Listen and Learn! 6 Music Artists for Your Italian Education
Looking for a fun, relaxing way to improve your Italian skills?
When most people think of Italian music, they think of centuries-old operatic songs.
These sound amazing, but are often unintelligible for a listener whose intention is to learn the Italian language.
Or, perhaps they think of Dean Martin, whose music is played on infinite repeat at Italian restaurants all over America, and whose songs are mostly in English, with a few Italian words and phrases sprinkled in.
Both these types of music are great, of course. But if you’re looking for something to really immerse you in the Italian language in a way that lets you savor (and distinguish) every word il cantante (the singer) sings, then the artists and songs in this post might be just what you’re looking for.
Why Learn Italian with Music?
- It’s catchy. You know how a song can get stuck in your head, playing on an infinite loop for hours, if not days? I think we all know that struggle. Just imagine, though, if this song was in Italian.
You wouldn’t just be learning the song when you heard it on the radio or on YouTube, you’d be learning it more and more every time you sang it to yourself or played it over and over in your head while you were trying to go to sleep at night! Catchy songs are endearing to all of us, and the catchier a song is, the more we want to keep listening to it (and in this case, learning from it), even if a lot of that “listening” comes from the darn thing being stuck in our heads all week.
- It’s a fun way to learn. When you learn Italian by listening to Italian music, you don’t feel like you’re learning at all. Unlike learning from textbooks, which can sometimes make you feel like you’re working a second job just trying to master Italian, with Italian music, you just feel like you’re listening to the radio, which is almost guaranteed to put you in good spirits. There’s a song for every mood and for every person, and once you find yours you won’t even realize that you’ve learned a huge block of Italian vocabulary by heart!
- It helps with pronunciation. While it’s a great idea to start learning Italian by reading books and other printed media, you can never expect to pronounce a word correctly if you’ve never heard it spoken out loud.
Italian music helps with this, because it gives you the opportunity to hear Italian words spoken out loud and used in the context in which you would speak them in your everyday life (whether or not your life is like a dramatic love ballad). The more you hear words pronounced correctly, the better you’ll become at pronouncing them yourself—especially if you sing along with il cantante !
- It helps with listening comprehension. When you listen to a sad, melancholy song, you want to know what made the singer so upset, right? And when you hear a love song, you want to know just what’s so special about the girl the singer is singing about. Well, that’s exactly the kind of thinking that leads to better listening comprehension.
Songs have a tendency to make us want to learn more about them so that we’ll be able to fully understand the story they’re telling. This compulsion to understand makes us listen harder to the lyrics of a song, which, in turn, improves our comprehension skills—especially if you go so far as to look up all the words you’re unfamiliar with, so that you can know exactly why Andrea Bocelli loves that girl so much.
- It immerses you in Italian culture. It’s impossible to listen to Italian music without being carried away to the beautiful vistas of Tuscany or the sprawling cityscapes of Florence and Rome. Each Italian song calls to mind some aspect of Italian culture, whether it be an old song or a more modern one, and you can learn a lot about Italy just by listening to the music it releases.
You can learn how Italians view love and other sentiments, or how they respond to certain tragedies or events. Many songs even mention historical happenings or reference pop culture trends that reveal a lot about Italy’s culture, and taking note of these will give you an in-depth look at the culture as whole.
- It’s easy to find. Luckily for us, these days you don’t have to be in Italy to enjoy Italian music. You can find endless lists of songs and albums on sites like YouTube, iTunes and Google Play. Sometimes they even have lyrics available in case you need to read along!
Now that you know why and how to get started on your musical journey, let’s take a look at some of the best Italian artists and bands to listen to.
Italian Music for Learners: 6 Essential Artists & 12 Top Songs
Luciano Pavarotti was a classical opera singer who did his best work from the 1960s to the 1980s. He was said to have an unusually clear, beautiful tenor voice, which took those normally difficult-to-understand opera songs I mentioned and made them accessible to everyone. His work is a bit tougher to follow than the others on this list, due to the different dialect he often uses, so these songs are more for advanced Italian learners (or you can just read the lyrics on the screen).
- “Nessun dorma” (“None Shall Sleep”): This song was written by Puccini, and sung to high accolades by Pavarotti. It’s been used for everything from political rallies to World Cup themes, making it a perfect example of how you can get in touch with Italian culture by listening to its music.
- “Funiculì, Funiculà”: This song may be a bit challenging for listeners, because it’s sung in the Neapolitan dialect, but if you listen closely, you’ll notice that you’ve probably heard it before. Penned by composers Giuseppe Peppino Turco and Luigi Denza, “Funiculì Funiculà” was written to commemorate the grand opening of the first funicular cable car on Mt. Vesuvius (a funicular cable car is one that basically goes up an inclined railroad track to ascend a mountain), but it quickly became one of the catchiest, most popular Italian songs of all time.
Caterina Caselli was very famous in the 1960s and ’70s, and worked as both a singer and an actress. She rose to fame with the second song on the short list below, which was rejected by a more popular artist at the time. His loss was her gain, though, and she had a great career in music. Today, at the age of 70, she still works as a record producer.
- “Sono bugiarda” (Literally: “I’m a Liar”): “Sono bugiarda” might mean “I’m a liar” in Italian, but it is, in fact, an Italian version of the extremely popular song “I’m a Believer” by The Monkees. It’s catchy in either language, and it’s fun to try to spot the differences between the versions while you listen to Caterina’s.
- “Nessuno mi può giudicare” (“No One Can Judge Me”): This song gives us another look into Italian culture, as it appears in a movie by the same name in 1966. Caterina not only sings, but acts in the movie as well, so if you like her style, you might want to check out the whole film!
Andrea Bocelli is said to be one of the best singers of all time, regardless of nationality. He, like Pavarotti, is a tenor, who made classical and operatic music popular amongst the “regular folks,” making him an international crossover sensation. Born with failing eyesight, he was blind by the age of twelve, but that didn’t stop him from capturing the hearts of the world, and bringing some of Italy’s most historically significant songs to a generation who otherwise might never have heard them.
- “Vivo per lei” (“I Live for Her”): Andrea Bocelli is known for songs that bring tears to the eyes of his audience. His voice is so clear and striking that it seems as if it goes straight to your soul. And when he sings about loving someone so much that he literally lives for her and only her, it’s enough to make you want to book a flight to Italy and go try to soak up some of that romance.
- “E più ti penso” (“And the More I Think of You”): This song is a duet with current bestselling pop artist Ariana Grande. Normally known for her outlandish, overtly sexual songs and videos, this time Ariana matches Bocelli’s quiet, pensive tone to create yet another Bocelli song that makes you want to cry your heart out (and her Italian language skills are impressive!). The song is about yearning for someone far away, and wishing you could be with them. In English, some of the lyrics read “And if I couldn’t see you again, I already know what I would do: I would die.” Have your tissues ready before you hit “play.”
Don’t laugh at the name: Italian pop band Pooh has sold over 100 million records since 1966, and call to mind the famous American hair bands of the 1980s. They were still producing records and doing shows as of 2016, an incredible fifty years after Bob Gillot, Valerio Negrini, Riccardo Fogli and Dodi Battaglia formed the band.
- “Uomini soli” (“Lonely Men”): This song is a haunting ballad about the reasons why men could be lonely, and what it would mean to have someone to reach out to them, or to have some meaning in life to drive them. It’s an introspective piece, but the melody will stick with you even in your more cheerful, carefree moments.
- “Dammi solo un minuto” (“Give Me Just One Minute”): This song is great if you’re going through a breakup. The lyrics are painfully relatable: the singer talks about everyone thinking it’s a normal day, but he’s in pain because he’s losing the woman he loves. Don’t listen to this and Andrea Bocelli back to back—you might run out of tissues!
Moving on to artists who are currently trending on Italian radios today, we come to Laura Pausini, a talented singer/songwriter from Emilia-Romagna. After winning several small singing contests, she broke out in 1993 and became an influential 1990s pop star whose fame soon went international. She’s recorded songs in at least six different languages, but her Italian work is really where her heart is.
- “Invece no” (“Instead, No”): “Invece no” is an extremely catchy pop song about trying to make up your mind about whether you should stay with someone or leave them when things aren’t going well. In the end, she might decide to stay… or maybe not.
- “Tornerò (Con calma si vedrà)” (“I Will Return (With Calm, You Will See)”): This song is a Latin-flavored hit that makes you want to get up and dance the tango. It’s an anthem for independence, and talks about going out on an adventure to conquer the world—always with the intention of coming back… someday.
The last artist on our list is definitely for the ladies. Marco Mengoni, a handsome singer/songwriter from Ronciglione, Italy, rose to fame after winning the Italian version of “The X Factor” in 2009. His songs, which range from dance-y pop tunes to deep, introspective love songs, have made him one of the most beloved music artists in Italy right now.
- “Pronto a correre” (“Ready to Run”): “Pronto a Correre” is the perfect song to inspire you to pick yourself up and get on with your life after a breakup, or after any other event in your life that has kept you down for way too long. Mengoni sings about pain pushing him to make a new start, which is a much nicer way to look at the end of a relationship.
- “Guerriero” (“Warrior”): If you would love to fantasize about a gorgeous man swearing to protect you from any and all harm that could come your way, then you should check out the “Guerriero” music video. Mengoni says the words we all want to hear as he pledges an oath to watch over us, and protect us and defend us from sadness, nightmares and just about anything else.
Well, that brings us to the end of this Italian music playlist.
But remember, these are only a tiny fraction of all of the great Italian music available out there!
No matter what genre of music you like, you’re sure to find something that inspires you to learn—and inspires you to dance.
Jessica A. Scott is a novelist from Louisville, Kentucky. While her first love is writing, her second love is learning Italian, a goal that she has been pursuing since her sophomore year at the University of Louisville. You can find out more about Jessica and her work at www.jessicascottauthor.com.