Music is one of those universal topics that affect almost all people. Whether you live in France or Zimbabwe, Brazil or China, you have almost certainly listened to music and maybe even played music. We all have opinions and ideas about it, so it makes music the perfect IELTS topic.
In today’s lesson, I am going to tell you how the topic of music could occur throughout the IELTS exam, as well as teach you some language you can use in the exam.
Vocabulary for Discussing Music
First of all, let’s look at some language we can use to talk about music. I would like to break this into two categories: musical genres and musical instruments.
Here are two PPTs I used when teaching classes on music several years ago. There are some exercises that you will not understand without a teacher, but the vocabulary will still be very useful for you.
You might enjoy this lesson that I designed around the topic of music. It is not specifically for IELTS and it is geared more towards teacher than students, but it still could be interesting.
Note that “genre” means “kind of” and we use this with movies, books, TV shows, and music. This is a good word to know for IELTS speaking.
IELTS Speaking Topics: Music
It is most likely that you will encounter the topic of music in the IELTS speaking test. This could occur in any part, but I suppose part one is probably where it occurs the most.
For part one, the questions are going to be pretty general. They will revolve around your personal views and could be as simple as:
- Do you like listening to music?
- What sort of music do you listen to?
- Can you play any musical instruments?
Remember that for this part of the test you should give full answers but you don’t need to say very much. For example, to the first question I might respond:
Yes, I quite like listening to music. To be honest, I don’t listen to it that much, but when I go to the gym or when I am cooking I will put on a Spotify playlist.
You can see that this is just two sentences with relatively little information, but for part one you aren’t required to speak at length. Just try to answer the question honestly and then maybe say one more thing – such as a justification for your statement.
I’ll answer the other two questions so that you can see what I mean:
Q: What sort of music do you listen to?
A: I have a fairly eclectic taste in music, but I suppose I lean towards rock more than anything. I like bands from the sixties and seventies, like Bob Dylan and Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Q: Can you play any musical instruments?
A: I got a guitar when I was about fourteen or fifteen and technically I’ve been playing it since then… but really I have no musical talent whatsoever. I can play a few songs but I don’t have a sense of rhythm or tone, so I’m not very good.
You might also be asked about concerts, so it is helpful to have a range of ideas and language. Music is more than just instruments and songs.
IELTS Cue Cards About Music
It is also possible that you could be asked to describe something musical for part two of the speaking test. Here are two possibilities:
- Describe a musical instrument you want to learn
- Describe a musician that you admire
Of course, these would require totally different approaches and both have their own challenges. For the first question, you can listen to my answer in this video:
If you encountered a question about music in part three of the speaking test, it would likely ask you about music and age, culture, or gender. I suspect the question might ask you about generational differences in music – ie whether you and your grandparents could enjoy the same songs.
IELTS Writing Questions about Music
Music comes up less frequently in IELTS writing because it is hard to put it into an IELTS framework without making it really specific. I mean to say that turning the topic of music into an IELTS question might require some specialist knowledge, which is not possible with IELTS questions. You would not be asked about the fine details of the music industry, for example.
Still, I have found two IELTS essay questions about music, which I will share with you belong alongside my sample answers.
Sample Essay #1
Here is one possible question, although you can see that it is not 100% focused on the topic of music:
Some people believe that playing a musical instrument can be beneficial in many different ways. Others think it is a waste of time to play a musical instrument.
Discuss both views and give your own opinion.
This question is about musical instruments but you do not have to know the name of many. Instead, you just have to be able to talk about them in general. Think of the benefits of playing an instrument – it is relaxing, it is fun, it is creative, etc.
Sample Band 9 Answer
Throughout human history, playing musical instruments has generally been viewed as an important pastime that can have various benefits for the players and the listeners. However, some people believe that it is just a waste of time. This essay will look at both sides of this argument but strongly agree that playing music is beneficial.
There are various benefits to playing musical instruments. For one thing, music is a major cultural element and so playing it can help bring a person into a group, as well as uniting that group. When people hear music, they feel many different emotions and this can create bonds between them, so playing a musical instrument is highly important in such societies. It has also been demonstrated that playing a musical instrument can be relaxing, so it is useful for people to decompress after a difficult day by playing a song on their piano or guitar. In addition to this, music is a form of creativity, and so playing a musical instrument helps people to exercise their artistic side. This can have countless benefits for both the player and the listeners.
Some people believe that it is a waste of time to play an instrument. They tend to view it in the same way that people view computer games or other frivolous pastimes. Their argument simply says that this is little more than a hobby and thus there are other things to do in life that are more worthy of attention. For example, some strict parents believe that their child should not spend time learning the guitar because they will be unlikely to become professional in future; therefore, the child should concentrate his energies on more fruitful endeavours. However, this is a limited and unhelpful perspective that ignores the aforementioned benefits.
In conclusion, there is a split between people who think playing musical instruments is a waste of time and those who recognise that it has various benefits. Certainly, it seems that the relaxing, social, and creative rewards of music vastly outweigh any perceived negative attributes.
Sample Essay #2
Here is another question. This one is a bit more general than the first, and it relates to the issue we discussed before: music and age.
Some people say that music is a good way of bringing people of different cultures and ages together.
To what extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?
Sample Band 9 Answer
Music has been a part of human culture for many thousands of years. Some people say that it can bring different cultures and generations together, and this essay will agree with that view.
Music differs from culture to culture and it has changed a lot over the course of history, but it has always been a part of human identity. If a person from Japan travelled to the Amazon to meet an uncontacted tribe, or an aboriginal Australian went to visit an Inuit in Alaska, they would recognise the local music as music, even though they have never heard it before. Although they could not talk to each other, they would certainly recognise that the other one is playing music, and they could theoretically contribute to that. In this sense, music can act as an international language.
The shared passion for music is also something that brings people of different ages together. Although it is almost a cliché that generations have different musical tastes, there are certainly many cases of artists transcending those generational divides. People like Bob Dylan or the Rolling Stones have been beloved by several generations, and it is not uncommon to find parents and children listening to this music together. They can find some degree of common ground in music that perhaps they don’t find in other parts of the culture.
In conclusion, music is something that unites humanity, and although we all have different musical tastes, music is still recognised as a form of human expression, and people from different backgrounds and ages can still enjoy it together.
In neither of these essays did I need specialist language about music. Instead, I used more general language and then applies it to music. I said things like “international language” and “transcending the generational divide,” which are specific to the topic but not exactly to music. However, they still relate closely to music.
Reading and Listening
It is possible that you could encounter the topic of music in either the listening or reading test, but it is hard to predict just how that could occur. In order to prepare, I recommend reading and listening to various news articles. This will help you learn new vocabulary and become familiar with the topic.
In the meantime, here is a short passage from an article about a band. Read it and then try to answer the following question.
As it has for most bands, 2020 has been a tough year for Elkins and band co-founder Vanessa Olivarez. In March, they survived the devastating Nashville tornado that struck near their homes. Then, the coronavirus pandemic shut down most live music.
“It’s the first time in my life that I haven’t been able to do music for people,” Olivarez said. “But there still is the ability to create. I try to remember that, and that I still have the ability to record and make music. And we still have the opportunity to write these books and tell people’s stories. That’s a blessing in and of itself.”
How does Vanessa Olivarez sound?
Although this is not a true IELTS-style question, it is asking you to infer meaning from her language, which is definitely an IELTS reading skill.
Did you figure it out? I’ll put the answer in the comment section below.
If you want some listening practice, I have a short lesson from a few years ago. You can check it out here.