French Language Blog

Talking About Music In French Posted by on May 3, 2017 in Vocabulary

Listening to music is a fun and easy way to not only learn more, but also have fun while doing it! Singing along to Stromae or Baptiste W. Hamon hardly feels like studying, but it is an amazingly useful way to improve your French.

Music” by Brandon Glesbrecht on Flickr. LIcensed under CC BY 2.0.

I have always loved music and used to be involved in music quite a bit when I was younger aux États-Unis (in the United States). Au lycée (in high school) I even studied la théorie musicale (music theory)! I know some technical jargon about music… but only in English.

When I became friends with Jean Guyomarc’h and wanted to talk about la musique, I realized I had no idea how to talk about le chiffrage de mesure, l’armure ou même la partition (time signature, key signature, or even sheet music). In a confusing series of conversations I began to learn the difference between une ronde et une blanche (a whole note and a half note) in French.

An interesting difference for me was that in France they don’t use the same name for musical notes. That is, I learned the notes as A, B, C, D, E, F, G, but en France they use le solfège:

Do Ré Mi Fa Sol La Si Do

Rester en rythme (staying on time) is at least easy to understand since le métronome is the same in French and English, mais malheureusement (but unfortunately), many names for les instruments are very different. Par exemple (for example), a French horn isn’t French en France, and the drums are la batterie!

Learning about le vocabulaire musical français sometimes made the English words I already knew more interesting too. The clef in treble clef comes from an old way to write the word clé and means key!

Le vocabulaire musical français still stumps me from time to time with new technical words and the names of instruments, but even without knowing all the words I can profiter de la musique (enjoy music)!

Voici un vocabulaire de la musique :

music” by vallgall on Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Music Theory – La théorie musicale
Sheet Music – La partition
Treble Clef – La clef de sol
Bass Clef – La clef de fa
Key Signature – L’armure
Time Signature – Le chiffrage de mesure
4/4 Time – La mesure à 4/4
3/4 Time – La mesure à 3/4
6/8 Time – La mesure à 6/8
Key – Le ton
In the key of D Major – En ré majeur
Note – La note
Whole Note – La ronde
Half Note – La blanche
Quarter Note – La noire
Eighth Note – La croche
Rhythm – Le rythme
Beat – Le rythme
Drums – La batterie
French Horn – Le cor d’harmonie
String Instruments – Les instruments à cordes
Wind Instruments – Les instruments à vent

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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.