cappella: sung without instrumental accompaniment.
AB: a form made up of two
contrasting sections, each of which may or may not be repeated.
ABA: a form made up of a
principal section which is repeated after the completion of a
accelerando: Italian tempo
marking meaning to gradually accelerate or speed up.
accent: stress, emphasis, force,
or loudness given to a sound or tone.
accidental: the sharpening or
flattening of a particular note not indicated in the key signature of a
piece; the naturalizing of a note that is sharpened or flattened
according to the key signature.
accompaniment: the subordinate
music that supports the principal voice or instrument in a piece of
acoustics: the science of sound
and how it’s produced.
adagio: quite slow.
al fine: to the finish.
allegro: Italian tempo marking
meaning vivacious, rapid, fairly fast.
alto: the lowest female voice or
unchanged boy’s voice; the range of pitch of an instrument
within a particular family of instruments.
andante: Italian tempo marking
meaning in a moderate rate, at a leisurely pace, easily flowing.
anthem: a short piece for choir
on a religious theme.
aria: Italian word for song,
mainly used to describe an opera song for a solo voice with orchestral
arpeggio: playing or singing the
notes of a chord consecutively, as on a harp.
balance: the state of equilibrium
in which all the component parts of the music create a unified whole.
ballads: songs that tell stories,
many dating back hundreds of years; term also served as a title for
piano pieces of a vaguely descriptive character.
ballet: form of theatrical dance;
combination of music and dancing.
band: any large body of
instrumental players (e.g., brass bands, military bands, dance bands,
jazz bands, etc.).
banjo: a plucked instrument with
a long guitar-like neck and circular soundtable.
bar: a small section of music;
bar lines are vertical lines marking off groups of beats into small
baritone: the range of male voice
pitch that is deeper than tenor, but not so deep as bass.
bass: the deepest range of pitch
of a man’s voice; the range of pitch of an instrument within
a particular family of instruments.
bass clef: symbol placed on the
five-line staff in traditional notation indicating the pitch of the
notes and locating F on the fourth line from the bottom.
beat: the regular repeated
pulsation in music.
binary: a form or structure in
music that has two distinct and contrasting sections (AB),
each of which may or may not be repeated.
bluegrass: a style of music
featuring folk instruments; quite rhythmical.
blues: early and basic jazz style
of music with a predictable chord structure; not religious and usually
slow in tempo.
brass family: French horn,
trumpet, trombone, tuba; instruments made of long brass tubes curled up
in different shapes with cup-shaped mouthpieces into which air is blown
and wide, bell-shaped ends where the sound comes out.
cadence: a kind of harmonic
punctuation mark (resting place in a musical phrase) that brings a
piece or section of a piece of music to a satisfactory close.
cadenza: a section of a concerto
movement that is reserved for a soloist. It was originally intended to
be improvised upon the tune already heard, but most soloists plan their
cadenzas ahead of performance.
call and response: a song style
that follows a simple question/answer pattern in which one singer leads
and a group responds.
canon: similar to a round,
in which each part enters in a specific sequence with the same melody
until the piece is brought to a satisfactory end.
chord: two or more notes of
different pitch sounding together.
chordal: made up of chords.
chorus: a group of singers.
chromatic modulation: the process
of changing from one key to an unrelated key in a composition.
chromatic scale: a scale
consisting of successive half-steps.
classical: serious and formal in
clef: a sign to indicate the name
and pitch of the notes on the staff to which it is prefixed; the five
types are soprano, treble, alto, tenor, and bass.
coda: a few measures or a section
added to the end of a piece of music to “round it
off” or make a more effective ending.
common time: meter in which a
measure consists of four beats with a quarter note as the value of one
compose: to invent or create
composer: a person who creates
composition: the act of composing
or the work a composer creates.
concert: public performance.
concerto: Italian word for an
orchestral composition with a major part for one or more instrumental
conductor: director of a musical
counter melody: an alternate
melody sung or played with and as a companion to the main melody.
counterpoint: the compositional
art of combining two or more simultaneous melodic lines; term means
“point against point” or “note against
crescendo: Italian dynamic
marking meaning to gradually get louder.
da capo: from the beginning;
indication to return to the beginning of a piece.
dal segno: repeat from the sign.
decrescendo: Italian dynamic
marking meaning to gradually get softer.
descant: a melodic part pitched
higher than and concurrent with the melody.
diminuendo: Italian dynamic
marking meaning to gradually get softer.
dissonance: combination of tones
that sounds discordant and unstable, in need of resolution.
dotted half-note: In traditional
notation, adding a dot after a note increases its value by half; so
since a half-note frequently is given two beats, a dot after it gives
it a third.
duet: a piece of music for two
dulcimer: an American stringed
instrument popularized in the Appalachian region; also called
duo: two performers.
duple: double rhythm of two beats
to the measure.
dynamics: element of music
relating to the degree of intensity or loudness in musical tones.
dynamic markings: words and
symbols in a score indicating the degree of intensity or loudness in
elements of music: dynamics,
form, harmony, melody, texture, timbre, rhythm, tempo.
“again”; when performers perform another piece at
audience request after the end of a performance.
ensemble: several performers
etude: French term for
“study”; a piece of music concerned with some
aspect of musical technique.
expression: the meaning, effects,
and emotion that make the music come alive.
fermata: a pause or hold of
variable length determined by the performer or conductor.
flat: a sign indicating that a
note should be lowered in pitch by one half-step.
folk songs: songs handed down
from generation to generation.
form: the overall structural
organization of a musical composition (e.g., AB, ABA, call/response,
fugue, rondo, theme and variations, sonata allegro, etc.) and the
interrelationships of music events within the overall structure.
forte: Italian dynamic term for
fortissimo: Italian dynamic term
for “very loud.”
fugue: a form in which a theme is
first stated on its own, then imitated by others, with each one joining
in a short while after the last.
fusion: the combination of jazz
gavotte: a Baroque dance of
French peasant origin that is sometimes included in instrumental suites.
genre: a type or category of
music (e.g., sonata, opera, oratorio, art song, gospel, suite, jazz,
madrigal, march, work song, lullaby, barbershop, Dixieland).
gospel: religious style of music;
free-form, not in strict time.
gourd banjo: a gourd with a skin
head and a long stick with four strings attached; early American
instrument brought from Africa.
grand staff: a staff that
includes the treble and bass staves and the ledger lines between.
grave: Italian term for an
expression of mood that is solemn and slow in nature.
half-step: the smallest distance
between two pitches.
hambone: using body percussion to
hammer dulcimer: trapezoidal box
instrument with more than 100 strings, played by striking strings with
harmony: an element of music
concerned with combining notes and parts simultaneously.
home tone: a term commonly used
for the first or key tone of any scale; same as tonic.
improvise: to create music
instrument families: four
separate groups of instruments into which the orchestra is divided:
string, woodwind, brass, and percussion.
instrumental: using instruments
only, with no words.
interval: the distance between
any two pitches and/or notes.
introduction: the beginning that
prepares for the main part of the piece.
invention: fairly short keyboard
inversion: a change according to
pitch in the placing of notes within a chord; mirror or upside-down
image of a melody or pattern.
jazz: a style of music created in
the early 20th century by African Americans, characterized by strong,
syncopated rhythms, particular chords and harmonic structures, and a
large amount of improvisation.
key: the basic scale and tonality
of a composition.
key signature: the sharps or
flats placed at the beginning of a composition or line of music
denoting the scale on which the music is based.
largo: Italian tempo marking for
slow, broad, and stately; also the name of a type of composition.
legato: Italian term for
describing a manner of playing that is smooth and connected and has a
ledger line: a short line added
above or below normal staff lines to indicate notes of extra-high or
lento: Italian tempo marking for
libretto: the words of a piece of
music (e.g., opera, cantata, oratorio, etc.).
lullaby: a song to make a baby
major: tonality based on a major
major scale: a scale built on the
formula of an ascending pattern of two whole steps, one half-step,
three whole steps, one half-step.
march: a type of military music
for marching to.
measure: a rythmic grouping or
metrical unit that contains a fixed number of beats.
melodic motif: a short musical
phrase used in development or imitation.
melody/melodic shape: an element
of music that deals with the organized progression of single tones or
meter: the grouping in which a
succession of rhythmic pulses or beats is organized, indicated by a
meter signature at the beginning of the piece. Duple meter has two
beats per measure; triple meter has three beats per measure.
meter signature: the indication
of the basic rhythm of a bar within a piece. It looks like an
arithmetic fraction: The upper number indicates the number of beats to
a bar, and the lower number indicates how the beats should be measured.
mezzo: Italian dynamic term
meaning “medium”; mezzo forte
means medium loud; mezzo piano means medium soft.
MIDI: acronym for Musical
Instrument Digital Interface; standard specifications that enable
electronic instruments such as synthesizers, samplers, sequencers, and
drum machines from different manufacturers to communicate with one
another and with computers.
minor: tonality based on a minor
minor scale: a scale built on a
formula of an ascending pattern of a whole step, a half-step, two whole
steps, a half-step, and two whole steps.
minuet: a court dance with three
beats to a measure.
moderato: a tempo marking for
medium or moderate rate of speed.
monophonic: a texture featuring a
single unaccompanied melodic line.
movement: complete self-contained
part of a larger musical work.
natural: a musical sign that
cancels a sharp or flat; a natural note is one that is neither
sharpened nor flattened.
nocturne: literally means
“night piece”; a musical piece that is generally
quiet and reflective in nature.
notation: the representation of
musical tones by written characters.
notes: symbols of sound (e.g.,
whole, half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth). When 4 is the bottom number
of the meter signature, a whole note
receives 4 counts, a half note receives 2 counts, a quarter note
receives 1 count, an eighth note receives one-half count, and a
sixteenth note receives one-quarter count.
octave: a Latin term for eight;
with reference to the distance between notes of the same letter name,
eight notes higher or lower.
octet: eight performers or a
piece for eight performers.
opera: musical stage drama that
generally is sung throughout.
oratorio: religious opera without
stage action or costumes.
orchestra: a performance group of
diverse instruments; in Western music, an ensemble of multiple string
parts with various woodwind, brass, and percussion parts.
ostinato: a musical phrase that
is repeated over and over again.
overture: French term meaning
“opening”; orchestral music played at the beginning
of many operas and other stage work; a concert overture is an
pentatonic scale: five-tone
scale; often used as a scale similar to the pattern of the black keys
on a piano.
percussion family: timpani, bass
drum, snare drum, cymbals, glockenspiel, xylophone, tambourine,
triangle, woodblock, gong, piano, and hundreds of other instruments
that make sound when struck, shaken, or scraped.
phrase: a musical thought or
sentence; phrase marks are printed in music to help interpret the
natural flow of the music.
pianissimo: Italian dynamic
marking for “very soft.”
piano: Italian dynamic marking
for “soft”; keyboard instrument in which sounds are
created by hammers striking strings when the corresponding keys are
pitch: the highness or lowness of
a tone, as determined by the frequency of vibrations per second.
pitch numbers: the numbers 1
through 8 associated with the tones of the scale to assist in music
reading and in ear training.
polyphony: Greek term for
“many sounds”; interweaving a number of melodic
lines or parts; polyphonic is texture in which
two or more melodies sound at the same time.
polyrhythm: several rhythms at
the same time.
prelude: a short piece that
precedes or introduces a more substantial piece; can also describe some
piano pieces that are self-contained in their style.
presto: a tempo marking meaning
“fast”; prestissimo means
quartet: four performers or a
piece of music for four performers.
question/answer: a formal
structure where each successive phrase or section is formed as a
response to the preceding one.
quintet: five performers or a
piece of music for five performers.
ragtime: late 19th-century style
characterized by highly syncopated melodies; contributed to early jazz.
range: distance between the
lowest and highest tones of a melody or the lowest and highest tones an
instrument or voice can produce.
rap: a subgenre of rock in which
rhymed lyrics are spoken over rhythm tracks.
recitative: a reciting of words
in a song-like way.
refrain: also called chorus;
the part of a song repeated at the end of each verse or section.
repeat sign: signifies that the
music between double-dotted bars is to be repeated.
rest: a period of silence; rests
are indicated by symbols which correspond to the various durations of
rhythm: the element of music that
deals with the beat or pulse and the distribution of notes within that
rhythmic durations: whole, half,
quarter, and eighth notes.
ritardando: Italian tempo marking
meaning to gradually get slower.
rondo: a piece in which one
recurring theme is interspersed with a series of new themes.
round: similar to a canon;
a musical piece in which each part joins in turn with the same melody,
all following each other until all end.
sacred music: music of a
scale: a sequence of tones which
progress step by step in pitch and serve as the basis of a composition.
score: a notation showing all the
parts of a musical composition.
secular music: music not of a
sequence: a pattern within a
melody that is repeated at a higher or lower pitch.
sforzando: Italian dynamic
marking that means a note or chord should be played with strong
sharp: sign indicating that a
note should be raised in pitch by a half-step.
signature: the sharps and flats
at the head of the staff indicating the key.
slap: a technique for creating
sounds in body percussion.
slur: to perform two or more
notes legato; also, a curved line placed
above or below two or more notes of different pitch to indicate that
they are to be performed in legato style.
solo: one performer or a piece of
music for one performer.
sonata-allegro form: a form made
up of an opening section called the exposition,
in which major themes are presented; a middle section called the development,
in which thematic material undergoes a variety of alterations; and a
third section called the recapitulation, in which
the material of the exposition is restated.
sonata: instrumental genre in
several movements for soloists or small ensembles.
soprano: the highest range in
pitch of a woman’s voice.
spirituals: religious folk songs
of African Americans, often conveying strong feelings and emotions.
staccato: short, detached sounds
indicated by a dot over or under a note; the opposite of legato.
staff: the names of the lines and
spaces drawn horizontally in sets of five on which notes and rests are
standard notation: music written
on one or more staves, using traditional note symbols and clefs to
indicate pitch positions.
staves: plural of staff.
string family: violin, viola,
cello, bass, harp; the largest family in the orchestra. String
instruments have carved, hollow wooden bodies with four strings running
from one end to the other. Strings are plucked with fingers (pizzicato)
or played with a bow (arco). The bow is made of wood and horsehair. The
harp has 46 strings that are plucked or strummed by the hands.
style: the distinctive or
characteristic manner in which the elements of music are treated. In
practice, the term may be applied to composers (the style of Copeland),
periods (Baroque style), media (keyboard style), nations (French
style), form or type of composition (fugal style), or genre (operatic
style, bluegrass style).
suite: a collection of pieces
usually linked by some particular theme or idea.
symbolic notation: the system of
expressing musical sounds through the use of written symbols called
symphony: orchestra composition
of several movements; also used in reference to a group of
syncopation: a temporary shifting
of the accent in music so that the stress falls between the strong
tarantella: a piece written as a
fast and lively dance; originated in Italy, where the dance was
supposed to either be caused by the bite of a tarantula spider or be a
cure for it.
tempo: the rate of speed of a
piece of music.
tenor: the highest-pitched male
voice; the range of pitch of an instrument within a particular family
ternary: designates a form or
structure in music that has three sections, with the first section
repeated after the second section (ABA
texture: the number of
simultaneously sounding lines; the manner in which horizontal pitch
sequences are organized (homophonic, monophonic, polyphonic).
theme: the main musical idea.
theme and variations: a
compositional form in which an initial theme is stated, then followed
by various musical treatments of that theme.
timbre: often referred to as tone
quality; the quality of sound that distinguishes one
instrument or voice from another.
time: the division of the measure
into equal parts.
time signature: the indication of
the basic rhythm within a piece (see meter signature).
toccata: a virtuoso composition,
generally for organ or harpsichord, in a free and rhapsodic style. In
the Baroque period, it often was the introduction to a fugue.
tonality: the term used to
describe the organization of the melodic and harmonic elements to give
a feeling of a key center or tonic pitch.
tonal syllables: syllables used
to facilitate singing or reading of the scale; the commonly used
syllables are do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, and do.
The practice of reading and singing with syllables is also known as
tonic: the first tone or key tone
of any scale.
treble clef: symbol placed on the
five-line staff in traditional notation indicating the pitch of the
notes and locating G on the second line from the bottom.
triad: three-note chord.
trio: three performers or a piece
for three performers.
tutti: Italian term for
“all”; describes a section for full chorus and/or
two-part songs: songs written for
performance by two distinct voices.
unison: singing or playing the
same notes by all singers or players, either at exactly the same pitch
or in a different octave.
verse: a section of the song that
changes after each refrain.
verse-chorus: a refrain that is
vibrato: a slight variation in
pitch of the sounding note.
virtuoso: a performer of
exceptional technical skill.
vivace: Italian tempo marking
meaning “very lively.”
voice: the sound produced in
humans when air passes over the vocal cords, making them vibrate. The
most common singing voice parts are soprano, alto, tenor, and bass
whole step: a distance of two
half-steps in the same direction.
whole-tone scale: a scale made up
entirely of whole steps.
woodwind family: flute, piccolo,
oboe, English horn, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, contra-bassoon;
instruments played by blowing air into them, either through a reed or
reeds that vibrate (as in clarinet, oboe, English horn, bass clarinet,
bassoon, and contra-bassoon) or across an opening (as in flute and