Abstract The classification of earthquakes at White Island volcano, New Zealand, has been revised to address problems in existing classification schemes, to better reflect new data and to try to focus more on source processes. Seismicity generated by the direct involvement of magmatic or hydrothermal fluids are referred to as volcanic, and that generated by fault movement in response to stresses caused by those fluids, regional stresses, thermal effects and so on are referred to as volcano-tectonic. Spasmodic bursts form a separate category, as we have insufficient information to classify them as volcanic or volcano-tectonic. Volcanic seismicity is divided into short-duration, long-period volcanic earthquakes, long-duration volcanic earthquakes, and harmonic- and non-harmonic volcanic tremor, while volcano-tectonic seismicity is divided into shallow and deep volcano-tectonic earthquakes. Harmonic volcanic tremor is related to sub-surface intrusive processes, while non-harmonic volcanic tremor originates close to active craters at shallow depth, and usually occurs during eruptive activity. Short-duration, long-period volcanic earthquakes come from a single source close to the active craters, but originate deeper than non-harmonic volcanic tremor, and are not related to eruptive activity. Long-duration volcanic earthquakes often accompany larger discrete eruptions. The waveform of these events consists of an initial low-frequency part from a deep source, and a later cigar-shaped part of mixed frequencies from a shallow crater source.