Music idioms List

This music idioms list features expressions that are often used in everyday conversational English. They will help you understand everyday English better and make your English sound more natural as well.

What exactly is an idiom?  It's a fixed phrase—you can't change or substitute other words and the meaning is metaphorical rather than literal. Therefore, you cannot usually know the meaning from looking up the individual words in a dictionary. 

An infographic showing the 10 music idioms listed on this webpage with definitions and sentence examples

More examples of music idioms

Here are a few more examples to help make the meaning of these music idioms even clearer:

Ring a bell:  Something sounds familiar (but you cannot remember exactly).

  • A:  "Have you ever heard of Cappadocia? " B:  "The name rings a bell. Is that a city in Turkey?"
  • The name Kylie Minogue doesn't ring a bell? She's a famous actress and singer who became popular in the late-1980s.
  • I'm not sure if this is the same wine my sister brought to dinner but the design on the label rings a bell. 

Blow the whistle: To report an illegal or unlawful activity to the authorities (e.g., police, company management)

  • We need stronger laws to protect those who blow the whistle against employers who make their employees work in unsafe conditions.
  • Mark Felt blew the whistle to reporters about the Watergate scandal, which ultimately forced US President Nixon to resign in 1974.
  • My boss is stealing from the company but I'm afraid of blowing the whistle on her.

Face the music:  To accept punishment for the unpleasant consequences of one's actions.

  • If you cheat on a test again, be prepared to face the music.
  • I make sure my children face the music whenever they do something wrong, especially when they don't tell the truth.

Call the tune: To make the important decisions or give orders in a situation

  • My father may be president of a corporation but it's my mom who calls the tune at home.
  • Don't worry. When I'm away, my assistant is perfectly capable of calling the tune.
  • It's very difficult to get any work done here because no one wants to call the tune.

Change one's tune/sing a different tune:  To change one's opinion or attitude about someone/something (usually from a negative opinion to a positive one).

  • Keep practicing hard. Your coach will be forced to change his tune about you once you start defeating your teammates in matches.
  • No one noticed me before but after my dad gave me a new BMW my classmates have suddenly started to sing a different tune about me.
  • I didn't really like him at first but I changed my tune once I saw how kind and gentle he was with his little sister.

music to one's ears:  Something pleasing that you want to hear; good news.

  • Hearing my girlfriend say "yes" to my marriage proposal was music to my ears.
  • The announcement that our connecting flight was delayed and therefore we wouldn't miss the plane was certainly music to our ears.

play second fiddle:  To be second in importance or in a lower position than someone else.

  • Normally, I play second fiddle unless my supervisor is out of town and then I'm the manager in charge.
  • They always fight because neither one wants to play second fiddle to the other.

Drum up:  to obtain something by gathering interest or support.

  • Can you come up with a new title for the book? I don't think this one's going to drum up much interest.
  • I would assign Kathy to that project because she is always able to drum up support  from our partners.
  • Social media is a great way to drum up interest and support for animal welfare issues.

Strike a chord:  to cause a strong emotional reaction that creates approval (often because it feels familiar or evokes a memory).

  • Even though she comes from a small village in Pakistan, her struggles to get an education really struck a chord with our viewers.
  • Newspaper writers know that statistics about large numbers of people dying are difficult to relate to. But if you can highlight one person's story you can more easily strike a chord with people who want to volunteer to help.
  • Advertisers often use music to strike a chord with their customers.


Jazz something up:  to make something or someone more interesting, appeal, exciting or stylish.

  • I love how French women dress. They know just how to jazz up a simple outfit with something very unique.
  • What time can we get into the gym tomorrow afternoon? We need to jazz it up for the school dance.
  • This PowerPoint presentation is too boring. Could you jazz it up with a few animations please?

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You might like these other idiom infographics

Did you enjoy these idioms?  If so, check out more expressions from this other music idioms list and infographic that I created.

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