Descriptive Words for Music

We hear music every day. Watching the morning news, we're likely to hear music in the commercial breaks. Driving to work or school, we might blast our favorite radio station. Preparing dinner we might unwind with a little easy listening or soft jazz.

Music is an integral part of society. As an expression of inner emotion, a celebration of life, and a symbol of everlasting memories, music remains at the core. Let's look at some descriptive words for music, as it's such a powerful force in our live.

music for first dance at wedding reception music for first dance at wedding reception
Advertisement


Types of Music

No matter how or when we interact with music, it's the hallmark of many important moments in our lives. How about that wedding or prom dance? How about your first concert? Or what about that time you played R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts" over and over after a bad breakup?

First, let's think about describing the different kinds of music, or genre. Is it classical? Is it jazz? Is it pop? Genres also help us understand the piece's origin, style, instrumental selections, and purpose. As you consider the different types of music that exist throughout the world, here are some terms that'll help you make distinctions:

Jazz

Country

Easy Listening

Progressive Rock

New Age

Latin

Blues

Classical

Hip Hop

Rap

Disco

Instrumental

Ambient

Soul

Gospel

reggae

Alternative

Indie

Rock

Heavy Metal

Baroque

Romantic

Renaissance

Ceremonial

Folk

World

Bluegrass

Electronic

Opera

Choral

Rhythm and Blues

Pop

Punk

How Music Sounds

No matter the genre you're enjoying, it's called a composition for a reason. Even if you're singing a cappella in the shower, you're still dealing with textures and dynamics. If you're watching an orchestra perform live, you're looking at different textures and timbres. Let's get technical.

Timbre

Timbre is the term for the color, or sound, of music. For example, a cello and a clarinet may play the same note at the same volume, but you can still hear the different music made by each. Timbre refers to the frequencies that compose the individual sounds.

Some descriptive words in relation to timbre are:

Loud

Soft

Brassy

Gentle

Natural

Melodious

Raucous

Strong

Smooth

Rich

Distinct

Deep

Thick

Mellow

Shrill

Reedy

Thin

Breathy

Rounded

Full

Clear

Piercing

Strident

Harsh

Warm

Resonant

Bright

Dark

Flat

Light

Texture

Texture is the term for the melodic materials written into the composition. It determines the overall sound of the piece. If someone says a composition has a thick texture, that means there are many layers of instruments. So, instead of just vocals and a guitar, perhaps there will also be string and brass sections.

Texture also encompasses a couple other categories. For example, you may hear the term homophonic. Homophonic is the most common texture in Western music. It contains multiple voices where one stands out prominently while the others harmonize.

Other musical terms for texture are:

  • Biphonic - two distinct lines
  • Polyphonic - multiple melodic voices independent from one another
  • Homorhythmic - multiple melodic voices with similar rhythmic material
  • Heterophonic - two or more voices performing variations of the same melody
  • Monophobic - a single melodic line with no accompaniment
Advertisement

Dynamics

Dynamics refers to how loud or quiet the music is. This isn't something that can be measured with precision. Every situation is likely to be different. For example, the instrument and the size of the room are two factors that can change the dynamics of the music.

The important thing to keep in mind is that the levels should be in correlation to one another. If you've ever heard the term crescendo, you'll know dynamics are being discussed. With a crescendo, there will be a gradual increase in volume.

Additional musical terms for dynamics are:

  • Decrescendo - getting softer
  • Pianissimo - very soft
  • Piano - soft
  • Mezzo piano - medium soft
  • Mezzo forte - medium loud
  • Forte - loud
  • Fortissimo - very loud

Tempo

The tempo of a musical piece is similar to the beat of the heart. Sometimes it's slow or adagio (slow and stately); other times, it's fast or vivace (fast and lively).

Each response to the tempo is sure to evoke a certain type of mood. Slow, crooning music might tap into your emotions, as they relate to love or loss. Upbeat, fast-tempo music might make you want to dance all night or sing out loud.

Tempo is measured in BPMs or beats per minute. For example, a piece with 60 BPM has a beat every second. Have you ever seen a pianist use a metronome? This tool helps them hit the keys on the beat and stay within the appropriate measurement, or BPMs, for that piece.

Some descriptive words for music in relation to tempo are:

Fast

Brisk

Upbeat

Quick

Moderate

Slow

Gradual

Double Time

Diminishing

Energetic

Joyful

Melancholic

Rapid

Steady

Lively

Stately

Even

Frantic

Advertisement

Effects of Music

Music is a big part of our lives. It accompanies us on special occasions and sets the mood in movies and television shows. Music can help us pass the time or connect us to others. Indeed, it has positive and beneficial effects.

The famous philosopher William James said it best: "I don't sing because I'm happy; I'm happy because I sing." But don't take his word for it. Science has proven that, when we listen to music, our brains release dopamine. Dopamine is a natural mood booster, elevating our feelings.

Aside from our minds and moods, music also aids in our physical health. It's no coincidence that people love to have their earbuds in as they're exercising. Scientific studies have shown that runners who listen to music run farther, longer, and faster.

Some descriptive words for the effects of music are:

Soothe

Excite

Relax

Stimulate

Calm

Enlighten

Frighten

Focus

Invigorate

Rejuvenate

Restore

Improve

Heal

Empower

Stir

Incite

Exhilarate

Uplift

Play That Funky Music

Music is an integral part of everyday life and it's been proven that music is good for the body, mind, and soul. Now you're equipped with a variety of descriptive words for music and how it makes you feel. So, play that tune and play it loud! Your head and your heart will thank you for it. If you want to learn more about music, discover a few fun facts about music or enjoy some silly music puns.