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Music Glossary
AB – a two part compositional form in which the second part differs from the first
ABA – a three part compositional form in which the first and last parts are the same and
the middle part is different
accelerando—gradually becoming faster
accent – a stress or emphasis on a specific beat, tone, chord or movement
adagio—a slow tempo, between largo and andante
alto – low female voice; also called contralto, second highest part in choral or part music
articulation— The degree to which notes are separated or connected, such as staccato or
audition—a performance for a judge that will determine placement or eligibility for an
balance – evenness of volume or tone throughout an ensemble
bar line – a vertical line on the staff separating one measure from the next
bass – low male voice; lowest part in choral or part music, lowest range of pitches of an
bass clef (F clef)—used to notate the lowest sounding notes; the two dots surrounding the
fourth line indicate a note written on that line is ‘F’
beat – the basic unit of time and the underlying pulse in music; the basic unit within a
beat—the steady pulse in music
brass – a group of wind instruments made of brass and other metals and played by
blowing through a cup-shaped or funnel-shaped mouthpiece; the chief brass instruments
of the orchestra are the trumpet, trombone, French horn, and tuba
call and response – a musical form featuring a solo phrase that is answered by a larger
canon – a compositional form in which individuals and/or groups perform the same
movement or phrase beginning at different times
chord – two or more pitches sounding simultaneously
chromatic—twelve note scale moving in half steps
circle of fifths – a graphic representation of the relationship of the key signatures in
coda – a concluding section of a musical composition
coda—the last section of a musical composition added to create a more final, clear
composition—the act of intentionally arranging the elements of music using the
principles of organization to create a musical piece
crescendo (cresc.) – gradually getting louder
culture—the combined qualities, such as the arts, customs, language, and traditions, that
define a society or civilization
da capo (D.C.) – indicates that the music is to be repeated from the beginning;
da capo al fine—indicates that the music is to be repeated from the beginning to the
word fine (ending)
dal segno (D.S.) – indication that the music is to be repeated from the symbol
dal segno (D.S.) al fine—indicates that the music is to be repeated from the sign to the
word fine (ending)
decrescendo (decresc.) – gradually getting quieter
diatonic – the tones of the major or minor scale; distinct from chromatic
diction—clear, exact pronunciation of vowels and consonants in singing
duple – meter in which the basic unit of pulse recurs in groups of two
dynamics—the loudness and quietness of sound
forte (f)—loud
fortissimo (ff)—very loud
mezzo-forte (mf)—medium loud
mezzo-piano (mp)—medium quiet
pianissimo (pp)—very quiet
piano (p)—quiet
elements of music—the concepts of pitch, rhythm, expression(dynamics, style, tempo,
phrasing), and timbre
ensemble—two or more singers or instrumentalists performing together
expression—the use of the elements of music (such as tempo, dynamics, etc.) that create
a mood or feeling
fermata – a symbol placed over a note indicating the note is to be held longer than its
normal metrical value
flat – a symbol indicating that a tone is to be lowered one half step
form—the basic structure of a musical piece
half step—the smallest interval between two tones of a scale
harmony—sounding two or more tones at the same time
improvisation—the act of making up music on the spot
improvise—to make up music on the spot, usually with a purpose, using guidelines
improvise—to make up music on the spot, sometimes within guidelines
interlude – a section of music between themes
interval—the distance between two pitches
introduction – a musical passage prior to the main theme
key signature—the sharps or flats appearing on the left side of each staff to show the
scale in which the music is written
leap—an interval larger than a whole step
leap – motion from one pitch to another that is more than a whole tone away
legato – smoothly; opposite of staccato
major and minor—terms used to describe the sound of music based on the intervals
measure – the segment of music contained between two bar lines
measure—the space between bar lines
melody—a series of musical notes arranged one after another
meter—the grouping of beats in a measure determined by the time signature
moderato—a medium tempo
music elements— the basic components that make up a musical work: beat/rhythm,
expression (dynamics, style, phrasing, tempo), form, harmony, melody, notation, pitch,
texture, timbre/tone color
notation—a writing system of symbols to indicate pitch, duration, and expression
note—a symbol used for a musical tone
note value—a symbol used to show how long a tone should be held: expressed as a
whole and its parts, including half note, quarter note, eighth note, etc.
octave—the interval distance of eight notes (C-C, D-D, F#-F#, etc)
paired eighth notes—two eighth notes barred together
partner song – two or more different songs that can be sung at the same time to create
pattern—putting together melodies and rhythms to form a model that can be imitated
pattern—a combination of melodic and/or rhythmic elements forming a model that can
be used for imitation
percussion – instruments which are played by striking, shaking, or scraping
perfect—term used to describe the intervals of a fourth, fifth, and octave
phrase – a natural division of the melodic line, comparable to a sentence of speech
pitch – the highness or lowness of a tone
pitch—the rate of vibration that results in the highness or lowness of a tone
principles of organization—notation, form, melody, harmony
purpose—music that is intended for a specific audience, storyline, event, mood, feeling,
and/or situation
refrain – a section of a song that recurs at the end of each verse; sometimes called a
register—the range of a voice or an instrument
repeat sign – the symbols and calling for a repetition of the music enclosed by them
repeat signs—a symbol showing that certain measures or passages are to be sung or
played two or more times at the same pitch level
repeated notes – reiteration of a tone at the same pitch level
rest—a symbol used to mark a period of silence for a specific amount of time
rhythm—the pattern of musical movement through time
rhythmic value—note value and rest value
ritardando—gradual delay of time
rondo—a composition consisting of one main theme that reappears several times in
alternation (back and forth; taking turns) with other contrasting themes (ABACA)
round – a song in which the melody is performed by different groups starting at different
round—a song in which the melody is performed by individuals and/or groups starting
and ending at different times
scale—a series of tones belonging to any key
sharp – a symbol indicating that a tone is to be raised by one half step
sight-sing—to recognize and sing musical notation at first sight
simple meter—a time signature in which the beat unit is divisible by two
slur – a curved line drawn over or under a group of notes indicating that they are to be
played legato
solfège—the use of do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do for singing pitches
solfège/solfa—the use of do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do used to represent the tones of a scale
soprano – high female voice; highest part in choral or part music, highest range of
pitches of an instrument
staccato – detached, short, disconnected; opposite of legato
staff—a set of lines and spaces used in writing music to show the pitches; usually 5 lines
and 4 spaces
step – motion from one scale degree to the next, whether by a semitone or a whole tone
string – instruments on which vibrating, stretched strings are the sound-producing
agents, such as violins, violas, cellos, or bass viol
style—the unique manner of a piece of music created by a combination of musical
elements such as melody, harmony, and rhythm
style—the unique manner of a piece of music created by a combination of musical
elements and principles of organization, such as rhythm, harmony, melody
tempo—the pace at which a piece of music is performed
largo—very slow.
andante—medium slow
presto—very fast
tenor – high male voice; third highest part in choral or part music
texture – the character of music that results from the ways in which the vertical and
horizontal elements are combined
theme— a complete and self-contained melody
tie – a curved line joining two successive notes of the same pitch indicating that the
second note is a prolongation of the first and not sounded separately
timbre/tone—the tone quality or tone color of a singing voice or a musical instrument
time signature—figures written on the staff at the beginning of the composition showing
the meter or the number of beats used in a measure and what type of note equals one beat
treble clef (G clef)— used to notate the highest sounding notes; the curl of the clef
surrounding the second line indicates a note written on that line is G
triple – meter in which the basic unit of pulse recurs in groups of three
unison – identity in pitch; all singing or playing the same tone
unpitched instrument—the alternative definition for some percussive instruments
variation—repeating a theme in new and varied ways
verse—a repeating melody with different sets of lyrics
vibrations—the motion of a string, struck surface or air column that produces musical
whole step—two half steps
woodwind – a term used to refer to wind instruments, now or originally made of wood;
instruments played by blowing across a mouth hole or into a whistle mouthpiece or reed;
principal members are the flute, oboe, English horn clarinet, and bassoon
woodwind—wind instruments played by blowing across a mouth hold, mouthpiece or
reed; flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, saxophones