Musical Definitions. A Resource Of Musical Meanings
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Musical Definitions

 

Terms relating to TEMPO
(Listed in order form very slow to very fast):
GRAVE
 Very slow and solemn
 
LARGO
 Very slow and broad, with dignity
 
LENT or LENTO
 Very slow
 
ADAGIO
 Very slow and expressive
 
LARGHETTO
 Not as slow as LARGO, but slower than ANDANTE
 
ANDANTE
 Rather slow, but with a flowing movement ("Walking tempo")
 
ANDANTINO
 A little quicker than ANDANTE
 
MODERATO
 Moderate speed- not fast, not slow
 
ALLEGRETTO
 Light and cheerful, but not as fast as ALLEGRO
 
ALLEGRO
 "Merry", quick, lively, bright
 
VIVO
 Lively, brisk (usually with ALLEGRO, as ALLEGRO VIVO
 
VIVACE
 Vivacious, faster than ALLEGRO
 
PRESTO
 Very quick, faster than VIVACE
 


Terms relating to CHANGE OF TEMPO:

ACCELERANDO
 Abbreviated: accel. To increase the speed gradually
 
STRINGENDO
 Abbreviated: string. To increase intensity by increasing tempo
 
AFFRETTANDO
 To increase the speed gradually
 
ALLARGANDO
 Abbreviated: allarg. Slower and louder
 
RITARDANDO
 Abbreviated: Ritard. or Rit. Gradually slackening the speed.
 
RALLENTANDO
 Abbreviated: Rall. Slowing down, gradually.
 
RUBATO
 Literally means "Robbed"- a lingering on some notes and hurrying of others; free from strict tempo, but preserving the value of the rhythmic notation.
 
A TEMPO
 Return to original tempo after a RITARD
 
TEMPO I (PRIMO)
 Return to original tempo after a RITARD
 


Words that often accompany TEMPO Markings:

MOLTO
 Very much; e.g., MOLTO RITARD means to slow down exceedingly
 
MENO
 Less; e.g., MENO MOSSO means less fast (slower)
 
PIU
 More
 
NON TROPPO
 Not too much, e.g., ALLEGRO NON TROPPO means fast, but not too fast
 
POCO A POCO
 literally "little by little". Used in combination with tempo markings. e.g., ACCEL. POCO A POCO means to increase the speed gradually over a span of measures.
 


Terms relating to DYNAMICS (from soft to loud):

PIANISSIMO
 (abbr: pp). Very soft
 
PIANO
 (abbr: p). Soft
 
MEZZO
 Medium or moderately
 
MEZZO PIANO
 (abbr: mp). Medium soft
 
MEZZO FORTE
 (abbr: mf). Moderately loud
 
FORTE
 (abbr: f). Loud
 
FORTISSIMO
 (abbr: ff) Very loud
 
DIMINUENDO
 (abbr: dim.) or the sign  means gradually getting softer
 
CRESCENDO
 (abbr: cresc.) or the sign   means gradually getting louder
 
POCO A POCO
 "Little by little". Indicates a gradual increase or decrease in volume of sound; e.g., CRESC> POCO A POCO means to increase the volume gradually.
 
ACCENT
 A stress on notes so marked
 
SFORZANDO
 (abbr: sfz) A strongly accented note or chord
 
SFORZATO
 (abbr: sfp) strongly accented by then immediately PIANO
 
SUBITO
 Suddenly. Usually to indicate a dramatically sudden change in dynamic level of sound; e.g., from pp to SUBITO ff.
 
Terms relating to STYLE:

AGITATO
 With agitation- excitedly
 
ALLA
 In the style of (always used with other words) e.g., ALLA MARCIA- in the style of a march.
 
CON
 With (as a connecting word), e.g., ANDANTE CON AMORE- slowly, with tenderness
 
ANIMATO
 With animation, in a spirited manner
 
APPASSIONATO
 With intensity and depth of feeling
 
BRILLANTE
 Bright, sparkling, brilliant
 
BRIO
 Vigor, spirit
 
CANTABILE
 In a singing style
 
DOLCE
 Sweetly and softly
 
ENERGICO, CON
 With expression
 
FUOCO, CON
 With fire or much energy
 
GRANDIOSO
 In a noble, elevated style
 
GRAZIA, CON
 With a graceful, flowing style
 
LEGATO
 Smooth and connected, in a flowing manner (Opposite of STACCATO)
 
MAESTOSO
 With majesty and grandeur
 
MARCATO
 In a marked and emphatic style
 
PESANTE
 Heavily, every note with marked emphasis
 
QUASI
 In the manner of; e.g., QUASI UNA FANTASIA- in the style of a fantasia
 
SCHERZANDO
 In a light playful and sportive manner
 
SCHERZO
 A jest, one of the movements of certain symphonies, a composition of light and playful character
 
SECCO
 Dry, plain, without ornamentation
 
SEMPRE
 Always; e.g., SEMPRE STACCATO- to continue playing in a short and detached style
 
SPIRITO, CON
 With spirit, or animation
 
STACCATO
 Short and detached, with distinct precision (the opposite of LEGATO)
 
TENUTO
 Sustained for the full time-value
 
TRANQUILLO
 With tranquility, quietly, restfully
 


Combinations of terms (Tempo and Style):

LARGO MA NON TROPPO
 Slow, but not too slow (ma = but)
 
ADAGIO CANTABILE E SOSTENUTO
 ('e' = and) Very slow and in a sustained and singing style
 
ANDANTINO, CON AFFETUOSO
 Faster than ANDANTE, with tender feeling
 
ALLEGRETTO CON GRAZIA
 A moving tempo with a graceful flowing style
 
ALLEGRO AGITATO
 Quick with agitation
 
POCO PIU MOSSO
 A little quicker
 
ALLEGRO CON MOLTO SPIRITO
 Fast with much spirit
 
ANDANTE MAESTOSO
 Rather slow-moving tempo, majestic feeling
 
PRESTO CON LEGGIEREZZA
 Very fast with lightness and delicacy
 
*NOTE: Many more combinations are possible. Combine some tempo and style terms on your own.
Miscellaneous Terms:

ACCIDENTALS
 Flats and double flats, naturals, sharps and double sharps
 
ALLA BREVE
 "Cut time"  The half-note is the unit of the meter
 
ARPEGGIO
 A broken chord (Each note of the chord played in succession)
 
ATTACCA
 Begin the next movement immediately
 
CADENCE
 The close or ending of a phrase
 
CADENZA
 An elaborate solo passage with fancy embellishments to display the proficiency of a performer.
 
CHROMATIC
 Proceeding by semitones
 
CODA
 Literally "A tail"- the closing measures of a piece of music
 
CON
 With; e.g., CON SORDINO means "with mute"
 
DA CAPO
 (abbr: D.C.) from the beginning
 
DAL SEGNO
 (abbr: D.S.) to the sign
 
DIVISI
 Divided, one performer plays the upper notes, the other plays the lower notes
 
FERMATA
 A pause, marked 
 
FINE
 The end
 
G.P.
 General Pause; a dramatic moment of silence for the entire ensemble
 
SEGUE
 To the next piece without pause
 
SENZA
 Without; e.g., SENZA SORDINO means without mute
 
SORDINO
 A mute (used by brass and string players)
 
TACET
 Be silent
 
TEMPO PRIMO
 (Sometimes TEMPO I), means to return to the original tempo after a RITARD or ACCEL.
 
V.S.
 Abbreviation found at the lower right corner of a music page, which stands for "Volti-subito" and means to turn the page quickly.
 
COL LEGNO
 Applies to string instruments. Bowing or tapping the string with the wood of the bow instead of the hair.
 
GLISSANDO
 To slide. Pulling or drawing the finger quickly up or down a series of adjacent notes. Also poss. on trombone and other inst.

 


 

Musical Terminology

(see also Table of General Musical Markings by origin)


A cappella: Choral music generally without accompaniment; literally - in the style of the chapel

Accelerando (Accel.) or Stringendo (String.): Gradually growing faster

Accent: Emphasis or stress on one tone over others

Ad libitum (Ad lib.) or A placere: At pleasure; at will

Alla Breve: Indicating 2/2 time or "cut time"; literally - on the breve (half note)

Allargando: Growing broader, that is, louder and slower

Animato: Animated; excited; with life and spirit

A tempo: Return to the original tempo

Bravura: With spirit and boldness

Caesura (/ /): A break in the music

Cantabile: In a singing (lyric) style

Coda: A section added at the end of a composition or passage as a conclusion

Con: A prefix meaning "with"

Con anima: With animation

Con forza: With force

Con spirito: With spirit

Crescendo: Increase in volume

Da capo (D.C.): To return and perform from the beginning

Del segno (D.S.): To return and perform from the sign

Decrescendo: Decrease in volume

Diminuendo: Gradually become softer

Diatonic: Pertaining to the notes of a major or minor scale

Dissonance: A relation or state of tension between various tones

Divisi: To divide; as into parts

Dolce: Sweetly

Double flat ( bb ): Lower the tone one full step

Double sharp: ( ø ): Raise the tone one full step

Dynamics: The level (amplitude) or loudness of sound

   Pianissimo (pp) - very soft

   Piano (p) - soft

   Mezzo piano (mp) - medium soft

   Mezzo forte (f) - medium loud

   Forte (f) - loud

   Fortissimo (ff) - very loud

e, et, ed: Meaning "and"

Enharmonic: The same pitch given two different letter names, e.g., e natural and f flat

Espressivo: With expression

Fermata: A sign that indicates the note or rest over which it is placed is to be prolonged

Fine: The end

Forzando (fz): Forced

Interval: The distance or relation between two pitches

Key signature: A grouping of accidentals placed at the beginning of a composition or section to indicate key

   Sharps (#):

   Number   Major Key   Minor Key

   0     C     a

   1     G     e

   2     D     b

   3     A     f#

   4     E     c#

   5     B     g#

   6     F#     d#

   7     C#     a#

 

   Flats (b):   Major Key   Minor Key

   0     C     a

   1     F     d

   2     Bb     g

   3     Eb     c

   4     Ab     f

   5     Db     bb

   6     Gb     eb

   7     Cb     ab

Legato: Smooth and connected

L'istesso tempo: In the tempo of the previous section

Maestoso: Majestic

Marcato: Marked, emphasized

Melisma: Use of many notes on one syllable of text

Meno: A prefix meaning "less"

Meno mosso: Less motion

Modulation: A change of key within a composition

Molto: Much

Morendo: Dying away

Mosso, moto: Motion, movement

Motet: In Classical music, motet is a word that is applied to a number of highly varied choral musical compositions.

Niente: Nothing

Non: Not

Ornament: Melodic decoration

Ossia: Alternate version of a set of notes

Passione: With fervent emotion or passion

Phrase: A natural division of the melodic line with a cadence; comparable to a clause or sentence

Piu: More

Poco a poco: Little by little

Quasi: As if, almost

Rallentando (Rall.): Gradually slower

Ritardando (Rit.): Gradually slower

Rubato: Free use of accelerando and ritardando as an expressive device

Sans: Without

SATB: In music, SATB is an initialism for soprano, alto, tenor, bass, defining the voices required by a chorus or choir to perform a particular musical work. Pieces written for SATB, the commonest combination and that used by most Hymn tunes, can be sung by choruses of mixed genders, by choirs of men and boys, or by four soloists.

Scherzando: Playfully

Sempre: Always

Senza: Without

Sequence: Repetition of a set of notes at a different scale degree

Sforzando or Sforzato (sf or sfz): Forced or accented

Simile: In a similar manner

Sotto voce: Softly, with a subdued voice, literally "under the voice"

Staccato: Short and detached

Subito: Suddenly

Tacet: To be silent

Tempo: The pace at which a composition is to be performed; rate of speed

Tempo Terms from slowest to fastest

   Grave     very, very slow

   Largo     very slow

   Larghetto   less slow than largo

   Adagio     slow

   Lento     moderately slow

   Andante   moderate; walking tempo

   Andantino   less slow than andante

   Moderato   medium tempo

   Allegretto   less fast than allegro

   Allegro     fast

   Vivace, Vivo   very fast and lively

   Presto     extremely fast

   Prestissimo   as fast as possible

Tenuto: Hold or sustain

Tessitura: The location of the majority of pitches in a composition or section

Timbre: The tone quality or color of a tone

Time Signature: A symbol indicating the type of meter and the unit of beat

Tonality: All notes in a scale related to one central tone

Tranquillo: Tranquil, peaceful

Tutti: All

Unison: Voices on the same pitch or mixed voices in octaves

 

Table of General Musical Markings by origin

Italian
a (Italian) for, at, in, etc.
a cappella (Italian) for choral music without accompaniment
a capriccio (Italian) in a humorous manner
accelerando (accel.) (Italian) gradually getting faster
ad libitum (Italian) as the performer wishes
affettuoso (Italian) affectionate, with tender warmth
agitato (Italian) agitated, excited
alla (Italian) in the style of
alla breve (Italian) the half note (minim) rather than the quarter note (crotchet) takes the beat
allargando (Italian) growing broader
amabile (Italian) sweet, amiable, lovable
amoroso (Italian) loving
ancora (Italian) again
animato (Italian) with spirit
a piacere (Italian) at the performer's discretion
appassionato (Italian) impassioned
arioso (Italian) a short solo in the style of an air
arpeggio (Italian) the notes of a chord are played in succession rather than simultaneously
assai (Italian) very
ben, bene (Italian) well
brillante (Italian) with brilliance or vivacity
cadenza (Italian) a passage for solo instrument in free, improvisatory style
calando (Italian) diminishing in dynamic and speed
cambiare (Italian) to change
cantabile (Italian) in a singing style
chiuso (Italian) stopped, in horn playing
col, colla (Italian) with the
come (Italian) like, as
comodo (Italian) comfortable, easy
con (Italian) with
con brio (Italian) with brilliance or vivacity
con dolore (Italian) with sorrow
con forza (Italian) with force or strength
con fuoco (Italian) with fire
con giusto (Italian) with taste, fitting mood and tempo
con passione (Italian) with passion
con spirito (Italian) with spirit
coro (Italian) chorus
crescendo (Italian) gradually get louder
dal (Italian) from the
decrescendo (Italian) gradually get softer
decisivo (Italian) with decision
delicato (Italian) delicately
diminuendo (Italian) gradually get softer
dolce (Italian) sweetly
dolente (Italian) doleful, sorrowful
doppio movimento (Italian) double the preceeding speed
e, ed (Italian) and
e poi (Italian) and then
espressivo (Italian) expressive
facilmente (Italian) easily, without strain
feroce (Italian) ferocious
fine (Italian) end, close
furioso (Italian) furiously
giocoso (Italian) gay, playful
grandioso (Italian) grandly
grazioso (Italian) graceful
il, la (Italian) the
impetuoso (Italian) in an energetic manner
lacrimoso (Italian) tearfully
lamentoso (Italian) in a mournful style
largamente (Italian) in a dignified manner
legato (Italian) smoothly
leggiero (Italian) light and graceful
lusingando (Italian) alluring, flattering
ma (Italian) but
maestoso (Italian) majestically
mancando (Italian) dying away
marcato (Italian) emphasized
martellato (Italian) hammered stroke played with very short bows at the point
marziale (Italian) march-like
meno (Italian) less
meno mosso (Italian) less movement, slower
mesto (Italian) mournful, sad
mezzo (Italian) half
misterioso (Italian) mysteriously
molto (Italian) much, very
morendo (Italian) dying away and becoming slower
nobilmente (Italian) nobly
non (Italian) not
ossia (Italian) or
parlando (Italian) singing in speaking style
parlante (Italian) singing in speaking style
pateticamente (Italian) pathetically
perdendosi (Italian) dying away and becoming slower
pesante (Italian) heavy, weighting
piacevole (Italian) agreeable
piangevole (Italian) plaintively
piu (Italian) more
pizzicato (Italian) pluck the string with the finger
placidamente (Italian) peacefully
pochetto (Italian) very little
poco (Italian) little, a little
poco a poco (Italian) little by little
poi (Italian) then
pomposo (Italian) pompous
quasi (Italian) almost
rallentando (rall.) (Italian) gradually getting slower
religioso (Italian) with devotion
replica (Italian) repeat
risoluto (Italian) resolutely
ritardando (rit.) (Italian) gradually getting slower
ritenuto (riten.) (Italian) suddenly slower, held back
ritmico (Italian) rhythmical
rubato (Italian) robbed time, speeding up and slowing down
scherzando (Italian) playfully
secco (Italian) dry, short
sempre (Italian) always
semplice (Italian) simple
senza (Italian) without
serioso (Italian) serious
simili (Italian) the same
sino al (Italian) up to the..
slargando (Italian) broadening
slentando (Italian) getting slower
smorzando (Italian) smother dynamic to nothing
soave (Italian) suave, gentle
solennemente (Italian) solemnly
sonore (Italian) sound with full tone
sordino (Italian) mute
sostenuto (Italian) sustained
sotto voce (Italian) with a barely audible sound
spiccato (Italian) with a light bouncing motion of the bow
spiritoso (Italian) lively, with spirit
staccato (Italian) detached, short
stentando (Italian) delaying, retarding
strepitoso (Italian) noisy
stringendo (Italian) quickening
subito (Italian) suddenly
sul (Italian) on the..
suono (Italian) sound, tone
tanto (Italian) so much
tempo primo (Italian) return to original time
tempo rubato (Italian) robbed time
teneramente (Italian) tenderly
tenuto (Italian) held, sustained
tessitura (Italian) average range of a vocal part
tosto (Italian) rather
tranquillo (Italian) tranquil, quiet, calm
tremolo (Italian) a quick reiteration of the same tone on a string instrument
troppo (Italian) too much
tutti (Italian) all
un poco (Italian) a little
vibrato (Italian) slight change of pitch on same note
vigoroso (Italian) vigorous, strong
vivo (Italian) lively

 

German

aber (German) but
ausdrucksvoll (German) with expression
beruhigen (German) to calm, to quiet
bewegt (German) agitated
bewegter (German) more agitated
daher (German) from there
dämpfer (German) mute
drängend (German) pressing on
einleiten (German) to lead into
erschütterung (German) a violent shaking, deep emotion
etwas (German) somewhat, rather
flüchtig (German) fleeting, transient
frei (German) free
ganz (German) entirely, altogether
gebrochen (German) broken
gedehnt (German) held back
gemächlich (German) comfortable
geschlagen (German) struck
gesprochen (German) spoken
gesteigert (German) intensified
gestopft (German) stopped note by placing the hand in the bell of the horn
gewöhnlich (German) usual, customary
gleichmässig (German) equal, symmetrical
halbe (German) half
halt (German) stop, hold
hauptstimme (German) most important voice in the phrase
hauptzeitmass (German) original tempo
heftiger (German) more passionate, violent
hervortretend (German) prominently
hörbar (German) audible
immer (German) always
klangvoll (German) sonorous, full-sounding
klingen lassen (German) allow to sound
kräftig (German) strong, forceful
kurz (German) short
lebhaft (German) lively
leidenschaftlich (German) passionate
mit (German) with
nebenstimme (German) the second most important voice in the phrase
nehmen (German) to take
neue (German) new
nicht (German) not
noch (German) still, yet
ohne (German) without
plötzlich (German) suddenly
ruhig (German) calm
schleppend (German) dragging
schon (German) already
schwerer (German) heavier, more difficult
schwermütig (German) dejected, sad
sehr (German) very
sprechstimme (German) speaking voice
trauernd (German) mournfully
übertönend (German) drowning out
unterbrechung (German) interruption, suspension
verhalten (German) restrained, held back
verklingen lassen (German) let die away
verzweiflungsvoll (German) full of despair
vorwärts (German) forward, onward
weg (German) away, beyond
wieder (German) again
wie oben (German) as above, as before
zart (German) tenderly, delicately
ziemlich (German) suitable, fitting
zurückhaltend (German) slowing in speed
zurückkehrend zum (German) return to..

 

French

bien (French) very, well
come (French) like
détaché (French) detached
doux (French) soft, light
echoton (French) with an echo
éclatant (French) sparkling, brilliant
encore (French) again
en dehors (French) outside, emphasized
en fusée (French) dissolving in
et (French) and
fois (French) times, as in number of
laissez vibrer (French) let vibrate
lié (French) tied
main (French) hand (droite right; gauche left)
marqué (French) marked, with emphasis
pause (French) pause, rest
peu (French) little
plus (French) more
sans (French) without
seulement (French) only
sombre (French) somber, dark
son (French) sound
sourdine (French) mute
soutenu (French) held, sustained
sur (French) over, on
très (French) very
tristement (French) sadly
unison (unis.) (French) same pitches played by several instruments

 


 

 


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