Soul Music Vocabulary

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As you embark on soul music vocabulary, you'll come across different terminologies that characterize the soul genre, its artists, and the enduring imprint it has left on music history. 
Soul Genre

Defining Genres and Subgenres of Soul Music

To better appreciate soul music history, familiarize yourself with its various genres and subgenres. This vocabulary illustrates the growth and evolution of the genre soul, exhibiting its wide influence across other music styles.

  • Blue-eyed Soul: Soul music performed by artists with white skin, borrowing heavily from African-American musical styles. This genre came to prominence in the 1960s during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. White artists, influenced by the soulful sounds of Black musicians, began incorporating elements of soul music into their songs. These artists often expressed deep admiration for the soul genre, and their work was a form of tribute to the African-American musicians they idolized.
  • Chicago Soul: A style of soul music with more polished production, emphasizing strings and brass. This style emerged in the 1960s and was heavily influenced by gospel and blues, resulting in a more urban, sophisticated sound compared to other soul subgenres.
  • Gospel Soul: A style blending elements of traditional gospel music and soul. This style combines the spiritual themes and harmonies of gospel music with the emotional delivery and secular themes found in soul music.
  • Deep Soul: An intensely emotional subgenre of soul music, often with gospel-like vocals. Born in the southern United States, this genre's raw, gut-wrenching vocal performances are often marked by themes of heartbreak and loss.
  • Funk: An offshoot of soul, characterized by a strong bass line and rhythmic, danceable beats. Originating in the mid-60s, Funk incorporated psychedelic rock influences and emphasized creating a rhythmic "groove" that could compel listeners to dance.
  • Motown: Named after the iconic label, this subgenre features upbeat tempos, sophisticated melodies, and polished productions. The Motown Sound was a fusion of soul music and pop sensibility, aimed at appealing to both Black and white audiences during the 1960s.
  • Memphis Soul: A genre that emphasizes rhythm over melody, known for its "groove" and catchy horn sections. Characterized by a rawer, grittier sound than its Motown counterpart, Memphis Soul also made prominent use of the organ and the electric guitar.
  • Neo-Soul: A modern take on the soul music genre, incorporating elements of hip-hop, jazz, and pop. Emerging in the 1990s, Neo-Soul was an attempt to return to the authenticity and richness of classic soul music while incorporating contemporary influences.
  • Northern Soul: A British music movement centered around lesser-known American soul recordings. The Northern Soul scene was fueled by rare, upbeat American soul records that were largely overlooked in their home country but found a devoted audience in the UK.
  • Philadelphia Soul: Also known as Philly Soul, characterized by lush instrumentals and smooth, catchy melodies. Philadelphia Soul, or Philly Soul, incorporated elements of orchestral pop, making it one of the more sophisticated and polished subgenres of soul.

Understanding the definition of these genres and subgenres allows you to appreciate the diversity and evolution of soul music.

Instruments Used in Soul Music

Soul music origin goes hand in hand with the instruments that have defined its sound. Let's explore the names of these instruments and how they contribute to the soul music genre's unique melody and rhythm.

  • Bass Guitar: This is a 4-string instrument that is tuned an octave lower than the four lowest-pitched strings of a standard guitar, producing a deep, rich sound. Provides rhythm and depth, creating the "groove" in many soul tracks.
  • Drums: These are percussive instruments that can be arranged in a kit and played by a single drummer, forming the rhythmic backbone of many genres, including soul. 
  • Electric Guitar: This is a type of guitar that uses one or more pickups to convert the vibration of its strings into electrical signals, enhancing the sound's volume and tonal range. It adds flavor and emotion to soul music, often used for solos and riffs.
  • Hammond Organ: This is an electric organ invented by Laurens Hammond and John M. Hanert, known for its distinctive, rich, and full sound. It is commonly used in the gospel-influenced soul, contributing a warm, rich sound.
  • Horns: These are wind instruments made of brass, like the saxophone, trumpet, and trombone, that produce sound from the vibration of the player's lips. They often add brightness and energy.
  • Piano: A versatile keyboard instrument for melody and rhythm, varying from soft and melodic to percussive and driving.
  • Synthesizer: This is an electronic musical instrument that generates audio signals that may be converted to sound, allowing a wide range of sounds and effects. It is used in later soul and neo-soul for various sounds and effects.
  • Tambourine: This is a percussive instrument composed of a frame, often of wood or plastic, with pairs of small metal jingles. It adds a distinct, shimmering rhythm, often used in gospel-soul tracks.
  • Vibraphone: This is a musical instrument in the struck idiophone subfamily of the percussion family, similar in appearance to the xylophone, marimba and glockenspiel. Usually, soul musicians use it to add a cool, jazz-like sound.
  • Wurlitzer Electric Piano: This is a brand of electric piano, known for its distinctive, slightly gritty sound, which has appeared on countless soul, R&B, and rock recordings. It creates a distinctive, warm tone common in many soul tracks.

Understanding the meanings of these instruments, you can easily learn how musicians create the unforgettable rhythm and melody that define soul genre.


Names of Performance Techniques and Styles in Soul Music

The soul genre has birthed and nurtured distinctive performance techniques and styles, adding depth to the music and helping convey the emotions of the artists.

  • Belt: A powerful, high-volume singing style used to convey strong emotion.
  • Call and Response: A technique where a singer and the band, or two performers, exchange musical phrases.
  • Falsetto: A technique where male singers sing notes higher than their normal range.
  • Gospel Styling: Singing techniques derived from the gospel tradition, such as melismatic singing and vocal improvisation.
  • Melisma: Singing multiple notes on a single syllable, a hallmark of both gospel and soul.
  • Scat Singing: An improvisational technique where the singer vocalizes nonsensical syllables or wordless melodies.
  • Syncopation: An emphasis on off-beats, creating a rhythmic surprise.
  • Vamping: Repeating a short phrase or chord progression, often used in funk and soul for extended grooves.
  • Vocal Runs: Rapid series of notes sung in one breath, used to add flair and demonstrate vocal ability.

Performance techniques and styles like belting, melisma, and vamping give soul music its distinctive expressiveness. They bring depth and nuance to the music, conveying the raw emotion that the soul genre is famous for.

List of Lyrical Devices Used in Soul Music

Lyrical devices help communicate the stories, emotions, and experiences inherent in soul music. They are essential in understanding the messages conveyed by soul artists.

  • Alliteration: The repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words to add rhythm or emphasis.
  • Anaphora: The repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive lines for emphasis.
  • Assonance: The repetition of vowel sounds to create internal rhyming.
  • Connotation: Words or phrases carrying emotional implications beyond their literal meanings.
  • Hyperbole: Exaggeration used for emphasis or dramatic effect.
  • Imagery: Using descriptive language to create a visual representation.
  • Metaphor: A comparison between two unrelated things to highlight a particular quality.
  • Personification: Assigning human characteristics to non-human entities.
  • Simile: Comparing two things using "like" or "as" to create a vivid image.
  • Symbolism: Using symbols to represent ideas or qualities.

Lyrical devices such as alliteration, metaphor, and symbolism enrich soul music, conveying complex emotions and experiences. They form the narrative heart of soul music, turning songs into stories.

Soul Song Structures Terminology

Song structures in soul music can vary greatly, but here are some common components that help to define this rich genre:

  • Intro: The beginning of the song, usually instrumental, used to set the tone.
  • Verse: The section that tells the song's story, typically with changing lyrics each time.
  • Pre-Chorus: A build-up section that comes before the chorus.
  • Bridge: A contrasting section that provides a departure from the verse and chorus.
  • Chorus: The catchy part of the song that often encapsulates the main theme or message.
  • Outro: The closing section, sometimes a repetition of the intro or a fade out of the final chorus.

Understanding these structures, from intro to outro, helps you appreciate the craftsmanship behind soul music. These building blocks combine to create soulful narratives that move the listener.

Soul Band Terms

In the world of soul bands, certain terminologies that are unique to the genre have evolved. Understanding these can give you deeper insight into the dynamics and workings of a soul band.

  • Arranger: A person who decides how the band should play the song, specifying parts for each instrument.
  • Backing Vocals: Singers who support the lead vocalist, often providing harmonies.
  • Frontman/Frontwoman: The lead singer and usually the main focus of the band.
  • Groove: A term referring to the rhythm section of a band, typically the drums and bass, providing the song's rhythmic backbone.
  • Horn Section: A group of musicians playing brass instruments like saxophone, trumpet, and trombone.
  • Lead Vocals: The main singer in the band.
  • Rhythm Section: The group of instrumentalists playing the rhythm parts, usually including the drums, bass, and rhythm guitar.

Familiarity with these terms can enhance your understanding of how a soul band operates and creates music. Each term is a piece of the puzzle, coming together to form the collective soul sound we love.

Notable Soul Artists and Bands

Several artists and bands have made significant contributions to the world of soul music. Here are five that have left a substantial mark on the soul genre:

  • Aretha Franklin: Known as the "Queen of Soul," she was known for her powerful, gospel-infused vocals.
  • James Brown: A dominant figure in soul, funk, and R&B, his dynamic performances earned him the title "Godfather of Soul."
  • Marvin Gaye: An influential Motown artist known for his smooth, emotive vocals and socially conscious lyrics.
  • Otis Redding: Known for his emotive, raspy vocals, he was a major figure in soul music.
  • The Temptations: This iconic Motown group was known for its polished performances and harmonized vocals.

These artists have significantly shaped soul music. Their contributions have solidified the legacy of the soul genre, inspiring countless artists and listeners.

Popular Idioms and Fun Phrases Related to Soul Music

Idioms and fun phrases related to soul music often reflect the deep emotional connection between the music and its audience. Here are seven you might find interesting:

  • "Got soul": Used to describe a person or music with deep emotion and authenticity.
  • "Soulful voice": Describes a singer with an emotional, expressive vocal style.
  • "Soul-stirring": Refers to music that deeply affects the listener emotionally.
  • "Sweet soul music": A phrase often used to describe enjoyable, high-quality soul music.
  • "The soul of the party": Used to describe a person (or music) that brings life and energy to a gathering.
  • "Touch the soul": Describes music that deeply connects with the listener on an emotional level.
  • "Wear your soul on your sleeve": Refers to openly showing your emotions, similar to how soul music often expresses deep emotion.

These idioms and phrases capture the emotional essence of soul music. They echo the deep connections that listeners form with the music, affirming the soul's place in the soundtrack of our lives.


The world of soul music is rich with distinctive genres, subgenres, instruments, performance techniques, and lyrical devices. Its song structures and band terminology offer a unique lens into the creative process of soul music, and the influential artists who have shaped this genre continue to touch the hearts of listeners. As you delve deeper into exploring the soul, may these terms vocabulary you and enrich your understanding of this powerful and deeply emotional music genre.

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PromovaMar 7th, 2024
"Call and response" is a musical technique commonly used in soul music, where a soloist (the "caller") sings or plays a phrase that is then echoed or answered by a group of singers or musicians (the "responders"). It creates a dynamic and interactive dialogue between the lead vocalist and the backing singers or band, enhancing the song's emotional impact and audience engagement.
Jo B.Mar 7th, 2024
what is the significance of "call and response" in soul music?
PromovaOct 31st, 2023
Soul music vocabulary is known for its emotive and passionate expressions. Words like 'heartache,' 'resonance,' and 'groove' are staples that contribute to the genre's emotional depth and the raw intensity of the lyrics.
cali watsonOct 31st, 2023
what characterizes the vocabulary of soul music, and how does it contribute to the genre's emotional depth?