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This file updated 9 August 2007

Music Demons Glossary of Terms

Terms and explanations from ancient times to the present


A Capella: One or more vocalists performing without an accompaniment

Accelerando: Becoming faster in tempo, perhaps gradually

Accent: Accent is the special stress of emphasis given to a particular note in music. (Accent in music can correspond with accent in poetry) There are three major kinds of accent ... (1) Metrical/Grammatical, (2) Phrasing, or Rhythmical, and (3) Expressive or Pathetic/Rhetorical

Adagietto: Somewhat faster than adagio

Adagio: Slow. This term is frequently used as the heading of a composition or a portion thereof (e.g., a movement of a symphony or sonata). Other terms for “very slow” are Grave, Largo, Lento. Adagio assai is very slow. Adagio might mean, restfully at ease

Afettuoso: Affectionate, with tender expression, with feeling

afilla: (flamenco) a type of hoarse, earthy flamenco voice

Agitato: Agitated, restless

Al, or, Alla: in the style of

Al Segno: “To the sign”. Dal Segno: From the sign

Alla, as in Alla Marcia, “in the style of”. Alla tedesca is “in the German style”, as with Beethoven, Op. 70.

Alla breve: Rapid in 2/2 time

Allargando: Broadening or slowing the tempo

Allegretto: Fairly fast, but slower than allegro

Allegro: Quite fast, literary. lively; frequently used in association with adjectives, such as allegro moderato (moderately fast) or allegro ma non troppo (fast, but not too fast). Allegro assai is very quickly

Alto: Very high voices of men corresponding to the Contralto of women

Andante: Fairly slow, between allegretto and adagio; more like a leisurely, walking tempo. Andante maestoso is “slow with majesty”. (A confusing term is Andantino, which can be quicker or slower than Andante)

Andantino: A little faster than andante

Anfang: The beginning

Animato: Con anima, “with spirit”

Appassionato: With passion, fervour or pathos

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Arioso: With a song-like interpretation

Assai: Very, as, Allegro assai

A Tempo: Resumption of original tempo after temporary deviation

Attacca: Designation to start an ensuing part or movement without the customary break or wait

Absolute Music: Music for its own sake, without any association with or influence from outside or from any extra-musical sources. The Opposite of program music

Absolute or Perfect Pitch: The ability to sing or recognise any note without any help from instruments or from other voices. The presence of this skill does not, however, necessarily imply any extraordinary musical ability

A Capella: Choral music without accompaniment by an orchestra or individual instruments

Acoustics: Science(s) of sound, dealing with the physical basis and properties of music

Ad Libitum: Literally, “at pleasure”; often abbreviated as "ad lib", and generally referring to a certain freedom of interpretation such as a gradual change in speed

Agrements: Ornaments or embellishments of individual notes

Antiphonal:Singing in alternating sections or choruses

Appoggiatura: An ornamental note dependent upon the following main note, usually accented so as to emphasize its ornamental nature

Arco: Bow of stringed instruments. The term is used to indicate the resumption of use of the bow after a pizzicato section

Aria: A song for solo voice

Arpeggio: The notes of a chord played in fast succession, rather than simultaneously; broken rather than solid chords

Atonal: Music that is written and performed without regard to any specific key


Baritone: High bass voices of men

Bar Line: A vertical line across the horizontal staff lines denoting the end of a metric unit

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Baroque: Period in musical history ranging from the middle of the C16th to the middle of the C17th. Characterized by emotional, flowery music, written in strict form

Bass: Low voices of men

Beat: A basic unit of measurement which the music can be perceived. The beat can be felt by the pulse that pervades a composition, and at times it can be exaggerated by percussion instruments, as in jazz or popular music - or it can be observed in orchestral or choral works by means of the conductor's baton motions. Every measure in music is divided into an equal number of parts of equal duration called beats. One beat can contain one note. But another beat can contain four, six or eight notes or rests. It is the number of beats in a measure, not necessarily the number of notes or counts, which help decide accent, metre and rhythm

Bel Canto: Literally, beautiful singing or song. The term is derived from eighteenth-century Italian vocal technique and is appllied to the production of beautifully sustained vocal lines rather than dramatically expressed emotions. Composers such as Bellini and Donizetti are frequently associated with bel canto writing

Bis: Twice

Brace: A brace is a bracket or curved line used to connect two or more staves of music which are supposed to be sounded simultaneously. Eg, used to connect treble and bass staves. (In orchestral music, the whole of the staves are joined by one vertical line and are divided into convenient groups by curved braces

Bravura: Requiring great technical brilliance

Bridge: A wooden attachment to the body of stringed instruments that supports the strings as they are drawn across the pegs near the scroll to the string holder at the bottom of the instrument A connecting passage between two major thematic sections of a composition. The bridge often accommodates a modulation between the keys or tonalities of such sections

Brilliante: Brilliant

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Cadence: A melodic or harmonic pattern with which to end a phrase, section, or an entire composition. According to the harmonies employed, the ending can be temporary or conclusive

Cadenza: Traditional with most concertos, the cadenza is a section generally occurring just before the end of a movement, in which the solo instrument is featured without the orchestra, performing in a brilliant, often improvisational style. Thematically the cadenza is usually built upon passages of the movement just concluded. Cadenza, also, originally an improvised cadence by a soloist. Leter becoming an elaborate and written-out passage in an aria or a concerto, specially featuring the skills of an instrumentalist of vocalist

Calando: Gradually diminishing in intensity or speed

Canon: A musical form where the melody or tune is imitated by individual parts at regular intervals. The individual parts may enter at different measures and pitches. The tune may also be played at different speeds, backwards or inverted. See for example the now well-known Pachelbel Canon

Cantabile: In a singable manner, mostly applied to instrumental interpretation. A style of singing which is characterized by the easy and flowing tone of the composition

Cantata: Music written for chorus and orchestra. Mostly religious in nature

Capriccio: A composition of a capricious or humorous character. Or, a quick, improvisational, spirited piece of music. Capriccio = with freedom of style

Carol: A song of hymn celebrating Christmas for the Christian Church

Castrato: Male singers (young, particularly in Italy) who were castrated to preserve their alto and soprano vocal range(s)

Cavatina: A short and simple melody performed by a soloist that is part of a larger piece

Chaconne: A stately dance of Spanish origin, written in triple time, in which a set of variations is based on a recurring harmonic progression in the bass

Chamber Music: Written for two to ten solo parts featuring one instrument to a part, where each part bears the same importance

Chant: Singing in unison, perhaps of texts arranged in a free rhythm. Can be similar in delivery to the rhythms of speech

Choir: Group of singers in a chorus

Chorale: A hymn sung by a choir and congregation, often in unison

Chorale Prelude:An organ composition whose musical texture is woven around a Protestant hymn. Its original purpose was that of an introduction to the congregational singing of the hymn. At the hands of Bach and subsequent composers (e.g., Reger, Mendelssohn) the chorale prelude became an important individual category for the organ

Chord:A structure of tones sounded simultaneously and in harmony

Chord progression: A string of chords played in succession, spontaneously or possibly written, notated or otherwise-indicated in some pre-arranged way

Chorus: Any group singing in unison/harmony

Chromatic scale: Includes all twelve notes of an octave. (The starting note can be any note chosen at will)

Classical, Music: The period of music history dating from the mid-C17th to mid-C18th. The music was spare and emotionally reserved, especially when compared to Romantic and Baroque music

Classicism: The period of music history which dates from the mid-C18th and lasted about 60 years. This music had a strong regard for order and balance

Clavier: The keyboard of a stringed instrument

Clef: For sheet music, a sign placed at the beginning of the staff of music to determine the pitch of the notes to follow in the particular staff

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Coda: Literally, "tail". An extension at the end of a piece or section, and often extraneous to its structure. Its purpose is to add emphasis or a sense of finality. Or, closing section of a movement

Colla parte: With the solo part

Colla voce: With the voice part

Commodo: Conveniently, not too fast

Con brio: With spirit

Con duolo: With sadness

Concert Master: The first violin in an orchestra

Concerto: A composition written for a solo instrument. The soloist plays the melody while the orchestra provides an accompaniment

Conductor: One who directs a group of performers. The conductor indicates the tempo, phrasing, dynamics, and style, by gestures and facial expressions

Con forza: With force

Con fuoco: With fire

Con moto: Quickly

Consonance: Groups of tones that are harmonious when sounded together as in a chord

Contenerezza: With tenderness

Contralto: Female singing voice the lowest in timbre and not-making capacity. (Or, Low voices of women and children)

Contrapuntal: An adjective denoting the use of elements of counterpoint

Corda: Literally, "string". Una corda in piano music refers to the use of soft (left) pedal, which moves the keyboard to a position where the hammers strike only one of the three strings apportioned to them for softer effect

Counterpoint: Two or three melodic lines played at the same time

Courante: A piece of music written in triple time. Also, name for an old French dance

Crescendo: Increasing in volume, abbreviated as "cresc."


Da Capo: For sheet music, an instruction to repeat the beginning of the piece before stopping on a final chord

Deceptive cadence: A chord progression that seems to lead to resolving itself on the final chord, but does not

Deciso: With decision

Delicato: Or, Delicatamente: Delicately

Destra: The right hand. Or, Dextra

Development: Where the musical themes and melodies are developed, written in a sonata form

Diatonic: The generally-accepted natural scale of music, starting on any of its constituent tones and consisting of five whole tones and two half-tones. The diatonic scales are Major and Minor. Minor can be divided into Harmonic and Melodic. See also, Chromatic

Diminuendo: (Or, Decrescendo), Getting softer, Abbreviated as "dim." or "decresc." (Other terms for “gradually softer and slower” can be Calando, Estinto, Morendo, Perdendosi

Dissonance: Harsh, discordant, lacking in harmony. Also, a chord that sounds incomplete until it resolves itself on a harmonious chord

Dolce: Sweet and gentle in tone

Dolente: Sorrowfully. Or, Doloroso

Doppio Movimento: Literally , double movement. An indication to play twice as fast

Drone: A dull, monotonous sound such as a humming or buzzing sound. Also, a bass note held under a melody. See drone eg from instruments such as Australian didgeridoo, Scottish bagpipes

Due corde: With the soft pedal

Duet: A piece of music written for two vocalists or instrumentalists

Dur: Major

Dynamics: Relating to the loudness or softness of a musical composition. Also, the symbols in sheet music indicating volume


Ed, or e: “And”

Elegy: An instrumental lament providing praise for the dead

Emphasis: Special expressive stress on a particular note, as distinct from a metrical accent

Encore: A piece of music played at the end of a recital, as an indication that performers appreciate an enthusiastic response from an audience. Often provided after the audience has provided unstopping applause

Energico: A symbol in sheet music used as a direction to play energetically

Enharmonic interval: Two notes that differ in name only. The notes occupy the same position on a staff, eg, C sharp and D flat

Ensemble: The performance of either all instruments of an orchestra for voices in a chorus

Entr'acte:Music designed to be performed between the acts of an opera or play

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Espressivo: A direction to play expressively

Etude: A musical composition written solely to improve technique. Often performed for purely artistic interest

Exposition: The first section of a movement written in sonata form, introducing the melodies and themes

Expressionism: Atonal and violent style used for purposes of evoking heightened emotions and states of mind


Falsetto: Style of male singing where by partial use of the vocal chords, the voice is able to reach the pitch of a female voice. Well-known from male ensembles of the USA in pop music since the 1950s

Fermata: A pause of assigned duration, depending on the note value to which it is applied. Or, to hold a tone or rest held beyond the written value at the discretion of the performer

Fifth: The interval between two notes. Three whole tones and one semitone make up the distance between the two notes

Fine: The End

Finale: Last movement of a large-scale work, or, the last part of a composition

Flat: A symbol indicating that the note is to be diminished by one semitone. (A double flat diminishes a note by two semitones)

Form: The structure of a piece of music

Forte: Loud; varies in volume according to adjacent grades of force (ff - fortissimo; mf - mezzu forte). Very loud is fortissimo. Mezzo-forte is moderately loud. Forte-piano is loud and then soft immediately

Fourth: The interval between two notes. Two whole tones and one semitone make up the distance between two notes

Forzato: (fz) and also Rinforzando, or Sforzando, (sf) – Applied to single notes or chords which have to be played with emphasis or force

Frohlich: Joyous, gay

Fret:A thin crossbar fitted to the fingerboard of an instrument to assist the player in stopping the string. Frets are used on guitars, lutes, viols and related instruments, but not on violins, violas, or cellos

Fugue: A composition written for three-to-six voices. Beginning with the exposition, each voice enters at a different time, creating counterpoint with each other

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Galliard: Music written for a lively French dance for two performers written in triple time

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Gavotte: A C17th dance written in Quadruple time, always beginning on the third beat of the measure

Gauche: Left. The left hand is, main gauche

Glee: Vocal composition written for three or more solo parts, usually without instrumental accompaniment

Giocoso: Jocular, merry

Glissando: Literally, "sliding". On the piano, a rapid sliding up or down the keys, with one or more fingers turned to the nail. On the harp, a rapid sliding of one or more fingers across the strings. On stringed instruments of the violin family, a rapid sliding of the finger up or down the string. On the trombone, the slide attachment produces the glissando

Graces: Agrements, embellishments, ornaments

Grandioso: A word to indicate the movement or the entire composition is to be played grandly

Grave: A word to indicate the movement or entire composition is to be played very slowly/seriously

Grazioso: A word to indicate that the movement or entire composition is to be played gracefully

Gregorian chant: Singing/chanting in union without strict rhythm, often as by monks. Materials collected during the reign of Pope Gregory VIII for psalms and other parts of Catholic Church services

Gruppetto: A turn


Harmony: Any pleasing combination of two or three tones played together in the background while a melody is being played. Harmony also refers to the study of chord progressions

Harmonics: A soft, almost flute-like sound produced by touching a string lightly and without pressure to achieve upper partials of any given pitch

Hassa: Great! (flamenco)

Homophonic: With one chief part

Homophony: Music written to be sung or played in unison

Hymn: A song of praise or glorification, composed most often for the greater glory of God


Idee fixe:A recurring theme characterizing the appearance of an extra-musical idea. For example, the clarinet themes in Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique depicts the protagonist's beloved in various situations in each of the work's movements

Impetuoso: Impetuous

Impromptu: A short piano piece, spontaneous, often improvisational and intimate in character

Interval: The distance between any two notes of the scale, measured by the number of intervening notes (e.g., a third from C to E, a fifth from C to G, a seventh from C to B). The number of tones and half tones qualifies for use of such adjectives as major, minor, augmented, or diminished intervals. (If two notes of an interval are to be struck simultaneously it is called a Harmonic interval. If the two notes are struck successively, it is called a Melodic interval. Intervals can also be inverted, dissonant, etc)

Instrumentation: Arrangement of music for a combined number of instruments

Interlude: Piece of instrumental music played between scenes in a play or opera

Intermezzo: Short movement or interlude connecting the main parts of the composition

Interpretation: The expression the performer brings to a piece while playing his/her instrument

Interval: The distance in pitch between two notes

Intonation: The manner in which tones are produced with regard to pitch

Introduction: The opening section of a piece of music or movement


jaleo: Ale, ole. Possibly from the 12th century call "hala". Possibly from the Arabic: Allah! (flamenco)


K - The letter K, followed by a number, which is found after every Mozart composition, represents the name of Ritter von Kochel (pron: kershell), the Austrian musical bibliographer who published Chronological Thematic Catalogue of Mozart's Complete Works

Key: The pitch upon which the scale is built that forms the basis for a composition's harmonic structure. We speak of a work being in the key of C when the scale of C underlies its tonal identity, when it begins and/or ends with C or a chord based on C

Key signature: The flats and sharps at the beginning of each staff line indicating the key of music in which the piece is to be played. (See transposition of key below)

Klangfarbenmelodie: The technique of altering the tone colour of a single note or musical line by changing from one instrument to another in the middle of a note or line of notes

Kraft: Energy, vigour

Kurz: Short

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Lacrimoso: Mournfully

Lamentevole: Plaintive

Langsam: Slow

Largo: Very slow. Larghetto is not as slow as Largo

Leading Motif:(Leitmotiv. leitmotif) See Idee Fixe above. A musical theme given to a particular idea or main character of an opera. (If interested, in particular see music by Richard Wagner)

Leading note: The seventh note of the scale where there is a strong desire to resolve on the tonic

Legato: Smooth; smoothly connected playing of tones, connectedly. Legatissimo is, very connectedly

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Leger Lines: (Ledger Lines): Leger Lines are short lines added above or below a stave on which can be written notes higher or lower in pitch than those written on the stave itself. (Usually, not more than five leger lines are ever used)

Leggiero: Light, lightly. Or, Leggieramente

Leise: Soft and gentle

Libretto: Literally: "booklet". Text or story of an opera, operetta, or oratorio. The creator or arranger of such a story is known as a librettist

Ligature: Curved line connecting notes to be sung or played as a phrase

L'istesso: Tempo - The same tempo as before

Loco: In the original place

Lunga pausa: A long pause

Luftpause: Provide a rest to facilitate breathing

Lusingando: Caressingly in the sense of softly, lingeringly


Madrigal: A contrapuntal song written for at least three voices, usually without accompaniment (a capella)

Maestro: Term of reference for any composer, conductor or music teacher regarded as great

Maggiore: Major

Main droite: The right hand, given as MD

Major: Designation for the tonal character of a piece or a section thereof, based upon the use of a major scale

Mancando: The tone dying or fading away. Or, smorzando

March: A form of music written originally for marching in two-step time, and so originated for use with military processions, Also, Marziale, in a martial spirit. Alla marcia = in the style of a march

Martellato: With great force and emphasis

Measure: A space in which the total values of a group of notes recur in regular intervals, thus assuring a rhythmically proportioned profile of a composition

Medley: Often used in overtures, a composition that uses/repeats/includes passages from other movements of the composition in its entirety. (Recapitulation)

Meno: Less, less of

Meno Mosso: With less motion, less fast

Mesto: Sad or pensive

Meter: An order of recurring accents in regular intervals governed by a time signature (eg., 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 6/8)

Metronome: A metronome is an instrument with a sliding weight on a pendulum which can be adjusted so that the instrument will tick faster or slower. When the pendulum swings ever second, the weight is set at the number 60, so when the weight is set at the number 60, so that it swings twice as fast, once ever half-second, it is set at 120. At whatever number it is set, it means that there shall be that many beats per minute. (The easiest way to explain to children the relative lengths of various notes is to set a metronome going at the rate of one beat per second – that it, at 60)

Mezzo: Half. Mezzo forte (mf) - half or moderately loud. Mezzo piano (mp) - half or moderately soft. Mezzo-soprano - a vocal range halfway between soprano and contralto

Microphone: From the Greek, micro means “small” and phone means “voice”. The word “microphone” appeared first in a 1683 dictionary, referring to the use of megaphones and ear trumpets, defined as “an instrument by which small sounds are intensified”. The first modern or electronic microphones appeared in the 1870s. Microphones reply on the speaker's voice setting off pressure waves which shortly land on and impress a diaphragm, which is attached to a set or coil of thin wires. The coil either is inside a hollow magnet, or has a hollow magnet inside it. As the diaphragm and the coil move in unison relative to the magnet, electricity flows through the wires of the coil. This electricity is then amplified and sent through speakers

Minor: Designation for the tonal character of a piece or section thereof; based upon the use of a minor scale. Use of the minor can be identified with, or be used to produce, the more darker, melancholic moods

Minor scales: (more to come, and same re melodic minor scale, harmonic minor scale, relative minors, tonic minors)

Minuet: Slow and stately dance music written in triple time

Moderato: Moderate in tempo

Modes: Either of the two octave arrangements in modern music. The modes are either major or minor

Modulation: The process of transition from one key to another (key change), or from one tonality to another, according to established views on harmonic progressions. A section of a large-scale work, such as a sonata, symphony, concerto, trio, quartet, etc. A movement can be thematically independent or it can be associated with another movement by common thematic material

Molto: “Very”. Allegro molto - very fast

Morceau: A piece

Mordent: An ornament, or extra notes (also called grace notes), often played before a main note, extending to neighbouring tones above or below

Monotone: Repetition of a single note. (The more-famous example is the witty, now-old semi-jazz number The One-Note Samba)

Mosso: Moved

Molto: Much or very, as with allegro molto, very quickly

Motif: Primary theme or subject to be developed musically

Movement: Any separate section of a larger composition

Musette: A Baroque dance using a drone-bass

Musicology: The study of the forms, history, science and methods/methodologies of music. (Not even unknown re modern pop music: Bob Dylan has been identified in the US eg. as a useful musicologist of the [folk] music forms which gave him his original inspirations. See the Guides-to-Music file of this website for much more on Musicology, subdivided as to genres)

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Mute:An attachment to strings or instruments to soften the tone produced by such instruments, and with it the timbre of the tone

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Natural: A symbol in sheet music that returns a note to its original pitch after it has been augmented (sharpened) or diminished (flattened)

Neoclassical: Movement in music where the characteristics are “sharp and direct”

Nicht: Not, also, Non

Nocturne: Literally, “night piece”. A composition of a quiet/pensive or romantic/dreamy character “with nocturnal associations”. The name was first used by the Irish-born composer John Field and later adopted and elaborated-upon by Chopin. (May have fallen out of musical fashion since the invention of electric lighting? - Ed)

Nonet: A composition written for nine instruments

Non tanto: Not so much

Non troppo: Not too much

Notation, of Music: Methods of writing-down music, first developed in Europe in C8th

Notes (as for modern music notation): Long ago, the notes were called Maxima (longest), Longa (Long), Brevis (short), Semibrevis (half-short), and Minima (shortest). More modern German nomenclature is as follows: whole note = Semibreve (lasting 16 seconds). Minim is a half-note (eight seconds). Crotchet is a quarter-note. Quaver is an eighth- note. Semiquaver is a sixteenth-note. Demisemiquaver is a one-thirty-second-note. (For notes on usage of incredibly short notes, see anything on this website on Indian (sitar) music)


Obbligato: An instrumental part essential to the performance of a work; hence it is "obligatory" that it is not left to the discretion of the performers. The opposite designation might be "ad libitum," meaning “at pleasure”

Octave: Procedding eight full tones above the key note where the sale begins and ends

Opus or Op.: Abbreviation used in music printing for the Latin word "opus," meaning "work." Numbers affixed to compositions are so designated (eg., Op. 59 meaning work No. 59). It can also be modified to read Op. 59, No. 1, meaning that the composer wishes to have "work No. 59" known as a collective opus containing more than one work

Oratorio: An extended cantata on a subject regarded as sacred by Christians

Orchestra: A large group of instrumentalists playing together. (See Conductor as above:)

Orchestration: Arrangement of a piece of music for an orchestra. Also, generally, the study of music...

Ornaments: Tones used to embellish the principal melodic tone

Ossia: An alternative reading or rendering

Ostinato: A musical pattern that occurs persistently, usually in the bass part of a composition (frequently referred to as a basso ostinato or ground bass)

Ottava: The octave

Ottava alta: The octave above. Ottava bassa is, the octave below

Overture: Introduction to an opera or other large/ambitious musical work

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Parlante: In a speaking style

Parody: A composition based on some previous work (probably proceeding in the direction of degradation of, or humour about, an original intent). A common technique used in Medieval and Renaissance music. Not unknown in music becoming highly popular and as used in C20th Broadway/Hollywood productions

Part: A line in a contrapuntal work performed by an individual voice or instrument

Partita: Literally, “division”. The word is used to denote a series of pieces, often composed of dances of a given period. Divertimento, serenade, and suite are closely related concepts. Partita: Suite of Baroque dances

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Passing Note: A note that appears in succcession from one scale note to the next; it may constitute a dissonance with the prevailing harmonies when taken out of context

Pastoral: A composition whose style is simple and idyllic. Suggestive of rural life and scenes

Pentatonic scale: A musical scale having five notes. Eg., the five black keys of a keyboard make up a pentatonic scale

Pesante: Heavy

Phrase: A single line of music as played or sung. A “musical sentence”

Phrasing: Musical articulation of a work or parts thereof. It is governed by various signs in the score, as well as by the performer's taste and thorough knowledge of the style involved

Piano: An instruction in sheet music to play softly. Abbreviated by a “p”

Pianissimo: Very soft (abbreviated as: pp)

Pitch: The height of sound as determined by the vibrations per second of the sound-issuing body or instrument. Or, the frequency of a note

Piu: More. Piu forte - a little louder. Piu allegro - a little faster

Pizzicato: Plucked. Direction for plucking/picking the strings with the fingers rather than by playing with a bow

Poco: A little. Poco a poco is, little by little

Polyphonic: Literally, “many-voiced”. A composition consisting of many voices used alternately or simultaneously. Among prominent examples are rounds, canons and fugues. Polyphony: Combining a number of individual but harmonizing melodies. Also known as counterpoint

Polytonality: Combination of two or more keys being played at the same time

Portamento: A mild glissando between two notes for an expressive effect

Prelude: A short piece originally preceded by a more substantial work, also an orchestral introduction to opera. However, not lengthy enough to be considered an overture

Prestissimo: As fast as possible

Presto: Fast, very fast, faster than allegro. Vivace also means fast

Progression: A movement/succession of chords in terms of an harmonious progression

Pronunziato: With emphasis


Quartet: A set of four musicians who perform a composition written for four parts

Quasi: Like, as if, as though

Quintet: A set of five musicians who perform a composition written for five parts


Recapitulation: A reprise

Recital: A solo concert with or without an accompaniment

Recitative: A form of writing for vocals that is close to the manner of speech of the times and is rhythmically free

Reed: The piece of cane used in wind instruments, eg, saxophone/clarinet. The player causes vibrations by blowing through it/past it in order to produce sounds of varying frequency

Refrain: A repeating phrase that is played at the end of each verse in the song (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, see The Beatles, She Loves You)

Register: A category of organ pipes controlled by one stop or knob. A portion of the complete range of an instrument or a voice (eg., middle register)

Relative: Pertaining to the relationship between two scales of the same key signature (eg., C major and A minor are relative keys, both having no sharps or flats). Or, The major and minor keys that share the same notes in that key, eg., A minor shares the same note as C major

Relative Pitch: Ability to determine the pitch of a note as it relates to the notes that precede it and follow it

Renaissance: A period in history dating C14th-C16th which happened to signify a rebirth in Europe of music, art and literature

Reprise: To repeat a previous part of a composition, generally, after other music has been played

Requiem: A dirge, hymn or musical service for the repose of the souls of the dead

Resonance: When several strings are tuned to harmonically-related pitches, all strings vibrate in sympathy when only one of the strings is struck

Rest: In Music notation. When the music is interrupted in its course by a short silence indicated on a printed page, the silence is called a rest. The indicating sign is also called a rest. Rests are signs which indicate the length of silence required. They correspond in length with the various notes, and are called by corresponding names. (Dots after a rest correspond to dots after a note, but are seldom used. Dots should not be used except where they represent a whole beat in compound time.)

Rhapsody: A term taken from Greek poetry, denoting a composition of epic, rhetorical, at times national character (e.g., Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies) (One wonders if today, Jamaican-Rastafarian music qualifies, see music by Bob Marley etc – Ed)

Rhythm: Used with reference to the regular flow of musical pulsation through the phrases of a composition; while accent is used with reference to the pulsation through single measures

Ricercar: Literally, “to seek out”. The term is used for a contrapuntal or polyphonic composition using intricate combinations of themes and subjects or phrases. Elaborate polyphonic composition style of the Baroque and Renaissance periods

Rigaudon: A quick C20th dance form written in double time

Risoluto: With firmness

Risvegliato: Lively, animated, with increased energy

Rhythm: The element of music pertaining to manipulation of time: where playing of any groupings of notes is rendered into accented and unaccented beats

Ritenuto: Gradually slower [ritJ Literally, to hold back in tempo; equivalent of ritardando. For “gradually slower or softer”; also the terms, Calando, Estinto, Morendo, Perdendosi

Rococo: A musical style characterised as “excessive, ornamental and vivid”

Rondo: A musical form where the principal theme is repeated several times. The rondo is often used for the final movements of classical sonata form works.

Romantic: A period in European musical history during the C18th and early C19th where the focus shifted from the neo-classical style to a more emotional , expressive and imaginative style

Root: The principal note of a triad

Round: A canon where the melody is sung in two or more voices, After the first voice begins, the next voice starting after a couple of measures is/are played in the preceding voice, All parts repeat continuously

Rubato: Literally, “robbed”. A word to denote a flexible but tastefully controlled style of performance, allowing for borrowing part of one note value to add to another, or, rubato, expressive slowing and quickening, Added to provide a more emotional tone


Scale: To play successive notes of a key or mode either ascending or descending

Scherzo: Literally, “joke”. A separate piece or movement of a larger work (e.g., a symphony) of a jocular or light character, mostly in a brisk tempo. Pertaining to the sonata form, a fast movement in triple time

Scherzando: In a light or playful manner

Sciolto: Freely, without restraint

music.gif - 2743 BytesScordatura: The re-tuning of a stringed instrument in order to play notes below the ordinary range of an instrument and/or to produce an unusual tone colour.

Score: Full notation of a composition. The word is used primarily to comprise all individual instrumental and vocal parts of an elaborate work, such as a symphony. In the latter case, each instrumental notation is listed in a traditional sequence

Sempre: Always, as with sempre legato

Semplice: Simply

Senza: Without

Septet: A set of seven musicians who perform a composition written for seven parts

Seque: Follow on with a break to the next movement

Serenade: A lighthearted piece, written in several movements, usually as background music for a social function

Setting: Order of notation for any given category of composition or for any given instrument

Sextet: A set of musicians who perform a composition written for six parts

Shake: A particular use of a note, the same as Trill below

Sharp - #: A symbol in music notation indicating that the note is to be raised by one semitone. (A double-sharp raises a note by two semitones)

Simile: In like manner

Slide: A glissando or portamento, also referring to the moving part of a trombone

Slur: In music notation, a curve over notes to indicate that a phrase is to be played, legato

Soave: Gently, softly

Solo: A part performed by one person only

Sonata: Music of a particular form consisting of four movements, each of the movements differing in tempo, rhythm and melody, but all to be held together by subject and style

Sonata: form: A complex piece of music. Usually the first movement of the piece serves as the exposition, a development of a recapitulation.

Sonatina: A short of brief sontata

Song Cycle: A sequence of songs, perhaps on a single theme, or with texts by one poet, or having continuous narrative, to be illustrated musically

Sopra: Above

Soprano: The highest -pitched female voice

Sordini: Mutes (as for violins); dampers (as for piano)

Sostenuto: Sustained

Sotto voce: Very softly

Spiccato: Well-articulated. String playing with the middle of the bow, a loose wrist bouncing on the strings in a light staccato fashion

Spirito: To be performed in a spirited manner

Spiritoso: In a lively, spirited manner

Staccato: Literally, “detached”. Notes are to be played as short a duration as possible. (About one quarter of their written length, termed Dash Staccato or Staccatoissimo)

Staff: A term designating the five lines and four spaces between them, upon each of which notes are written, whose pitch is determined by their position on the staff

Stave, Great: The Great Stave is made up of eleven lines with their ten spaces, the middle line of which represents the pitch of Middle C. The Great Stave enables clearer rendition of the two separate staves, treble and bass

Strepitoso: Boisterously

Stop: Organ - a handle that admits wind to a particular row of pipes

Stop – Re stringed instruments - a certain position of the finger on the fingerboard activating a partial of the string to produce a desired pitch

Stop – Re Horn - the insertion of the player's hand into the bell of the instrument to achieve both a certain pitch and a varied tone

Stretto: Drawing together of fugal entrances of subjects, or heightening the tempo at the final section of a piece

Stretto: Pertaining to the fugue, the overlapping of the same theme or motif by two or more voices perhaps a few more beats apart

Syncopation: The displacement of metrical accent from its normal position in a measure = syncopation. This displacement is for the purpose of introducing expressive emphasis. It can be effected in three ways (1) By prolonging a note which begins as an unaccented beat into the time of the following accented beat, either by the use of ties, or (2) By the use of rests on the accented beats, or (3) Accent is displaced by use of special marks of expressive emphasis and by use of slurs, which marks take precedence of the normal metrical accentuation. (Music by Schumann presents many exaples of prolonged syncopation, eg his Faschingschwank)

Subito: Suddenly


Tangent: A blade of brass used in the clavichord. Set in motion by the key, the tangent is pressed against the string and divides it into two parts. One is left free to vibrate; the other is dampened with a tiny cloth

Tanto: So much

Tempo giusto: At a moderate pace

Tenuto: Literally, “held”. A marking indicating that the note is to be held for its full value - at times even longer - rather than releasing it sooner. Tenuto = well sustained

Tetrachords: (more to come)

Three-Chord-Wonder: Classic term of derision for a technically-ignorant guitar player who can only play simple songs using three major chords, with not a minor or diminished chord, or even a seventh chord in sight! Especially useful in regard of derision of self-taught three chord wonders

Timbre: The particular tone or quality of tone produced by any instrument, as with the timbre of a flute

Time: Here the word “Time” is used in three senses. (1) To indicate the duration of a note, (2) To indicate the pace at which a piece of music should be performed, (3) To indicate the metre or accent in music. (Time can be regarded as simple or compound – this refers more to the characters of the beats, not their actual time duration as such.) Simple Duple Time has two beats in a measure. Simple Triple Time has three beats in a measure. Simple Quadruple time has four beats in a measure. In Compound Time the beats always consist of dotted notes or their subdivisions, and each beat in Compound Time is divisible by three, not two, of equal parts. Compound Duple Time has two dotted beats in a measure. Compound Triple Time has three dotted beats in a measure. Compound Quadruple Time has four or even eight dotted beats in a measure. Further, in Duple Time, simple or compound, in which there are always two beats in a measure, the second beat is to be softer than the first. In Triple Time, simple or compound, with three beats per measure, the second and third beats should be softer than the first. In Quadruple Time, simple or compound, with two beats per measure, the second and fourth should be softer than the first and third, the third being softer than the first

Time Signature: The Time-Signature is a sign written on the stave at the beginning of a piece of music, immediately after the Clef and Key Signature, to indicate the metre of a measure, to determine the number of beats, the position of the accents, and what part of a while note constitutes a beat

Toccata From the Italian verb toccare, “to touch”. A composition for a keyboard instrument, primarily the organ, harpsichord or piano. The toccata is is generally in the nature of a brilliant display piece

Tonality: The key in which a composition is written and to which it returns even after distant modulations, Tonality implies a loyalty to the home key

Transposition: The transferring of a composition from its original key to another key

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Tranquillo: To be performed in a calm manner

Tremolo: Rapid repetition of a single note or rapid alternation of two or more notes

Trill: An embellishment or ornamentation of a note achieved by rapid alternation of a tone with a closely neighboring one. (Trill can also be called a Shake.) A trill should end on its principal note. If several notes precede a Trill, it might be called a Prepared Shake

Turn: A Turn is an ornament consisting of a principal note with the notes above and below. A Turn can be direct or inverted

Tutti: Literally, "all". The term indicates the entrance of the full orchestra after a period of playing by either a solo instrument or a small group of instruments

Tutte corde: Depress the left or soft pedal (piano)

tablao: club with stage for flamenco shows (flamenco)

tacaor/tocaor: flamenco guitarist (flamenco)

tacon: heel of the foot (flamenco)

taconeo: footwork (flamenco)

tango baile chico: flamenco song & dance (flamenco)

tanguillo: flamenco song and dance derived from the tango (flamenco)

tarantas: another free-form style (flamenco)

tarantos: this one is danced, so has a compas, and is related to the tarantos in key, etc. (flamenco)

tientos cante jondo: derived from tango (flamenco)

tocaor/tacaor: flamenco guitarist (flamenco)

tonás: basic flamenco song. The earliest known. (flamenco)

toque: guitar playing (flamenco)

toque compás: guitar playing with fixed patterns of rhythmic beats (flamenco)

toque libre: guitar playing with free form rhythm (flamenco)

tremolo: a rapid fluttering of a guitar tone or alternating tones (flamenco)


Una corde: Literally, "one string". A direction for the use of the soft pedal on the piano

Unison, Simultaneous sound of two or more notes played or sung in the same pitch


Veloce: Rapidly

Vibrato: A continual slight fluctuation of pitch achieved by rapid motion of the hand and/or finger upon the strings of an instrument

Vivace = fast

Vocalese = “a wordless song”


More to come


More to come


zapateados: needs very fancy footwork; the compas speeds up, slows down, and speeds up again and is a showcase for dancers (zapato means shoes). Derived from the tango (flamenco)

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For this website's growing Glossary of Musical Terms and definitions, &c, and other items of interest, see: The HoTM Glossary

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