Music and foreign languages are two areas that are often linked. The first impulse, of course, is to think of English and its impact on popular music throughout the world, and the impact of English-language music on those who want to learn how to speak English.

According to some studies, up to 93% of the population listens to music, illustrating just how deeply this art form in embedded in human culture and our daily lives.

Portuguese is one of the 10 languages most commonly spoken in the world - so what kind of music can you listen to in order to learn Portuguese?

In this article, we won’t be focusing on instrumental pieces - obviously, since you want to learn Portuguese through music - but on some of the most inspiring vocal pieces composed by Portuguese musicians.

What Music Should I Listen to to Learn Portuguese?

Music is very much part of the Lusophone cultural heritage, whether it is folk or traditional music or Brazilian beats, meaning there is no lack of material for you to choose from.

Which songs you choose as tools to help you learn Portuguese is a pertinent question.

Brazilian Portuguese is as different from Portugal's as their landscapes
Portugal has a decidedly different flavour than Brazil; their Portuguese is different as well Source: Pixabay Credit: Bernswaelz

Are you a beginner or can you speak a little Portuguese? Have you had any exposure to the spoken language – whether you have begun your studies it or not? Have you learned or can you already speak another Romance language?

Portuguese belongs to that language family so, if you can speak French, Spanish, Italian or Romanian, you may find it easier to pick individual words out of songs sung in Portuguese than someone who has no experience with any of those languages.

Are you more interested in learning how to speak Brazilian or European Portuguese?

Although they are fundamentally the same language, they differ substantially in their pronunciation, spelling, word usage and grammar.

For instance, Brazilian Portuguese allows for the conversion of verbs into nouns and even compression of entire phrases into a single word. A prime example of such is when congratulating someone.

The standard phrase dar os parabéns (lit. give the congratulations) can be heard all over Portugal for any reason from birthdays to promotions. By contrast, in Brazil, any conjugation of the verb parabenizar is most likely what you’ll hear – as in: ‘I congratulate you’.

Another key difference between the two tongues is how words are accented.

European Portuguese tends to be more formal and spoken with less clarity. Compared to Brazilians’ crisp, snappy diction, some might say that the language of Lisbon sounds like speaking through a mouthful of oatmeal, making individual words harder to pick out.

All of this matters when choosing which songs you will use to help you advance your Portuguese listening and speaking skills, especially if you’re learning this lovely language for a specific purpose.

Let’s say you’ve been invited to do a semester of graduate research at the prestigious Lisbon University. Or maybe your school days are far behind you; instead, your company is opening a branch office somewhere in the Bragança region of Portugal.

You will definitely come up short if you learn Brazilian Portuguese!

To help you choose which artists to focus on depending on this unique language distinction, we’ve compiled some of the best artists from each country.

Brazilian Singers

  • Gustavo Lima – voted #1 in Brazil!
  • Any Gabrielly: she has been singing since she was a child
  • Anitta has a dance/hip hop style
  • Simone Mendes: many of her videos are preceded by a bit of conversation
  • Hungria Hip Hop: relatively new on the scene; his raps are thoughtful and mellow… for now

Keep in mind that Brazilians have no problem injected English words into their speech and songs so, if you hear the random Anglo word, no need to change the channel; it’s just Brazil being Brazil.

Portuguese Singers

Besides the artists featured throughout this article, the following are certainly worth taking a listen to if you’re studying European Portuguese.

  • Vitorino, a traditional folk artist; most widely renown throughout Portugal
  • Doce: wildly popular in the ‘80s, their hits are still music gold today
  • Jorge Palma: a pop-rock artist, one of his most famous tunes is “Encosta-te a mim”
  • Os Azeitonas, a pop-rock group whose lead singer, Miguel Araujo, has found solo success
  • Carlos do Carmo sings Fado, that uniquely Portuguese style of music

Like European Portuguese speech patterns, this country’s singers tend more toward the classical-traditional style of music-making.

Another interesting observation: although female singers abound in Portugal, it is overwhelmingly male vocalists consistently hitting the Top Ten best singer lists.

Our first featured artist is the lone female solo vocalist exception to that trend.

Search for a Brazilian Portuguese online course here.

Portuguese Ballad: Amalia Rodrigues - Fado Português

Amalia Rodrigues - Amália da Piedade Rebordão Rodrigues was her full name - was a Portuguese actress and performer who died in 1999.

A true icon of Portuguese music, she was called “the Queen of Fado”, mostly because of the nostalgic character of her melodies. She had an enormous impact on Portuguese music and fado music specifically. Her song Fado Português is the archetype of Amalia’s Lusophone music.

A melancholic and melodic tune worthy of the best of folk fados, text that represents the best of saudade, it is one of the finest Rodrigues songs you will ever hear while listening to the radio or your “Portuguese Repertoire” Spotify playlist.

In short, “Fado Português” represents the best of the music of Portugal or Brazil, combining a soulful melody with beautiful lyrics. A good way to practise your Portuguese vocabulary and discover the musical tradition of the fado.

Get to learn about the Portuguese language course here.

Portuguese songs by Rua da Saudade to learn Portuguese
Rua da Saudade is a Portuguese band with wonderful vocals. Photo credit: ::mavi:: on VisualHunt

Rua da Saudade (Susana Felix) - Canção de Madrugar

Canção de Madrugar is a song full of joy and the Portuguese spirit, sung by Susana Félix. A classical folk music song, with its pleasant musical style sung by a female voice in the Portuguese tradition, it is a wonderful way to learn Portuguese.

Far from anything ever sung by Johnny Hallyday, Françoise Hardy, Edith Piaf or Jean Jacques Goldman, Rua da Saudade offers a new view of Portugal’s singing heritage, both traditional and resolutely modern, allowing you to learn to speak Portuguese in an easy and pleasant manner.

Portugal Music: Salvador Sobral - Amar pelos dois

Music as a vector for emotions, beautiful lyrics and intense musicality - this is the Portuguese music of today.

Born in Lisboa (Lisbon) in 1989, Salvador Vilar Braamcamp Sobral is mostly known outside of Portugal for his appearance (and victory) at the Eurovision Song Contest of 2017. His song, Amar pelos dois, has become a real YYouTube and streaming hit in Europe, and even earned a record amount of points at Eurovision.

Far from electronic music, afro or funk, this song is a hymn to sweetness, a musical voyage borne by the voice of a true virtuoso of Portuguese music, now a true star of the world music scene. With him, you talk, live and feel Portuguese as though you were born and raised on the Iberian peninsula.

Mal por mal - Deolinda

Female singers play an important role in Portuguese music traditions, for example in fado.

A new generation inspired by fado and other classical Portuguese musical traditions, transposed into pop and alternative music and carried by a dynamic, feminine voice - impossible? Not with Mal por mal, a resolutely modern song full of harmony, with Portuguese lyrics and a Portuguese guitar accompaniment.

The lead singer’s strong voice is perfect for a fusion style that integrates classical guitar, Rock & Folk, with a little more rhythm - a symphony combining several musical eras and as well as Portuguese and ethnic instrumental sections… A true voyage through time and space!

How to Memorise Portuguese Songs?

One of the best reasons to include music into your language learning toolkit is that it treats you to everyday vocabulary.

Unlike textbooks, with their heavy focus on grammar and more formal vocabulary, Portuguese songs are more relaxed, allowing for more informal phraseology and providing more up-to-date vernacular.

Learn Portuguese with Portuguese songs
Deolinda has some wonderful albums for learning the Portuguese language - and discovering Portuguese music. Photo credit: Gustty on VisualHunt

Perhaps the #1 reason to make Portuguese music a part of your language studies is its cultural relevance.

It is hard to imagine that anyone arduously absorbing Portuguese vocabulary and grammar doesn’t also have an interest in Portuguese or Brazilian culture… and nothing represents a country’s culture quite like its music.

Side note: you could also watch Portuguese films and videos on YouTube.

Instead of merely shuffling through your Portuguese or Brazilian music collection on your phone or IPod, why not put those tunes to work? Or, better said: put yourself to work on those tunes?

Steps to Memorise Songs

Out of the vast landscape of Portuguese music, pick a handful of favourite tunes, always checking they are sung in your target language - either Brazilian or European Portuguese.

For quick and ready access, it would be best to set up a folder on your device specifically for Portuguese music.

Search online for each song’s lyrics; copy them into your Portuguese study notebook or one devoted to song lyrics.

We caution you to write those songs’ words by hand rather than printing them out or saving them to your device. Handwriting them gives you a chance to practise writing in Portuguese; it also helps to cement the words into your memory faster.

As you write out the lyrics, line for line, leave a blank in between them. As your listening skills improve and you pick out more and more words, you will use those blank lines to write each word’s translation.

Here, another caveat: resist using translation software to decipher lyrics. Doing so cheats you out of a great learning opportunity and provides no guarantee that the software is translating the lyrics correctly.

Now that you have a firm foundation for learning those lyrics, it’s time to focus on the songs’ refrains. Song choruses tend to repeat, which gives you twice the chance to learn those words.

Once you have them down pat, you can listen for the same words, repeated in the verses. In the unlikely chance that words from the refrain do not feature in the verses, pick them apart as you did the choruses.

We recommend that you spend the same amount of time on each of your selected songs rather than focusing only on one because you may hear the same words across songs, making them easier to decode.

You may not have an immediate, obvious reason to memorise Portuguese songs – few karaoke bars and even fewer gatherings include such fare in their repertoire.

It’s the less obvious reasons that should compel you to memorise these songs: for your love of Portuguese or Brazilian culture, for your intent to learn this language by any means possible… And because they’re just that good!

In learning Portuguese, you uncover the rich diversity of Portuguese culture and music. No flamenco or gypsy music, just the intangible strains of a beautiful canto or the haunting melodies of fado.

Portuguese Canto: Canção do Mar - Dulce Pontes

If you are a fan of French chanson and love Hélène Segara’s Elle, tu l’aimes? you will love this Portuguese song, which had become a classic. Cançao do Mar is nothing more or less than the Portuguese version of the French song. Proof that even French vocal music can be influenced by traditional Portuguese songs.

Portuguese music to learn Portuguese
Dulces Pontes has some beautiful Portuguese songs to study the Portuguese language. Photo credit: adewale_oshineye on Visualhunt

All of Portugal is bundled into one song: love, poetry, ambience, lyricism and a beautiful voice to deliver it. Far from gospel or children’s rhymes, this song includes many of the distinctive aspects of Portuguese composition.

Pedro Abrunhosa - Beijo

A music hinting at saudade, but somewhat more festive and rhythmic, more modern - like this classic of Portuguese music.

Beijo is a melancholic tune, simple, without unnecessary embellishments, the vocals accompanied by (almost) nothing but an acoustic piano with just a touch of electronics - that’s the type of music Abrunhosa delivers.

Pedro Abrunhosa was born in Porto in the 1960s and is well known in the Portuguese music scene today. Among other things, he founded a school of jazz. His songs tell stories that speak to all of us, whether happy, sad, dramatic or joyful.

This local artist makes you eager to learn Portuguese and enter a whole new musical world.

Portuguese Songs: João Pedro Pais - Mentira

Again, it’s all of Portugal’s sensitivity anchored in our time and modernised. Between chanson full of saudade and a large, popular voice that - most notably - produced one of the most successful albums in the history of the Portuguese music industry, João Pedro Pais represents Portugal in all its splendour, emotional and lyrical, sweet and engaging at once.

Some hits, but more than that - Pais’ music paints a portrait of Portugal, his home country which propelled him to stardom thanks to the television show Chuva de Estrelas.

Accompanied by piano as the sole instrument, there are no unnecessary embellishments, just the Portuguese language and the accents and intonations it brings to a strong music.

Gaivota - Amalia Hoje

Amalia Hoje is a Portuguese artist who decided to expand her repertoire to reflect the most typical music of Portugal. In fact, she decided to create a new album that was a compilation inspired by icons such as Amalia Rodrigues.

To be influenced by Amalia Rodrigues’ musical style is one thing, but Hoje took it further: this vocalist took well-known songs such as Gaivota and modernised them, to reflect the tastes of a pop audience.

As a way to popularise Portuguese history and the Portuguese language, referencing well-known Portuguese figures people know and love and which stayed in people’s minds. When history merges with the present, a beautiful composition ensues - such as this song, an example typical of vocal superstar Amalia Rodrigues.

Madredeus - Haja O Ques Houver

Madredeus is a group that takes its name from a Lisbon neighbourhood east of the Alfama. First performed in 1997, this song takes us far, far away…

A mixture of fado, folk music and popular music, Haja O Que Houver is a perfect accord between vocals, guitar and various string instruments including guitar, cello, and accordion. Language in the service of emotion - that’s what this song is about.

Portuguese music to learn Portuguese.
Madredeus is known throughout the Portuguese-speaking world for their beautiful Portuguese songs. Photo credit: Olaer / Elmer Anthony on Visual hunt

Can I Learn Portuguese with Music?

Portuguese music should be an integral part of your language learning but whether you could learn Portuguese exclusively by listening to either Brazilian or Portuguese songs is not likely.

Very few songs (if any) detail an exchange at the supermarket, a transaction at the bank or dealing with a government official.

Those are all facets of life in Portugal or Brazil that, as a language learner intent on living in a Portuguese-speaking country, you will certainly experience.

Furthermore, most song lyrics feature only simple verb tenses: past, present and future and, at best, may only reflect one or two of the over 50 forms verbs can take in Portuguese.

From a grammatical standpoint, songs are not very helpful in learning Portuguese.

Songwriting in any language tends to eschew language mechanics – punctuation, spelling, capitalisation and word order in favour of poetic phrasing meaning that, if you intend to live and work in either Portuguese-speaking country, building your language skills on song lyrics would hurt more than help you.

However, songs sung in Portuguese can help develop your listening and speaking skills.

You could download and listen to podcasts, watch the news or listen to the radio in Portuguese. All of those are great ways to train your ear… provided you are advanced enough in your language studies that they don’t sound like just so much noise.

Listening to Portuguese music is a different proposition altogether; music allows listeners to form an emotional connection with their favourite songs.

If you've already been to Portugal or Brazil, you have likely heard street music or attended a music festival. You may have already discovered small orchestral pieces, with or without unusual and diverse vocals, and all of the best music Portugal has to offer.

Recorded songs are three- to five-minute snapshots into the heart of Portuguese/Brazilian culture. They are enticing and intriguing, begging to be listened to over and over again.

Neither Portugal nor Brazil are lacking in beautiful songs to showcase their fascinating language. They can be old-fashioned or modern, soft or strong, lyrical or powerful.

In any language, songs can have different flavours: melancholy or happy, upbeat or introspective, rapid-fire or ballad-slow.

Compare these qualities with podcasts or broadcasts: each instalment may last as long as 30 minutes or more, there is little tone variety and, while topics vary, the overall presentation usually does not.

We’re not saying that podcasts and radio in Portuguese are unhelpful; merely that they may not be as engaging as music.

So, as you make your way to your Portuguese language lessons or wait for your Portuguese Superprof to arrive, feel free to pop your earbuds in and listen to a bit of fado or Brazilian hip hop.

It will get you in the right frame of mind for your lessons and help to tune your ear to those distinct Portuguese sounds.

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A student by trade, Daniel spends most of his time working on that essay that's due in a couple of days' time. When he's not working, he can be found working on his salsa steps, or in bed.