Music Glossary: Popular
Updated: Sep 24
By Rachael Lovette
From A Capalla to Whammy Bar, here is a condensed guide to the most popular musical terms and terminology in global music.
A Capella: Music (usually harmonized or choral) with no instruments.
Acid Rock: A style of rock music made popular in the late 60s which emphasized
psychedelic imagery, unusual sound effects, and distorted guitar playing.
Alternative: Form of music that is produced by an artist or group outside the mainstream music scene. Typically more eclectic, original, and independent.
Art Rock: An avant-garde genre of rock that is related to progressive rock that uses unusual instruments to create more complex, experimental compositions and novel sonic textures.
Bridge: Transitional passage connecting two sections of a song.
Chord: A group of three or more notes that, when played simultaneously, can form a harmonic structure that can support a melody or a solo line.
Chorus: The piece of a song which is repeated several times (usually by most if not all members of the band), in alternation with verses and other sections. Can also be a guitar solo.
Cover: When a band plays a song that has been composed and recorded by another band.
Crossover: When an artist or band in one genre begins to garner fans of a different genre. (Think Taylor Swift)
Crunch: A specific type of highly distorted electric guitar tone used in heavy metal and thrash metal music.
dB: The unit of measurement of audio level used in recording studios and by live sound engineers.
Desk: British term for a "mixing board".
DJ: A person who plays recorded music for an audience. They can mix songs and create musical transitions.
EDM: Popular music intended for dancing in clubs that have now become mainstream. Known to typically have a repetitive beat and a synthesized backing track. [Deadmau5, Odesza]
Encore: When an artist or band has left the stage signaling the end of the concert but returns 5-10 minutes later to perform an additional song(s).
Fader: An audio level control that slides up and down in a track on a mixing board.
Gig: Slang for a live performance, recording session, or other (usually paid) engagement of an artist or group.
Groupie: Slang for a fan of a particular artist or group who follows said person or group around on tour or to public appearances in hopes of having an intimate encounter.
Grunge: A genre of music originating in Seattle in the late 80s that fuses elements of punk rock and heavy metal. [Nirvana, Foo Fighters]
Heavy Metal: A loud, aggressive style of rock music made popular in the early 1970s. [Metallica, Deep Purple]
New Age: Style of music made popular in the late 1980s that focuses on nature sounds, sweet synthesized tone colors, and acoustic instruments.
New Wave: An emotionally detached style of rock music characterized by a synthesized sound and repetitive beat.
Punk: A rock form characterized by aggressive volume, short, angry vocals, and often bitter political or hopeless emotional content made popular in the mid-1970s. [Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Ramones]
Range: The distance between the lowest and highest possible notes of an instrument or melody.
Reggae: A Jamaican style of popular music that features a strong, syncopated bassline, accompaniment with an undistorted electric guitar, and chanted vocals.
Remix: Music that has been altered or contorted from its original state by adding, removing, and/or changing pieces of the music.
R&B: Music genre that combines rhythm and blues with elements of pop, soul, funk, hip hop, and electronic music.
Roadie: Slang for the employees of an artist or group's touring road crew who load and unload musical equipment.
Rock: A form of popular music that evolved from rock and roll during the mid-1960s that borrows influences from pop, classical, and other music genres.
Sample: A short recorded portion from a performance or recording studio that is replayed or reused in another performance or recording.
Shred: A solo by the lead guitarist that uses complex playing techniques, particularly rapid passages and advanced performance effects.
Ska: A brisk form of Jamaican-born rock derived from reggae and rock energy. [No Doubt]
Solo: Part of a song (or performance) executed by a single instrument or voice.
Synthesizer: A modern electronic keyboard instrument capable of generating a multitude of sounds
Take: A period of playing or signing in a recording session that is recorded without a break.
Trainwreck: Slang for a major error that occurs during a performance, either due to an incorrect entrance by one or more performers or due to the performers getting out of sync or off-pitch with each other.
Whammy bar: Accessory on an electric guitar which can be used to bend down the pitch of an individual note or a chord.
Rachael Lovette is the Digital Director at Flower Bomb Media with a passion for everything K-Pop, fashion, model advocacy, and pop culture. Make sure you follow her on Instagram as she journeys through the fashion industry from behind the lens.