Music Terminology

Valuable Concepts for the Learning Musician


Transposition is the transferring of a given passage of music, interval by interval, to a different key or Clef.

There are 2 kinds of transposition. 1) Clef Transposition   2) Key Transposition

1. Clef Transposition: A melody can be moved from one clef to another. This can be 1 or 2 octaves from the given melody above or below, or it can be transferred from one Clef to another at the same pitch.

2. Key Transposition: The whole passage or piece is moved from one key to another, interval by interval, corresponding to the construction of the given example. It may also be transferred from one clef to another as you change the key.

The subject matter may be transposed any interval desired - Major, Minor, Augmented, Diminished or Perfect

If it starts in a Major Key, it will finish in a Major Key. If it starts in a Minor Key, it will finish in a Minor Key etc.

Transposition is the changing of the pitch of the composition without altering the construction of the intervals. Each Interval MUST match the given Interval in accuracy, according to the Key of the original example.

All accidentals MUST receive the correct attention to conform with the required key when the transposition is being made.

Consider the following example:

Transposition from C Major to D Major

Let's say we are playing a song in the key of C Major.

Now we know that in C Major the notes are C - D - E - F - G - A - B (no sharps or flats).

After playing with it a few times we realize that the key is too low. We need to raise it a little. Let's try transposing it up to the key of D Major which is one whole tone (2 semitones) higher than C Major. We will use semitones as it is less confusing when you are learning. Here we go ..... C major to D major.

  • C + 2 semitones = D
  • D + 2 semitones = E
  • E + 2 semitones = F# (There is only one semitone between E and F)
  • F + 2 semitones = G
  • G + 2 semitones = A
  • A + 2 semitones = B
  • B + 2 semitones = C# (There is only one semitone between B and C)

There you have it. You have transposed from C Major to D Major.

( C - D - E - F - G - A - B ) to ( D - E - F# - G - A - B - C# ).

Try other examples for yourself. If you are unsure of the accuracy of your transposition you can check it out in the Scales chart.

Legato & Staccato

Legato is to sing or play a passage smoothly

Staccato is the opposite. It means short and detached and definitely not smooth.

There are 3 kinds of staccato:

1. Mezzo (or slurred) - sustain the sound 3/4 value, rest for 1/4 value. Mezzo staccato (moderately detached ) is sometimes indicated in words, or can be shown by either a tenuto above a staccato mark, or a slur that encompasses a phrase of staccato notes. (Tenuto means held. It alters either the dynamics or the duration of a note)
2. Dot - sustain the sound 1/2 value, rest for 1/2 value

Example 1.
Dot staccato on common stems

In this example the dot staccato applies to both notes on each stem as they both share a common stem

Example 2.
Dot staccato & Stems
In the first bar, the Dot Staccato applies to both notes on each stem as above. In the second bar the dot staccato only upplies to the upper notes of each pair as they are on separate stems
3. Dash (Staccatissimo) - sustain the sound 1/4 value, rest for 3/4 value
music dash staccato or staccatissimo
Dash Staccato or Staccatissimo

When playing Staccato...

  • When using Mezzo, strike the note as if playing a scale with the same finger for each note, lifting in time to strike the next note with the same finger.
  • When using Dot, strike the note with an even 'see-saw' wrist movement or action lifting for 2 and sounding for 2.
  • When using Dash, use a brisk 'pull-off' type of action as if flicking the dust off hot keys. This will give 1 count on and 3 counts off.

The Slur

A slur is a symbol placed over or under a series of notes. It indicates that the notes are to be played without separation. This implies legato which is playing a passage smoothly. The notes are different pitches and can be different types. A slur can extend over two or several notes at a time, sometimes encompassing several bars of music.

The Slur For Different Instruments:

Bowed string instruments: indicates the notes should be played in one bow.

Wind instruments: indicates that the notes should be played without using the tongue to re-articulate each note.

Guitar music: indicates that the notes should be played without plucking the individual strings, i.e. slides, hammer-ons and pull-offs.

In vocal music, slurs are usually used to mark notes which are sung to a single syllable.

A slur is denoted with a curved line generally placed over the notes if the stems point downward, and under them if the stems point upwards.

music slur
An example of a slur

The Tie

music tie

The slur is not to be confused with another similar musical symbols known as a Tie

The tie is a curved line that links two notes of the same pitch to show that their durations are to be added together.

Enharmonic Change

Music Terminology
Enharmonic Equivalents

Enharmonic change (alteration) refers to changing the alphabetical name of a note on an instrument while retaining the pitch. In the diagram above, the middle line represents commonly used scale notes, while the top and bottom lines display enharmonic equivalents—different names for the same note. Most notes can have three possible names, except for G# and Ab, which have two.

This distinction is evident on a piano keyboard, where G# and A♭ are positioned between two adjacent black keys. Due to spatial constraints, these notes share the same keys. You can see this clearly in the following diagram showing enharmonic equivalents on a piano.

Music Terminology
Enharmonic Equivalents on a piano


Modulation means the transition of changing from one key to another, usually in the middle of a piece of music. This may or may not be accompanied by a change in key signature. There are a number of rules and considerations to take into account so that the transition from one key to the other is as smooth as possible.

The following is an excerpt from 'The Guitar Handbook' by Ralph Denyer. This is his introduction to the concept of modulation. He goes on with a detailed and concise explanation about modulation using primary chords and secondary chords along with and a very handy chart-application encompassing all keys.

Every major key is related to a minor key. The relative minor scale begins on the 6th note of the major scale with both scales sharing the same notes as well as the same key signature. Because of this, the following explanation of modulation need deal only with major keys...

Every major key is closely related to two other major keys. Only one note in their scale differs each time. These two other keys begin on the sub-dominant (4th) and dominant (5th) notes of the original key. Take the key of C major as an example: the two keys closest to it are F major and G major. F is the 4th note in the scale of C major, and G is the 5th. Only one note in the scale of F major differs from that of C major - B♭. And only one note in the scale of G major differs - F#.

Moreover, comparing the three major scales of C, F and G reveals that the primary intervals (I, IV and V) of all three keys are related by common notes. The note C is the root in C major, the sub-dominant (4th) in G major, and the dominant (5th) in F major. The note F is the root in F major, and the sub-dominant (4th) in C major. The note G is the root in G major and the dominant (5th) in C major. This pattern is repeated throughout the twelve keys, and these primary relationships, allows a smooth, natural modulation... The Guitar Handbook by Ralph Denyer
If you are a serious guitarist and want to know everything there is to know about a 'guitar', this book is definitely worth a look at.


Accent is stress or emphasis on certain notes. When the accent is moved to a weak beat, syncopation is formed.

Syncopation is the placing of a regular accent formed according to the given time signature onto a normally unaccented beat or part of a beat.

In normal Duple, Triple and Quadruple Time, the accents are as follows:

  • In Duple Time: (2 beats/bar) The accents are Strong - Weak
  • In Triple Time: (3 beats/bar) The accents are Strong - Weak - Weak
  • In Quadruple Time: (4 beats/bar) The accents are Strong - Weak - Medium - Weak

When we use syncopation, the accents are altered. This tends to define different styles of music.

For example, in reggae music (quadruple time) the strong accent is placed on the second beat rather than the first beat, giving you that distinctive reggae sound.

Weak - Strong - Weak - Medium
Weak - Strong - Weak - Strong


A Tetrachord is a series of 4 notes in alphabetical order consisting of 2 tones and 1 semitone.

The tones occur between the 1st - 2nd, and 2nd - 3rd notes. The semitone is between the 3rd - 4th note.

Each Major Scale contains 2 Tetrachords:

1. Lower Tetrachord

2. Upper Tetrachord

  • The Lower Tetrachord of 1 scale becomes the Upper Tetrachord of another
  • The Upper Tetrachord of 1 scale becomes the Lower Tetrachord of another
  • The Lower Tetrachord commences on the Tonic and ends on the Subdominant.
  • The Upper Tetrachord commences on the Dominant and ends on the Upper Tonic
  • Put simply, 2 tetrachords stacked on top of each other make up a major scale OR 1 tetrachord is equal to half a major scale

Let's look at an example using C Major:

Binding Tone
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