Ben has enjoyed a life-long interest in the use of idioms and phrases in everyday language.
In this article, we'll take a look at 30 common and not-so-common sayings involving music and discuss what each one means.
1. Music Makes the World go Round
Meaning: that without music, the world is a lesser place. The world is all the richer and vibrant for having music.
Example sentence: “I try to listen to the radio at every possible moment; it lightens my mood and helps make the world go around.”
An expression that draws upon the pleasurable experience of listening to music. Music that comes in many forms and reminds us of all aspects of living, no matter our nationality. Music is a truly universal force.
2. Elevator Music
Meaning: an expression referring to pleasant but otherwise mundane background music. The type of music played in public places.
Example sentence: "I like to leave this track playing in the background while I write; its soothing and doesn't cause any distraction—it's like listening to elevator music."
Possible origin: The term "elevator music" came into being after introducing music within them in 1922. A move designed to calm nervous passengers for whom using a lift was a new and unfamiliar experience.
3. Music to my Ears
Meaning: to hear something welcoming, often said in response to hearing good news.
Example sentence: “The announcement that we won a significant pay award was like music to my ears.”
This idiom that can also be said to describe the pleasure taken from the demise or discomfort of an old enemy.
Example sentence: "I understand that James has had to resign his post; the news is music to my ears."
4. To Beat the Drum
To speak up in favor of something.
Meaning: To speak up in favor of something. Used to describe someone who is campaigning noisily on another's behalf.
Example: “I love this new product line; it will revolutionize the industry. We need to get out there and beat the drum about its potential.”
5. Face the Music
Meaning: To answer for the consequences of one's actions.
Example sentence: "Timmy tried pulling the wool over his boss's eyes once too often; he's been found out and will have to face the music finally."
An expression of military origin, linked to the saying "drummed out" and made regarding the act of being formally dismissed from your regiment.
6. Strike a Chord
Meaning: an idiom suggesting something is familiar or has a connection with you.
Example sentence: “Revisiting the town where I lived as a child struck a chord; it reminded me of how much I missed the old place.”
7. Strike the Right Note
Meaning: To behave in a manner fitting the occasion.
Example sentence: "The best man's speech was excellent; he struck exactly the right note, and it went down a treat with the guests."
8. Blow One's Own Trumpet
Meaning: A saying that refers to talking boastfully about your achievements.
Example sentence: "I don't want to sound like I'm blowing my own trumpet, but I nailed that contract.”
9. Change One's Tune
Meaning: describes a person who has changed their approach to something, usually after a humiliation or setback.
Example sentence: "My teacher used to say that I would never amount to anything; well, they have changed their tune now that I am the new Headmaster at my old high school."
10. Sing Like a Canary
Meaning: an idiom referring to someone who has informed on another person, usually to the police.
Example: “You know the people involved in that robbery; it’s time to start singing like a canary.”
Nothing Sings Quite Like a Canary
11. To Call the Tune
Meaning: A phrase said of the person making the decisions.
Example sentence: “Look, I’m in charge here—you need to remember that I’m the one calling the tune.”
12. Chin Music
Example sentence: “You have babbled on about nothing for the last few minutes; it’s time to stop the chin music and get serious.”
13. Siren Song
Said when something is seductive or appealing. Refers to the Sirens of Greek fables, who lured sailors with their singing onto the rocks.
Example sentence: “They made the job offer look incredibly appealing, but I suspect their talk was something of a siren song in an attempt to get me on board.”
14. A Song in Your Heart
To have an intense feeling of happiness.
Example sentence: “The new movie was incredibly moving, it left me with a song in my heart.”
15. Sing off the Same Song Sheet
Meaning: said when two or more people share the same view on a subject.
An example being: “We must display a united front on this approach. We must demonstrate that we are singing from the same song sheet.”
16. On Song
Meaning: said of a person who is functioning exceptionally well.
Example sentence: “Marco is exceptional in his new role; his attitude is absolutely on song.”
17. Sing up a Storm
To sing with enthusiasm.
An expression that can be demonstrated by the following: “The school’s new choir has excellently talented youngsters, and when they get going, they can certainly sing up a storm.”
18. Go for a Song
To suggest that something is being offered for sale at too low a price.
Example “Have you seen the sale price of the large screen television? It is going for an absolute song.”
Possible origin: Dates back to a time when old ballads were sold cheaply at fairs. Shakespeare in All's Well uses the word song to mean "trifling value."
19. Sell for a Song
A variation on the idiom above means selling something for far less than its real value.
20. A Swan Song
Meaning: a final performance. Often said pre-retirement.
Example statement: “This will be my last project where I act as the lead. I retire next year, and I want this build to go well; after all, it’s my swan song.”
21. Lie Low and Sing Small
Said of someone who is attempting to remain inconspicuous.
Example: “I don’t want to be called upon to join the new task force; I intend to remain below their radar by lying low and singing small.”
22. Sing Someone’s Praises
To speak very highly of a person’s abilities.
Example sentence: “The coach thinks very highly of his new signing; he is continually singing his praises.”
23. Sing a Different Song
Meaning: said when a person suddenly changes their opinion on a subject.
Example sentence: “You were the original champion for the companies approach to expansion, and now you want to pull back from it. Why are you suddenly singing a different song.”
24. To Sing a Different Tune
Describes a situation where a person unexpectedly changes their behavior or opinions—a variant of the above idiom.
25. All-Singing, All-Dancing
Meaning: that something is very advanced. Usually said regarding a new technological innovation.
Example sentence: “I love this new mobile; it seems like there is nothing it cannot do; it’s an all-singing, all-dancing device.”
26. Knock Seven Bells
Meaning: To hand out a severe beating without actually making a person unconscious.
Example: "You need to be careful around that lot! They are known for knocking seven bells out of anyone who offends them.
Possible origin: circa 1830. of nautical heritage and refers to the eight bells onboard ships at this time. If seven bells were destroyed during enemy action, but the eighth remained intact, this meant that while the enemy had severely damaged the ship, they had not entirely completed the job.
27. Sing for One's Supper
Meaning: To pay your way by performing unaccustomed work.
Example sentence: "You can join us on holiday this year, but you will need to do the babysitting; it won't be a free ride, and you will need to sing for your supper."
28. To Take the Rap
To be blamed for the misdeed of another person.
An example being: “It wasn’t my fault. I took no part in the activity, and I am certainly not going to take the rap for it.”
29. Rap Session
Meaning: a discussion between two or more persons.
Example: "We had a great group meeting and we all aired our views—it was like a good rap session."
30. Rap on the Knuckles
Meaning: describes a sudden, minor punishment, meant to be given as a warning.
Example sentence: “I don’t intend to make the same mistake again; I received a proper rap on the knuckles from the boss.”
It seems that music does make the world go around. It is a universal language that can instantly be understood regardless of where we live in the world. We all have an inbuilt sense of the mood and emotions a song or orchestral piece is trying to portray.
It is often said that a picture can say a thousand words. Similarly, music can express emotion in a way that can be difficult for us to verbalize.
Music-related idioms provide a mechanism to take some of the energy from the music and relate it to our everyday lives.
Vanita Thakkar on December 26, 2020:
This is a wonderful article !! Interesting and informative compilation of idioms on Music. Thanks for sharing. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it as I love Music, I live Music .... :) :)
True - Music is a universal language and the original language, not only of mankind, but of the Universe / Creation. This fact is proven by researchers as well.
In the Himalayan foothills and at many other places across the Globe, such as some parts of New Zealand, there are tribes / communities that don’t have a language of words. They communicate by sounds.
In India, Music is called - Naada Brahma - the Absolute Truth of Existence in the form of Sound and the path of realisation of the Almighty through Music is called Naada Yoga. Music is, thus, a form of worship and Music is worshipped as a Divine Art.