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music terms a

a cappella 

A cappella (/ˌækəˈpɛlə/ US: /ˌɑːkə-/, Italian: [a kkapˈpɛlla]; Italian for "in the manner of the chapel")[1] music is specifically group or solo singing without instrumental accompaniment, or a piece intended to be performed in this way. It contrasts with cantata, which is usually accompanied singing. The term "a cappella" was originally intended to differentiate between Renaissance polyphony and Baroque concertato style. In the 19th century a renewed interest in Renaissance polyphony coupled with an ignorance of the fact that vocal parts were often doubled by instrumentalists led to the term coming to mean unaccompanied vocal music.[1] The term is also used, albeit rarely, as a synonym for alla breve.[2]

a capriccio 

A capriccio [a kaˈprittʃo] (Italian: "following one's fancy") is a tempo marking indicating a free and capricious approach to the tempo (and possibly the style) of the piece. This marking will usually modify another, such as lento a capriccio, often used in the Hungarian Rhapsodies of Franz Liszt. Perhaps the most famous piece to use the term is Ludwig van Beethoven's Rondò a capriccio (Op. 129), better known as Rage Over a Lost Penny.

a due

A due [a ˈduːe] in Italian or à deux [a dø] in French is a musical direction meaning "for two".[1] Most often seen in its abbreviated form a2, the marking signifies that on a staff that normally carries parts for two players, both players are to play the single part in unison.[2] It is generally seen in scores and parts where two players or sections of the same instrument share a staff. The instruction a2 indicates that both players or sections should play the notes indicated, while primo and secondo (often abbreviated to 1. and 2. or Io and IIo) indicate that only a single player or section should play while the other remains tacet.


Accarezzevole [akkaretˈtseːvole] (Italian: "Fawningly"[1]) is a music term that is marked on sheet music to indicate a piece is to be played in an expressive and caressing manner.[2] Alexander Scriabin was one of the few composers to use this term in his music.[3]


Accelerando is a 2005 science fiction novel consisting of a series of interconnected short stories written by British author Charles Stross. As well as normal hardback and paperback editions, it was released as a free e-book under the CC BY-NC-ND license. Accelerando won the Locus Award in 2006,[1] and was nominated for several other awards in 2005 and 2006, including the Hugo, Campbell, Clarke, and British Science Fiction Association Awards.


In music, an accent is an emphasis, stress, or stronger attack placed on a particular note or set of notes, or chord, either as a result of its context or specifically indicated by an accent mark. Accents contribute to the articulation and prosody of a performance of a musical phrase. Accents may be written into a score or part by a composer or added by the performer as part of his or her interpretation of a musical piece. By default, in the music notation program Sibelius, "accents boost the dynamic by 50%


The word acciaccatura (UK: /əˌtʃækəˈtjʊərə/, US: /-tʃɑːkə-/; Italian: [attʃakkaˈtuːra]) comes from the Italian verb acciaccare, "to crush". In the 18th century, it was an ornament applied to any of the main notes of arpeggiated chords, either a tone or semitone below the chord tone, struck simultaneously with it and then immediately released. Hence the German translation Zusammenschlag (together-stroke).

In the 19th century, the acciaccatura (sometimes called short appoggiatura) came to be a shorter variant of the long appoggiatura, where the delay of the principal note is quick. It is written using a grace note (often a quaver, or eighth note), with an oblique stroke through the stem. In the Classical period, an acciaccatura is usually performed before the beat and the emphasis is on the main note, not the grace note. The appoggiatura long or short has the emphasis on the grace note


Acoustic music is music that solely or primarily uses instruments that produce sound through acoustic means, as opposed to electric or electronic means; typically the phrase refers to that made by acoustic string instruments. While all music was once acoustic, the retronym "acoustic music" appeared after the advent of electric instruments, such as the electric guitar, electric violin, electric organ and synthesizer. Acoustic string instrumentations had long been a subset of popular music, particularly in folk. It stood in contrast to various other types of music in various eras, including big band music in the pre-rock era, and electric music in the rock era.

Writing for Splendid, music reviewer Craig Conley suggests, "When music is labeled acoustic, unplugged, or unwired, the assumption seems to be that other types of music are cluttered by technology and overproduction and therefore aren't as pure".

Ad libitum

Ad libitum (/ædˈlɪbɪtəm/) is Latin for "at one's pleasure" or "as you desire"; it is often shortened to "ad lib" (as an adjective or adverb) or "ad-lib" (as a verb or noun). The roughly synonymous phrase a bene placito ("in accordance with [one's] good pleasure") is less common but, in its Italian form a piacere, entered the musical lingua franca (see below).

The phrase "at liberty" is often associated mnemonically (because of the alliteration of the lib- syllable), although it is not the translation (there is no cognation between libitum and liber). Libido is the etymologically closer cognate known in English.

Alla breve

Alla breve [alla ˈbrɛːve]—also known as cut time or cut common time— is a musical meter notated by the time signature symbol cut time (a C with a vertical line through it), which is the equivalent of 2. The term is Italian for "on the breve", originally meaning that the beat was counted on the breve.[2]

Alla breve is a "simple-duple meter with a half-note pulse".[3] The note denomination that represents one beat in is the minim or half-note. There are two of these per bar, so that the time signature 2 may be interpreted as "two minim beats per bar."

Tempo (Redirected from Allegretto)

In musical terminology, tempo ("time" in Italian) is the speed or pace of a given piece. In classical music, tempo is typically indicated with an instruction at the start of a piece (often using conventional Italian terms) and is usually measured in beats per minute (or bpm). In modern classical compositions, a "metronome mark" in beats per minute may supplement or replace the normal tempo marking, while in modern genres like electronic dance music, tempo will typically simply be stated in bpm.

Tempo may be separated from articulation and meter, or these aspects may be indicated along with tempo, all contributing to the overall texture. While the ability to hold a steady tempo is a vital skill for a musical performer, tempo is changeable. Depending on the genre of a piece of music and the performers' interpretation, a piece may be played with slight tempo rubato or drastic accelerando. In ensembles, the tempo is often indicated by a conductor or by one of the instrumentalists, for instance the drummer.


Ambitus is a Latin term literally meaning "the going round", and in Medieval Latin means the "course" of a melodic line, most usually referring to the range of scale degrees attributed to a given mode, particularly in Gregorian chant. It may also refer to the range of a voice, instrument, or piece generally (Powers, Sherr, and Wiering 2001; Randel 2003). In Gregorian chant specifically, the ambitus is the range, or the distance between the highest and lowest note. Different chants vary widely in their ambitus. Even relatively florid chants like Alleluias may have a narrow ambitus. Earlier writers termed the modal ambitus "perfect" when it was a ninth or tenth (that is, an octave plus one or two notes, either at the top or bottom or both), but from the late fifteenth century onward "perfect ambitus" usually meant one octave, and the ambitus was called "imperfect" when it was less, and "pluperfect" when it was more than an octave (Powers, Sherr, and Wiering 2001).


In poetic and musical meter, and by analogy in publishing, an anacrusis (plural anacruses) is a brief introduction (not to be confused with a literary or musical introduction, foreword, or with a preface). Greek: ἀνάκρουσις (anákrousis), literally, "pushing up".

It is a set of syllables or notes, or a single syllable or note, which precedes what is considered the first foot of a poetic line (or the first syllable of the first foot) in poetry and the first beat (or the first beat of the first measure) in music that is not its own phrase, section, or line and is not considered part of the line, phrase, or section which came before, if any.


Andamento is an Italian musical term used to refer to a fugue subject of above-average length


An antiphon (Greek ἀντίφωνον, ἀντί "opposite" and φωνή "voice") is a short chant in Christian ritual, sung as a refrain. The texts of antiphons are the Psalms. Their form was favored by St Ambrose and they feature prominently in Ambrosian chant, but they are used widely in Gregorian chant as well. They may be used during Mass, for the Introit, the Offertory or the Communion. They may also be used in the Liturgy of the Hours, typically for Lauds or Vespers.


An appoggiatura (/əˌpɒdʒəˈtjʊərə/; Italian: [appoddʒaˈtuːra]; German: Vorschlag, Vorhalt; French: Port de voix) is a musical ornament that consists of an added non-chord note in a melody that is resolved to the regular note of the chord. By putting the non-chord tone on a strong beat, this accents the appoggiatura note, which also delays the appearance of the principal, expected chord note. The added non-chord note is typically one degree higher or lower than the principal note; and if lower, it may be chromatically raised. An appoggiatura may be added to a melody in a vocal song or in an instrumental work.


In music, an aria ([ˈaːrja]; Italian: air; plural: arie [ˈaːrje], or arias in common usage, diminutive form arietta [aˈrjetta], plural ariette, or in English simply air) is a self-contained piece for one voice, with or without instrumental or orchestral accompaniment, normally part of a larger work.

The typical context for arias is opera, but vocal arias also feature in oratorios and cantatas, sharing features of the operatic arias of their periods. The term was originally used to refer to any expressive melody, usually, but not always, performed by a singer.


In classical music, arioso [aˈrjoːzo] (also aria parlante[1] [ˈaːrja parˈlante]) is a type of solo vocal piece, usually occurring in an opera or oratorio, falling somewhere between recitative and aria in style. Literally, arioso means airy. The term arose in the 16th century along with the aforementioned styles and monody. It is commonly confused with recitativo accompagnato.

Arioso is similar to recitative due to its unrestrained structure and inflexions, close to those of speech. It differs, however, in its rhythm. Arioso is similar to aria in its melodic form, both being closer to singing than recitative; however, they differ in form, arioso generally not resorting to the process of repetition.


broken chord is a chord broken into a sequence of notes. A broken chord may repeat some of the notes from the chord and span one or more octaves.

An arpeggio (Italian: [arˈpeddʒo]) is a type of broken chord, in which the notes that compose a chord are played or sung in a rising or descending order. An arpeggio may also span more than one octave.

music terms b


In musical notation, a bar (or measure) is a segment of time corresponding to a specific number of beats in which each beat is represented by a particular note value and the boundaries of the bar are indicated by vertical bar lines. Dividing music into bars provides regular reference points to pinpoint locations within a musical composition. It also makes written music easier to follow, since each bar of staff symbols can be read and played as a batch. Typically, a piece consists of several bars of the same length, and in modern musical notation the number of beats in each bar is specified at the beginning of the score by the time signature. In simple time, The top figure indicates the number of beats per bar, while the bottom number indicates the note value of the beat ..


Pizzicato (/ˌpɪtsɪˈkɑːtoʊ/; Italian: pizzicato [pittsiˈkaːto], translated as pinched, and sometimes roughly as plucked)[1] is a playing technique that involves plucking the strings of a string instrument. The exact technique varies somewhat depending on the type of instrument:

On bowed string instruments it is a method of playing by plucking the strings with the fingers, rather than using the bow. This produces a very different sound from bowing, short and percussive rather than sustained.

On keyboard string instruments, such as the piano, pizzicato may be employed (although rarely seen in traditional repertoire, this technique has been normalized in contemporary music, with ample examples by George Crumb, Toru Takemitsu, Helmut Lachenmann, and others) as one of the variety of techniques involving direct manipulation of the strings known collectively as "string piano".

On the guitar, it is a muted form of plucking, which bears an audible resemblance to pi


A bass (/beɪs/ BAYSS) is a type of classical male singing voice and has the lowest vocal range of all voice types. According to The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, a bass is typically classified as having a vocal range extending from around the second E below middle C to the E above middle C. Its tessitura, or comfortable range, is normally defined by the outermost lines of the bass clef. Categories of bass voices vary according to national style and classification system. Italians favour subdividing basses into the basso cantante (singing bass), basso buffo ("funny" bass), or the dramatic basso profondo (low bass). The American system identifies the bass-baritone, comic bass, lyric bass, and dramatic bass. The German fach system[3] offers further distinctions: Spielbass (Bassbuffo), Schwerer Spielbass (Schwerer Bassbuffo), Charakterbass (Bassbariton), and Seriöser Bass. These classification systems can overlap. Rare is the performer who embodies a single fach without also touching repertoire from another category.

Basso continuo

Basso continuo parts, almost universal in the Baroque era (1600–1750), provided the harmonic structure of the music. The phrase is often shortened to continuo, and the instrumentalists playing the continuo part are called the continuo group.


In musical notation, a beam is a horizontal or diagonal line used to connect multiple consecutive notes (and occasionally rests) to indicate rhythmic grouping. Only eighth notes (quavers) or shorter can be beamed. The number of beams is equal to the number of flags that would be present on an unbeamed note. Beaming refers to the conventions and use of beams. A primary beam connects a note group unbroken, while a secondary beam is interrupted or partially broken.


In music and music theory, the beat is the basic unit of time, the (regularly repeating event), of the mensural level (or beat level). The beat is often defined as the rhythm listeners would tap their toes to when listening to a piece of music, or the numbers a musician counts while performing, though in practice this may be technically incorrect (often the first multiple level). In popular use, beat can refer to a variety of related concepts including: pulsetempometer, specific rhythms, and groove.


Binary form is a musical form in 2 related sections, both of which are usually repeated. Binary is also a structure used to choreograph dance. In music this is usually performed as A-A-B-B.

Binary form was popular during the Baroque period, often used to structure movements of keyboard sonatas. It was also used for short, one-movement works. Around the middle of the 18th century, the form largely fell from use as the principal design of entire movements as sonata form and organic development gained prominence. When it is found in later works, it usually takes the form of the theme in a set of variations, or the Minuet, Scherzo, or Trio sections of a "minuet and trio" or "scherzo and trio" movement in a sonata, symphony, etc. Many larger forms incorporate binary structures, and many more complicated forms (such as the 18th-century sonata form) share certain characteristics with binary form.


In classical music a bravura is a style of both music and its performance intended to show off the skill of a performer.[1] Commonly, it is a virtuosic passage performed as a solo, and often in a cadenza.

The term implies "effect for effect's sake", therefore, while many pieces of Beethoven do require a high skill, they are not described as "bravura". Fuller-Maitland suggests the following arias as examples of bravura: "Let the bright Seraphim" from Samson, "Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen" (Act II of The Magic Flute) and "Non più mesta" from La Cenerentola.

music terms c


A cadence is labeled more or less "weak" or "strong" depending on its sense of finality. While cadences are usually classified by specific chord or melodic progressions, the use of such progressions does not necessarily constitute a cadence—there must be a sense of closure, as at the end of a phrase. Harmonic rhythm plays an important part in determining where a cadence occurs.


In music, a cadenza (from Italian: cadenza [kaˈdɛntsa], meaning cadence; plural, cadenze [kaˈdɛntse]) is, generically, an improvised or written-out ornamental passage played or sung by a soloist or soloists, usually in a "free" rhythmic style, and often allowing virtuosic display. During this time the accompaniment will rest, or sustain a note or chord. Thus an improvised cadenza is indicated in written notation by a fermata in all parts. A cadenza usually will occur over the final or penultimate note in a piece, the lead-in (German: Eingang)[6] or over the final or penultimate note in an important subsection of a piece. It can also be found before a final coda or ritornello


In music, a canon is a contrapuntal (counterpoint-based) compositional technique that employs a melody with one or more imitations of the melody played after a given duration (e.g., quarter rest, one measure, etc.). The initial melody is called the leader (or dux), while the imitative melody, which is played in a different voice, is called the follower (or comes). The follower must imitate the leader, either as an exact replication of its rhythms and intervals or some transformation thereof (see "Types of canon", below). Repeating canons in which all voices are musically identical are called rounds—"Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and "Frère Jacques" are popular examples.


In music, cantabile [kanˈtaːbile], an Italian word, means literally "singable" or "songlike". In instrumental music, it is a particular style of playing designed to imitate the human voice.

For 18th-century composers, cantabile is often synonymous with "cantando" (singing) and indicates a measured tempo and flexible, legato playing. For later composers, particularly in piano music, cantabile is the drawing out of one particular musical line against the accompaniment (compare counterpoint). Felix Mendelssohn's six books of Songs Without Words are short lyrical piano pieces with song-like melodies written between 1829 and 1845. A modern example is an instrumental by Harry James & His Orchestra, called "Trumpet Blues and Cantabile".


A caesura (/siˈzjʊərə/, pl. caesuras or caesurae; Latin for "cutting"), also written cæsura and cesura, is a break in a verse where one phrase ends and the following phrase begins. It may be a comma, a tick, or two lines, either slashed (//) or upright (||). In time value this break may vary between the slightest perception of silence all the way up to a full pause. Considered a breath, a caesura in music represents a similar break or pause.[1] The length of a caesura where notated is at the discretion of the conductor. In choral works a brief caesura may be notated where singers are to catch their breath.


In music, a coda [ˈkoːda] (Italian for "tail", plural code) is a passage that brings a piece (or a movement) to an end. Technically, it is an expanded cadence. It may be as simple as a few measures, or as complex as an entire section.


Codetta (Italian for "little tail", the diminutive form) has a similar purpose to the coda, but on a smaller scale, concluding a section of a work instead of the work as a whole. A typical codetta concludes the exposition and recapitulation sections of a work in sonata form, following the second (modulated) theme, or the closing theme (if there is one). Thus, in the exposition, it usually appears in the secondary key, but, in the recapitulation, in the primary key. The codetta ordinarily closes with a perfect cadence in the appropriate key, confirming the tonality. If the exposition is repeated, the codetta is also, but sometimes it has its ending slightly changed, depending on whether it leads back to the exposition or into the development sections.

Col legno

In music for bowed string instruments, col legno, or more precisely col legno battuto (pronounced [kol ˈleɲɲo batˈtuːto], Italian for "hit with the wood"), is an instruction to strike the string with the stick of the bow, rather than by drawing the hair of the bow across the strings.


The word coloratura (Italian pronunciation: [koloraˈtuːra]) is originally from Italian, literally meaning "coloring", and derives from the Latin word colorare ("to color").[1] When used in English, the term specifically refers to elaborate melody, particularly in vocal music and especially in operatic singing of the 18th and 19th centuries, with runs, trills, wide leaps, or similar virtuoso-like material.[1][2] Its instrumental equivalent is ornamentation. It is also now widely used to refer to passages of such music, operatic roles in which such music plays a prominent part, and singers of these roles.


The musical term colossale [kolosˈsaːle] indicates that the performer is to play the so marked passage in a fashion that suggests immensity. An example of this rare expression can be found at the climax of the huge cadenza in the first movement of Prokofiev's Second Piano Concerto in combination with the dynamic instruction


A contralto (Italian pronunciation: [konˈtralto]) is a type of classical female singing voice whose vocal range is the lowest female voice type.[1]

The contralto's vocal range is fairly rare; similar to the mezzo-soprano, and almost identical to that of a countertenor, typically between the F below middle C (F3 in scientific pitch notation) to the second F above middle C (F5), although, at the extremes, some voices can reach the D below middle C  or the second B♭ above middle C (B♭5).[ The contralto voice type is generally divided into the coloratura, lyric, and dramatic contralto.

music terms d

Da capo

Da capo (English: /dɑː ˈkɑːpoʊ/; Italian: [da kˈkaːpo]) is an Italian musical term that means "from the beginning"[1] (literally, "from the head"). It is often abbreviated as D.C. The term is a directive to repeat the previous part of music, often used to save space, and thus is an easier way of saying to repeat the music from the beginning.

Dal segno

In music notation, Dal segno (UK: /dæl ˈsɛnjoʊ/, US: /dɑːl ˈseɪnjoʊ/; Italian: [dal ˈseɲɲo]), often abbreviated as D.S., is used as a navigation marker. From Italian for "from the sign", D.S. appears in sheet music and instructs a musician to repeat a passage starting from the sign shown at right, sometimes called the segno in English

Double stop

In music, a double stop refers to the technique of playing two notes simultaneously on a stringed instrument such as a violin, a guitar, a cello, or a double bass, especially when it is not the standard method of playing that instrument. On instruments such as the Hardanger fiddle it is common and often employed. In performing a double stop, two separate strings are bowed or plucked simultaneously. Although the term itself suggests these strings are to be fingered (stopped), in practice one or both strings may be open.


In music, a drone is a harmonic or monophonic effect or accompaniment where a note or chord is continuously sounded throughout most or all of a piece. The word drone is also any part of a musical instrument that is used to produce such an effect, as is the archaic term burden (bourdon or burdon) such as a "drone [pipe] of a bagpipe", the pedal point in an organ, or the lowest course of a lute. Α burden is also part of a song that is repeated at the end of each stanza, such as the chorus or refrain.


In music, the dynamics of a piece is the variation in loudness between notes or phrases. Dynamics are indicated by specific musical notation, often in some detail. However, dynamics markings still require interpretation by the performer depending on the musical context: for instance a piano (quiet) marking in one part of a piece might have quite different objective loudness in another piece, or even a different section of the same piece. The execution of dynamics also extends beyond loudness to include changes in timbre and sometimes tempo rubato.

music terms e


An encore is when performers in a live show give an additional performance after the planned show has ended, usually in response to extended applause from the audience. Multiple encores are not uncommon, and they originated spontaneously, when audiences would continue to applaud and demand additional performance from the artist(s).

music terms f


Falsetto (Italian pronunciation: [falˈsetto]; Italian diminutive of falso, "false") is the vocal register occupying the frequency range just above the modal voice register and overlapping with it by approximately one octave.

It is produced by the vibration of the ligamentous edges of the vocal cords, in whole or in part. Commonly cited in the context of singing, falsetto, a characteristic of phonation by both sexes, is also one of four main spoken vocal registers recognized by speech pathology.


A fantasia (Italian: [fantaˈziːa]; also English: fantasy, fancy, fantazy, phantasy, German: Fantasie, Phantasie, French: fantaisie) is a musical composition with its roots in the art of improvisation. Because of this, the fantasia, like the impromptu, seldom follows the textbook rules of any strict musical form.


A fermata (Italian: [ferˈmaːta]; "from fermare, to stay, or stop";[2] also known as a hold, pause, colloquially a birdseye or cyclops eye, or as a grand pause when placed on a note or a rest) is a symbol of musical notation indicating that the note should be prolonged beyond the normal duration its note value would indicate.[3] Exactly how much longer it is held is up to the discretion of the performer or conductor, but twice as long is common. It is usually printed above but can be occasionally below (when it is upside down) the note to be extended.


In music, a fugue (/fjuːɡ/ fewg) is a contrapuntal compositional technique in two or more voices, built on a subject (a musical theme) that is introduced at the beginning in imitation (repetition at different pitches) and which recurs frequently in the course of the composition. It is not to be confused with a fuguing tune, which is a style of song popularized by and mostly limited to early American (i.e. shape note or "Sacred Harp") music and West Gallery music. A fugue usually has three main sections: an exposition, a development and a final entry that contains the return of the subject in the fugue's tonic key. Some fugues have a recapitulation.

music terms g


In music, a glissando (Italian: [ɡlisˈsando]; plural: glissandi, abbreviated gliss.) is a glide from one pitch to another (About this soundPlay (help·info)). It is an Italianized musical term derived from the French glisser, "to glide". In some contexts, it is distinguished from the continuous portamento. Some colloquial equivalents are slide, sweep (referring to the "discrete glissando" effects on guitar and harp, respectively), bend, smear, rip (for a loud, violent gliss to the beginning of a note),[1] lip (in jazz terminology, when executed by changing one's embouchure on a wind instrument), plop, or falling hail (a glissando on a harp using the back of the fingernails).[3]

grace note

A grace note is a kind of music notation denoting several kinds of musical ornaments. It is usually printed smaller to indicate that it is melodically and harmonically nonessential. When occurring by itself, a single grace note normally indicates the intention of an acciaccatura. When they occur in groups, grace notes can be interpreted to indicate any of several different classes of ornamentation, depending on interpretation.

music terms h


Main voice, chief part (i.e. the contrapuntal line of primary importance, in opposition to Nebenstimme)


The imposition of a pattern of rhythm or articulation other than that implied by the time signature; specifically, in triple time (for example in 3
4) the imposition of a duple pattern 


A musical texture with one voice (or melody line) accompanied by subordinate chords; also used as an adjective (homophonic). Compare with polyphony, in which several independent voices or melody lines are performed at the same time

music terms I

in stand

A term for brass players that requires them to direct the bell of their instrument into the music stand, instead of up and toward the audience, thus muting the sound but without changing the timbre as a mute would

music terms j

Jazz standard

A well-known composition from the jazz repertoire which is widely played and recorded.


Jump; a bowing technique in which the player is instructed to let the bow bounce or jump off the strings.

music terms k


A musician who plays any instrument with a keyboard. In Classical music, this may refer to instruments such as the piano, pipe organ, harpsichord, and so on. In a jazz or popular music context, this may refer to instruments such as the piano, electric piano, synthesizer, Hammond organ, and so on.


Klangfarbenmelodie (German for "sound-color melody") is a musical technique that involves splitting a musical line or melody between several instruments, rather than assigning it to just one instrument (or set of instruments), thereby adding color (timbre) and texture to the melodic line. The technique is sometimes compared to "pointillism",[1] a neo-impressionist painting technique.

music terms l


n music performance and notation, legato ([leˈɡaːto]; Italian for "tied together"; French lié; German gebunden) indicates that musical notes are played or sung smoothly and connected. That is, the player makes a transition from note to note with no intervening silence. Legato technique is required for slurred performance, but unlike slurring (as that term is interpreted for some instruments), legato does not forbid rearticulation.

Standard notation indicates legato either with the word legato, or by a slur (a curved line) under notes that form one legato group. Legato, like staccato, is a kind of articulation.

music terms m


In music theory, the key of a piece is the group of pitches, or scale, that forms the basis of a music composition in classical, Western art, and Western pop music.

The group features a tonic note and its corresponding chords, also called a tonic or tonic chord, which provides a subjective sense of arrival and rest, and also has a unique relationship to the other pitches of the same group, their corresponding chords, and pitches and chords outside the group.[1] Notes and chords other than the tonic in a piece create varying degrees of tension, resolved when the tonic note or chord returns.


Martelé (French; Italian martellato), literally "hammered," is a bowstroke, used when playing bowed string instruments, though the Italian martellando and martellato are also applied to piano and vocal technique, and even (by Franz Liszt) to the organ (Milsom 2002). The effect is usually produced by holding the bow against the string with pressure, then releasing it explosively to produce a sharp, biting attack with a rest between strokes (Cooke 2001). Some violinists use it when playing staccato notes


Melisma (Greek: μέλισμα, melisma, song, air, melody; from μέλος, melos, song, melody, plural: melismata) is the singing of a single syllable of text while moving between several different notes in succession. Music sung in this style is referred to as melismatic, as opposed to syllabic, in which each syllable of text is matched to a single note.

messa di voce

In singing, a controlled swell (i.e. crescendo then diminuendo, on a long held note, especially in Baroque music and in the bel canto period)


The pattern of a music piece's rhythm of strong and weak beats


A female singer with a range usually extending from the A below middle C to the F an eleventh above middle C. Mezzo-sopranos generally have a darker vocal tone than sopranos, and their vocal range is between that of a soprano and that of a contralto. 


In music theory, the key of a piece is the group of pitches, or scale, that forms the basis of a music composition in classical, Western art, and Western pop music.


In music, modulation is the change from one key to another. This may or may not be accompanied by a change in key signature. Modulations articulate or create the structure or form of many pieces, as well as add interest.


In music, a mordent is an ornament indicating that the note is to be played with a single rapid alternation with the note above or below. Like trills, they can be chromatically modified by a small flat, sharp or natural accidental. The term entered English musical terminology at the beginning of the 19th century, from the German Mordent and its Italian etymon, mordente, both used in the 18th century to describe this musical figure. The word ultimately is derived from the Latin mordere (to bite).


A movement is a self-contained part of a musical composition or musical form. While individual or selected movements from a composition are sometimes performed separately, a performance of the complete work requires all the movements to be performed in succession. A movement is a section, "a major structural unit perceived as the result of the coincidence of relatively large numbers of structural phenomena".

A unit of a larger work that may stand by itself as a complete composition. Such divisions are usually self-contained. Most often the sequence of movements is arranged fast-slow-fast or in some other order that provides contrast.

music terms n


In music theory, a natural is an accidental which cancels previous accidentals and represents the unaltered pitch of a note.[1]

A note is natural when it is neither flat (♭) nor sharp (♯) (nor double-flat double flat nor double-sharp double sharp). Natural notes are the notes A, B, C, D, E, F, and G represented by the white keys on the keyboard of a piano or organ. On a modern concert harp, the middle position of the seven pedals that alter the tuning of the strings gives the natural pitch for each string.

The scale of C major is sometimes regarded as the central, natural or basic major scale because all of its notes are natural notes, whereas every other major scale has at least one sharp or flat in it.


Tacet is Latin which translates literally into English as "(it) is silent". It is a musical term to indicate that an instrument or voice does not sound, also known as a rest. In vocal polyphony and in orchestral scores, it usually indicates a long period of time, typically an entire movement. In more modern music such as jazz, tacet tends to mark considerably shorter breaks. Multirests, or multiple-measure rests, are rests which last multiple measures.


A nocturne is usually a musical composition that is inspired by, or evocative of, the night. Historically, nocturne is a very old term applied to night Offices and, since the Middle Ages, to divisions in the canonical hour of Matins.

notes inégales

In music, notes inégales refers to a performance practice, mainly from the Baroque and Classical music eras, in which some notes with equal written time values are performed with unequal durations, usually as alternating long and short. The practice was especially prevalent in France in the 17th and 18th centuries, with appearances in other European countries at the same time; and it reappeared as the standard performance practice in the 20th century in jazz.

number opera 

A number opera is an opera consisting of individual pieces of music ('numbers') which can be easily extracted from the larger work. They may be numbered consecutively in the score, and may be interspersed with recitative or spoken dialogue. Opera numbers may be arias, but also ensemble pieces, such as duets, trios, quartets, quintets, sextets or choruses. They may also be ballets and instrumental pieces, such as marches, sinfonias, or intermezzi. The number opera format was standard until the mid-19th century and most opera genres, including opera seria, opera buffa, opéra comique, ballad opera, Singspiel, and grand opera, were constructed in this fashion.

music terms o


In Western classical music, obbligato usually describes a musical line that is in some way indispensable in performance. Its opposite is the marking ad libitum. It can also be used, more specifically, to indicate that a passage of music was to be played exactly as written, or only by the specified instrument, without changes or omissions. The word is borrowed from Italian ; the spelling obligato is not acceptable in British English, but it is often used as an alternative spelling in the US. The word can stand on its own, in English, as a noun, or appear as a modifier in a noun phrase.


In music, an octave or perfect octave is the interval between one musical pitch and another with double its frequency. The octave relationship is a natural phenomenon that has been referred to as the "basic miracle of music", the use of which is "common in most musical systems". The interval between the first and second harmonics of the harmonic series is an octave.

organ trio 

An organ trio, in a jazz context, is a group of three jazz musicians, typically consisting of a Hammond organ player, a drummer, and either a jazz guitarist or a saxophone player. In some cases the saxophonist will join a trio which consists of an organist, guitarist, and drummer, making it a quartet. Organ trios were a popular type of jazz ensemble for club and bar settings in the 1950s and 1960s, performing a blues-based style of jazz that incorporated elements of R&B. The organ trio format was characterized by long improvised solos and an exploration of different musical "moods".


In music, an ostinato [ostiˈnaːto] is a motif or phrase that persistently repeats in the same musical voice, frequently in the same pitch. Well-known ostinato-based pieces include both classical compositions such as Ravel's Boléro and the Carol of the Bells, and popular songs such as Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder's "I Feel Love" (1977), Henry Mancini's theme from Peter Gunn (1959), The Verve's "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (1997), and April Ivy's "Be Ok" (1997).


Overture in music was originally the instrumental introduction to a ballet, opera, or oratorio in the 17th century. During the early Romantic era, composers such as Beethoven and Mendelssohn composed overtures which were independent, self-existing instrumental, programmatic works that presaged genres such as the symphonic poem. These were "at first undoubtedly intended to be played at the head of a programme".

music terms p

piano-vocal score 

A vocal score or piano-vocal score is a music score of an opera, or a vocal or choral composition written for orchestral accompaniment, such as an oratorio or cantata. In a piano-vocal score, the vocal parts are written out in full, but the accompaniment is reduced and adapted for keyboard. The music is usually reduced to two staves; however, more staves, a second keyboardist (piano-four-hands), or a second keyboard part can be added, as needed.

Picardy third 

A Picardy third, also known as a Picardy cadence, is a major chord of the tonic at the end of a musical section that is either modal or in a minor key. This is achieved by raising the third of the expected minor triad by a semitone to create a major triad, as a form of resolution.


Pizzicato is a playing technique that involves plucking the strings of a string instrument. The exact technique varies somewhat depending on the type of instrument:

On bowed string instruments it is a method of playing by plucking the strings with the fingers, rather than using the bow. This produces a very different sound from bowing, short and percussive rather than sustained.
On keyboard string instruments, such as the piano, pizzicato may be employed as one of the variety of techniques involving direct manipulation of the strings known collectively as "string piano".
On the guitar, it is a muted form of plucking, which bears an audible resemblance to pizzicato on a bowed string instrument with its relatively shorter sustain. It is also known as palm muting. 


Portato, also mezzo-staccato, French notes portées, in music denotes a smooth, pulsing articulation and is often notated by adding dots under slur markings.


A prelude is a short piece of music, the form of which may vary from piece to piece. The prelude may be thought of as a preface. While, during the Baroque era, for example, it may have served as an introduction to succeeding movements of a work that were usually longer and more complex, it may also have been a stand-alone piece of work during the Romantic era. It generally features a small number of rhythmic and melodic motifs that recur through the piece. Stylistically, the prelude is improvisatory in nature. The prelude also may refer to an overture, particularly to those seen in an opera or an oratorio.

prima donna 

In opera or commedia dell'arte, a prima donna is the leading female singer in the company, the person to whom the prime roles would be given. The prima donna was normally, but not necessarily, a soprano. The corresponding term for the male lead is primo uomo.

music terms q

quarter tone 

A quarter tone is a pitch halfway between the usual notes of a chromatic scale or an interval about half as wide as a semitone, which itself is half a whole tone.

music terms r


In music, a reprise is the repetition or reiteration of the opening material later in a composition as occurs in the recapitulation of sonata form, though—originally in the 18th century—was simply any repeated section, such as is indicated by beginning and ending repeat signs.


A ritornello [ritorˈnɛllo] is a recurring passage in Baroque music for orchestra or chorus.


Rondo and its French part-equivalent, rondeau, are words that have been used in music in a number of ways, most often in reference to a musical form but also to a character type that is distinct from the form.


Tempo rubato is a musical term referring to expressive and rhythmic freedom by a slight speeding up and then slowing down of the tempo of a piece at the discretion of the soloist or the conductor. Rubato is an expressive shaping of music that is a part of phrasing.

music terms s


A light, "joking" or playful musical form, originally and usually in fast triple metre, often replacing the minuet in the later Classical period and the Romantic period, in symphonies, sonatas, string quartets and the like; in the 19th century some scherzi were independent movements for piano, etc.


Scordatura [skordaˈtuːra], is a tuning of a stringed instrument different from the normal, standard tuning. It typically attempts to allow special effects or unusual chords or timbre, or to make certain passages easier to play. It is common to notate the finger position as if played in regular tuning, while the actual pitch resulting is altered. When all the strings are tuned by the same interval up or down, as in the case of the viola in Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra, the part is transposed as a whole.


A segue is a smooth transition from one topic or section to the next.


A semitone, also called a half step or a half tone, is the smallest musical interval commonly used in Western tonal music, and it is considered the most dissonant when sounded harmonically. It is defined as the interval between two adjacent notes in a 12-tone scale. For example, C is adjacent to C♯; the interval between them is a semitone.

senza misura 

In music, metre refers to the regularly recurring patterns and accents such as bars and beats. Unlike rhythm, metric onsets are not necessarily sounded, but are nevertheless expected by the listener.


In music, the dynamics of a piece is the variation in loudness between notes or phrases. Dynamics are indicated by specific musical notation, often in some detail. However, dynamics markings still require interpretation by the performer depending on the musical context: for instance a piano (quiet) marking in one part of a piece might have quite different objective loudness in another piece, or even a different section of the same piece. The execution of dynamics also extends beyond loudness to include changes in timbre and sometimes tempo rubato.


A symbol (♯) that raises the pitch of the note by a semitone. The term may also be used as an adjective to describe a situation where a singer or musician is performing a note in which the intonation is somewhat too high in pitch.


The siciliana [sitʃiˈljaːna] or siciliano [sitʃiˈljaːno] is a musical style or genre often included as a movement within larger pieces of music starting in the Baroque period. It is in a slow 6
8 or 12
8 time with lilting rhythms, making it somewhat resemble a slow jig or tarantella, and is usually in a minor key. It was used for arias in Baroque operas, and often appears as a movement in instrumental works. Loosely associated with Sicily, the siciliana evokes a pastoral mood, and is often characterized by dotted rhythms that can distinguish it within the broader musical genre of the pastorale.


A symbol in Western musical notation (generally a curved line placed over the notes) indicating that the notes it embraces are to be played without separation (that is, with legato articulation).


Alone (i.e. executed by a single instrument or voice). The instruction soli requires more than one player or singer; in a jazz big band this refers to an entire section playing in harmony. In orchestral works, soli refers to a divided string section with only one player to a line.


Sonata, in music, literally means a piece played as opposed to a cantata, a piece sung. The term evolved through the history of music, designating a variety of forms until the Classical era, when it took on increasing importance. Sonata is a vague term, with varying meanings depending on the context and time period. By the early 19th century, it came to represent a principle of composing large-scale works. It was applied to most instrumental genres and regarded—alongside the fugue—as one of two fundamental methods of organizing, interpreting and analyzing concert music. Though the musical style of sonatas has changed since the Classical era, most 20th- and 21st-century sonatas still maintain the same structure.


A sonatina is literally a small sonata. As a musical term, sonatina has no single strict definition; it is rather a title applied by the composer to a piece that is in basic sonata form, but is shorter and lighter in character, or technically more elementary, than a typical sonata. The term has been in use at least since the late baroque; there is a one-page, one-movement harpsichord piece by Handel called "Sonatina". It is most often applied to solo keyboard works, but a number of composers have written sonatinas for violin and piano, e.g. Sonatina in G major for Violin and Piano by Antonín Dvořák, and occasionally for other instruments, e.g. the Clarinet Sonatina by Malcolm Arnold.


A soprano [soˈpraːno] is a type of classical female singing voice and has the highest vocal range of all voice types. The soprano's vocal range (using scientific pitch notation) is from approximately middle C (C4) = 261 Hz to "high A" (A5) =880 Hz in choral music, or to "soprano C" (C6, two octaves above middle C) =1046 Hz or higher in operatic music. In four-part chorale style harmony, the soprano takes the highest part, which often encompasses the melody. The soprano voice type is generally divided into the coloratura, soubrette, lyric, spinto, and dramatic soprano.


A mute is a device fitted to a musical instrument to alter the sound produced: by affecting the timbre, reducing the volume, or most commonly both. The use of a mute is usually indicated in musical notation by the Italian direction con sordino and removed with the direction senza sordino or via sordino.

sotto voce 

In music, sotto voce is a dramatic lowering of the vocal or instrumental volume — not necessarily pianissimo, but a definitely hushed tonal quality. Examples of sotto voce include:

In the Lacrimosa from Mozart's Requiem, in which the singers lower their volume for emphasis.
At the beginning of the third movement of Beethoven's String Quartet No. 15, Op. 132, in which the strings play with a hushed quality before later playing with renewed strength.
The second part of Chopin's Nocturne in C minor, Op 48 No 1, which is marked sotto voce e sostenuto; this is used to 'hold back the drama and keep us in suspense'. 


Spiccato [spikˈkaːto] is a bowing technique for string instruments in which the bow appears to bounce lightly upon the string. The term comes from the past participle of the Italian verb spiccare, meaning "to separate". The terms martelé, saltando, and sautillé describe similar techniques.


Spinto is a vocal term used to characterize a soprano or tenor voice of a weight between lyric and dramatic that is capable of handling large musical climaxes in opera at moderate intervals.


Staccato is a form of musical articulation. In modern notation, it signifies a note of shortened duration, separated from the note that may follow by silence. It has been described by theorists and has appeared in music since at least 1676.


In musical notation, stems are the, "thin, vertical lines that are directly connected to the [note] head." Stems may point up or down. Different-pointing stems indicate the voice for polyphonic music written on the same staff. Within one voice, the stems usually point down for notes on the middle line or higher, and up for those below. If the stem points up from a notehead, the stem originates from the right-hand side of the note, but if it points down, it originates from the left. There is an exception to this rule: if a chord contains a second, the stem runs between the two notes with the higher being placed on the right of the stem and the lower on the left. If the chord contains an odd numbered cluster of notes a second apart, the outer two will be on the correct side of the stem, while the middle note will be on the wrong side.


Stentato or stentando is a musical expression which means "labored, heavy, in a dragging manner, sluggish", or "strong and forced". It is abbreviated "sten." or "stent." and is, for example, the direction given for the last 17 bars of the Sanctus of Giuseppe Verdi's Requiem and also used by Ottorino Respighi in his composition Pini di Roma.

music terms t


Tacet is Latin which translates literally into English as "(it) is silent". It is a musical term to indicate that an instrument or voice does not sound, also known as a rest. In vocal polyphony and in orchestral scores, it usually indicates a long period of time, typically an entire movement. In more modern music such as jazz, tacet tends to mark considerably shorter breaks. Multirests, or multiple-measure rests, are rests which last multiple measures.

tasto solo 

Tasto solo is an Italian term used in music scores, usually on the continuo part, to indicate that a note or section should be played on its own, without harmony. The term tasto is Italian for key, so the part is to be played solo by the fingerboard instrument and not by the harmony instrument where a basso continuo line is played by more than one instrument. The phrase first appeared in music theory books in the eighteenth century, but was used by composers such as Arcangelo Corelli before this time. C.P.E. Bach commented that, in practice, Italians did not play tasto solo.


In musical terminology, tempo is the speed or pace of a given piece. In classical music, tempo is typically indicated with an instruction at the start of a piece and is usually measured in beats per minute. In modern classical compositions, a "metronome mark" in beats per minute may supplement or replace the normal tempo marking, while in modern genres like electronic dance music, tempo will typically simply be stated in bpm.

tempo rubato 

Tempo rubato is a musical term referring to expressive and rhythmic freedom by a slight speeding up and then slowing down of the tempo of a piece at the discretion of the soloist or the conductor. Rubato is an expressive shaping of music that is a part of phrasing.


Tenor is a male voice type in classical music whose vocal range lies between the countertenor and baritone. The tenor's vocal range extends up to C5. The low extreme for tenors is roughly A♭2 (two A♭s below middle C). At the highest extreme, some tenors can sing up to the second F above middle C (F5). The tenor voice type is generally divided into the leggero tenor, lyric tenor, spinto tenor, dramatic tenor, heldentenor, and tenor buffo or spieltenor.


Tenuto is a direction used in musical notation. The precise meaning of tenuto is contextual: it can mean either hold the note in question its full length, or play the note slightly louder. In other words, the tenuto mark may alter either the dynamic or the duration of a note. Either way, the marking indicates that a note should receive emphasis.


Ternary form, sometimes called song form, is a three-part musical form consisting of an opening section (A), a following section (B) and then a repetition of the first section (A). It is usually schematized as A–B–A. Examples include the da capo aria "The trumpet shall sound" from Handel's Messiah, Chopin's Prelude in D-Flat Major and the opening chorus of Bach's St John Passion.


In music, tessitura is the most aesthetically acceptable and comfortable vocal range for a given singer or less frequently, musical instrument, the range in which a given type of voice presents its best-sounding timbre. This broad definition is often interpreted to refer specifically to the pitch range that most frequently occurs within a given part of a musical piece. Hence, in musical notation, tessitura is the ambitus in which that particular vocal part lies—whether high or low, etc.


In music, timbre is the perceived sound quality of a musical note, sound or tone. Timbre distinguishes different types of sound production, such as choir voices and musical instruments, such as string instruments, wind instruments, and percussion instruments. It also enables listeners to distinguish different instruments in the same category.


In music, tremolo, or tremolando, is a trembling effect. There are two types of tremolo.


The trill is a musical ornament consisting of a rapid alternation between two adjacent notes, usually a semitone or tone apart, which can be identified with the context of the trill. It is sometimes referred to by the German Triller, the Italian trillo, the French trille or the Spanish trino. A cadential trill is a trill associated with each cadence. A trill provides rhythmic interest, melodic interest, and—through dissonance—harmonic interest. Sometimes it is expected that the trill will end with a turn, or some other variation. Such variations are often marked with a few appoggiaturas following the note that bears the trill indication.


In music, a tuplet is "any rhythm that involves dividing the beat into a different number of equal subdivisions from that usually permitted by the time-signature ". This is indicated by a number, indicating the fraction involved. The notes involved are also often grouped with a bracket or a slur.


In music, ornaments or embellishments are musical flourishes—typically, added notes—that are not essential to carry the overall line of the melody, but serve instead to decorate or "ornament" that line, provide added interest and variety, and give the performer the opportunity to add expressiveness to a song or piece. Many ornaments are performed as "fast notes" around a central, main note.


Tutti is an Italian word literally meaning all or together and is used as a musical term, for the whole orchestra as opposed to the soloist. It is applied similarly to choral music, where the whole section or choir is called to sing. Music examination boards may instruct candidates to "play in tuttis", indicating that the candidate should play both the solo and the tutti sections.

An orchestrator may specify that a section leader plays alone, while the rest of the section is silent for the duration of the solo passage, by writing solo in the music at the point where it begins and tutti at the point he wishes the rest of the section to resume playing.
In organ music, it indicates that the full organ should be used: all stops and all couplers. Some organ consoles offer a toe stud or piston to toggle the tutti: pressing once activates all stops, and pressing again reverts to the previous registration. 

music terms u


In music, unison is two or more musical parts sounding the same pitch or at an octave interval, usually at the same time.

music terms v


Vibrating (i.e. a more or less rapidly repeated slight variation in the pitch of a note, used as a means of expression). Often confused with tremolo, which refers either to a similar variation in the volume of a note, or to rapid repetition of a single note.


The cello ( CHEL-oh; plural cellos or celli) or violoncello ( VY-ə-lən-CHEL-oh; Italian pronunciation: [vjolonˈtʃɛllo]) is a string instrument. It is played by bowing or plucking its four strings, which are usually tuned in perfect fifths an octave lower than the viola: from low to high, C2, G2, D3 and A3. It is the bass member of the violin family, which also includes the violin, viola and the double bass, which doubles the bass line an octave lower than the cello in much of the orchestral repertoire. After the double bass, it is the second-largest and second lowest (in pitch) bowed string instrument in the modern symphony orchestra. The cello is used as a solo instrument, as well as in chamber music ensembles (e.g., string quartet), string orchestras, as a member of the string section of symphony orchestras, most modern Chinese orchestras, and some types of rock bands.


A virtuoso is an individual who possesses outstanding technical ability in a particular art or field such as fine arts, music, singing, playing a musical instrument, or composition. This word also refers to a person who has cultivated appreciation of artistic excellence, either as a connoisseur or collector. The plural form of virtuoso is either virtuosi or the Anglicisation, virtuosos, and the feminine forms are virtuosa and virtuose.

vocal score 

A vocal score or piano-vocal score is a music score of an opera, or a vocal or choral composition written for orchestral accompaniment, such as an oratorio or cantata. In a piano-vocal score, the vocal parts are written out in full, but the accompaniment is reduced and adapted for keyboard. The music is usually reduced to two staves; however, more staves, a second keyboardist (piano-four-hands), or a second keyboard part can be added, as needed.

Music Glossary