Music makes the world go round… or so some people say. Such a beautiful way to connect people, right?
Wait, what? What on Earth does that mean? There’s no sense in that. The Earth doesn’t physically go around in circles because of music, everyone knows that.
So then, what does that mean? Well, this saying is actually an idiom. It’s meaning isn’t actually what it says. This idiom means that music is a way to connect people and allow people to relax and escape a little from their everyday stressful lives. That music is an art that inspires and motivates all people, no matter the type of music. Wow, confusing huh?
English is filled with thousands of these idioms and with many different themes. Let’s take a look today at music idioms in English and see if we can get down to the real meaning. But first, let’s look at what an idiom really is.
What is an idiom?
An idiom is a short phrase or group of words where those individual words may not actually be the meaning of the whole phrase. They are similar to phrasal verbs in how their meaning isn’t literal, but often based on the context of the speaker. Idioms are just a bit longer. They can have a theme then the speaker isn’t even talking about that theme. Music idioms in English are necessarily about music at all.
Have you ever been listening to native English speakers having a conversation and you hear them say a phrase about money but they are really talking about sports? Or you hear a music idiom or phrase but the conversation is about a robbery? That phrase was probably an idiom. These are regularly used in all types of conversations, from casual conversations with friends to a business meeting.
How to best learn idioms?
Learning idioms are a great way to really improve your conversational skills and to make it fun! The first and most important step to learn idioms is to simply accept that their meanings are not literal. Do not try to translate directly because they will not make sense. A music idiom that seems to translate properly could not be what it really means in English so don’t be fooled!
A great way to learn idioms is to learn through pop culture. You could watch videos, listen to music, watch movie trailers or the news. There are many online dictionaries to help you become familiar with these phrases. Once you become familiar, try to find them in music and videos. And once you really master them, then use them in conversation with native speakers!
The easiest way to learn idioms is based on theme. So let’s start memorizing some of them.
15 commonly used idioms in English
- Ring a bell: when something does (or doesn’t) sound familiar.
“My friend Scott is visiting this weekend, do you know him?”
“No, that name doesn’t ring a bell.”
- Like a broken record: used to describe someone who tells the same story or information again and again.
My dad is like a broken record, he has told me that story about 5 times now.
- Toot your own horn/Blow your own trumpet: these expressions have the same use and meaning. They are used to describe someone who brags or boasts about themselves and their accomplishments.
You don’t need to toot your own horn, we know you are great athlete.
- Blow the whistle/ whistle blower: this is the name of a person who quietly tells the authorities of illegal or criminal activities that are happening. To give information about those who are responsible.
Whistle blowers are very brave to risk their job and career to prevent further harm to the community.
He blew the whistle on the company for their illegal activities and now the company is shut down.
- It takes two to tango: this is to show that there are two sides in any conflict or something that has gone wrong. That neither party is completely innocent.
My mom always says, “it takes two to tango,” when my brother starts a fight with me.
- With bells on: to be very happy and excited to be somewhere or do something.
She always shows up to the party with bells on even when she is tired!
- All that jazz: this is a way to summarize everything related or similar to what you are talking about. It is a similar use to ‘etc.’.
I can’t wait for summer when it will be warm, sunny, relaxed and all that jazz.
- March to the beat of your own drum: this is to describe someone who in a bit unique and does things their own way no matter what others think.
My sister is the only artist in the family and really marches to the beat of her own drum.
- Carry a tune: to be able to accurately sing a melody or song.
I couldn’t carry a tune if my life depended on it, but my friend sings beautifully!
- Play it by ear: to handle things as they come. To not plan or do things with guidelines.
My friends often get annoyed that I never make plans, I much prefer to play it by ear because I never know what I will want to do when the time comes.
- Clean as a whistle: to describe someone or something that is extremely clean. Can also describe someone who is innocent in something.
The police questioned him about the store robbery, but he’s clean as a whistle.
- Jazz (something) up: to improve something and add more style and excitement to it.
She loves to jazz up a simple outfit by adding bright and colorful jewelry.
- Fine tuning: to improve the function of something by making small adjustments.
Some students really love to fine tune their brain by learning a little bit of vocabulary everyday.
- Have to face the music: when you or someone has to accept the negative consequences of something that has happened. To face a problem or a challenge.
He has to face the music and talk to them, he created these problems so he has to solve them.
- Music to (someone’s) ears: something that is pleasant and sounds nice. Can be about sounds or about words that someone says.
Hearing people say how much they enjoy my food is music to my ears.
Well that’ll do it! As you can see, most of these are not at all about music. Remember not to translate these phrases literally and to accept their meanings. Really listen for them in your everyday life and practice practice practice! The more repetition you have with these music idioms, the better your English will become!