Have you ever heard someone use the phrase “cue the music”? It’s a popular expression, one frequently used in the worlds of music and theater.
It’s also often misunderstood. Many people don’t know what the phrase means and end up using it incorrectly, if they use it at all.
Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with the phrase “cue the music” because help is available. The following guide defines the phrase, provides examples of its use, and explains why it’s often confused with the words “queue the music.”
The Meaning of “Cue the Music”
“Cue the music” means that music should start playing. The expression refers to any type of music, such as:
- Music in a live theater
- Recorded music played through a sound system
A “cue” is a signal meant to start an action. It can also mean a hint or means of encouragement.
For instance, a “cue card” provides actors or speakers with their lines. Another example is how a “cue ball” on a pool table is one you hit first when taking a shot.
“Cue” as a Verb and a Noun
Cue is both a noun and a verb. As a noun, it has two meanings:
- It’s a signal indicating some type of action should start. “When the drummer finishes their solo, that’s your cue to start playing the violin.”
- It creates a comparison that serves as a hint. “After I couldn’t fasten the button on my favorite pair of pants, I took it as a cue that I needed to lose some weight.”
It also has two meanings as a verb:
- It’s a synonym for “prompt” or “result in.” “When the bride starts walking down the aisle, the wedding planner will cue the band to begin playing.”
- It means to insert something into an ongoing performance. “As we cut to the shot of the airplane, we’ll need to cue the sound effects.”
Both as a noun and verb, the word indicates that something is starting.
What is the Origin of the Word “Cue”?
As with many English words, the origins of the word “cue” aren’t fully understood. Scholars believe the word originated in the 1550s.
The word “cue” is possibly derived from the Latin word “quando,” which means “when.” The word “quando” was common in early theater, used to describe when an actor should start speaking.
Over time, the word “quando” was possibly shortened to just “Q,” and the word “cue” is simply how people spelled out the letter.
Cue the Music vs. Queue the Music
Many people mistakenly believe the phrase “cue the music” is written as “queue the music.” Even though the words look quite different, they’re homophones, which means they sound identical when spoken aloud.
The word “queue” means to form either a line or a list. In England, it commonly refers to a line of people. For instance, “Everyone must form an orderly queue to board the subway.”
One place you’ve likely seen the word “queue” in the US is when logging into Netflix. The streaming service refers to your playlist of shows and movies as the “Netflix Queue.”
“Queue” as a Noun and a Verb
Like “cue,” the word “queue” is also a noun and a verb. As a noun, it has three definitions.
It primarily means a line of people. “In order to buy tickets, everybody was instructed to form a queue at the ticket window.” (Note: Using the word in this way is far more prevalent in England than in the US.)
It can also mean a set of items or instructions processed in a designated order, such as a playlist or a computer program. “The printer queue lists three pending documents” or “My Spotify queue is filled with Britney Spears.”
Finally, a “queue” can also refer to a long braid worn down the back of the neck. It’s a traditional style worn by Chinese men as well as a modern variation of the French Braid.
As a verb, “queue” has one definition. It’s the act of forming a line. Typically, it’s used with the word “up.” “Everybody will need to queue up on the sidewalk before the store will open.”
Can You “Queue the Music”?
The phrase “queue the music” isn’t an established saying like “cue the music.” However, “queue the music” is still grammatically correct.
If you use the phrase “queue the music,” you’re technically talking about organizing music in some way. For example, if you were to arrange all of your vinyl records alphabetically, you could accurately say that you “queued your music.”
Another way you can use “queue the music” is if you’re talking about a song list. Suppose you’re at a party where the music is kept on a playlist. To add music to the playlist so you can hear it later, you can tell the DJ to queue the song you’re interested in.
The phrase “queue the music” isn’t commonly used. If spoken aloud, the phrase “queue the music” will likely cause a lot of confusion, as it sounds exactly like “cue the music.”
Here’s a look at other expressions that have a connection to “cue the music.”
Cue the Lights
“Cue the lights” typically refers to the lights in a theater. You can use the two phrases together, too. “Cue the lights and cue the music” signifies that the show, either real or metaphorical, is about to start. It’s similar in meaning to the phrase “Lights. Camera. Action.”
Cue the Violins
“Cue the violins” is used as a response when someone is acting childish about two other people in love. It’s meant to mock the original commenter.
“Mary is always late getting back from lunch because she goes halfway across town to eat with her husband.”
“Oh, cue the violins. It’s the only time they can see each other during the day.”
The “violins” refer to the swell of orchestral music heard during romantic scenes in movies, especially classic black-and-white films.
Cue the Tears
“Cue the tears” refers to when someone either starts to cry or acts sad purely as a ploy to get what they want.
For instance, “The minute I denied her an extension on her paper, cue the tears, but I knew she’d been skiing all weekend and wasn’t sick like she claimed.”
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are quick answers to common questions about the phrase “cue the music.”
What Does “Cue the Music” Mean?
It refers to starting up music, either by playing recorded music or signaling to a band or player that they can begin a live performance.
What Does “Queue the Music” Mean?
“Queue the music” isn’t a common phrase. In most cases, when someone says or writes “queue the music,” it’s an accident, and what they meant was “cue the music.”
However, “queue the music” is grammatically correct. It technically means that the music is getting organized in some way, such as being placed in alphabetical order.
What is a “Cue Line”?
This phrase gets a little confusing.
A “cue line” is an acting term. It refers to a line spoken by one actor that then initiates action by another. For instance, “‘My kingdom for a sword’ is the cue line for Mike to enter stage left.”
A “cue line” is also commonly referred to as a “theater cue.”
When Should I Use the Phrase “Cue the Music”?
It’s commonly used in sound production, theater, and other performance situations. Any time an individual or group needs to start singing or playing instruments, you might hear “cue the music.”
It also has informal uses. Is your friend sitting next to the stereo, and you want them to turn it on? Tell them to “cue the music.”
“Cue the music” isn’t a complicated phrase to understand, but learning the meaning can be confusing because it sounds so similar to “queue the music.” By understanding the meaning of both phrases, you can then use them accurately and clearly.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.