Music Dictionary

A cappella
Singing without accompaniment. Italian for “in the manner of the chapel.”
Accent
Emphasis on a note, word, or phrase.
Action
Height of strings above the fingerboard. Different actions are better for different playing styles. Higher action requires more finger strength, while lower action can cause fret buzz.
Adagio
A tempo having slow movement; restful at ease.
Allegro
A direction to play lively and fast.
Alternate Picking
Attacking one or multiple strings with a down-up-down-up pattern. Often notated with upward (^) and downward (v) pointing marks, this fundamental picking technique increases the rate at which notes can be played and aids in economy of motion.
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.”
Arrangement
Broadly defined as the process of organizing (arranging) how a musical piece is performed for either live or recording purposes. Key, tempo, rhythms, harmony etc. are all elements of arrangement: choices made by one person or a group of people.
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 (intensity) of a sound, such as a chord strummed or note(s) picked.

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.
Bass
Lower range of musical notes produced by an instrument of singing voice.
Beat
The unit of musical rhythm.
Bracing
The means by which an acoustic guitar body is internally supported against the tension of the strings using wood struts on the soundboard, back, and sometimes sides. Styles of bracing differ among guitars and can greatly affect an acoustic’s tone and durability.
Bridge
1. A section in a song that contrasts with the verse and chorus and is often used to break up the repetitive pattern of the song.
2. Positioned on the guitar body just behind the sound hole (or pickups on electric guitars) allowing the strings to sit at a relative height to the fretboard. Depending on the guitar, the strings may terminate at the bridge or just pass over it.

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.
Capo
A type of clamp used to hold down all or several of a guitar’s strings.
Castrato
Male singers who were castrated to preserve their alto and soprano vocal range.
Chord
Three or more notes sounded together, as a basis of harmony.
Chord Progression
A string of chords played in succession.
Chorus
A repeating phrase played at the end of each verse in the song. Also often referred to as the ‘refrain.
Chromatic
Moving in half-steps. One fret at a time.
Chromatic Scale
Includes all twelve notes of an octave.
Classical Guitar
A type of acoustic guitar strung with nylon strings, with quieter, softer tones. Generally made with wide, flat necks and smaller body sizes. Classical guitars are heard extensively in flamenco, bossa nova, and classical music styles.
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”) is a passage that brings a song to an end. Technically, it is an expanded cadence. It may be as simple as a few measures or an entire section.
Common Time
Four quarter-note beats per measure. 4/4 time.
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.
Crescendo
A gradual increase in loudness, or the moment when a piece of music is at its loudest
Cutaway
A guitar body style in which either one or both shoulders of the upper bout are sunken next to the neck, allowing for easy upper fret access.

Dreadnought
A common acoustic guitar body shape designed by C.F. Martin in 1916. One of the largest body styles, these loud and powerful guitars named after battleships are perhaps the most popular body style in modern acoustic production.
Drop-D Tuning
An alternate tuning in which the 6th string is lowered a whole step from E to D. Although used in a variety of genres from country to jazz, dropped tunings are most common in metal, punk, and other heavy music styles.
Duet
A piece of music written for two vocalists or instrumentalists.
Dynamics
Relative loudness or softness.

Ensemble
(French for ‘Together’) 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. Often used interchangeably with ‘head voice.’
Fifth
The interval between two notes. Three whole tones and one semitone make up the distance between the two notes.
Fingerboard
(aka Fretboard on fretted instruments) is a thin, long strip of material, usually wood, that is laminated to the front of the neck of an instrument. The strings run over the fingerboard, between the nut and bridge.
Fingerpicking
aka Fingerstyle, a guitar playing technique in which the strings are, in contrast to strumming, plucked individually or together using the thumb and fingertips, with or without the addition of plectrums (picks). Found in many music genres, especially folk, classical & flamenco.
Flat
A symbol (b) indicating that the note is to be diminished by one semitone.
Forte
(French word for ‘Strong.’) A music 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.
Fret
Metal strips inserted into the guitar (and other string instruments) fingerboard.
Fretboard
(aka a fingerboard on fretted instruments) is a thin, long strip of material, usually wood, that is laminated to the front of the neck of an instrument. The strings run over the fretboard, between the nut and bridge.

Glee
Vocal composition written for 3 or more solo parts, usually without instrumental accompaniment.
Groove
A feeling, vibe or emotional quality in music not easily defined. Sometimes has to do with rhythm, and playing/singing in a way that does not exactly match the meter. The term comes from the way a phonograph needle physically rides the groove on vinyl records.

Harmony
Pleasing combination of two or more 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
The pitch accuracy of a musician or musical instrument – that is, whether a tone is played ‘in tune’ or not.
Interpretation
The expression the performer brings when playing his/her instrument.
Introduction (Intro)
The opening section of a piece of music or movement.

Key
Usually the first chord or note in a song.
Key Signature
The flats and sharps at the beginning of each staff line indicating the key of music the piece is to be played.

Lead/Lead Guitar
An occurrence in music featuring one or more guitars breaking from the rhythm section to play prominent melodies, solos, and riffs.
Legato
(Italian for ‘tied together’) Musical notes are played or sung smoothly and connected. That is, the player makes a transition from note to note with no intervening silence.
Lick
Usually consists of a single-note phrase line as opposed to Riffs that generally consist of repeated chord progressions. A Lick can be played as a solo, melody or a single phrase while a Riff is often a rhythmic pattern (i.e. chords) played throughout the song.

Major
One of the two modes of the tonal system. Music written in major keys have a positive affirming character.
Mash Up
The blending of two or more pre-recorded songs.
Measure (or Bar)
A segment of time in musical notation defined by a given number of beats.
Medley
A collection of songs, performed together as one complete musical composition or work.
Melody
Pitches in sequence that form a pattern. The part in a song that is sung.
Meter
The division of time into units.
Midrange
Middle range of musical notes produced by an instrument of singing voice.
Minor
One of the two modes of the tonal system. The minor mode can often be identified by the dark, melancholic mood.
Modulation
Variation in the strength, tone, or pitch of one’s instrument including voice.
Monotone
Repetition of a single tone.
Motif
A short melodic passage that is repeated in several parts of a work. Similar to a Lick but longer. Primary theme or subject that is developed. Ex. Beethoven’s 5th.
Movement
A separate section of a larger composition.

Notation
First developed in the 8th century, methods of writing music.
Nut
A small piece of hard material on a guitar that supports the strings at the end closest to the headstock.

Octave
Western music consists of 12 identifiable pitches/notes which repeat in the same order throughout the complete span of human hearing. If we select a note – E for instance – we say that the next E is ‘an octave away.’ A major scale (do re mi fa so la ti do) consists of 8 notes – the initial and final do’s being an octave apart.
Open Chord/String
An ‘open string’ is played without placing a finger on that string. An open chord is a voicing that contains one or more open strings. The first chords learned on guitar are typically in open position and are the most commonly heard in popular music.
Outro (Outroduction)
Opposite of Intro (Introduction.) Appears at the end of a song.

Pentatonic
(Greek meaning ‘Five’) A musical scale with five notes per octave, famously heard in many rock and blues solos.
Pizzicato
A playing technique that involves plucking the strings of a string instrument.
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 Hertz (Hz)
Plectrum
A small flat tool (pick) used to pluck or strum a stringed instrument such as a guitar or mandolin.
Posture
Sitting/standing correctly and efficiently.
Progression
The movement of chords (or notes) in succession.
Pulse
Feeling where the beat is.

Quartet
A set of four musicians who perform a composition written for four parts.
Quintet
A set of five musicians who perform a composition written for five parts.

Refrain
A repeating phrase that is played at the end of each verse in the song. Also often referred to as the ‘chorus.’
Reggae
music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1960s.
Rhythm
The element of music pertaining to time, played as a grouping of notes into accented and unaccented beats.
Riff
Generally consists of repeated chord progressions. A rhythmic pattern played throughout a song.
Root Note
The root note of a chord is the note around which the chord is built. The chord carries the name of that note as part of its identity.

Saddle
Usually made of plastic or bone, and are generally glued into the bridge.
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
(Italian for “Detached”) Short notes detached/separated by silence.
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.
Syncopation
A shift in rhythmic emphasis made by placing an accent on a beat that’s normally weak. In other words, changing up a standard rhythm by stressing (off) beats that wouldn’t normally be stressed. Common in reggae music.

Tablature
‘Tab’ for short, is a form of musical notation indicating instrument fingering rather than musical pitches. 
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/bar.
Tonic
The first tone of a scale also known as a keynote.
Treble
Upper (higher pitch) range of musical notes produced by an instrument of singing voice.
Tremolo
Often confused with Vibrato (a rapid change in pitch), Tremolo is a rapid change in volume. The Tremolo arm on an electric guitar is actually a Vibrato arm.
Triad
Three-note chords consisting of a root, third, and fifth.
Triple Time
Time signature with three beats to the measure. 3/4 time.
Triplet
Three notes played in the same amount of time as one or two beats.
Truss Rod
A steel rod that runs through the neck under the fretboard of a guitar. Helps counteract the tension from the strings and can be adjusted to alter the curvature of the neck and action.

Unison
Everyone on the same pitch.

Vibrato
Often confused with Tremolo (a rapid change in volume), Vibrato is a rapid change in pitch.
Voicing (Chord Voicing)
A particular expression of a given chord. For example, playing E major in the open position is one voicing. Playing E major as a double bar chord on the 7th fret is another voicing of that same chord. Both offer different expressions of the same chord.

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