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Drumming Up New Vocabulary – Talking About La Batterie In French Posted by on May 2, 2019 in Music, Vocabulary

En étant un Américain en France (as an American in France), learning the language means having normal converations hide surprise French lessons almost every day. It’s hard not to stumble through a few interactions every week as I realize I don’t know how to talk about something as simple as le shampooing or les mails.

Image from Pixabay. Licensed under CC0.

I’ve been really into drum music recently, listening to the details of jazz, rock, and hip hop and all the skills and techniques of professional drummers. Cependant (however), when I wanted to talk about some of the new music I’ve been listening to with un collègue (a coworker), I quickly realized I had a pretty big hole in mon vocabulaire français (my French vocabulary):

Salut John ! Ça va ?
Ça va et toi ?
Ça va. J’ai remarqué que tu écoutes beaucoup de musique ces jours.
Oui ! J’ai découvert que j’aime beaucoup un nouveau style de musqiue !
Ah bon, c’est quoi alors ?

Hi John! How are you?
I’m fine and you?
I’m alright. I noticed that you are listening to a lot of music these days.
Yes! I discovered that I really like a new style of music!
Oh really, so what is it?

Before getting to specific music vocabulary or any of the details of drumming, I couldn’t even say the word for drums!

C’est comme dans un groupe de rock tu sais…
Il y a le guitariste, le bassiste, le chanter et puis le…..
Le batteur ?
Ah oui… Comment on dit cet instrument en français ?
La batterie ?
Tu veux dire les piles ?
Non ça c’est autre chose !

It’s like in a rock group you know…
There’s the guitarist, the bassist, the singer, and then the…
The drummer?
Ah yes… How do you say that instrument in French?
The drums?
You mean the batteries?
No that’s something else!

I was a bit confused to learn that une batterie could mean anything other than something related to l’électricité (electricty), but I accepted it tried my best to remember it. Although I was confused even further when mon collègue had to explain that une baguette can also mean a drumstick!

La batterie as the word for the musical instrument en français dates back to the 17th century and it’s pretty easy to understand why once it becomes clear where the word comes from:

Battre – To hit, to beat

What’s interesting to note however is that the earliest records have le mot (the word) as la baterie de tambour with one t and – to make things extra confusing – another way to say drum. It turns out the word for a drum is completely different from the word for drums or a drum kit.

Le tambour – drum
La batterie – drums, drum kit, drum set

After figuring all that out, I wanted to know a bit more vocabulaire de batterie (drum vocabulary) and was surprised to see a mix of similar and completely different words:

Image by Pawel Wajda. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

  1. La grosse caisse – Bass drum
  2. Le tom basse – Floor Tom
  3. La caisse claire – Snare drum
  4. Les toms – Hanging/Rack toms
  5. La charleston – Hi-hat
  6. Les cymbales – Cymbals

I may still struggle with everyday vocabulary en français, but after sharing my new love of la batterie I at least have a new way to use les baguettes!

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About the Author: John Bauer

John Bauer is an enthusiast for all things language and travel. He currently lives in France where he's doing his Master's. John came to France four years ago knowing nothing about the language or the country, but through all the mistakes over the years, he's started figuring things out.