Music Definitions A-Z
This is a guide to Music Definitions A-Z. There are many terms used in music and these definitions and explanations will help you understand those terms in easy to digest bite-size pieces. This is basically a Musical Glossary of music and definitions of musical terms. Each musical term is defined and described in a short paragraph with images where applicable.
The word A Cappella (or Acapella) is used to describe choral music usually sung in a ‘in chapel style’ . A Cappella is performed performed unaccompanied and usually has well defined harmonies.
The word Accelerando comes from Italian, meaning accelerating. When written on music, Accelerando means that the music a gradually becoming faster.
The word Acciaccatura comes from Italian for crushed. When on music, it means an extra grace note, is played just before the main note and is then released immediately. The Notation for this type of grace note is defined by the stem of the note crossed through.
An accidental note means that a particular note is played sharper or flatter than regular key signature of the piece. When an accidental note is written in Music, it only refers to the bar where it occurs and not to any subsequent bars. If you wish to make the note accidental again it music be repeated in subsequent bars.
The word Accompagnato comes from Italian, meaning accompanying. The musical accompaniment must follow the singer, so that it is the singer who can vary the tempo, or speed, at their leisure.
In music, to accompany, means to perform with another performer, but usually in a background capacity .ie. Not to overpower the main performer.
An accordion is a portable keyboard or button based instrument. It is usually a box-shaped instrument with metal reeds made to vibrate by squeezing air from bellows. To make a sound, the bellows are played back and forwards by the player’s hands. The notes are chosen through the action of the player’s fingers on the buttons or the regular keyboard layout.
The word acoustic is used when distinguishing between an electric or electronic instrument and a non-electric instrument – e.g., An acoustic guitar as compared to an electric guitar.
The word acoustics relates to sound. It can be used to discuss both the science of acoustics (the physics of sound), or the acoustics of a building (a buildings sound properties – if a sound lasts a long time or not).
The word action relates mainly to a guitar. The action of a guitar refers to the height of the strings above the fret board.
The word Adagio means that a piece of music is to be played slowly. However, it is not as slowly as Largo.
Not as slow as Adagio. The word Adiagietto can also be used to mean a short Adagio composition.
The word Affettuoso means with feeling or Tenderly.
The word Affrettando comes from Italian, meaning becoming agitated. When written in music it means becoming faster.
The word Agitato means that a piece of music is to be played Excited or fast.
An Air is a melody, or a simple tune for voice or instrument, as in Bach’s Air on the G String.
Music to be played fast, but not as fast as Allegro.
Allegro means that music is to be played Fast and lively, but not as fast as Presto.
Referring to the pitch Altissimo means Very high.
An Also is usually referring to a singer, but may also refer to an instrument as in an Alto Sax or Alto Flute. Also, means the voice part below the soprano. A piece of music written for an Alto may be sung by either men (but they must sing falsetto as in Bohemian Rhapsody), or more usually women, or children.
The Analogue or Analog formats use vibrations to replicate sound waves. The disadvantage of analogue formats when compared to digital formats, is that sound loses quality each time it is passed from device to device or when copied. Analogue formats are also unable to retain additional information such as time codes and recording specs. Digital is superior in this respect.
Andante refers to a piece of music being Flowing. However, be careful not to interpret this term as being fast.
The term Animato means that a piece of music is to be played Animated or Lively.
An Anthem is a vocal composition sung at a state or religious services.E.g A National Anthem..
An Antiphon comes from the Greek term for sound across. An Antiphon is a religious chant, commonly a part of Roman Catholic / Greek Orthodox church services. An Antiphon may be sung as responses between a single voice and a group of voices, or between two different groups of singers.
The Word Arabesque, originally a French term describing a short, decorative piece of music. Arabesque is sometimes applied to instrumental music.
An Aria relates to Operas and a complex piece of music written for an operatic soloist with instrumental accompaniment.
The word originally comes from the Italian for in the manner of a harp. An Arpeggio is a chord played one note at a time. So an Arpeggio of C Major would simply be the notes C E G and C(high) played in sequence. An Arpeggio may often be played forwards then backwards.
To arrange music, is to set the music out for the specific instruments which will play it. A musical arrangement may also be a piece of music written for a different instrument than it was originally written for.
A Baby Grand is a type of piano which is smaller than a concert size grand piano and is a horizontal framed piano being strung horizontally, as opposed to an upright piano.
A Bagatelle is a short piece of music which is often written for the piano. Bagatelle is also the name of a popular Irish band.
The Bagpipes are one of the oldest musical instruments and are typically associated with Scotland. The drone and musical tone comes from a reed pipe. Playing of the Bagpipes is performed by operating finger stops while air is being forced out of the bag by the piper/player moving his/her arm. There is a reservoir of air in the bag, which permits notes to be played continuously.
Ballet is a classical form of dance which has Italian origins. Ballet usually has orchestral or operatic accompaniment. Ballet is a highly trained dance.
A Banjo is a guitar-styled fretted instrument which usually has five metal strings and is plucked or played with fingers or a plectrum.
A Bar is a section of written music, marked off by a vertical line called a Bar Line on the stave. The term Bar, usually refers to the area between 2 vertical bar lines.
A vertical line which shows the end of a bar of music and the start of another bar.
A Baritone usually relates to a male voice which ranges between tenor and bass. The term Baritone can also refer to an brass instrument of that name or an instrument which has a baritone range.
Baroque is a musical term used to describe a particular music style, from the 1600s and 1700s. Baroque music can be found in many harpsichord pieces of this time.
The term Bass refers to a low note, an instrument which produces a low note or a singer who can sing a low note. A singer who can sing a very low note is termed basso profundo – meaning very deep. Instruments such as double bass or bass guitars can produce low notes for musical accompaniment.
A Bassoon is a bass woodwind instrument, which is one of the biggest instruments in the orchestra producing a deep and low note.
A baton is a thin rod which a conductor uses to instruct (conduct) the orchestra.
A rhythmic sub division of music usually felt as the regular timing within a piece of music.
Beats Per Minute (BPM)
The Beats per Minute refers to the tempo or speed of a song. Modern Music such as Dance music or Drum n Bass have BPMs of between 160 – 200. The tempo or BPM is faster, the higher the number for BPM is. Therefore a slow waltz may be only 70 to 80 BPM.
In music, Bis, meaning twice would be an instruction that a particular section of music is to be played twice.
Blues is a style of music, typically slow, melancholy, and rhythmic. It originated in the Americas as a type of black folk music.
The term Body, refers to the main part of a guitar. The body would be the section of the guitar which has the sound hole in it.
A Bongo is a small drum struck with the fingers, used particularly in Latin-American dance bands.
A Bow is a stick with many strands of horsehair stretched taut across it. A Bow is used to vibrate and play the strings of a violin and other string instruments (excluding string instruments such as guitar and banjo).
Brass instruments are collectively called Brass or Brass section. A symphony orchestra is usually comprised of 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 1 bass and 2 tenor trombones, and 1 tuba.
A Bridge is a piece of wood on a stringed instrument, such as a violin or guitar. The bridge supports and raises the strings and helps to transfer the vibrations and produce a clean sound.
A Broken Chord is a chord which the notes are played one after the other, rather than at the same time.
A Cadence in music, is a certain progression (set) of chords which mark the end of a movement, or piece of music.
A Cadenza is a section of music which displays the skill of a player or singer. A Cadenza is usually set near the end of a piece of music so as to encourage applause. Traditionally a Cadenza is improvised but now, this is seldom the case.
A Calando is an instruction in the music to a player, that the music should be reduced in volume or tempo.
A Canon is a piece, or section of music, in which a melody or phrase is repeated by another voices or instruments. The second voice or instrument begins before the previous one has finished, which results in an echo type effect. Most commonly, a canon may be most commonly seen in a round, during which each voice begins again when it reaches the end of the melody, creating a Perpeual Canon.
A Cantor is the name given to the person who leads in the singing or chanting in Christian or Jewish worship or song.
The word A Cappella (or Acapella) is used to describe choral music usually sung in a ‘in chapel style’ . A Cappella is performed performed unaccompanied and usually has well defined harmonies.
A Caprice, also called a Capriccio, is a lively, humorous piece of music. It is generally used to refer to the performers mood or interpretation of the piece rather than to the specific type of music.
The word Carillon refers to the pealing of a set of bells. Carillon bells are usually located in a church tower. Tunes can be played on the bells by the pulling of ropes or other mechanical methods.
A Carol is a song of religious celebration or a song of joy. The most famous type of carol is a Christmas Carol.
Castanets are a Spanish percussion instrument, which consist of two small hollowed-out wooden cups, which are played by clapping them together with the fingers. Castanets are used primarily by Spanish dancers. Castanets are occasionally used in an orchestra, where the castanets are mounted on a small stick to facilitate playing.
A Celeste or Celesta is a small piano-like musical instrument. The Celeste has hammers which hit metal bars and has a high pitched bell-like sound. The most famous use of the Celeste was in Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from The Nutcracker ballet.
A Cello is a member of the Bass family of stringed instruments. The Cello is tuned 1 Octave below the viola.
A Celtic Harp is a small harp, traditionally originating from Ireland, which does not have pedals (unlike larger harps). The Celtic Harp can be played resting on the knee. The Celtic Harp is also known as the troubadour harp or the minstrel harp.
Chamber Music was composed with the intention of being performed by one player in trios, quartets, and quintets. The most common form of chamber music is the string quartet.
The word Chanson comes from the French for song. A Chanson is a style of polyphonic song, or song with repeated verses. A Chanson was popular in France between the 14th & 16th-centuries.
A choir is a group of singers which are most popular in churches and places of worship.
The term Choral, relates to a choir or a group chorus.
A set of musical notes, usually three or four, played simultaneously. A Chord will usually contain a root note, and other tones which have a tonal relationship to that root. The Chord of C contains the Root Note C and 2 other tones E and G which are the 3rd and 5th tones in the scale of C.
Choreography is the art of arranging a dance in time to music. A Choreographer is responsible for arranging the dance. Choreography is particularly associated with ballet.
The term Chromatic refers to a musical scale in which all the intervals between notes are a semitone, or half a tone.
A Clarinet is a woodwind instrument with a straight wooden body and a single reed. The clarinet has been uses since the mid-18th century. The Clarinet forms parts of symphony orchestras as well as being used as a solo instrument in chamber music.
Classical Music is a genre of music which historically refers to music written during the so-called Classical period (c. 1770-1840). The classical era refers particularly to the music of Classical composers such as Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart. Classical music is normally written down precisely (using the standard musical notation) with every instrument and its part carefully specified on various staves.
Claves are a pair of wooden sticks which are used as percussion instruments. The Claves are struck together to set the rhythm of Latin-American dance music.
The Clavichord is a keyboard instrument with strings, which are struck by metal tangents. The Clavichord was popular as a solo instrument from the 16th to 18th-centuries. The Clavichord is often referred to as a Clavier, and Clavier is French for the word Keyboard.
A Clef (such as treble clef or bass clef) is a sign which fixes the location of a particular note on the staff and thus the location of all the other notes.
A Coda is a concluding section of a piece of music which acts as a way of finishing a song in a structured way. The Coda is usually done in a brief style but sometimes the Coda can be found to be extended and elaborate to show off the skill of the performer(s) or the composer.
Common Time is another name for 4:4 time, in which there are four quarter notes (crotchets) to the bar. The Common Time can be indicated by a C type symbol on the stave.
A concert is a musical performance in front of an audience. Concerts are usually given by a group of several performers. The term for an event where one or two performers are involved is generally termed a recital. However, Rock or popular music, does use the term concert for solo performers playing before an audience.
Notes in Concord is a chord, or combination of notes, which is in total harmony. The term concord is the opposite of discord.
To conduct music is to control the performance of a group of musicians or singers, with motions of the hands or with a baton stick. The conductor uses movements to beat the time and tempo of the piece of music. This movement gives the musicians their cue so that they enter at the right moment and at the correct speed. A good conductor will be able to ensure that the musicians play well together as a group. the conductor also controls changes of tempo, instruments to play loud, the balance of sound, as well as extra emotional emphasis during the piece.
A cornet is a brass wind instrument with a typical brass cup-shaped mouthpiece and three valves which control notes played. It looks like a shorter type of trumpet but has a milder sound than a trumpet. Cornets are used mainly in brass and military bands.
A count (or count-in) is used before starting of a piece of music to show when to come in and how fast to play the piece. The count in is determined by the time of the piece and whether there are any notes to be played before the next full bar.
Counterpoint is when two or more melodies are combined, so that they form a harmonious tune in themselves.
A Crescendo is when a passage or piece of music gradually increases in loudness and reaches a high point of volume.
A Crotchet is a note with a quarter the time value of a semibreve, or whole note. A Crotchet is known as a quarter note.
Da capo is usually abbreviated to D.C. and it is an instruction to repeat from the beginning. The term Da capo al fine means repeat from beginning to end. Finally the term Da capo al segno means repeat until the specified sign is reached.
A damper pedal is the pedal on the piano which causes the piano hammer to hit only one string and not all three. The damper pedal enables a pianist to play quieter, as well as dampening the tone of the note. The correct name for the damper pedal is the una corda pedal, from the Italian, meaning one string. The damper pedal is often referred to as the soft pedal.
The Decibel is a standard unit of measurement for the intensity of sound. Often abbreviated to dB. There are standard levels which can allow you to compare Decibel levels, e.g. a Jet Plane would be 100-120 Db, where as a room with people talking would be 20-40Db.
A Didgeridoo is an Australian aboriginal wind instrument, made out of a hollowed tree trunk and produces a low drone sound. The Didgeridoo is a way for the aboriginal people to tell stories through song and the music of the Didgeridoo. When played correctly, through slow vibrations of the lips, the Didgeridoo can be quite melodic with a variation of sounds which can even mimic bird calls.
Dim is an abbreviation of diminuendo meaning diminishing. Also, In the chords and tab section of this website you may see chords marked as Dim, e.g. Cdim – this means the chord of C diminished – (C minor with a flattened fifth note).
Diminished is a term which indicates that the difference in pitch between two notes (the interval), has been reduced by a semitone (half-tone). In general, diminished is only used to describe a diminished 5th or diminished 7th note.
The opposite of concord, a discord is a combination of notes which sounds harsh and unpleasant.
Dissonance occurs when two or more notes are sounded together to produce a discord. A discord can be used to emphasise harmonies by highlighting the notes and then resolving to a concord sound.
Dolce, is a musical instruction to a musician or singer to perform a musical passage in a gentle / sweet style.
Dominant refers to the 5th note of the diatonic scale. This applies to major and to minor keys. The Dominant note in the key of C is G.
A Dot can be placed above or after musical notes in musical notation. The dot over a note means that the note should be played staccato – therefore the note should be held for less than its full length. If the dot is placed after a note, then the time value of the note is to be extended by half – therefore a dotted minim is held for 3 beats. A double dot after the note extends the time by three-quarters.
Double Bar Line
A Double Bar Line is used to show the end of a section or piece of music. The Double Bar line is illustrated by 2 vertical lines on the musical notation.
The double bass is the largest stringed instrument of the symphonic orchestra. It also claims fame with having the lowest range. It can have four or five strings and is played with a bow, similar to a violin but is played while it stands vertically. There are generally eight in a symphony orchestra. The double bass can also be played in Jazz music but in this case the instrument is plucked.
A double flat is an instruction to a player that the pitch of a note is to be lowered by two semitones. Therefore the note of G double-flatted becomes the note of F.
A double sharp is an instruction to a player that the pitch of a note is to be raised by two semitones. Therefore the note of G double-sharpened becomes the note of A.
When playing stringed instruments such as a guitar, the down-stroke refers to the right hand movement from top to bottom.
The downbeat is the downward swing of a conductor’s baton or hand. The downbeat marks the stressed beats in a bar. E.g. In 3/4 time, the downbeat is on the first beat of each bar.
A drone is a constant note / notes of a specific pitch, which plays as a constant bass accompanying the melody. A drone is particularly obvious when listening to bagpipes.
A drum is a percussion instrument which has a skin or other taut membrane. This section which has the skin or membrane is called a drum head. Drums are played with drum-sticks or on certain drums with the hands.
A Drum Machine is an electronic instrument which can synthesize drum beats, rhythmic patterns and other percussion sounds.
A duet is a vocal or instrumental piece of music which has two parts of equal importance. A duet may consist of two melodic parts, a two part harmony, or a two parts passage with musical accompaniment.
A Dulcimer is a musical instrument which originated around the area of Persia (now called Iran). On a Dulcimer, stretched strings are hit using hammers.
A Duplet is a pair of notes which have equal time value but which occupy the time of three notes. In a duplet one note may optionally be replaced with a rest.
Dynamics relate to varying levels of volume, loud and soft, in a piece of music. Dynamics can be illustrated by symbols such as ff, f,pf, pp.
Effects pedals are used to produce extra effects, amplify current sounds or change outputs. Electronic foot pedals result in altered sounds, which are then fed to an amplifier or recording device. Effects pedals (or effects boxes) include Overdrive, Wah-Wah, Reverb, Chorus and Flange.
The term Electric, when used to speak of a musical instrument signifies that electrical amplification is required, as with an electric guitar. Electric Guitars can be amplified by feeding the output of the guitar into an amplifier.
The word Encore means again in French, and this is what it implies. When an audience requests an Encore, then they are requesting an extra or repeated performance.
Ensemble refers to a group of performers, (singers or instrumentalists), who regularly play music as a group.
Equal Voices refers to voices of the same kind ; an example being music written for equal voices may require three altos or five sopranos.
An Étude is an instrumental piece of music written to develop or demonstrate a particular aspects of a musician’s technique. Études are often used when teaching piano.
Eurhythmics is a way of expressing musical rhythm by a system of bodily movements. The system of Eurhythmics was developed by Emile Jaques Dalcroze, who set up an institute promoting Eurhythmics in Germany in the early 1900’s. The word Eurythmics (a variation) was also the name of a UK band, with singer Annie Lennox.
An exercise is a piece of music written specifically to improve a player’s or singer’s technique.
Falsetto is when a singer has to sing much higher than he / she can. The singers register will have a limit but by singing Falsetto, a singer can achieve a higher range.
A Fandango is a rhythmic Spanish dance in triple time. The Fandango is accompanied by castanets and guitar.
A Fanfare is a musical piece for trumpets, or other brass instruments, usually played as a process, a proclamation or introduction to an event.
A fiddle is similar to a violin but is infact the ancestor to the bowed string instrument, which later became the violin.
A small, side-blown flute which is popular in marching bands. Fife and Drum bands are popular in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
A fingerboard is the section of a stringed instrument over which the strings are stretched. The fingerboard is so called because the players fingers must press down on the strings in order to select the desired note.
Fingering refers to the use of a players fingers to play an instrument. The term may also is used in certain tab or chord progressions to identify specifically which fingers should play which notes and chords.
Two strokes on the side drum, with the first beat consisting of a short note and the second being a long one.
A type of folk song, dance, and guitar music closely associated with andalusia in southern Spain, and presumably of gypsy or Moorish origin.
The sign, which when placed before a note, lowers it in pitch by a semitone. An instrument or voice is called flat when it is below the true pitch.
A flautist is a person who plays the flute.
A flute is a woodwind instrument which can be end-blown and side-blown. More often a flure refers to the orchestral side-blown woodwind instrument. Usually a flute is made of metal, although wooden flutes are still in use.
The musical instruction of Forte, is an instruction for the performer to play an instrument loudly or to sing loudly. Abbreviated as f.
The musical instruction of Fortissimo, is an instruction for the performer to play an instrument very loudly or to sing very loudly. Abbreviated as ff.
A time signature of four quarter beats in one bar of music. The time signature is indicated with a 4 over a 4.
A French Horn is a brass instrument with valves, often used in the orchestra, also in brass, military, and concert bands.
A strip of wood, metal, or gut that runs across the fingerboard of a stringed instrument, such as a guitar. The fret allows easier, more precise and more accurate fingering for correct note selection.
The Fret board is the front side of a guitar neck which contains the frets.
Glissando is a method of playing the piano, guitar or harp, where the player rapidly slides up or down the scale, in which every tone or semitone is clearly played.
A Glockenspiel is a percussion instrument consisting of tuned metal bars arranged in the same layout as piano keys. The Glockenspiel keys produce a chime-like sound when they are struck with small hammers which are held in hand.
A Gong is a percussion instrument which is generally of a low but unspecified pitch or tone. A Gong is a large metal disc, which is truck with a muted hammer or stick. The Gong originates from Asia (commonly used in Chinese and Japanese music), the gong has been played in Western orchestras since the 18th-century. The most recent (famous) use of a gong can be heard at the end of Bohemian Rhapsody.
A Grace Note is a note which is played as an addition to the main melody, usually can be a fast note and to be added as soon as possible by the player. In a musical score, Grace Notes are often printed in smaller type.
A Grand Piano is a large horizontal piano commonly used in orchestras. The smaller version of a Grand Piano is a Baby Grand.
Grave is an instruction for the performer to play a piece of music slowly and seriously.
Gregorian Chant is a type of chanted song often sung by monks or priests.
A Guitar is a stringed instrument which is played by depressing strings and plucking or strumming strings. The modern guitar has 6 strings, but 12 string versions are also common. The Guitar is originally a Spanish instrument.
Guitar tablature is a system of reading and writing guitar music using numbers and timings. The numbers and their relative positions directly relate to positions on specific strings on a guitar. Guitar tablature is frequently abbreviated to Tab or Guitar Tab.
A Harmonica, also better known as a mouth organ is a mouth-blown instrument consisting of a metal casing containing a set of metal reeds. The Harmonica is played principally in Folk and Blues music.
Harmonics are also called Overtones, as these are vibrations at frequencies which are multiples of the fundamental frequency. Harmonics can be achieved on a guitar on the 7th, 9th and 12th fret.
A Harmonium is a keyboard instrument similar to a small organ. On the Harmonium there are bellows and a set of pedals activate bellows, which force air through a set of reeds. Sounds are made if keys are pressed to force the air down the reeds for that note.
A Harmony or Harmony line is commonly used in music. A Harmony is the playing of notes which gives a sweet sound due to specific musical relationships between notes. Easy Harmonies are achieved using the 5th, 3rd or 7th notes of a chord.
A Harp is a large stringed instrument where the strings are plucked by the person playing the Harp. There are stops and pedals on the Harp which can change the sound. Harps are popular in Irish and Celtic music and the Harp is the National symbol of Ireland.
The Headstock is the piece of the guitar which is situated on the end of the neck. The Headstock houses the machine heads which are used for tuning a guitar.
A Horn is a brass wind instrument, through which sound is produced by the vibrations made from the player’s lips on the funnel-shaped metal mouthpiece. The most famous type of horn is the French Horn.
A Hymn is traditionally a religious song of praise to God, or a Holy Saint. Most commonly, a Hymn is a Christian song commonly sung by church congregations or choirs.
An Impromptu is a short instrumental work, sometimes ad-libbed which is a spur of the moment piece of music. Guitarists can also play Impromptu pieces – At the Queen Wembley ’86 concert, guitarist Brian May played an Impromptu piece based around Brighton Rock. Impromptu pieces are rarely the same each time they are played.
Improvisation is music which is played without prior thought or without music. To improvise when playing music you need to be aware of the key you are playing in and also the melody and the direction of the song. Improvisation can be difficult and classical composers such as Lizst were experts in Improvisation.
An Instrumental is music written for musical instruments with little or no vocal content. Often Instrumentals are used as incidental music during a film or play.
Instrumentation is the writing and arranging of music for particular instruments.
An Interlude is a short piece of music which lies between two longer pieces. Also, an Interlude can be music written to play between the acts of a play.
The Interval is the difference in pitch between two notes. The interval is calculated by counting the number of diatonic notes from the lower note to the higher and including the notes at either end. For example, the interval from C to E above it is a third and G would be C’s fifth interval. Any Interval greater than an octave (eight diatonic notes) are called compound intervals.
The Introduction is the opening section of a piece of music. The Introduction may usually be instrumental, so as to setup the kay and cue the singers or other instruments. Film Scores can have a rather long introduction as this builds anticipation during the introduction for the main section.
A Jam Session is an impromptu performance of various musicians. Jam Sessions usually involve some improvisation and can be an excellent method if training for young musicians. Jam Sessions are common in Jazz music.
Jazz is a type of music which originated in New Orleans in the early 1900s. Jazz is characterized by having Afro-American roots with the music having blue notes, improvisation on melody, syncopations and reiterated rhythms.
The Kettledrum or Timpani is a type of tune-able drum which is commonly used in classical music. The Kettledrum or Timpani has a membrane stretched over a large hollow metal shell and the tension controlled using screws and/or a pedal. These screws are then tightened or loosened for tuning.
Key is a major element in music and when piece of music is based on a certain scale or tone is said to have that key. Therefore, a piece of music written in E Major will usually start and end in that key. Most modern music is written in major keys or minor keys. It is possible to change keys during playing of a piece – when this happens it is said that the key has been modulated.
The Key note is the main note of the scale in which a piece of music is based.
A Key Signature is the method in which the key of a piece is denoted and written on music score. For example, a song written in the key of G will have a key signature where there is one sharp of F#. Therefore, all F notes played will be played as F# unless a note has been neutralled.
A Koto is a Japanese instrument which consists of 13 strings. The Koto is played using three plectrums worn on two fingers and the thumb.
Largo is an instruction to play a piece of music in a very slow and dignified manner.
Ledger Lines are short lines which can be written in a musical score for when notes appear above or below the five main lines of the staff. Ledger Line are only used when notes fall outside the 5 main lines, so that notes can be identified.
Legato is an instruction to play a piece of music smoothly, so that all the notes run into one another almost like a slur.
Lento is an instruction to play a piece of music slowly.
A Loop is any small segment of sound or music that is repeated on itself so it plays continuously in a melodic or rhythmic pattern. Beats, melodies and vocals can all be looped to play in repetition. Loops are predominantly used in electronic, Hip-Hop or Dance music but increasingly appear across all styles. Digital video footage can also be looped to play repeatedly as used in the film Speed.
A Lyricist is the person responsible for writing the words or lyrics, for a song, opera or musical play.
The Machine heads on a guitar are used for tuning up or down each string. The Machine heads are housed on the headstock. Machine heads are also sometimes called tuning heads or tuning keys.
The Major Scale is a diatonic scale consisting of eight ascending notes, from the key note to its octave. The sequence of intervals between the notes on the Major Scale is as follows – tone – tone – semitone – tone – tone – tone – semitone. The name of the scale is taken from the key note – therefore if you start on F then it is the scale of F Major.
A Mandolin is a small stringed instrument with four pairs of strings, which are plucked with a plectrum.
Maracas are small percussion instruments from Latin American, usually containers filled with seeds or beads which rattle when shaken. Maracas are usually played in pairs and are held in the hands.
A March is a piece of music often written for marching soldiers (hence the name) or military bands.
A Marimba is similar to the xylophone, but using wooden bars. The marimba is often used in the percussion section of the symphony orchestra.
A Measure is another term to denote 1 bar of music. The term Measure is usually only used in the US.
A Media File refers to any image, audio or video file on a computer. An example of which may be wav, mp3, mpeg, avi or aiff files. These files can be edited, browsed, or manipulated by specialist editing software.
The Melody or Melody line is a succession of sequential musical notes which form the recognisable theme or tune of a song.
A Metronome is a small device which is adjustable so that it makes a noise based on the selected number of beats per minute. A Metronome can be used for setting speed when practicing a musical piece.
The musical instruction of Mezzo Forte, is an instruction for the performer to play an instrument only moderately loudly or to sing moderately loudly. Abbreviated as mf.
A Microphone is a device for capturing sound to be recorded by a recording device. They generally come in two varieties, Dynamic Microphones and Condenser Microphones, as well as numerous shapes and sizes depending on the recording situation. All microphones rely on sound waves moving a diaphragm whereby the movements are converted into an audio signal.
MIDI is a computing/audio standard that represents music in digital format. MIDI (almost like a protocol) allows electronic devices to operate together to produce a synchronised sound. A MIDI signal contains no actual sound but indicates for example, which key, how hard and how long a specific key is pressed on the keyboard, or shows the effect of altering the sound controls such as vibrato, modulation or portemento on the sound.
A Minim is a musical note which has half the time value of a semibreve, or a whole note.
A Minor Scale is a diatonic scale made up of eight notes, from the root key note to its relative octave. The sequence of intervals for Minor Scales between the notes is as follows :- tone – semitone – tone – tone – semitone – tone – tone. The name of the scale is taken from the key note , therefore if you start on the note of G, it is the scale of G Minor.
A Mixer is an electronic audio device for mixing or blending separate sound sources together. There are many different types of sound mixers with varied features designed specifically to address specific tasks. Mixing Desks come in various sizes from simple 4 track mixers to full size multi-track studio mixers.
Moderato is a tempo direction used to indicate a moderate tempo.
Modulation is a change in key within a musical piece of music.
A Movement is a self-contained piece of a larger musical work such as a sonata, quartet, concerto or symphony. You may see this referred as the 3rd Movement or 6th Movement of a piece.
The MP3 (MPEG Layer 3) is a compressed format for digital audio recordings. MP3 files can be up to one tenth the size of their original files and still retain near CD sound quality. The Mp3 file format was derived by the MPEG Group. MPEG stands for Motion Pictures Engineers Group.
An MP3 is a compressed audio format that is popular for downloading across the internet and for use with memory-based audio players such as the Apple IPod. MP3 Files may be recorded on CD-R or CD-RW media for playback in compatible DVD players, audio CD players, and CD-ROM drives. MP3 Files are usually named with the suffix .mp3. MP3 Sound quality varies as a function of the recording/encoding bit rate used in sampling the sound. Too much compression or a too low bit rate will result in poor sound quality.
The capacity of a MIDI sound module or synthesiser to produce different individual instrument voices simultaneously is referred to as the Multi-Timbral quality. Most Modern synthesisers will have a minimum of at least 16 part multi-timbral capacity.
Music is defined as the ordering of tones or sounds in succession, in combination, to produce a composition having unity and continuity. Music can be vocal, instrumental, or mechanical sounds having rhythm, melody, or harmony. Music Sites are websites dedicated to the distribution and presentation of music or musical information for reading, research or download. These websites may provide content, applications, streaming or tools that enable a direct listening experience or promoting musical awareness including musicians or record labels websites, sites that promote musical events, or those that teach music or about music, generally or technically.
A Mute is a device which is fitted to an instrument to soften, mute or otherwise alter its tone. This may be an object placed inside the bell of a brass instrument, or on the bridge of a stringed instrument. E.g. A Muted Trumpet.
Nachtmusik in German, means night music and the most celebrated Nachtmusik is Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik.
A Natural is a note which is neither flat nor sharp. If a natural is placed on a note which is a sharp / flat in that key, then the natural will force that note to be played without the sharp / flat.
The neck is the part of a stringed instrument, to which the fingerboard and frets is attached. Strings on such an instrument will run down the neck.
Nocturne, from the French, meaning of the night, is a short piece, generally with three main sections.
Notation, in particular Musical Notation is the method of using symbols to write down or notate a musical composition.
A note is a single tone or sound of a particular length and pitch.
Nylon String Guitar
A Nylon string guitar is an Acoustic Guitar which has three nylon strings instead of having all metal strings.
An Oboe is a wood-wind instrument which has a double reed and conical tube. The Oboe is played in the orchestra, chamber music and as a solo instrument.
The Ocarina is a small wind instrument, made from metal or pottery and produces a flute or pan-pipe type sound. The Ocarina is played mainly in central Europe & South America.
An Octave is the interval between two notes of the same name that are seven steps apart on a diatonic scale.
To play open is a term used to indicate that a string on a stringed instrument, is allowed to vibrate freely without being pressed on.
An Open chord is a chord which contains open strings.
An Opera is a dramatic work which originated in Italy in the 1700’s, in which the characters sing instead of speak. The singing is done in a particular style (Operatic)
An Orchestra is a large ensemble of players of musical instruments. In General an orchestra will include the following sections: Strings, Wind, Brass; and Percussion. A symphony orchestra is capable of playing symphonies; a chamber orchestra is smaller in size.
An organ is a type of wind instrument consisting of at least one row of pipes, which produce sound by forcing air into the pipes and valves. Pipe Organs are very common in churches and cathedrals.
To Overblow an instrument means that you blow a wind instrument so hard, that you end up producing the upper harmonic tones.
The Panpipes are musical instruments which are dated to exist over 2,500 years ago. Panpipes consists of a series of vertical pipes of varying length and joined together. The Panpipes are played by blowing across the pipe ends.
A Pause is a sign used in musical notation meaning that the note or rest must be held longer than the normal time. This duration is at the conductors or performers discretion.
Pedals are levers operated by the feet, and found principally on pianos and some other keyboard instruments. The abbreviation Ped. is used often on music notation and it means that the sustain pedal should be depressed and used for the duration of the notes which has the Ped indication.
Pentatonic Scale is a scale of five notes, often represented by the five black keys of the piano , C#, D#, F#, G# and A#.
The most common type of Percussion instrument is the Drum. the term Percussion, is a general term for those instruments in which the sound is created by striking a surface by using a stick or hand.
Perfect Pitch is the ability of a person to be able to identify a specific note without reference to any previously sounded note. People who have Perfect Pitch (or are Pitch Perfect), can start a song unaccompanied and be confident that they are in the correct key when instruments start playing.
A Philharmonic Orchestra is the same as a symphony orchestra.
A Piano is a keyboard based instrument in which strings are struck with softened hammers. The piano is available as upright, grand, baby-grand and electric. The term piano can also mena the musical instruction of Piano, is an instruction for the performer to play an instrument softly or to sing softly. Abbreviated as p.
A modern keyboard instrument which produces sounds using hammers which strike metal strings. These hammers are activated by keys, depressed by the performer’s fingers – the pressure and speed of which can vary, and therefore the volume. The piano has pedals which controls the dampers which stop the vibration of the strings and also a sustain pedal which lets the strings vibrate for longer. The piano is an extremely popular instrument in Classical, Romantic, Jazz, Pop, Rock, and Folk music.Famous jazz pianists: Duke Ellington, and Dave Brubeck.
The Piccolo is an general name for an instrument pitched above the parent instrument, generally by 1 octave. Some examples of Piccolos include the Piccolo trumpet, and piccolo flute.
Pickups are electromagnetic devices housed underneath the strings on an electric guitar. Pickups produces a signal to be amplified by a guitar amplifier. It is very often to have more than one set of Pickups on an electric guitar.
Pitch is a measure of how high or low a note is, relative to the tone of other notes. The Pitch of a note is determined by the frequency of vibrations per second of the sound-producing agent. For Example, the note A in concert pitch is 440 Hz.
Pizzicato is a style of playing on string instruments, such as a violin. When an instrument is played Pizzicato, the piece is to be played by plucking, and not bowing, the strings. Pizzicato is abbreviated as pizz. And an example of Pizzicato strings is the notes C + E + F# played at the start of the Simpsons.
A Plectrum is a small device which is used to pluck and strum the strings on instruments such as the banjo and guitar. The Plectrum is shortened to Plec by guitarists.
Polyphonic means many sounds. MIDI or synth devices may state how many sounds can be played at once, this may refer to its polyphony.
Polyphony refers to the number of individual notes a device can make at once. A monophonic synthesiser has only one voice. Most modern electronic musical equipment will have polyphony of 64-128.
The term Portamento is used to notes which glide from one note to the next without interruption.
A Prelude is an instrumental or orchestral piece which introduces a larger musical piece.
A Quarter Beat is a sub-division of time in music twice as long as an eighth beat.
A Quartet is a performing group involving four voices or instruments.
Queen, Rock Band, comprised Freddie Mercury (lead vocals/piano), Brian May (lead guitar), Roger Taylor (drums), and John Deacon (bass guitar). The tragic death of Queen’s lead singer Freddie Mercury occurred on November 24th 1991. Between 1971 and 1991 they released over 20 studio albums. Some of their more popular songs include: Bohemian Rhapsody, We Will Rock You, We Are The Champions, Another One Bites The Dust, Killer Queen, A Kind of Magic and Under Pressure.
For more information see the Queen section of this website.
A Recorder is a type of reed-less woodwind instrument and is often the first instrument taught to children as it is rather easy to play.
The Refrain is that part of a song that is sung more than once. The Refrain of a song is also called the Chorus.
The term Register is used to describe part of the vocal range of a singer, or that of an instrument, that creates its distinctive tone quality.
The Repeat sign is a set of 2 dots placed before a double line indicating the repeat of a section of music.
Resolution of a piece of music relates to the progression in harmony from discord to concord.
A Rest is a musical sign which indicates silence – either for one or more players, or for the entire set of instruments.
A Rhapsody is a term used to describe a musical work in one continuous movement.
The Rhythm refers to the beat of the song or the sequence of events played with the right hand on a guitar which gives a piece of music a distinct beat.
A Riff is a short musical phrase which may be repeated often during a piece, e.g. a guitar riff.
Ringtones are the sounds your mobile phone makes when someone calls you. Ringtones can be changed or altered on most phones, which certain mobile phones allowing you to allocate a specific ringtone to certain callers. Ringtones can be purchased on the web or composed using Ringtone composers which most Nokia phones have.
Ritardano is an instruction that the piece is becoming slower. Often abbreviated to rit.
Rock is a type of music style. Rock Music can be defined through history by its energy. There are various categories of Rock including, Rock and Roll, Heavy Metal, Hard Rock, Alternative Rock, Pop-Rock, Soft-Rock, and Grunge Music.
Rock ‘n’ Roll
Rock ‘n’ Roll is a style of popular music which originated in the United States around 1955 and characterised by the use of distinct beats, electric guitars and solo voice.
A Root note is a note by which a chord or scale is named. E.g. the root note for th chord of C is the note C.
A Saxophone is a brass wind instrument – but is classified as woodwind, and is named after its inventor Adolphe Sax who developed the Saxophone in 1840. The saxophone has a single reed and has a distinctive sound.
A Scale is a succession of notes in upward or downward steps and based around a type of scale. Scales types may be major, minor, chromatic, diatonic, or pentatonic and there are many many more.
A Semibreve is a whole note with the time value of two half notes or four quarter notes.
A Semiquaver is a sixteenth of a note with the time value of 1/16 of a whole note.
The smallest interval used in modern music. Two semitones is the same as one whole tone step.
A Sharp is a # symbol placed before a note to raise its pitch by a semitone.
A Side Drum is also sometimes referred to as the snare drum, which has a skin at both ends with the upper skin being struck with a pair of wooden sticks. The lower of the skins is in contact with strings (snares) which often have beads attached, which produce the distinctive rattling snare-drum effect.
To Sight Read means to be able to play or sing a piece of music at first sight without hesitation.
A Sitar is an Indian instrument which has a long neck with strings attached. It is played with a plectrum worn on the right forefinger and produces a very distinctive sound.
A Slide is any device which alters the pitch of the notes that it produces in a gliding effect.
A Slur is an instruction or direction in music, written as a curved line over two or more notes, which indicates that they are joined smoothly as one unbroken phrase. When a slur is written in music for strings, these slurs are played as one bow stroke. In vocal music, slurs are sung in one breath.
A solo is a piece of music performed by one player.
A soloist is a person who sings or plays a solo piece or instrument.
A Sonata is a piece of music written in three distinct sections. E.g. the Moonlight Sonata.
A Song is a musical composition with words. A song can be performed with or without accompaniment.
Soprano is the highest female voice and is also used to classify instruments such as Soprano Sax.
A Sound Board is a wooden board which enhances the resonation of sound.
The Sound hole is the hole in the front of an acoustic guitar from which the sound is projected.
Staccato is a musical instruction marked by a dot over the note, that it should be held for less than its full length.
The Staff or Stave is a five-line system which is used to write musical notation.
The Staff or Stave is a five-line system which is used to write musical notation.
Steel Bands originally came from the West Indies and used drums made from the hammered-out oil drums used to produce a very distinctive percussion sound.
Steel String Guitar
A Steel string guitar is an acoustic guitar which has all steel strings.
A Stem is that vertical line in music notation which appears above or below a note or rhythm.
Strumming is a technique used when playing guitar-like instruments, where the right hand (for right handed people) plays the stings using fingers or a plectrum, with down or up strokes.
The right pedal on the piano is the Sustain Pedal. The Sustaining Pedal prolongs the sound by holding off the dampers so that they can resonate freely.
Syncopation is the deliberate changing of the rhythm in a piece of music so as to make the accent fall on the weaker beat in the bar. Syncopation can be very effective and is commonly found in Jazz music.
Referring to the process of taking parameters and producing an output which resembles an original. Synthesis in this case is referring to the processing of electronic parameters to produce a sound from a synthesizer.
The word synthesizer, is regularly shortened to the word, synth, and refers to an electronic instrument, which contains a programmable computer chip, which can emulate or reproduce sounds. A synth or synthesizer is capable of generating sound using real-time control over the key parameters of sound. They synthesize frequency, timbre, amplitude, and duration ro produce a realistic sound. Most modern synthesizers include a MIDI interface which can output to another device or which can be used as an input from another MIDI device.
A Song which has been transcribed into a pseudo-musical form, for ease of reading. Most Tabs are for guitars but drum tab also exists. Piano tab is usually a chord progression laid over a vocal outline, so that the chords can be played as the lyrics are being referenced.
A Tambourine is a small hand-held percussion instrument which is shaken and struck with the hand. The Tambourine is fitted with rattling metal discs – these discs are called jingles.
The Tempo relates to the speed of a piece of music.
A Tenor is the highest non-falsetto adult male voice.
Three / Four Time
A time signature Three / Four time means, three quarter beats in one bar of music and is indicated as the number 3 over 4 on the stave.
A Tie is a curved line which indicates that two notes of the same pitch are joined together and played as one with the time value of both. Therefore, if two crotchets are tied, then this plays as 2 beats.
A Time Signature is the sign at the beginning of a bar, usually with two numbers one over the other. The Lower number in the Time Signature shows the note value and the upper number in the Time Signature shows how many beats in each bar.
The Kettledrum or Timpani is a type of tune-able drum which is commonly used in classical music. The Kettledrum or Timpani has a membrane stretched over a large hollow metal shell and the tension controlled using screws and/or a pedal. These screws are then tightened or loosened for tuning.
The Tin Whistle is a wind instrument usually made of thin metal and is played by blowing and covering any of the six holes on the whistle. The Tin Whistle is also known as a penny whistle.
A Toccata is a musical piece, often for keyboard, organ or brass.
The Tone relates to the sound of definite pitch. The term Tone is also used to describe an interval of two combined semitones, a whole tone.
The process of transcribing music is slow and painstaking. It involves listening to a piece of music, determining its key, and detailing the chords and bass notes used in the piece of music. The word transcribe means to make a written copy of, sometimes in longhand or on a machine, or even to paraphrase or summarize in writing. Transcribing can be done by means of phonetic symbols – in the case of music transcription, the use of Chord Symbols such as C#min7 or in musical notation the use of minims, quavers and rests.
To play music in a key other than the one in which it was written. Transposing may be required to suit a particular performer or instrument.
The Treble Clef is sign at the beginning of a piece of music which indicates the location of the note G above middle C.
The Triangle is a small percussion instrument made metal and when struck produces a tinkling of indefinite pitch.
A Trill is a musical technique where the notes are rapidly alternated between the written note and the one immediately above or below it.
A Triplet is a group of three notes played or sung in the time normally taken by two notes. This may be indicated using a small number 3 above the joining bar for the notes.
A Trombone is a long brass instrument which is played using a slide which increases or decreases the length of tubing, and therefore alters the pitch of notes played.
A Trumpet is a brass instrument with three valves.
A Tuba is a classification of brass instrument with a deep tone. The Tuba classification includes the euphonium, flugelhorn, helicon, saxhorn, and sousaphone.
Tubular Bells are an orchestral instrument made from hanging metal tubes. The Tubular Bells when struck, create the sound similar to church bells.
A Tuning Fork is a U-shaped metal rod usually tuned to C or A. Tuning Forks are used by choirs to get a starting note for unaccompanied pieces.
This is a small guitar-like instrument with four strings and a long fingerboard.
The term unison means that music is played by all in the same melody and pitch.
An Upright Piano is a variation on the classical Grand piano but has vertical strings, as opposed to the grand piano, where the strings are horizontal.
Valves are a mechanism on some brass instruments, which changes the length of the instruments internal tubing and thus alters the pitch of the sound produced when the player blows into the mouthpiece.
The Vibraphone is a percussion instrument with metal bars. It produces a ringing piano like sound.
The Vibrato effect means that a note will have fast and regular oscillations of pitch.
The Viola is a member of the violin family, but is slightly larger and deeper tone than the violin.
The Violin is a bowed, four-stringed instrument, played by stroking the strings with a bow made from horsehair.
The Violin Family of instruments comprises the violin, the viola, the violin-cello ( or cello) and the double bass. In an orchestra, the violin far outnumbers the other members of the Violin Family.
The Virginal is the oldest type of harpsichord which dates from around the 16th century..
A Waltz is a dance which is written in 3/4 time.
WAV is a file format for digital audio similar to that found on audio CD’s. The WAV format is an exact audio format meaning it is a precise digital copy of the original sound.
Western Mouth Organ
A Western Mouth Organ, also better known as a Harmonica is a mouth-blown instrument consisting of a metal casing containing a set of metal reeds. The Mouth Organ or Harmonica is played principally in Folk and Blues music.
A Whole beat in music, lasts for a whole bar in music with a time signature of four / four.
Wind Instruments are those in which sound is produced by the player blowing into or across them. Wind Instruments are divided into woodwind and brass instruments.
A Wire Brush is a type of drumstick with a set of semi-stiff wires at the end, which is used to produce a ‘brushing’ noise on a drum. These are often used in Jazz music.
Woodwind are a classification of wind instruments, usually made of wood and with reed mouthpieces. Woodwind instruments comprise of Flutes, Oboes, Clarinets, Bassoons,and Saxaphones.
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