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Vocabulary List for Music and Movies
Motif – a short repeating pattern within music, which can include rhythmic
and/or melodic material.
Mode – music is generally written in major or minor mode, but there are also
other modes, known as medieval modes
Interval – the distance between two notes
Texture – the density of the music, relating to how many layers of sound are
heard at once. A single instrument would be thin of texture; an entire
orchestra with each instrument playing their own part is much thicker.
Cadenza – extended improvisatory section
Coda – section added to the end of a musical piece
Fine – end of a piece
Glissando – sliding from one pitch to another
Legato – smooth
Staccato – separated, detached
Subito – suddenly, immediately
Tacet – does not play
Tremolo – rapid repetition of a note or alternation of notes
Tutti – all
Unison – all on melody line
Tempo- speed of the music
Lento – slowly
Largo – broadly
Larghetto – somewhat faster than largo
Adagio – easily, unhurried
Andante – walking tempo, flowing
Moderato – moderately, neither slow nor fast
Allegro – lively
Presto – fast
Prestissimo – very fast
Tempo modifiers
Accelerando – becoming faster
Allargando – broadening
Grave – solemnly
Ritardando – gradually slowing
Rubato – flexible tempo (“give a little, take a little”)
Dynamics (from softest to loudest)
Pianissimo – (pp) very softly
Piano – (p) softly
Mezzo piano – (mp) medium softly
Mezzo forte (mf) medium loudly
Forte – (f) loudly
Fortissimo – (ff) very loudly
Dynamic Modifiers
Crescendo – growing louder
Decrescendo – growing softer
Diminuendo – diminishing in loudness
Sforzando – sharply accented
Agitato – excitedly
Cantabile – song-like
Dolce – sweetly
Espressivo – expressively
Fuoco – intensity, ardor
Giocoso – playfully
Grazioso – gracefully
Maestoso – majestically
Marcato – stressed, marked
Scherzando – jokingly
Tenuto – extra length or stress added to notes
Additional Terms
Scale – a succession of musical tones, usually arranged in half and whole steps
and forming a particular pattern.
Half step – the interval between one tone and its closest neighbor, to the right
or left, on the piano keyboard.
Whole step – consists of two half steps.
Major – the most frequently used mode, which follows with a consecutive set
of stepwise tones, such as C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. All the steps are
whole steps, with the exception of those from E to F (3 to 4), and B
to C (7 to 8).
Minor – a different arrangement of whole and half steps from the major mode.
There are actually three types of minor scales: natural minor, as A to A
on the piano keyboard, with the half steps falling between B and C (2 to
3), and between E and F (5 to 6). The other minor scales are the
harmonic minor and the melodic minor, with other variations of half
and whole step placement.
Compositional Forms
Canon – passage where one voice precisely follows another
Chorale – harmonized hymn tune
Concerto – composition for soloist and orchestra
Fugue – passage where a theme is imitated among the voices
Interlude – music to be played between movements or acts
Mass – choral setting of the Roman Catholic consecration of the elements
Opera – staged dramatic multi-act vocal work with orchestra
Oratorio – non-staged (usually religious) choral and instrumental work
Overture – orchestral introduction to a larger work
Prelude – short composition to be played before another composition
Rhapsody – very free-form composition
Rondo – composition where the main theme returns after each of several
other themes
Suite – set of programmatic movements
Symphony – large-scale multi-movement composition for orchestra
Variations – successive alterations of a melody