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Glossary of Terms
Relating to the Elements of Music
Dynamics: refers to relative loudness or softness of the music
Duration: length of time that a musical sound or silence lasts
Pitch: refers to the relative highness or lowness of sound
Timbre: refers to the distinctive tonal properties of a sound.
-Timbre is the unique characteristic quality of a sound (voice or instrument)
Rhythm: the arrangement of time in music.
-the arrangement of long and short notes
Beat: the underlying pulse of the rhythm
Tempo: the speed of the beat
Meter: the organization of beats into regular recurring patterns. We label meters by the
grouping of beats
Syncopation: an accent that conflicts with the beat or meter instead of confirming it
Meter: an organized succession of pitches that completes a musical idea.
-the horizontal aspect of music
Interval: describes the relationship or distance between two consecutive or
simultaneously heard pitches
Half step: smallest interval possible on the piano
Whole step: equivalent to two half steps
Conjunct: stepwise melody
Disjunct: a melody that has wide leaps and is more angular
Scales: unique arrangements of whole and half steps within an octave
Tonic: first and most important note of the major or minor scale, to which all other notes
in the scale are subordinate
Diatonic scales: scales with seven notes per octave
Major scale: a diatonic scale with half steps only between the 3rd, 4th, 7th and 8th notes
W = whole step H= half step (WWHWWWH)
Minor scale: a diatonic scale but it has a different arrangement of the seven tones
Pentatonic scale: scales containing five pitches per octave
Chromatic scale: a scale containing all twelve possible pitches within the octave
Whole tone scale: divides the octave into six consecutive whole steps
Sharp: to raise a pitch a half step
Flat: to lower a pitch a half step
Staff: five lines and four spaces on which music is notated
Clef: sign that fixes the tone represented by each line and space on the staff
Key: tonic note, and the major or minor scale on which a composition is based
Tonal: music that uses one notes of a scale as a reference pitch is said to be tonal
Atonal: music that does not use one pitch as a reference point. Avoidance of a tonic note
and of tonal relationships in music
Phrase: a substantial but incomplete melodic idea that is separated from adjacent melodic
material with clear musical punctuation
Harmony: the study of chords and how they work together with the other elements of
-two or more different notes sounding at the same time
-the vertical aspect of music
Chord: a group of three or more pitches sounded together or
-a series of pitches that are heard and understood as if they were sounded together
Arpeggio/Broken chord: a chord whose pitches are presented as a series
Tonal system/Major-minor tonality: the system of harmony that has prevailed in the
West for nearly 400 years
Tonality: refers to the dominance of the tonic note over the other pitches in the major or
minor scale
Dominant (V): fifth note or chord of a major or minor scale
-has the strongest relationship with the tonic – it seems to lead or pull towards the
Subdominant (IV): fourth note or chord of a major or minor scale
-has the next strongest pull (after the dominant) towards the tonic
Consonant/Consonance: describes harmony – heard as a sweet or pleasing combination
of pitches
Dissonant/Dissonance: describes harmony – heard as an unpleasant or harsh
combination of pitches
-used to create tension or variety
Chord Progression: a series of chords that proceeds – or progresses – toward a harmonic
Cadence: a short series of chords (typically two or three) that defines and achieves a
harmonic goal
-a stopping point to punctuate the music
Texture: identifies the relationship between melody and harmony
Monophonic/Monophony: a texture where there is one, single unaccompanied melodic
Homophonic/Homophony: a texture where there is one melodic line with harmonic
Polyphonic/Polyphony: a texture where there are two or more separately independent
melodies happening at the same time
Form: the organization and design of a composition