In this series of posts we explore musicality: what it means to be “musical”.
By such innovations are languages enriched,
when the words are adopted by the multitude,
and naturalized by custom.
– Miguel De Cervantes
Artists are the embodiment of everything that is wrong with this world – and we mean that good kind of “wrong”! Peculiar lifestyle, appearance, mind, creative process and of course the language.
As a person who made the decision to dedicate one’s life to art you have to represent your artistic vision to its fullest. An essential part of this is knowing the slang, or “jargon”, that is used in the scene or niche you belong to.
Why is knowing music slang important?
There are several reasons and benefits in knowing the appropriate slang or terminology.
Firstly, it’s the most assured way for you to connect with your peers and “speak the same language” a.k.a. vibe on the same frequency.
Secondly, and this is true to any professional field, by taking time to study the terminology you will expand your knowledge of your craft and will be able to internalize the technical and creative aspects in greater depth.
Depending on the scene the wording used varies drastically, so if you’re into Hip-Hop and similar Urban genres chances are you might find it quite hard communicating with a Classical Music aficionado.
There are many instances where knowing the terminology will be a life-saver: at a social event when you are finally meeting that A&R guy or a potential Personal Manager who can launch the career of your dream, at a recording studio when you need to record your next masterpiece, at sound check before your show, in YouTube comment section when you need to silence a few trolls and many more.
How To Learn Musical Slang
It is pretty easy to pick up the slang if you set your mind to it. All you have to understand is that you have to take a professional mindset to what you do, i.e. knowing your craft just like a software programmer would know all the necessary terms, operations and concepts necessary for the profession.
Opportunities to learn musical slang are everywhere:
- Peers, Social Events, Working Situation: The best way to pick up casual lingo is by being around people who are into the same genre as you are. It is also a good way to spend time getting other people’s insight on musicality, sound, showmanship and anything else that can be related to your musical life.
- Theory Books: These will teach you everything you need to know about “musical literacy”. They cover the essential knowledge about the concepts of 3 main musical elements, Melody, Harmony and Rhythm.
- Manuals: If you want to find out how this or that plugin works and really dissect the functionality of your DAW, reading a manual is a must. In other words you have to RTFM (Read The F***ing Manual!)
- Online Tutorials: Some people take enormous amount of time to create a concise representation of a concept and upload it to YouTube. These are great to learn the terminology that is also being directly applied in a working situation.
- Schools: If you can afford it, going to a production or recording school, or any other musical institution will ensure you pick up all the needed terms. Schools have a vivid ecosystem of equally-passionate aspiring artists like you, experienced staff, and written material to help you learn everything about the creative, technical and business sides of music.
Types of Musical Slang
Let’s look into genre-specific and also into situation-specific slang that might come in handy. Don’t worry about memorising it all! These are just examples, to help you start tuning your ear in to the slang all around you in the world of music.
Recording Studio Slang
Working in a recording studio usually shows the true versatility and professionalism of an artist. This is true for all: singers, instrumentalists, producers and engineers. Studio time is expensive and every minute counts, so you don’t want to have a studio session go to waste because someone doesn’t know the slang.
Vokes/Vox – vocals.
To punch in – to record.
Behind the bar (anacrusis) – this means notes (usually a certain instrument, voice etc.) that start playing before the first bar comes in.
A Bar – “a bar (or measure) is a segment of time corresponding to a specific number of beats in which each beat is represented by a particular note value.” – Wikipedia
‘Verb – reverb, a sound effect.
Dry/Wet – the intensity of an applied sound effect, quality, character etc.
Hype track, Ad Libs, Monkey Track – a vocal track that is used to add embellishments, such as “yeahs”, random shouts etc.
Tap it again – do another take.
Here are some terms commonly used in the hip-hop scene:
Punchline – a quick and witty line to grab listener’s attention.
Coiner – the main idea you want to deliver to your audience.
Bangin’ – a term describing that song is of a good quality.
Diss/Diss’d – to disrespect or to be disrespected.
It’s Gucci – it’s awesome.
Mad, ill – signifying an extremely good quality of a track.
Mayne, meng – man.
Electronic Music Slang
Electronic music is responsible for some of the most widespread terms that are used all over the internet and in RL (real life) right now.
Fam, squad – your group of close friends.
DAW – digital audio workstation.
It’s lit – it’s awesome.
What’s your alias? – what’s your artist name?
OTT – over the top. Referring to a specific type of multiband compression preset in Ableton Live.
The Build – a section of a song with rising energy leading to the culmination, chorus etc.
Drop – the heaviest and “danciest” part of the song. An electronic music producer’s skill is usually determined by this section of a track.
Jazz musicians are a very specific type of people and their specialised language completely reflects that!
Axe – an instrument.
Changes – harmonic structure of a song, i.e. chord changes.
Cat – a person who plays jazz. Or any person at all.
Bad – good.
To blow – to play an instrument.
To have chops – the ability to play an instrument well.
Noodlin’ – to play insignificantly.
To woodshed – to practice a lot.
Classical Music Slang
Classical music lingo includes a lot of Italian terminology, thus somewhat eliminating the need for a whole set of substitute words. In order for you to feel fully comfortable among people who are into this genre you will need grind on all terminology found in theory books. Here are some examples of a jargon and terms used by classical musicians to get you started.
‘Bones – a short version for trombones.
Tutti – a section that is played by the whole orchestra without a soloist.
Toneless – unmusical.
Temperament – referring to how instrument is tuned.
How Musical U helps you learn musical slang
Musical U isn’t just a set of high quality music training modules – it’s a community. That means as a Musical U member you’re surrounded throughout your musical journey by other musicians who come from all walks of life.
Members familiar with classical, rock, electronic, jazz, hip-hop. They’re experienced with choirs, bands, the studio, and every musical situation you can imagine.
The result: just by spending time inside Musical U you will absorb the slang from all parts of the musical galaxy. No effort required!
Oh, and don’t know what something means? Just ask. We’re a very friendly bunch!
Musicality Means Knowing the Slang
Knowing the technical terms and appropriate lingo is crucial in order to increase your credibility within the music community. Additionally, this brings extra fun to personal relationships in music.
Every scene is going to have its own topics of interest, ranging from discussing the show experience, to talking business or diving into production details. The bottom line is: jargon reflects the current state of the niche and can’t be ignored when you’re associating yourself with a particular creative circle.
Every genre has its own peculiarities and specifications. This post was intended to give you an insight on just some of the slang terms used across a few different genres and situations. Perhaps the most exciting side of this all, is that lingo evolves just as much as the music does. Musical lingo is a channel to connect with your peers on a much deeper and interactive level.
Perhaps you’re going to be the one creating the next hyped lingo, fam, alongside with all the great music you’re bound to make. Using industry slang doesn’t just happen during casual conversations but also in professional surroundings, so make sure you’re integrated into the musical world you love as much as possible – after all, music is your life!
Want to become more musical?
Whether you want to sing in tune, play by ear, improvise, write your own songs, perform more confidently or just make faster progress, first you need to know where you're starting from.
The Musicality Checklist will quickly reveal your personal musicality profile and how you can improve your natural musicianship.
Available FREE today!
Musical U provides in-depth training modules, an easy-to-use personalised planning system, a friendly and supportive community, and access to expert help whenever you need it.