Music Dictionary

A cappella
Singing without accompanying instruments.
Accent
Emphasis on a note, word, or phrase.
Adagio
A tempo having slow movement; restful at ease.
Allegro
A direction to play lively and fast.
Arrangement (Musical)
The ways in which a song’s parts are organized for performance.
Arpeggio
A musical technique in which notes in a chord are played in sequence, one after the other, instead of ringing out simultaneously. Also known as a “broken chord.”
Articulation
The way a sound is started and ended.
Atonal
Music that is written and performed without regard to any specific key.
Attack
The beginning of a sound.

Bar (or Measure)
A segment of time in musical notation defined by a given number of beats.
Baroque
Time in music history ranging between the mid 16th & 17th centuries. Characterized by emotional, flowery music written in strict form.
Beat
The unit of musical rhythm.
Bridge
A section of a song intended to provide contrast to the rest of the composition.

Cadence
A sequence of chords that brings an end to a phrase, either in the middle or the end of a composition.
Canon
Think ‘Row Row Row Your Boat.’ A musical form where the melody or tune is imitated by individual parts at regular intervals. The individual parts may enter at different measures and pitches.
Castrato
Male singers who were castrated to preserve their alto and soprano vocal range.
Chops
A musician’s level of technique in terms of the ability to execute music physically on a particular musical instrument.
Chord
Three or more notes sounded together, as a basis of harmony.
Chord Progression
A group of chords played in succession.
Chromatic
Moving in half-steps.
Chromatic Scale
Includes all twelve notes of an octave.
Clef
In sheet music, a symbol at the beginning of the staff defining the pitch of the notes found in that particular staff.
Coda
Italian for “tail”. A term used in music primarily to designate a passage that brings a piece to an end.
Consonance
Groups of tones that are harmonious when sounded together as in a chord.
Counterpoint
Two or three melodic lines played at the same time.

Duet
A piece of music written for two vocalists or instrumentalists.
Duo
A set of two musicians.
Dynamics
Relative loudness or softness

Ensemble
The performance of either all instruments or voices in a chorus.

Falsetto
A style of male singing whereby partial use of the vocal chords, the voice is able to reach the pitch of a female.
Fifth
The interval between two notes. Three whole tones and one semitone make up the distance between the two notes.
Flat
A symbol indicating that the note is to be diminished by one semitone.
Forte
A symbol indicating to play loud.
Fourth
The interval between two notes. Two whole tones and one semitone make up the distance between the two notes.

Glee
Vocal composition written for three or more solo parts, usually without instrumental accompaniment.

Harmony
Pleasing combination of 2 or 3 tones played together while a melody is being played. Harmony also refers to the study of chord progressions.
Homophonic
A style where all parts have the same rhythm.

Instrumentation
Arrangement of music for a combined number of instruments.
Intonation
Being in tune with accompaniment or others.
Interpretation
The expression the performer brings when playing his/her instrument.
Introduction (Intro)
The opening section of a piece of music or movement.

Key
System of notes or tones based on and named after the key note.
Key Signature
The flats and sharps at the beginning of each staff line indicating the key of music the piece is to be played.

Legato
Italian for “tied together”. Indicates that musical notes are played or sung smoothly and connected. The player makes a transition from note to note with no intervening silence.

Major
One of the two modes of the tonal system. Music written in major keys have a positive affirming character.
Measure
The unit of measure where the beats on the lines of the staff are divided up into two, three, four beats to a measure.
Medley
Often used in overtures, a composition that uses passages from other movements of the composition in its entirety.
Melody
Pitches in sequence that form a pattern.
Meter
The division of time into units.
Minor
One of the two modes of the tonal system. The minor mode can be identified by the dark, melancholic mood.
Modulation
The process where a piece of music changes from one key to another key. Also, variation in the strength, tone or pitch.
Monotone
Repetition of a single tone.
Motif
Primary theme or subject that is developed.
Movement
A separate section of a larger composition.
Musical Arrangement
A piece of music that has been adapted for performance by a particular set of voices or instruments.

Notation
First developed in the 8th century, methods of writing music.

Octave
Eight full tones above the key note where the scale begins and ends.
Outro
Opposite of ‘Intro’ (Introduction) located at the end of a song.
Overdub
A recording technique in which additional recordings are added to an original recording.

Pentatonic Scale
A musical scale having five notes. For example: the five black keys of a keyboard make up a pentatonic scale.
Phrase
A single line of music played or sung. A musical sentence.
Pitch
The frequency of a note determining how high or low it sounds. Measured in Hz
Posture
Sitting/standing correctly and efficiently.
Progression
The movement of chords in succession.
Pulse
Feeling where the beat is.

Quartet
A set of four musicians.
Quintet
A set of five musicians.

Refrain
A repeating phrase that is played at the end of each verse in the song.
Release
How a sound is ended.
Rhythm
The element of music pertaining to time, played as a grouping of notes into accented and unaccented beats.

Scale
Successive notes of a key or mode either ascending or descending.
Septet
A set of seven musicians who perform a composition written for seven parts.
Sextet
A set of six musicians who perform a composition written for six parts.
Sharp
A symbol indicating the note is to be raised by one semitone.
Soprano
The highest female voice.
Staccato
Short detached notes, as opposed to legato.
Staff
A set of horizontal lines and intermediate spaces used in notation to represent a sequence of pitches, in modern notation normally consisting of five lines and four spaces. Also called stave.

Tempo
The speed at which a regular pulse is repeated.
Timbre
Tone color, quality of sound that distinguishes one verse or instrument to another. It is determined by the harmonies of sound.
Time Signature
A numeric symbol in sheet music determining the number of beats per measure.
Tonic
The first tone of a scale also known as a keynote.
Treble
The playing or singing the upper half of the vocal range.
Tremolo
Quick repetition of the same note or the rapid alternation between two notes.
Triad
Three note chords consisting of a root, third, and fifth.
Trio
A set of three musicians.
Triple Time
Time signature with three beats to the measure.
Triplet
Three notes played in the same amount of time as one or two beats.

Unison
Everyone on the same pitch.

Vibrato
Creating variation pitch in a note by quickly alternating between notes.

Waltz
A song composed in triple time (3/4) with the accent falling on the first beat of each measure.