Dance Music Vocabulary

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In this guide, you'll discover the language used by artists, producers, and fans alike to communicate the vibrant vocabulary of dance music. 
Dance and Music

Genres and Subgenres Vocabulary

As you navigate the dance music genres, understanding these categories can help you identify different styles and rhythms.

  • EDM (Electronic Dance Music): An umbrella term for all types of dance music, characterized by heavy synths and strong rhythms. The term encompasses a wide range of styles and sub-genres such as house, techno, dubstep, trance, and many others. It's known for its use in dance clubs, raves, and festivals, often accompanied by a synchronized light show.
  • Ambient: This genre focuses on sound patterns rather than conventional song structures or rhythms. It is often less focused on beat and tempo, and more on creating an atmospheric soundscape. This genre can be used to induce relaxation and contemplation, often featuring long, repetitive, and minimalistic arrangements.
  • Breakbeat: A genre known for its syncopated rhythm, or "breaks" in the beat. It's named after the break in funk and soul tracks, where other instruments would pause and the drums play solo. These breaks were sampled and looped in early hip-hop, and later evolved into a genre of their own with a distinct, choppy rhythm that defies the 4/4 time of most dance music.
  • House: A genre characterized by 4/4 beats, synthesized basslines, and repetitive rhythmic patterns. Originated in the early 80s in Chicago, it's influenced by elements of funk, soul, and disco. It's one of the most popular and influential styles in dance music, serving as the foundation for numerous sub-genres.
  • Deep House: A subgenre of House music with a slower tempo and atmospheric, soulful melodies. It merges elements of Chicago house with jazz and soul music. It's characterized by complex melodies, deep basslines, and vocals that often have an emotional or introspective theme.
  • Dubstep: Known for heavy bass and reverberant drum patterns, often characterized by a tempo of 140 beats per minute. It originated from UK garage music, combining elements of drum and bass, dub, and 2-step. The genre typically uses a sparse rhythm structure and emphasizes bass and sub-bass frequencies.
  • Techno: Emphasizes mechanical sounds and has a regular bass drum beat. It was developed in the 80s in Detroit and was influenced by synthpop and funk. Known for its futuristic themes and sounds, it often involves repetitive instrumental phrases and a 4/4 beat.
  • Trance: This genre focuses on melodic phrases and a musical form that builds up and down throughout a track. It emerged in the 90s, largely in Germany, and is characterized by a tempo of around 125 to 150 beats per minute, repetitive melodies, and a musical form that crescendos during each track with a breakdown and climax.
  • Trap: A genre that originated from Hip-Hop, now often used in EDM and characterized by heavy use of hi-hat cymbals and synthesized drum sounds. It evolved from the Southern hip-hop scene in the early 2000s and later incorporated into dance music. Trap in the EDM context often features a half-time rhythm, hard-hitting kick drums, sharp snares, and high-pitched hi-hats.

Now that you're familiar with various dance music genres, you can better describe and understand the wide array of rhythms and styles within this music scene.

Music Production Terms

Here you will explore the terminology used in music production. This will allow you to describe and understand the process behind creating a dance track.

  • Arrangement: The process of determining how various parts of a track are organized or structured.
  • Beat: The rhythmic unit in music.
  • Compression: A process that reduces the dynamic range of a track.
  • EQ (Equalization): The process of adjusting the balance of frequencies in an audio signal.
  • Loop: A repeating section of sound material.
  • MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface): A protocol for communicating musical information between digital devices.
  • Mixing: The process of adjusting and combining the individual music elements into a final track.
  • Reverb: An effect that simulates sound reflection off the surfaces in a room or space.
  • Sample: A piece of a sound recording that can be reused in another context or track.

With these words in your vocabulary, you can better understand and describe the intricate processes involved in creating dance music.

Names of Equipment and Devices

By learning these terms, you'll be able to talk about the tools of the trade more effectively.

  • Controller: A device that DJs use to mix music and control software.
  • DAW (Digital Audio Workstation): Software used for producing, editing, and recording music.
  • DJ Mixer: A type of audio mixing console used by DJs.
  • Headphones: A pair of small speakers worn over the ears, used for monitoring tracks while mixing.
  • Laptop: A portable computer used for DJing and music production.
  • MIDI Controller: A hardware device that sends MIDI information to a DAW or synthesizer.
  • Monitor Speakers: Speakers used in a studio setting for listening to the produced sound.
  • Sampler: An electronic or digital device that can record and play back samples.
  • Sound Card: A device that converts digital data into an analog audio signal.
  • Turntable: A circular, rotating platform for playing vinyl records.
  • Synth (Synthesizer): An electronic musical instrument that generates audio signals to create sounds

With knowledge of these devices, you can discuss the tools used to create and perform dance music. These are essential for anyone looking to delve deeper into the world of dance music production or DJing.


DJing and Performance Terms

These terms will help you understand what DJs do to keep the dance floor moving.

  • Beatmatching: The technique of syncing the tempos of two tracks for a seamless transition.
  • Crossfader: A control on a DJ mixer that adjusts the balance between two audio sources.
  • Cueing: The process of preparing and synchronizing a track to be mixed in.
  • Jog Wheel: A disc on a DJ controller used for scratching and controlling playback.
  • Mix: The process of blending two or more tracks together.
  • Rewind: The act of quickly making a track go towards a particular moment during a performance to replay a popular section.
  • Scratching: A technique that involves moving a vinyl record back and forth on a turntable.
  • Set: A DJ's performance, typically consisting of a continuous mix of several tracks.
  • Turntablism: The art of manipulating sounds and creating new music using turntables and a DJ mixer.

These terms have given you insights into the DJ's artistry. Now, you can better appreciate what goes on behind the decks during a dance music performance.

Terminology of Dance Track Structures

Understanding the terms related to dance music structure can help you identify different parts of a song and how they come together.

  • Breakdown: A section where the main elements are removed, often creating anticipation for the drop.
  • Bridge: A contrasting section that prepares for the return of the original material.
  • Build-Up: The section leading up to a drop or climax, often increasing in intensity.
  • Drop: The moment in a dance track when the tension built up in the build-up is released.
  • Intro/Outro: The beginning/end of a track, usually made to assist DJs in mixing.
  • Kick: The thumping, bass drum sound that forms the rhythmic foundation of dance music.
  • Loop: A short section of music that is repeated continuously.
  • Phrase: A musical unit, often a single loop or a part of a track that feels like a coherent section.
  • Riser: A sound effect or musical element used in a build-up to increase tension.
  • Verse: The part of a song where the melody and theme are established.

Recognizing these elements in a dance track can enhance your listening experience. You're now equipped to identify and discuss various parts of a song and how they fit together.

Notable Dance Music Festivals

Learning about these events will give you a glimpse into the international dance music scene.

  • Burning Man (USA): A week-long annual event that takes place in the Nevada desert, featuring music, art installations, and theme camps.
  • Electric Daisy Carnival (USA): An annual electronic dance music festival with a circus-like atmosphere, held in various locations around the world.
  • Sónar (Spain): A three-day electronic and advanced music festival held in Barcelona.
  • Tomorrowland (Belgium): One of the world's largest and most recognized music festivals, featuring electronic music's top DJs.
  • Ultra Music Festival (USA): An annual electronic music festival held in Miami during the Winter Music Conference.

Now you're familiar with some of major dance music festivals worldwide. These events highlight the diversity and unifying power of dance music across different cultures and countries.

Dance Music Idioms and Phrases

Lastly, here are some idioms and phrases commonly used in the dance music world. These catchy sayings can add flavor to your conversations about dance music.

  • "Drop the bass": Refers to the climactic point in a dance music track where the bassline kicks in.
  • "Feel the beat": A phrase encouraging someone to move or dance to the rhythm of the music.
  • "Lose yourself to dance": Encourages letting go of inhibitions and immersing oneself in the dance and music.
  • "Pump up the volume": A phrase used to encourage making the music louder.
  • "Raise the roof": A phrase expressing the act of having an extremely good time, often while dancing.
  • "Spin a set": Refers to a DJ performing a selection of mixed tracks.

These phrases are not just fun to say, but they also add color to the language of dance music. You're now ready to use them to enrich your conversations about this exciting music scene.


From ambient to techno and from the studio to the stage, the vast landscape of dance music comes with its own unique vocabulary. Whether you're a music enthusiast or an aspiring artist, understanding this dance vocabulary will enrich your experience and deepen your appreciation for the pulsating world of dance music.

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Yahir IrwinMar 12th, 2024
This article is a treasure trove of vocabulary! It's incredibly helpful for expanding one's word bank
GemmaOct 31st, 2023
It’s really cool article!