Musical Terminology - Glossary of Musical Terms.
Musical Terminology



Musical Terminology


Musical Terminology. Glossary Of Music Terms, Meanings and Signs - Syntheway Virtual Musical Instruments



(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

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



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..



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


Musical Terminology. Table of General Musical Markings by origin. Music terms, meanings and signs. A resource of musical meanings. The terms in the glossary are given in italian with english equivalents. A music tool to find common and rare musical meanings

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