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BCS Music Dept.
Useful words and phrases
Useful words and phrases
This is not intended to be an exhaustive list but should give you a few pointers…
A Capella
Unaccompanied choral music
Accelerando
An increase, or acceleration of the tempo, or pace of a piece
Accent
Extra force given to a marked note. Indicated with a > above the note
Accidental
A sharp, flat or natural given to a note that is not indicated in the key
signature
Adagio
Slow, but faster than largo. A slow movement is called an adagio
Allegretto
Fairly quick, but not as much as allegro
Allegro
Quick and lively, but not as much as presto
Alto
The lowest female voice or a clef for instruments such as the viola
Andante
A walking speed, but not too slow
Antiphonal
When two or more sets of instruments or voices sing against each other in
a question - answer style, playing alternately
Arco
Use of the bow by the player of a string instrument.
Aria
A song from an Opera, sung by a soloist or a small group of soloists
Atonal
Music without a sense of key, by Schoenberg and others in the early 1900s
Binary form
The music follows an AB pattern
Canon
A device in counterpoint whereby one melody is imitated note for note by
other parts, which normally begin after the first note and overlap it.
Choir
A group of singers often comprising sopranos, altos, tenors and basses
Chorus
Either a section from a song (other than the verse) or a song from an
opera, sung by a large group of singers (or the whole company)
Concerto
A piece of music for a solo instrument with an orchestral accompaniment
– originated in the Baroque period but still popular
Concerto Grosso
From the Baroque period: a piece of music for a string orchestra (ripieno)
and a small group of soloists (concertino)
Contrapuntal
When the melody is shared between the different instruments playing, to
produce an overall melody when all the instruments are playing
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BCS Music Dept.
Useful words and phrases
Dischord
(discord) "A combination of notes including one or more dissonant
intervals". This means a combination of notes that don't sound 'right'
together
Drone
A single note or chord which is held continuously while the rest of the
music moves forward
Flat
When a note is played a semitone down from its natural state
Gamelan
An orchestra made up of gongs and metallophones - usually from
Indonesia
Grave
A term meaning very slow, slower than largo
Ground Bass
A short ostinato motif played in the bass part repeatedly, while the melody
line changes above
Homophonic
All the parts play the same rhythm although they play different notes
Imitation
Where the opening pattern of a musical phrase played by one voice or
instrument is copied by another, not necessarily at the same pitch
Largo
A term meaning slow, but not as slow as grave
Legato
A term, meaning smooth, indicating the playing style, connecting the
notes smoothly. The opposite of staccato
Modes
Before the modern practice of major and minor keys was developed,
players and composers used modes in music. A mode can be created by
playing all the white notes on a piano from any note to that note a further
octave up (eg. A-A)
Modulation
A change of Key during the course of a piece of music
Monophonic
Music written in only one voice, or with only one melody line throughout
Motet
A piece of religious music for a large Choir, sung in Latin, usually A
Capella but might include an organ – from the Renaissance
Opera
A musical drama, completely sung throughout, to tell a story and
including arias, choruses and recitative
Oratorio
Similar to an opera, but on a religious theme (The Creation by Haydn).
Usually not acted out but just performed as concerts
Ostinato
A short section of music repeated several times in succession or even
throughout a piece of music
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BCS Music Dept.
Useful words and phrases
Piano Trio
A group of three instruments including: A piano, a violin and a cello –
very popular in the Classical period
Pizzicato
When a stringed instrument is played not with a bow, but plucked with the
fingers. Opposite of arco
Polyphonic
Music which has several different melodies simultaneously , which weave
in and out of each other, creating a seamless texture (no gaps) – very
common in renaissance vocal music
Presto
Very fast, faster than Allegro
Raga
A scale used in Indian music. It forms the basis of most of the piece
Recitative
In oratorios and operas - A sung solo punctuated by chords – very sparse
accompaniment – often fills in bits of story or important dialogue
Rubato
To play with a flexible tempo – very common in the romantic period,
particularly in the piano music of Chopin
Sequence
The more or less exact repetition of a melody a higher or lower pitch
Sharp
When a note is played a semitone up from its natural note
Sonata
A piece written for a solo instrument with a piano accompaniment eg. A
violin sonata is played by a violin and a piano. Also a piece for solo piano.
Soprano
The highest female voice
Staccato
A playing style where the notes are played detached from each other. The
opposite of legato
String Quartet
A group of four string instruments including: two violins, one viola and a
cello. Originated in Classical period, where it is very common but also
popular in Romantic and 20th Century
Symphony
A piece for full orchestra without soloists
Ternary form
The music follows an ABA pattern
Texture
How many instruments are playing and how do they relate to each other
(are they accompanying, playing the melody etc.)
Tierce de Picardie
When a piece of music begins in a minor key and stays in a minor key
right up till the last chord where it changes to major
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