid set of instructions.


So there you have it guys and gals! The eight best carefully chosen business phrases taken from the world of music. Keep an eye out for more useful business phrases from me!


Hero image by howto music (CC BY 2.0)