Music Terms and Definitions
The following music terms and definitions form the foundation for music study on any instrument. These musical terms are general in nature but still form a basic understanding of music concepts.
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.
A bar line is a music term which looks like a vertical line in music notation and separates music into measures. See illustration for Bar Line below under the definition of Measure.
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.
Bass Clef Notes
Bass clef notes are notes located on the bass clef below middle C.
A blocked chord is defined as two or more notes played at the same time. This video tutorial on blocked chords is helpful.
A 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.
A Chord is defined as two or more notes played together creating harmony in music.
Double Bar Line
A double bar line is a set of two parallel lines of different thickness which indicates the end of a piece or section of music.
mp or mezzo piano means to play medium softly
f or forte means to play loudly
mf or mezzo forte means to play medium loudly
A fermata is a music symbol found above a note. It means to hold that note longer that the original value.
A 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).
The Grand Staff is made up of both the upper and lower group of five lines and four spaces as seen below.
A 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.
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.
A Measure is the distance between 2 bar lines. The bar line divides space on the music staff into measures.
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.
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.
Music Note and Rest Value Chart
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
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.
A 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.
Please refer to Music Beat above.
The treble clef is an S Shaped symbol which represents notes played by the right hand in piano with resulting higher pitch.
A triad in music is a chord made up of any 3 notes. All 3 of these notes must be on the same step to be a triad. The bottom note is called the Root. The middle note is called the Third of the chord. The top note is called the Fifth of the chord because it is located 5 notes (5th) above the Root.
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.
A 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.
A 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.