Music Glossary

The following basic music glossary includes some music terms and definitions which are used for music study on any instrument.  This is a simple overview of musical terms.  Learning these terms and music symbols first will give you a good beginning to music terminology.

Accent

An Accent in music indicates that the note beneath the accent symbol should be played louder than the other notes.  The different types of accents are shown below with the sideways V looking symbol being the most common in piano music.

Music Glossary

 Allegro

This Italian word, Allegro, means to play the music following this word fast.  The exact range would be 120 to 168 beats per minute. View this detailed video tutorial on Tempo Markings for more tempo terms.

Arpeggio

When the notes of a chord are performed one after the other instead of all at the same time.

Chord vs. Arpeggio

Bar Line

bar line is a music term which looks like a vertical line in music notation and separates mMusic Gllossaryusic into measures. See illustration for Bar Line below under the definition of Measure.

 

Baroque

A style of European architecture, music, and art demonstrated from about 1600 – 1750 (following The Renaissance) that is characterized by ornate detail. During this time music became tonal (as opposed to modal) and saw the birth of new forms, including the Opera, Sonata, Oratorio, Suite, Fugue, and Concerto. A few of the major composers during this time include Vivaldi, Bach, Handel, Purcell, Scarlatti, and Pachelbel.

Bass

The lowest singing range and typically lies between E2 to E4. In the lower and upper extremes of the bass voice, some basses can sing from C2 to G4.

 Bass Clef

The bass clef is a reversed C-shaped symbol which stand for notes played with the left hand with a resulting lower pitch.  The two dots next to the bass clef always surround and define the F Line Note which is the first F located directly below Middle C. This Piano Tutorial on Treble and Bass Clef Notes video demonstrates it all.

Music Glossary

Bass Clef Notes

 Bass clef notes are notes located on the bass clef  below middle C.

Music Glossary

Blocked Chord

blocked chord is defined as two or more notes played at the same time.  This video tutorial on blocked chords is helpful.

 

Broken Chord

broken chord is a music term which is made up of two or more notes from the same chord played in sequence or repeated pattern.

Chord

Chord is defined as two or more notes played together creating harmony in music.

Music Glossary

Circle Of Fifths

The relationship among the 12 tones of the chromatic scale, their corresponding key signatures, and the associated major and minor keys. Circle of Fifths progressions are considered to be harmonically very strong, in the sense that they pull our ears toward one chord being the tonic

Crescendo

The Italian word Crescendo means to play your music beginning soft and then gradually get louder.  The symbol is seen below on the third line and looks like a sideways V gradually opening up from p to f, soft to loud.  For a full demonstration of Crescendo and Decrescendo vies this Dynamics in Music video tutorial.

Music Glossary

Decrescendo

Another Italian word meaning gradually getting softer.  The symbol for
Decrescendo is seen in the above diagram on the third line.  It looks like a sideways V gradually closing and moves from playing loud to soft.

Dissonance

Harsh, discordance, and lack of harmony.

Dolcissimo

Used as a direction in music, meaning “sweetly, softly, with tender emotion”.

Double Bar Line

double bar line is a set of two parallel lines of different thickness which indicates the end of a piece or section of music.

 

Dynamic Markings

The Dynamic Markings in a piece of music instruct you to play a range of soft and loud volumes with many variations in between.  Since the Italians were the first to print music around 1465, the dynamic markings still used today are also in Italian. Watch this Dynamic Markings in Music video demonstration for more clarity.

p = piano or soft.

mp = mezzo piano or medium soft.

mf = mezzo forte or medium loud.

f = forte or loud.

Music Glossary

Fermata

A fermata is found above a note.  It means to hold that note longer that the original value.

Music Glossary

 

Flat Sign

flat sign is shown here and looks like a “small letter b” looking symbol which alters the note immediately after it by lowering it by a half step (or shortest distance between two notes on the piano keyboard).

Music Glossary

Glissando

A continuous slide upward or downward between two notes.

 Grand Staff

The Grand Staff is made up of both the upper and lower group of five lines and four spaces as seen below.

Music Glossary

Half Note

half note in music has a note head which is hollow attached to a stem going up on the right or down on the left of the note head.  Each half note stands for 2 beats or counts of music.

Music Glossary

Harmonic Minor Scale

A minor scale that differs from a natural minor scale in that the seventh note is raised one semitone both ascending and descending.

Harpsichord

An early stringed keyboard instrument that produced tones by means of plucking strings with quills rather than by striking them with hammers, as in the modern piano. The range of the harpsichord is generally about four octaves; it was most popular in the Renaissance and Baroque eras, in the classical era it was eclipsed by the piano.

harpsichord instrument

 

Key Signatures in Music

The colored circle below represents the key signatures in music.  A key signature tells us how many sharps or flats are in a given piece of music.  There are 12 major keys and 12 minor keys for any music instrument and they are all the same.  For example, the orange G circle show that there is only one sharp for that key.

The key of G Major includes F sharp in its key signature.  That means that all F’s within that piece of music would automatically be F sharp every time it appears in the music.

Music Glossary

Leading Tone

Also referred to as subtonic, it is the seventh note of the scale where there is a strong desire to resolve on the tonic.

Ledger Lines

The short, horizontal lines added to the top or the bottom of a staff for the indication of notes too high or too low to be represented on the staff.

Legato

In a smooth, flowing manner, without breaks between notes. Standard notation indicates legato either with the word legato or by a slur (a curved line) under notes that form one legato group.

Leading Tone

Also referred to as subtonic, it is the seventh note of the scale where there is a strong desire to resolve on the tonic. See: Scale Degrees.

Ledger Lines

The short, horizontal lines added to the top or the bottom of a staff for the indication of notes too high or too low to be represented on the staff.

Legato

In a smooth, flowing manner, without breaks between notes. Standard notation indicates legato either with the word legato or by a slur (a curved line) under notes that form one legato group.

Marcato

A musical direction indicating a note, chord, or passage is to be played with strong accentuation.

Melodic Minor Scale

A minor scale modified by raising the sixth and seventh scale degrees when ascending, then restoring them to their original pitches when descending.

melodic minor scale

Measure

Measure is the distance between 2 bar lines.  The bar line divides space on the music staff into measures.

Music Glossary

Motif

A short musical idea.

This idea will appear often in a piece of music, sometimes exactly the same and sometimes changed. When a motif returns, it can be slower or faster, or in a different key. It may return “upside down” (with the notes going up instead of down, for example), or with the pitches or rhythms altered.

Natural

A symbol [♮] that cancels the effect of a sharp or a flat

Music Beat

A Music Beat is indicated by the time signature.  The 4/4 time signature below indicates four beats or four counts of sound per measure.  This example is also referred to as a Time Signature.

If the top number was 3, then there would only be 3 beats or counts of sound per measure of music.

Music Glossary

Music Interval

The distance between 2 notes on the music staff creates a music interval.  The most common music intervals are the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th. Learn more about how to read music by interval here.

Music Glossary

 

 Music Note and Rest Value Chart

Music Glossary

Poco a poco

An Italian phrase that means “little by little,” and is used with other musical commands to make their efforts slow and gradual.

Polytonality

The combination of two or more keys being played at the same time.

Repeat Sign

The repeat sign shown to the left here indicates that section is to be played twice. Looks like a double bar with two dots at the end of a section or piece of music

Music Glossary

Sforzando

An indication to make a strong, sudden accent or emphasis on a note or chord. It is usually represented by this symbol:

sforzando

Sharp Sign

The sharp sign in music looks like the same symbol used to play tic-tac-toe with a slight slant to the left.  When a sharp sign is placed before a note on the music staff it means to play the note one half step higher than the note written.  Examples of sharp altered notes can be seen on the keyboard below.

Music GlossaryMusic Glossary

 

Slur

Two notes that are played as if they are connected with no space in between them makes up a slur.  This would be the opposite of short and separated notes.

Music Glossary

Stringendo

A musical direction that indicates progressively quickening in tempo.

Strophic Form

Also called verse-repeating or chorus form, it is the term applied to songs in which all verses or stanzas of the text are sung to the same music. “Amazing Grace” would be an example of a Strophic Form song.

Subdominant

The fourth tone of a major or minor scale.

Music which modulates often modulates into the subdominant when the leading tone is lowered by a half step to the subtonic (B to B♭ in the key of C). Modulation into the subdominant key often creates a sense of musical relaxation; as opposed to modulation into dominant (fifth scale degree), which increases tension.

Theme and Variation

A song form consisting of a melody (theme), followed by variations of that melody. Composers often use theme and variation to write an entire piece or to write one movement of a larger piece. It is most often used in instrumental music.

Through-Composed Form

A type of song form that means that the music is relatively continuous, non-sectional, and/or non-repetitive. A song is said to be through-composed if it has different music for each stanza of the lyrics.

Timbre

The quality of a musical tone that distinguishes voices and instruments.

Time Signature

A set of numbers (one on top of the other) notated after the clef at the beginning of a piece that indicates how many beats are in each measure and which note value is equivalent to one beat.

  • Top Number = how many  beats are in the measure
  • Bottom Number = what kind of note gets the beat
    • 1 = Whole Note
    • 2 = Half Note
    • 4 = Quarter Note
    • 8 = Eighth Note
    • 16 = Sixteenth Note

3/4 Time means there are 3 beats in a measure and the quarter note gets the beat.

Staccato

Notes that are played as short as possible are called staccato notes.  This would be the opposite of a slur.

Music Glossary

Tied Note

tied note occurs when one note has a curved line either under or over that note connecting it to the same note.  This musical notation indicates that the note should be held for the duration of both notes while playing the original note only one time.  The example below combines a one beat quarter note tied to a 2 beat half note which means you would play the first note one time and hold for 3 beats.

Music Glossary

Time Signature

Please refer to Music Beat above which includes an explanation and example of a Time Signature.

 

Treble Clef

The treble clef is an S Shaped symbol.   This represents notes played by the right hand in piano with resulting higher pitch.

Music Glossary

Triad

triad in music is a chord of any 3 notes.  All 3 of these notes must be on the same step to be a triad. The bottom note is the Root.  The middle note is the Third of the chord.  The top note is the Fifth of the chord.  It is located 5 notes (5th) above the Root.

Music Glossary

Quarter Note 

The most common music note symbol in all of Western Music is the quarter note.  This note has a solid note head with a stem and stands for one music beat or count.  The quarter note receives one beat or count whether the stem is going up or down in the example below. Use this video tutorial on the Basics of Rhythm.

Music Glossary

Whole Note

whole note in music is circular in shape and hollow in the middle.  This note received 4 beats or counts in a measure of music.  It does not have a stem and is, therefore, easy to recognize on a page of music.

Music Glossary

Whole Step

whole step occurs in music when moving from one note to another note while skipping one note in between.  This is also referred to as an interval of a 2nd  (see music interval illustration above).  Learn more about Music Intervals of 2nd and 3rd.

MUSIC GLOSSARY

 

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