Glossary of Musical Terms

The language of music...

Term Description
a annular finger or ring finger used to identify fingers in fingerpicking styles
a capella singing without musical accompaniment
accelerando accelerating - gradually increasing the tempo
accent >   a sign used to indicate a dominant beat
accidental a sign used to show a temporary change in the pitch of a note. This can be a sharp #, flat , double sharp x, double flat ♭♭, or natural - Please note that the sharps or flats in a key signature are not regarded as accidentals
adagio at ease - play slowly
additional notes a note not belonging to a given scale, but can be used for improvising against most chords in a progression without sounding out of key
ad lib (ad libitum) at liberty - the speed and style of play is left up to the discretion of the performer
a due intended to be played as a duet for 2 voices or 2 instruments
affettuoso with effect or with emotion
agitato agitated - play in an agitated manner
al, alla to the / in the manner of - al precedes a masculine noun while alla precedes a feminine noun
alla breve cut time - 2 beats per measure, i.e., 2/2 time which means 2 minim beats in each bar
allegro cheerful or brisk, but commonly interpreted as lively, fast
alto high - often refers to a particular range of voice, higher than a tenor but lower than a soprano
anacrusis a note or series of notes that precedes the first full bar in a piece of music (pickup/pick-up note)
andante at a walking pace or moderate tempo
arpeggio the notes of a chord are played in a sequence - one after another instead of simultaneously, e.g., a harp
assai very
a tempo in time - return to the main tempo of the piece

Musical Terms: B - C

Term Description
bar a division of music that occurs between 2 bar lines - also called a measure
bar line a vertical line drawn across a Staff which divides the music into equal sections - called bars
barre chord a chord played with 1 finger laying over multiple strings - usually 6. A mini-barre is used when 1 finger lays over fewer strings, e.g., F Major requires a mini-barre over the first 2 strings with the first finger in the open chord position.
bass Voice: the lowest of the 4 standard voice ranges - Bass Tenor Alto Soprano
Music: the lowest melodic line in any musical composition
Orchestra: reference to the double-bass
Guitar: 4th, 5th and 6th strings
bass clef 𝄢 a musical symbol used to indicate the pitch of written notes on a line which serves as a reference point by which the names of notes on any other line or space of the stave can be determined - also known as the F Clef as the F-line passes between the 2 dots of the clef.
beat 1. the rhythm of the music    2. a single stroke of rhythmic accent.
bend a specific technique where a string is pushed upwards or downwards which raises the pitch of the fretted note in question
Blues Scale a scale consisting of the I, III, IV, V, and VII notes relative to the Major Scale
bridge 1. passage of music connecting 2 sections of a composition. Also known as a transition
2. section of a stringed instrument that holds the strings in place and transmits the vibrations of the strings to the resonating body of the instrument
broken chord a chord where all the notes are not played at once
cadenza a solo section, usually played in a concerto - used to display the performer's technique
capo 1. head - the beginning of a piece or movement
2. a key-changing device for guitars and banjos - allows a key change without altering the chord shape.
chord the combination of 3 or more different notes played at the same time. For guitarists, a combination of 2 notes played at the same time is denoted as a power chord.
chord progression a series of chords played as a musical entity, e.g., a song
chromatic scale an ascending and descending scale using semitones only, e.g. C chromatic scale
ascending: C   C#   D   D#   E   F   F#   G   G#   A   A#   B   C
descending: C   B   B♭   A   A♭   G   G♭   F  E   E♭  D   D♭   C
clef a sign place at the beginning of every staff of music which fixes the position of a particular note on the staff which in turn fixes the position of all the other notes. The most popular clefs are the Treble or G clef 𝄞 (fixes the G note), and the Bass or F Clef 𝄢 (fixes the F note).
cliches small musical phrases that are commonly used
coda 𝄌 a tail - a closing section appended to a piece or movement
common time - 𝄴 time signature of 4/4. This means there are 4 beats per measure with each beat a quarter-note or crotchet beat in length - 4 quarter-note beats per bar.
compound time occurs when a beat falls on a dotted note which is therefore divisible by 3, e.g., 68, 98, 128
contralto deepest female singing voice with a range typically between the F below middle C (F3) to the second G above middle C (G5). Extreme voices can reach E below middle C (E3) or the second B♭ above middle C (B♭5). Middle C is C4
crescendo growing  progressively louder
cut time - 𝄵 time signature of 2/2. This means 2 beats per measure with a half-note or minim length for each beat

Musical Terms: D - L

Term Description
da capo from the head or beginning
D.C. al fine from the head or beginning to the word fine
D.S. Dal Segno - from the sign 𝄋
D.S. al coda instructs the musician to repeat back to the sign, and when Al coda or To coda is reached, jump to the coda symbol.
D.S. al fine instructs the musician to repeat back to the sign, and end the piece at the measure marked fine.
decrescendo gradually decreasing volume
diminuendo dwindling - gradually decreasing volume (same as decrescendo)
dolce sweetly
dominant the fifth degree of a major or minor scale
dot a sign (dot) placed after a note indicating that the time of the note is extended by a half, e.g.,
𝅘𝅥 = 1 beat count       𝅘𝅥. = 1½ beat counts
double bar line ‖ Two vertical lines on the staff indicating the end of a section or a composition. It is also used with two dots to enclose repeated sections. ‖:    :‖
double flat (♭♭) lowers the note one whole tone
double sharp (x) raises the note one whole tone
duet a performance by 2 people (voices/instruments)
duplet a group of 2 notes that are played in the same time as 3 notes of the same kind
duration the time value of each note or strum
dynamics the relative volume in the way the piece is played with varying degrees of loud and soft
eighth octave
eighth-note 𝅘𝅥𝅮 a note with the value of half a beat in 4/4 time (𝅘𝅥𝅮) - also called a quaver.
eighth-note rest 𝄾 indicates half a beat of silence
encore again -  perform the relevant passage once more
enharmonic notes of the same pitch with different names, e.g., C# and D♭
falsetto vocal register above the normal voice
fermata      𝄐 hold/pause - a note or rest to be held for a duration that is left to the discretion of the performer
fifth fifth degree of a diatonic scale. Also name given to an interval in relation to the position above or below a tone (G is a fifth up from C, or F is a 5th down from C). It is also used to describe the interval itself, e.g., perfect 5th, an augmented 5th or a diminished 5th.
fill instructs musicians to improvise, e.g., a riff between lines sections or phrases
finale the final movement or section of a piece
fine the end - often in phrases like al fine (to the end)
flat a symbol (♭) that lowers the pitch of a note by a semitone.
forte or f strong - to be played or sung loudly
fortepiano or fp strong-gentle - loud, then immediately soft
fortissimo or ff very loud
fortississimo or fff          as loud as possible
fourth the fourth degree of a diatonic scale. Also name given to an interval in relation to the position above or below a tone (F is a 4th up from C, or G is a 4th down from C). It is also used to describe the interval itself, e.g., perfect 4th, an augmented 4th or a diminished 4th.
free stroke this is where the finger after picking the string does not rest on any other string as in fingerpicking
fugue flight - short theme (the subject) is introduced in one voice (or part) alone, then in others, with imitation and characteristic development as the piece progresses... learn more
gentile gently
gig a musician's job
giocoso or gioioso gaily
grandioso grandly
grave slowly and seriously
grazioso gracefully
half-note 𝅗𝅥 a note with the value of 2 beats in 4/4 time - also called a minim.
half-note rest indicates 2 beats of silence written 𝄼 on the third staff line
half-step also called a semitone - an interval from one note to the very next note above or below, e.g., F - F#
hammer-on sounding of a note by only using the left hand fingers... also called a slur. Lefties would use the right hand fingers.
harmonics a chime-like sound made by gently or lightly touching a vibrating string at certain points along the fretboard.
harmony The simultaneous sounding of 2 or more different notes
homophony a musical texture with one voice (or melody line) accompanied by chords
i index finger. Used in identifying right hand fingers in finger-picking patterns. Identifies left hand fingers for Lefties
impetuoso impetuously
improvise to perform spontaneously - not from written copy or from memory
interval distance between any 2 notes of different pitches
intro beginning or opening section
jazz standard well-known or popular jazz piece
key describes the notes used in a composition in relation to the major or minor scale from which they are derived, e.g., 'in the key of C Major' describes the melody, chords, etc., as predominantly consisting of the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, B — i.e., from the C Scale.
key signature a sign placed at the beginning of each stave of music, directly after the clef indicating the key of a piece. The sign consists of a number of sharps or flats, which represent the sharps or flats found in the scale of the piece's key: e.g. 2 sharps on the stave indicates a scale with F# and C# which is the key of D Major. No sharps or flats on the Stave indicate C Major.
largo broadly - slowly
lead playing single notes — lead solo or a melody line.
leading tone the seventh degree of a major scale
ledger lines small horizontal lines upon which notes are written when their pitch is either above or below the range of the Stave.
legato joined - smoothly, in a connected manner
lento slowly
lyrics words that accompany a melody

Musical Terms: M - S

Term Description
m middle finger used in identifying right hand fingers in finger-picking patterns. Identifies left hand fingers for Lefties
major pentatonic scale a 5 tone scale based on the interval sequence T - T - T½ - T - T½
maestoso with deep feeling in a majestic and stately fashion
major scale a series of eight notes in alphabetical order based on the interval sequence T - T - S - T - T - T - S
marcato or marc marked - with accentuation, execute every note as if it were to be accented
measure a bar of music
medley several pieces played one after the other and sometimes overlapping
melody a series of notes of varying pitch and duration having a recognized musical shape
meter (metre) pattern of strong and weak beats in the rhythm of the music
metronome a device which indicates the number of beats per minute — can be adjusted to a desired tempo, e.g. = 60 indicates 60 quarter note beats per minute
mezza voce half voice - with subdued or moderated volume
mezzo forte (mf) moderately loud
mezzo piano (mp) moderately soft
mezzo-soprano a female singer with a range usually extending from the A below middle C to the A two octaves above (A3-A5). They may extend down to the G below middle C (G3) and as high as (C6). Mezzo-sopranos generally have a darker vocal tone than sopranos, and their vocal range is between a soprano and a contralto. N.B. middle C on a piano is C4
middle C middle C on a piano denoted by C4
minor pentatonic scale                                                   a 5 tone scale based on the interval sequence T½ - T - T - T½ - T
mode a displaced scale, e.g., playing through the C to C Scale but starting and finishing on a D note.
moderato moderate - often combined with other terms, usually relating to tempo e.g., allegro moderato
modulation is most commonly the act or process of changing from one key to another. This may or may not be accompanied by a change in key signature.
molto very
movement a section of a musical composition
natural a symbol () that cancels the effect of a sharp or a flat. The word is also used to describe the 'natural notes' A, B, C, D, E, F, G.
N.C. No chord
nocturne a musical composition written for the night
notation the written representation of music by the use of symbols (music on a stave), letters (as in note and chord names) and diagrams (as in chord illustrations).
note a single sound with a given pitch and duration
obbligato required, indispensable
octave The distance between any given note with a set frequency, and another note with exactly double that frequency. Both notes have the same letter name. An octave is equal to 12 semitones - the first and eighth note in a major or minor scale.
A(220) <———————>  A(440)
       1 OCTAVE    
open chord a chord that contains at least one open string
ostinato obstinate, persistent - a short musical pattern that is repeated throughout an entire composition or portion of a composition
ottava octave e.g. ottava bassa - an octave lower
p primary finger (thumb)— used in identifying right hand fingers in finger-picking patterns. Identifies left hand fingers for Lefties
passing note connects 2 melody notes which are a third or less apart — usually occurs on an unaccented beat of the bar.
parlando or parlante like speech, enunciated (talking)
phrase a small group of notes forming a recognizable unit within a melody
pianissimo or pp very gently - perform very softly, even softer than piano
piano gently - played or sung softly
pitch the sound produced by a note, determined by the frequency of the string vibrations — relates to a note referred to as 'high' or 'low'.
pivot finger a finger which remains in position while the other fingers move, when changing chords.
plectrum a small object usually triangular in shape made primarily of plastic which is used to strum the strings on a guitar.
pizzicato pinched, plucked - in music for bowed strings, plucked with the fingers as opposed to played with the bow
poco a little
poco a poco little by little
position term used to describe the location of the left hand on the fretboard. The left hand position is determined by the fret position of the first finger (lefties - the right hand position), e.g., 1st position refers to frets 1 - 4, the 2nd position refers to frets 2 - 5, the 3rd position refers to frets 3 - 6 etc.
portamento carrying - sliding in pitch from one note to another usually pausing just above or below the final pitch, then sliding quickly to that pitch
prelude a musical introduction to subsequent movements
presto very quickly
primo or prima first
quarter note a note with the value of one beat in 4/4 time (𝅘𝅥) - also called a crotchet.
quarter note rest indicates one beat of silence 𝄽
quarter tone half of a semitone - not commonly used in Western music notation except in some forms of Jazz, Blues, artistic and experimental music and a variety of non Western music cultures.
rallentando or rall.                     broadening of the tempo - progressively slower
reggae a Jamaican rhythm featuring an accent on the second and fourth beats in 4/4 time.
relative a term used to describe the relationship between a major and minor key which share the same key signature; e.g., D major and Bm are relative keys both sharing F# and C# in the key signature.
repeat signs used to indicate the repeat of a section of music, by means of 2 dots placed before a double bar line :|| In chord progressions, a repeat sign 𝄎 indicates an exact repeat of the previous bar.
rest the notation of an absence of sound in music
rest stroke after picking a string, the finger comes to rest on the next string (for accenting the note).
ritardando or rit slowing down; decelerating; opposite of accelerando
rondo a musical form in which a certain section returns repeatedly , interspersed with other sections
rhythm tempo, duration and accents of notes or chord strums. Tempo indicates the speed of a piece (fast or slow); duration indicates the time value of each note or strum (quarter-note, eighth-note, sixteenth-note etc.); and accents indicate which beat is more predominant (in rock, the 1st and 3rd beats, in reggae, the 2nd and 4th beats).
riff a pattern of notes that is repeated throughout a progression or song.
root note the note after which a chord or scale is named (also called a 'key note').
scale tone chords chords which are constructed from notes within a given scale, e.g., C scale tone chords consist of consist of chords derived from the C Major Scale - any chords that don't include sharps or flats, e.g., C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, Bº — D scale tone chords consist of chords derived from the D major scale - any chords that includes F# and C# etc.
scherzando playfully
scherzo a light, "joking" or playful musical form
segno sign - usually Dal Segno "from the sign", indicating a return to the point marked by 𝄋
segue carry on to the next section without a pause
semibreve 🞅 - a note with the value of four beats in 4/4 time - also called a whole-note.
semitone the smallest pitch difference between notes in most Western music e.g.( F → F#)
serioso seriously
sforzando or sfz made loud, e.g., a sudden strong accent
sharp # - a symbol that raises the pitch of the note by a semitone.
short accent hit the note hard and short . (^)
silenzio silence
simple time occurs when a beat falls on an undotted note which is therefore divisible by 2
sixteenth-note a note with the value of quarter of a beat in 4/4 time 𝅘𝅥𝅯 - also called a semi-quaver.
sixteenth-note rest indicates a quarter of a beat of silence 𝄿
slide a technique where the finger slides along the string to its new note, maintaining equal pressure on the string so that a continuous sound is produced.
slur sounding a note using only the left hand fingers. An ascending slur is also called a hammer-on whereas a descending slur is also called a flick-off. Lefties will only use the right hand fingers.
sonata a piece that is played as opposed to a piece that is sung.
soprano the highest of the standard four voice ranges (bass, tenor, alto, soprano). Usually, a range from middle C4 (middle C) - A5 in choral music, or from C4 - C6 (two octaves above middle C) or higher in operatic music.
sostenuto sustained, lengthened
staccato making each note brief and detached. A small dot under or over the head of the note indicates that it is to be played as staccato.
staff 𝄚 a set of five horizontal lines and four spaces that each represent a different musical pitch
stanza a verse of a song
stave or staff 𝄚 five parallel lines and 4 spaces upon which music notation is written.
subito suddenly (e.g., subito pp, which instructs the player to suddenly drop to pianissimo as an effect)

the placing of an accent on a normally unaccented beat, e.g. reggae music or ragtime music

  >   >            >   >
1 2 3 4  OR  1 + 2 + 3 +

Musical Terms: T - W

Term Description
tablature a system of writing music which represents the position of a players fingers on a particular guitar string (not the pitch of the note). There are 6 lines which represent each string and each number represents the fret. Chord diagrams are also a type of tablature.
tacet silent - do not play
tempo time - the overall speed of a piece of music
tenor the second lowest of the standard four voice ranges (bass, tenor, alto, soprano) In choral music, the tenor voice lies between C3, (one octave below middle C), and A4 (A above middle C). Soloists can extend this range up to C5 (tenor high C). The low extreme for tenors is roughly B♭2 (two B♭s below middle C), while the highest extreme can be up to F5 (two Fs above middle C)
tenuto Held - touch on a note slightly longer than usual, but without generally altering the note's value
tessitura texture - describes a comfortable range for a singer and sometimes a musical instrument, a range where the voice or instrument displays its best texture.
tie a curved line joining 2 or more notes of the same pitch, where the second note is not played, but its time value is added to that of the first note.
timbre the quality of a musical tone that distinguishes a note produced on one instrument or voice to the same note produced on any other instrument. A given note on a guitar will sound different to the same note played on a piano or trumpet or violin etc. There can also be a difference in timbre from one guitar to another, e.g., electric guitar and classical guitar.
time returning to tempo after playing an alternative tempo... same as al tempo
time signature a sign or figures at the beginning of a piece of music indicating the number of beats to a bar (top figure) and the type of note receiving one beat (bottom figure)
tone equivalent to 2 semitones - a distance of 2 frets on a guitar
transposition the process of changing music from one key to another.
treble generally, the upper regions of pitch. On guitar, this relates to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd strings commonly known as the top 3 strings.
treble clef 𝄞 a sign placed at the beginning of the stave to fix the position of the notes placed on it. The Treble Clef, also known as the G Clef is placed so that the second line indicates a G note.
tremolo shaking - a rapid repetition of the same note, or an alternation between two or more notes (often an octave on the piano). String players perform tremolo with the bow by rapidly moving the bow while the arm is tense. On guitar, it is a rapid pick movement on a given note.
triplet a group of 3 notes played in the same time as 2 notes of the same kind, e.g.,Quaver Triplet
tutti all - all together
up tempo a fast, lively or increased tempo, or played in such a tempo.
vibrato vibrating -  rapidly repeated slight alteration in the pitch of a note, used to give a richer sound and as a means of expression. For any stringed instrument, vibrato is a technique which involves pushing a string up and down fairly rapidly like a series of short bends.
virtuoso performing with exceptional ability, technique, or artistry
vivace very lively, up-tempo - vivacious
voce voice
whole-note a note (𝅝) with the value of four beats in 4/4 time - also called a semibreve.
whole-note rest indicates four beat of silence 𝄻 placed on the 4th staff line
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