Glossary of Musical Terms
The language of music

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Musical Terms: A

Term Description
a capella   Singing without instrumental accompaniment.
accelerando   Gradually increasing the tempo or speed of the music.
accent > A sign emphasizing a particular note or beat to make it stand out.
accidental #   ♭   x   ♭♭   ♮ 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
accompaniment   Musical parts that support or complement the main melody.
adagio   A tempo marking indicating a slow, leisurely pace.
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 libitum (ad lib)   "at liberty" - the speed and style of play is left up to the discretion of the performer
a duet   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
Aleatoric music   Music in which some elements are left to chance or are determined in the performance.
One well-known example of aleatoric music is the composition "4'33" by John Cage.
In "4'33"," the performer is instructed not to play their instrument during the entire duration of the piece, which is typically four minutes and 33 seconds. Instead, the ambient sounds of the environment become the "music." The idea is that the sounds of the surrounding environment and the audience's reactions create the musical experience.
alla breve 2/2 Cut time or 2/2 time, with 2 half notes per measure.
allegro   Cheerful or brisk, but commonly interpreted as lively, fast
allemande   A German dance form often used in instrumental suites.
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
annular a annular finger or ring finger used to identify fingers in fingerpicking styles
antiphonal   Music performed by two groups alternately.
appoggiatura   A non-chord tone that is approached by a leap and resolved by a step. The appoggiatura creates a temporary dissonance and is resolved to a consonant note. e.g.,
Suppose you have a melody in the key of C major, and the melody goes from the note G to the note E. If you introduce an appoggiatura, the sequence might look like this:
Original Melody: G - E
With Appoggiatura: G (approached by a step from A) - A (resolved by a leap to E)
In this example, the note A is the appoggiatura. It is approached by a step from the preceding note G and then resolved by a leap down to the target note E. The appoggiatura creates a momentary dissonance with the harmony, adding expressive tension that is then resolved to a consonant interval.
aria   A solo vocal piece, typically in an opera or oratorio, with expressive and elaborate melodies.
arpeggio   The sounding of the individual notes of a chord in succession, rather than simultaneously.
art song   A composition for solo voice and piano, often with literary or poetic text.
articulation   The way in which notes are performed, including legato (smooth and connected) and staccato (short and detached).
assai   very
a tempo   "in time" - return to the main tempo of the piece
atonal   Music that lacks a tonal center or does not adhere to a traditional tonal structure.

Musical Terms: B

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
baritone   A male singing voice with a range between that of a tenor and a bass.
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
binary form   A musical structure characterized by two contrasting sections, often labeled as A and B.
Blues Scale   A scale consisting of the I, III, IV, V, and VII notes relative to the Major Scale
bpm (beats per minute)   A measure of the tempo or speed of a musical piece, indicating the number of beats in one minute.
brass instruments   Musical instruments, such as trumpets and trombones, typically made of brass, known for their bold and brassy sound.
bravo   An Italian term used to express enthusiastic approval or praise, especially after a musical performance.
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

Musical Terms: C

Term Description
cadence   A sequence of chords that provides a sense of resolution or conclusion in a musical phrase or piece.
cadenza   a solo section, usually played in a concerto - used to display the performer's technique
canon   A musical composition in which a melody is imitated by voices or instruments in a strict and overlapping manner. A famous example of this is Pachelbel's Canon in D Major
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.
chamber music   Music composed for a small ensemble, typically featuring one player per part.
chord   A group of three or more musical notes played or sung together to create harmony. 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
chorus   In a song, the repeated and typically more musically intense section, often featuring the main theme.
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). The C clef 𝄡 is not widely used.
cliches   Small musical phrases that are commonly used
coda (tail) 𝄌 A musical section at the end of a composition, providing a sense of conclusion.
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
conductor   The person who leads a musical ensemble, directing the performers and shaping the interpretation of the music.
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
contrapuntal   Describes a specific style of writing that involves the combination of multiple independent melodic lines. The concept of contrapuntal music is closely tied to the principles of counterpoint, and it is a key aspect of understanding how different voices interact harmonically in a composition.
counterpoint   Refers to the technique of combining different melodic lines in a way that is harmonically interesting and structurally sound. The principles of counterpoint involve the interplay of independent voices, each with its own melodic and rhythmic characteristics.
crescendo 𝆒 Gradually increasing the volume or intensity of the music.
crotchet A note with the value of one beat in 4/4 time - also called a quarter-note.
cut time 𝄵 Time signature of 2/2. This means two half notes per measure. Also referred to as Alla breve

Musical Terms: D

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 diminuendo 𝆓 Gradually decreasing the volume or intensity of the music.
development   The section in a musical composition where themes are manipulated, expanded, and transformed.
diatonic   Music that is based on or uses the notes of a diatonic scale.
diatonic scale   A seven-note scale consisting of whole and half steps, with a specific pattern of intervals.
diminished chord ° A chord consisting of a root, minor third, and diminished fifth, often denoted by "dim" or a small circle (°).
dissonance   A combination of notes that sounds tense or unstable and requires resolution to a consonant interval.
divisi   A term indicating that a section of an ensemble should be divided into two or more parts.
dolce   An Italian term meaning "sweetly" or "gently," used as a musical instruction.
dominant   The fifth scale degree in a diatonic scale; also, the chord built on this degree, which creates tension and typically resolves to the tonic.
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 bass ♭♭ A large, low-pitched string instrument played with a bow or plucked, also known as the contrabass or bass violin.
double flat ♭♭ lowers the note one whole tone
double sharp x raises the note one whole tone
double stop   A technique in which a string player plays two notes simultaneously on a bowed instrument.
downbeat   The first beat of a measure, typically emphasized in music.
drone   A continuous, sustained sound or pitch, often used as a harmonic or rhythmic foundation.
duet   A musical composition or performance for two voices or instruments.
duple meter   A musical meter in which each measure is divided into two beats.
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 variations in loudness or intensity in music, often indicated by markings such as piano (soft) and forte (loud).

Musical Terms: E

Term Description
echoplex   An electronic device used to create echo effects in music.
eighth   octave
eighth-note A musical note representing half the duration of a quarter note (♪) - also called a quaver.
eighth-note rest 𝄾 indicates half a beat of silence
elegy   A mournful or reflective musical composition, often written to honor the deceased.
encore   again - perform the relevant passage once more
endpin   A retractable rod on the bottom of a cello or double bass that supports the instrument while playing.
enharmonic   Two notes that are written differently but sound the same, e.g., C# and D♭
ensemble   A group of musicians performing together, either as a whole or in smaller combinations.
epic   A term used to describe music that is grand, heroic, and often associated with large-scale compositions.
epic scale   A musical scale with more than seven pitches, often used in film scores and dramatic music.
epicene   A term used to describe a composition that is not specifically masculine or feminine in character.
episode   A section within a musical composition that provides contrast to the main themes.
equal temperament   A tuning system where the octave is divided into twelve equal parts, allowing for flexibility in key modulation.
ethnomusicology   The study of music from different cultural and ethnic perspectives.
etude   A musical composition, usually short and focused on technical skill development.
euphonium   A brass instrument with a conical bore and a mellower tone quality, often used in brass bands.
exposition   The initial section of a sonata or symphony where the main thematic material is presented.
expressivo   An Italian term meaning "expressively," instructing the performer to play with emotion and feeling.
extemporize   To improvise or compose on the spot, often in a free and spontaneous manner.
extended chord   A chord that includes additional notes beyond the root, third, and fifth.
extended technique   Unconventional methods of playing a musical instrument, expanding beyond traditional techniques.

Musical Terms: F

Term Description
fanfare   A short, triumphant musical composition, often used for ceremonial purposes.
falsetto   A vocal technique where a singer uses a higher range than their normal register.
fermata 𝄐 hold/pause - a symbol indicating that the note or rest it is placed over should be extended in duration, often at the performer's discretion.
fifth   An interval spanning five diatonic scale degrees. It is also the 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 concluding movement of a musical composition or the final section of an act or scene.
fine   the end - often in phrases like al fine (to the end)
fingering   The choice and arrangement of finger placements on an instrument.
flat A symbol indicating that the pitch of a note is lowered by a half step or semitone.
flutter-tonguing   A technique used by wind players, particularly brass players, to produce a fluttering sound by rolling their tongue.
folk music   Music that originates from the common people of a region and is passed down orally through generations.
form   The structure or organization of a musical composition.
forte f An Italian term indicating a strong or loud dynamic level.
fortepiano fp An Italian term instructing the performer to play loudly, then immediately soften.
fortissimo ff An Italian term indicating a very strong or very loud dynamic level.
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 or fleeing - In the context of music, a fugue involves the "flight" or interplay of musical voices. The term reflects the way different voices enter and engage with each other in a contrapuntal and imitative manner, creating a sense of movement and interaction within the composition. Think of it like this:
Imagine two melodies playfully chasing each other, weaving in and out like dancers in a moonlit waltz. This is the essence of a fugue, a musical form where melodies, like restless spirits, engage in a complex game of pursuit. One voice soars through the air, leading the charge, while another emerges in the shadows, mimicking its every phrase in delicate counterpoint. They chase and intertwine, their harmonies building like tension in a thriller, before resolving in a shared moment of breathtaking unity. These intricate compositions, once a staple of classical music in the Baroque era, have found their way into movies, video games, and even your favorite cartoons. Have you ever heard that iconic chase music that seems to loop without end? That's a fugue! Explore the history and intricacies of this captivating musical form
fugato   A passage within a composition that resembles a fugue.
full score   A complete musical arrangement that includes parts for all instruments or voices.
full stop   The conclusion of a musical composition or section.
functional harmony   Harmony that follows traditional tonal principles and progressions.
fundamental bass   The lowest pitch in a chord, often the root.

Musical Terms: G

Term Description
gentile   gently
G Clef (Treble Clef)   A symbol indicating the pitch range for higher notes, typically found on the staff for instruments like violin, flute, and piano.
galop   A lively dance in duple meter, often associated with the 19th-century ballroom.
gig   a musician's job
giocoso or gioioso   gaily
glissando   A continuous sliding from one pitch to another.
grace note   A small, quick note played before a main note, often indicated by a small printed note symbol.
Grand Staff   A combination of the treble and bass staves, used for piano music and other keyboard instruments.
grandioso   A term indicating that a passage should be played in a grand or majestic manner.
grave   An Italian term indicating a slow and solemn tempo.
grazioso   gracefully

Musical Terms: H

Term Description
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   The smallest interval in Western music, equivalent to one fret on a guitar or one key on a piano, e.g., F - F# - also called a semitone.
hammer-on 𝀓 sounding of a note by only using the left hand fingers... also called a slur. Lefties would use the right hand fingers.
harmonic minor scale   A minor scale with a raised seventh degree, distinguishing it from the natural minor scale.
harmonic progression   The movement of chords in a sequence, creating harmonic relationships.
harmonic series   The series of overtones or partials that are naturally produced when a musical instrument is played.
harmonics   A chime-like sound made by gently or lightly touching a vibrating string at certain points along the fretboard.
harmony   The simultaneous combination of different musical notes to produce a pleasing sound.
harpsichord   A keyboard instrument with strings plucked by quills or plectra.
head voice   The upper part of a singer's vocal range, resonating in the head.
hemiola   A rhythmic pattern where two groups of three beats are temporarily replaced by three groups of two beats, creating a cross-rhythmic effect.
heterophony   Simultaneous variations of a single melodic line played by multiple instruments or voices.
homophony   A musical texture where one voice or instrument carries the melody, while others provide accompaniment.
hook   A catchy and memorable musical phrase or motif.
hornpipe   A lively English dance often associated with sailors.
humoresque   A composition with a whimsical or humorous character.

Musical Terms: I

Term Description
iambic   A metrical pattern in poetry or music where an unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed syllable.
idiophone   A musical instrument that produces sound through its own substance, such as bells or xylophones.
imitative counterpoint   A form of counterpoint where one voice introduces a musical idea and another voice imitates it.
impetuoso   impetuously
impromptu   A composition or performance created on the spot without prior planning.
improvisation   Creating or performing music spontaneously without prior preparation.
in nomine   A type of composition popular in the Renaissance period, often based on a plainsong.
index finger i Used in identifying right hand fingers in finger-picking patterns. Identifies left hand fingers for Lefties
infernal machines   A term used to describe mechanically operated musical instruments or devices.
instrumentation   The arrangement or choice of instruments used in a musical composition.
intensity   The strength or force of a musical sound.
interlude   A short, intermediate section within a longer musical composition.
interval   The distance in pitch between two notes.
intervallic   Pertaining to the intervals or distances between pitches.
intrada   An opening piece of music, typically for brass instruments.
Introduction (Intro)   The opening section of a musical piece that precedes the main theme or melody.
inversion   A rearrangement of the notes in a chord where the lowest note becomes the highest, and vice versa.
ionian mode   The major scale, characterized by a specific pattern of whole and half steps.
irish reel   A lively traditional Irish dance tune in simple duple meter.
irregular meter   A meter that deviates from the regular pattern of beats, such as asymmetrical time signatures.
isorhtthm   A medieval musical technique involving repeating rhythmic patterns.
italian sixth chord   A type of augmented sixth chord used in Western classical music.

Musical Terms: J

Term Description
jazz   A genre of music characterized by improvisation, syncopation, and a strong rhythmic feel, originating in the United States.
jazz standard   well-known or popular jazz piece
jig   A lively dance in compound meter, often associated with Celtic and folk music.
jubilant   An expressive indication directing the performer to play in a joyful and triumphant manner.
jubiloso   An Italian term meaning "joyful" or "joyously," often used as a tempo marking.
juxtaposition   The act of placing two or more elements (such as musical themes) side by side for comparison or contrast.

Musical Terms: K

Term Description
kettledrum (Timpani)   A percussion instrument consisting of a large drum with a skin that can be tightened or loosened to produce different pitches.
key   The central note or pitch around which a musical composition is based. It also refers to the tonal system of a piece.
keyboard   A set of keys or levers, typically on a piano or organ, that are pressed to produce musical sounds.
key change   A modulation or shift from one key to another within a musical composition.
keynote   The first or main note of a scale, serving as the tonal center of a piece.
key signature   A musical symbol placed at the beginning of each staff, immediately following the clef. It indicates the key of the composition by specifying the sharps or flats present in the corresponding scale. For example, if there are two sharps on the staff, it signifies the key of D Major, with F# and C# in its scale. Conversely, no sharps or flats on the staff denote the key of C Major.
klezmer   A musical tradition of the Ashkenazi Jews, often characterized by lively dance tunes and instrumental improvisation.
koto   A traditional Japanese stringed instrument with movable bridges.

Musical Terms: L

Term Description
lament   A musical composition expressing grief, sorrow, or mourning.
largo   An Italian term indicating a slow and broad tempo.
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   A musical instruction directing the performer to play the notes smoothly and connected.
leitmotif   A recurring musical theme or motif associated with a particular character, idea, or emotion in a composition.
lento   An Italian term meaning "slow," often used as a tempo marking.
libretto   The text or script of an opera, musical, or other dramatic work.
lied   A German art song, typically for solo voice and piano, characterized by expressive and poetic qualities.
ligature   A symbol in musical notation indicating that two or more notes are to be played as a single, connected phrase.
lochrian mode   The seventh and final mode of the diatonic scale, characterized by a diminished fifth and often considered dissonant.
low brass   The family of brass instruments with lower pitch ranges, including trombones, baritones, and tubas.
lute   A stringed instrument with a pear-shaped body, popular during the Renaissance and Baroque periods.
luthier   A person who crafts or repairs stringed instruments, such as guitars or violins.
lyric soprano   The highest female vocal range, often associated with roles in opera and classical music.
lyrical   Having the characteristics of a lyric or expressing intense personal emotion.
lyricism   The quality of being lyrical, expressive, or having a song-like character.
lyricist   A person who writes the lyrics (words) of a song.
lyrics   The words of a song, typically set to music.

Musical Terms: M

Term Description
m   The 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 that is derived by the Major Scale defined by the following degrees: Tonic, Major 2nd, Major 3rd, Perfect 5th, Major 6th with the omission of the 4th and 7th degrees of the major scale, formula: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6. The scale is based on the interval sequence T - T - T½ - T or Whole, Whole, Whole and a Half, Whole. For example, the C Major Pentatonic Scale would read, C-D-E-G-A.
maestoso   An Italian term directing the performer to play in a majestic or stately manner.
major scale   A diatonic scale consisting of seven pitches, with a specific pattern of whole and half steps, and characterized by a major third interval between the first and third notes, based on the interval sequence: (W-W-H-W-W-W-H) OR  (T-T-S-T-T-T-S).
marcato or marc 𝅿 An Italian term indicating that a note or passage should be played with emphasis, often marked with a symbol such as an accent.
marcato / staccato 𝆀 An Italian term indicating that the notes should be played with a combination of both strong emphasis (like in marcato) and short, detached articulation (like in staccato).
measure   A unit of musical time, typically containing a specific number of beats as indicated by the time signature, e.g., a bar of music
medley   A musical composition consisting of a series of different tunes or songs arranged and performed as a continuous piece, and sometimes overlapping
melody   A sequence of single pitches that is musically satisfying and often the main tune of a piece.
meter   The organization of beats into regular groups. It is a fundamental aspect of musical rhythm and helps define the overall feel and structure of a piece of music. Meter is often expressed as a time signature at the beginning of a musical score. It can also relate to the pattern of strong and weak beats in the rhythm of the music including downbeats (stronger), upbeats (weaker), accents emphasizing a particular beat to make it stand out, and syncopation where the emphasis is placed on weak beats or off-beats.

Different meters and rhythmic patterns create distinct rhythmic identities, influencing how listeners perceive and respond to the music. For example, a 4/4 time signature with a strong emphasis on the first beat (common time) has a different feel than a 3/4 waltz with a strong emphasis on the first beat of each measure.
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 five-note scale that is derived from the natural minor scale defined by the following degrees: Tonic (root), Minor 3rd, Perfect 4th, Perfect 5th, Minor 7th, formula: 1, b3, 4, 5, b7. The scale is based on the interval sequence T½ - T - T - T½ or Whole and a Half, Whole, Whole, Whole and a Half. For example, the C Minor Pentatonic Scale would read, C-Eb-F-G-Bb.
minor scale   A diatonic scale consisting of seven pitches, with a specific pattern of whole and half steps, and characterized by a minor third interval between the first and third notes.
mode   A displaced scale, e.g., playing through the C to C Scale but starting and finishing on a D note.
moderato   An Italian term directing the performer to play at a moderate tempo - often combined with other terms, usually relating to tempo e.g., allegro moderato
modulation   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   An Italian term meaning "very," often used as a modifier for dynamics or tempo (e.g., "molto allegro" means "very fast").
monophony   A musical texture featuring a single, unaccompanied melodic line.
motif   A short musical idea or pattern that is repeated or developed throughout a composition.
movement   a section of a musical composition
Mozartean   Relating to the style or characteristics of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's music.
musical form   The structure or organization of a musical composition, often divided into sections such as the exposition, where the main musical ideas or themes are introduced; development, where the music evolves and develops; and recapitulation, a summary or a reminder of what we heard at the beginning, but often with some variations or changes.
musical notation   Symbols and markings used to represent musical sounds on paper, including notes, clefs, and time signatures.
musicology   The scholarly study of music, encompassing historical, cultural, and theoretical aspects.
mute   A device placed on a musical instrument, such as a trumpet or violin, to alter or reduce the volume or timbre.

Musical Terms: N

Term Description
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
ninth 9th An interval spanning nine diatonic scale degrees
nocturne   A musical composition inspired by, or evocative of, the night.
nonet   A composition or group of nine musicians.
non troppo   A musical term instructing the performer not to exceed a certain tempo or mood.
notation   The written representation of music by the use of symbols, e.g., (music on a stave), letters (as in note and chord names) and diagrams (as in chord illustrations).
note   A symbol representing the pitch and duration of a sound in musical notation.

Musical Terms: O

Term Description
obbligato   obligatory, required, indispensable - typically written for a specific instrument or voice and is intended to be performed exactly as written. It often serves a prominent and expressive role within the musical texture, complementing or interacting with the main melody or vocal line.
oboe   A woodwind instrument with a double reed.
octatonic scale   A scale consisting of eight notes, alternating between whole and half steps.
The octatonic scale, also known as the diminished scale, alternates between whole and half steps. There are two common types of octatonic scales: the whole-half diminished scale and the half-whole diminished scale. Here are some examples:
Whole-Half Diminished Scale:
** C Whole-Half Diminished Scale: C, D, Eb, F, Gb, Ab, A, B
Half-Whole Diminished Scale:
** C Half-Whole Diminished Scale: C, Db, Eb, E, Gb, Ab, A, B
In both examples, you can see the alternation between whole steps (W) and half steps (H). These scales are often used in jazz and classical music and are characterized by their symmetrical pattern. The symmetrical nature of the octatonic scale makes it unique and versatile in creating tension and dissonance in musical compositions.
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 half-steps or 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, i.e., a string that is played without being pressed down by a finger on the fretboard. Open chords are commonly used in guitar playing and contribute to the instrument's characteristic sound.
opera   A form of musical drama in which the characters sing the dialogue.
oratorio   A large musical composition for orchestra, choir, and soloists, typically on a sacred theme.
orchestra   A large ensemble of musicians playing various instruments, typically including strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion.
orchestration   The arrangement or adaptation of music for an orchestra.
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
overture   An introductory piece of music, often played before the start of an opera or musical.

Musical Terms: P

Term   Description
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 pp   very gently - perform very softly, even softer than piano
piano     Italian for "soft," it indicates a dynamic level to be performed quietly.
pitch     The perceived frequency of a sound, determining its highness or lowness.
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.
pizzicatissimo     An exaggerated playing technique where the strings are plucked forcefully.
pizzicato     A playing technique on string instruments where the strings are plucked with the fingers instead of being bowed.
pizzicato arco     A string instrument technique where the player alternates between plucking and bowing.
poco     a little
poco a poco     Italian for "little by little," indicating a gradual change in dynamics or tempo.
polyphony     Music that consists of two or more independent melodies played simultaneously.
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     A smooth, continuous glide from one pitch to another.
prelude     A short piece of music typically serving as an introduction to a larger work.
presto     Italian for "quick" or "fast," indicating a very fast tempo.
prima vista     Italian for "at first sight," referring to the ability to read and perform music without prior practice.
primo or prima     first
progression     A sequence of chords moving from one to another.
pulse     The regular, underlying beat in a piece of music.

Musical Terms: Q

Term Description
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.
quartet   A musical ensemble or composition for four performers or voices.
quaver   In musical notation, a quaver is a note that represents half the duration of a crotchet, or an eighth note.
quintet   A quintet refers to a musical composition or group involving five performers or voices.

Musical Terms: R

Term Description
rallentando rall. A gradual slowing down of tempo, similar to ritardando.
reed   A thin piece of material in woodwind instruments that vibrates to produce sound.
refrain   A repeated section of a song or piece, often containing the main theme.
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   :|| indicates the repeat of a section of music, by means of 2 dots placed before a double bar line
𝄎 indicates an exact repeat of the previous bar.
/ used to repeat parts in a bar, e.g., |   C   /   /   G  | means you play the C chord for 3 beats and the G chord for 1 beat.
rest   A symbol in musical notation indicating a period of silence. Different types of rests represent different durations of silence.
rest stroke   after picking a string, the finger comes to rest on the next string (for accenting the note).
rhapsody   A free-form composition with emotional and virtuosic characteristics.
ritardando rit. A musical term indicating a gradual slowing down of tempo.
rondo   A musical form typically featuring a recurring main theme (refrain) interspersed with contrasting sections.
rondo form   A musical structure featuring a recurring main theme (A) alternated with contrasting sections (B, C, etc.), often expressed as ABACA or ABACABA.
rhythm   The 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' or 'tonic').
rubato   A flexible tempo where the performer can vary the speed of the music for expressive purposes.

Musical Terms: S

Term Description
Scale   A series of notes arranged in ascending or descending order based on a specific pattern of intervals.
Scale Degree   Each note of a scale is assigned a scale degree number, indicating its position in the scale.
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 include F# and C# etc.
scherzando   An Italian term used in music notation, indicating a playful and joking style.
scherzo   An Italian term used in music to indicate a lively, playful, and often humorous movement or section within a larger composition. The term itself translates to "joke" or "jest"
segno   A sign - usually Dal Segno "from the sign", indicating a return to the point marked by 𝄋
segue   An Italian term that means "follows" or "continues." In music, "segue" is used as a direction to indicate a smooth and seamless transition from one section or piece to another without a pause.
semibreve 𝅝 A note with the value of four beats in 4/4 time - also called a whole-note.
semibreve rest 𝄻 Indicates a silence or pause lasting for the duration of four quarter notes, the same as a whole note. It's also known as a whole-note rest and is placed halfway between the 3rd and 4th staff lines.
semitone   The smallest pitch difference between notes in most Western music e.g.( F → F#)
serioso   An Italian term meaning "seriously" conveying a sense of gravity, earnestness, and depth in the emotional expression of the composition.
sextet   A musical ensemble or composition for six performers or voices.
sforzando sfz A dynamic marking indicating a sudden, strong accent on a single note or chord.
sharp # A symbol that raises the pitch of the note by a semitone.
short accent ^ Hit the note hard and short
shuffle   A rhythmic pattern characterized by a series of unevenly spaced accents.
silenzio   An Italian term that translates to "silence" in English. It instructs performers to observe a moment of silence, during which they do not play or sing, e.g., a composer might use "silenzio" in a symphonic work to punctuate a climactic moment, providing a brief pause before the music resumes.
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 on the fret or fingerboard. 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.
Solfège   A system of musical notation that uses syllables to represent the different pitches of a musical scale. Each syllable corresponds to a specific note, and it is commonly used as a tool for sight-singing and aural training. The most well-known syllables in the solfège system are "Do," "Re," "Mi," "Fa," "Sol," "La," and "Ti."
Solfège is often employed to teach pitch and singing to music students. It provides a way to identify and reproduce musical pitches by associating them with specific syllables. The system can be adapted to different scales and keys, making it a versatile tool for vocal training.
sonata   A musical composition for solo instrument or small ensemble, typically in three or four movements.
sonata form   A structure used in the first movements of many classical compositions, including sonatas and symphonies.
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. The term can also represent a singer with a high voice.
sostenuto   sustained, lengthened
staccato 𝅼 A style of playing where each note is sharply separated from the others 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 or stave 𝄚 The set of five horizontal lines and four spaces on which musical notation is written, each representing a different musical pitch,
stanza   a verse of a song
subdominant   The fourth degree of a diatonic scale, often represented by the IV chord.
subito   suddenly (e.g., subito pp, which instructs the player to suddenly drop to pianissimo as an effect)
syncopation > 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

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 a pitch. On the 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   An Italian term in music that translates to "all" in English. It is used to instruct the entire ensemble or orchestra to play together, involving all instruments.

Musical Terms: U

Term Description
unison   When two or more musical parts or voices sing or play the same pitch at the same time.
up beat   The upbeat is the portion of a musical measure or phrase that precedes the first downbeat. It has a weaker accent and leads into the more emphasized downbeat.
Conductors often use a preparatory gesture on the upbeat to indicate when performers should begin playing or singing.
up tempo   Refers to a fast or lively musical tempo. It indicates that the music should be performed at a relatively quick pace, creating a sense of energy and excitement.
Up-tempo music is often associated with lively genres like dance, jazz, or rock, where a faster tempo contributes to a more dynamic and spirited feel. Musicians may encounter markings such as "Allegro" (fast) in sheet music, indicating an up-tempo performance.
ut   an archaic term for the first note of the diatonic scale. It was later replaced by "do" in solfège syllables.
While no longer commonly used in modern music education, "ut" has historical significance in the evolution of solfège.

Musical Terms: V

Term Description
vamp   A short, repeated chord progression or melodic figure used to introduce or accompany improvisation or other musical sections.
vamp till ready   A phrase used to indicate that musicians should continue playing the vamp until the vocalist or performer is ready to begin.
variation   A restatement of a theme or melody with changes in rhythm, harmony, texture, or other aspects.
Verdi   An Italian composer of the Romantic era, known for his operas such as "La Traviata" and "Aida."
verse   A stanza or section of lyrics in a song, typically telling a part of the story.
viola   A bowed string instrument slightly larger than a violin, with a deeper and richer sound.
violin   A bowed string instrument, the highest-pitched member of the violin family, commonly known as the fiddle.
vibraphone   A percussion instrument similar to a xylophone, but with metal bars and resonators that create a vibrato effect.
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   An Italian musical term that translates to "vivacious," "lively" or "quickly." It directs musicians to play with a lively and energetic pace. It is faster than allegro but not as rapid as presto. The interpretation of vivace may vary slightly depending on the context and the composer's intent.
vocal jazz   A subgenre of jazz music that focuses on vocal improvisation and scat singing.
vocal run   A rapid series of notes sung in one breath, often used to add ornamentation or excitement.
vocalise   A piece of music for voice without words, focusing on melody and vocal technique. The term "vocalise" comes from the French verb "vocaliser," which means "to sing without words."
vocals up!   A cue to the sound engineer to raise the volume of the vocals in the mix.
voce   voice
volti subito V.S. An Italian term meaning "turn suddenly." It is an indication in sheet music instructing the musician to turn the page quickly.
Commonly used in orchestral or ensemble settings when there is a need for a swift page turn.
vox humana   Latin for "human voice," it is an organ stop that attempts to imitate the sound of a human choir. It produces a warm and somewhat tremulous quality, aiming to replicate the sound of singers.

Musical Terms: W

Term Description
Wagner tuba   A brass instrument developed by Richard Wagner, with a characteristically wide bore and mellow sound.
wah-wah pedal   A guitar effect pedal that creates a characteristic "wah-wah" sound by electronically filtering the sound.
wailing   To sing or play in a mournful or expressive manner, often with long, sustained notes.
waltz   A dance in triple meter with a strong accent on the first beat, followed by two lighter accents on the second and third beats. The term is also used to describe musical compositions written in waltz style.
Commonly associated with elegant ballroom dancing, the waltz has been used in various genres of music, including classical, jazz, and popular music.
warble   To sing or play with a vibrato effect, creating a slight waver in the pitch.
Webern   An Austrian composer known for his atonal and minimalist compositions..
West Coast Swing   A type of swing dance characterized by its smooth and flowing movements.
whimsical   Music that is light and playful, often with unexpected twists and turns.
whole-note 𝅝 A note with the value of four beats in 4/4 time - also called a semibreve.
whole tone   An interval of two semitones, also known as an augmented unison.
whole-note rest 𝄻 Indicates a silence or pause lasting for the duration of a whole note. Also known as a semibreve rest, and is placed halfway between the 3rd and 4th staff lines.
Whole Tone Scale   A six-note scale constructed entirely of whole-tone intervals. In this scale, each note is separated from its neighbors by whole steps (whole tones) rather than half steps.
Often used in impressionistic and avant-garde music, the whole tone scale creates a unique and dreamlike sound.
Woodwind   A family of musical instruments that produce sound by vibrating a column of air within a tube. Common woodwind instruments include the flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, and saxophone.

Musical Terms: X

Term Description
Xaphoon   A musical instrument, specifically a type of bamboo saxophone. It is a small, pocket-sized instrument with a reed, similar in appearance to a clarinet but more compact. The Xaphoon is known for its distinctive and expressive sound.
Xenharmonics   A system of tuning that divides the octave into more than 12 equal parts. It involves the use of non-traditional tunings and microtonal scales, allowing for a broader spectrum of musical possibilities.
Musicians interested in xenharmonics may explore intervals that are not part of the standard Western musical scale, leading to unique and unconventional harmonic landscapes. This can include microtonal intervals, just intonation, and other tuning systems that differ from the standard 12-tone equal temperament.
Xiaoluo   A small Chinese gong beaten with a stick or a thin plate.
Xylanthrop   An obsolete type of musical automaton featuring wooden figures that played instruments.
Xyloharmonica   An obsolete instrument combining elements of the xylophone and harmonica.
Xylophone   A percussion instrument consisting of graduated wooden bars struck with mallets.
Xylorimba   Refers to a musical instrument that combines elements of the xylophone and marimba. It is a mallet percussion instrument with wooden bars similar to those of a xylophone but arranged and played like a marimba. The bars are typically made of wood, and players use mallets to strike the bars, producing melodic tones.

Musical Terms: Y

Term Description
Yakety Sax   A jazz tune composed by James Q. "Spider" Rich and Boots Randolph. It is perhaps best known for its use as the theme music for the television program "The Benny Hill Show." The song is characterized by its upbeat and humorous saxophone melody and has become associated with comedic or slapstick situations, often used in television and film for comedic effect.
Yanggum   Yanggum, also known as yanggeum or hammered dulcimer, is a traditional Korean musical instrument. It belongs to the family of zithers and is played by striking the strings with mallets or hammers. The instrument consists of a trapezoidal wooden box with metal strings stretched across it. The strings are arranged in courses, and each course is played by striking it with a pair of small hammers.

Yanggum produces a bright and melodic sound, and it has been used in various traditional Korean musical genres, including court music, folk music, and contemporary compositions. The instrument has undergone modifications and adaptations over the years, and there are different types and sizes of yanggum.
Yiḏaki   This is one of the most well-known Aboriginal names for the didgeridoo, used by the Yolngu people of Arnhem Land. It specifically refers to a type of didgeridoo made from termite-hollowed eucalyptus wood with spiritual significance.
Yield   In jazz improvisation, "yield" is a term used to indicate a moment when one musician allows another to take the lead or respond to a musical idea. It involves a cooperative exchange of musical phrases.
Yodel   A technique of singing on a single pitch with rapid and abrupt shifts between the chest and head voice.

Musical Terms: Z

Term Description
Zampogna   An Italian bagpipe instrument popular in folk music.
Zapfentichter   A German term for a keyboardist or piano player.
Zapin   A traditional dance and music genre originating from the Malay world, particularly in Malaysia and Indonesia. It is often performed during various cultural and celebratory events.
The Zapin dance is characterized by rhythmic movements and graceful gestures, accompanied by traditional music.
The music typically includes a combination of percussion instruments, such as drums and tambourines, along with melodic instruments like the rebab (a type of stringed instrument).
Zarzuela   A Spanish lyric-dramatic genre that alternates between spoken and sung scenes, often with dance. It combines elements of opera, operetta, and musical theater. Usage: Zarzuelas are popular in Spanish-speaking countries and feature a variety of vocal styles, dance, and theatrical elements.
Zigeunermusik   A German term that translates to "Gypsy music" in English. It refers to a genre of music associated with the Romani people, commonly known as Gypsies. This musical style has been influenced by the diverse cultural traditions and often incorporates elements from various regions.
Zills   Zills are small metallic cymbals that are commonly used in Middle Eastern music and dance, particularly in belly dance. Also known as finger cymbals or sagat, zills are played by dancers to add a rhythmic component to their performances
Zwischenspiel   A German term that translates to "interlude" in English. In the context of music, it refers to a short piece or movement that is inserted between two larger sections of a musical work. The Zwischenspiel serves as a brief break or transition between the main parts of a composition.
Zydeco   A Louisiana dance music style blending French, African, and Caribbean influences.
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