Glossary of Music Terms


Glossary of Common Music Terms

Aeolian    
The authentic mode which begins on the A note in relation to C major.
Articulation   
Detailed emphasis on effective phrase shaping similar to the effect of punctuation for writing or speaking.
Ascend    
To move upward rising in pitch.
Atonality    
A style of composition where a tonal center or definite key is avoided.
Augmented    
Any perfect interval raised one half-tone.
Chord   
Three or more tones sounded at the same time; two or more harmonic intervals played simultaneously.
Chromatics   
Sharps, flats, and naturals in a series.
Chromatic Scale   
A scale made up of twelve half-tones in a series.
Compound Periods
Two or more periods which make a complete musical thought; similar to a written paragraph.
Configuration
A structural arrangement of parts a shape.
Cryptic
Any melody that sounds puzzling or mysterious.
Degree
A method of describing the regular tonal relationship of notes within a scale.
Descend
To move downward lowering in pitch.
Dexterity
Skill and ease in using the hands or fingers.
Diatonic Scale
Eight tones within the range of one octave.
Diminished
Any perfect interval lowered one half-tone.
Dominant
The fifth tone of a scale.
Dorian
The authentic mode which begins on the D note in relation to C major.
Dynamics
The gradations of loudness or softness with which music is played. 
[ Pianissimo is Very soft - Piano is Soft - Mezzo piano is Moderately soft - Mezzo forte is Moderately loud - Forte is Loud - Fortissimo is Very loud - Crescendo is Increasing in volume - Decrescendo is Decreasing in volume ]
Enharmonic
Notes, intervals, and chords that are written differently even though they sound the same when played.
Half-Tone
The smallest interval used in traditional European and American music.
Hexachord
A scale of six tones, all separated by a whole-tone except for the third and fourth degrees which are separated by a half-tone. (Example: C . D . E . F . G . A).
Interval
The distance between the pitches of two musical tones.
Melodic: One note sounded after another.
Harmonic: Two notes sounded together at the same time.
Inversion
The procedure or result of shifting a note of an interval or chord so that what was originally the lowest note (bass) becomes an upper note.
Ionian
The authentic mode which begins on the C note in relation to C major.
Lateral
The direction of movement which is parallel to the frets.
(Across the fingerboard.)
Leading Tone
The seventh degree of the diatonic scale. Also called the Subtonic.
Lick
A slang phrase of jazz music origin which means a polished improvisation.
Linear
Relating to, or consisting of a line.
Locrian
The authentic mode which begins on the B note in relation to C major.
Lydian
The authentic mode which begins on the F note in relation to C major.
Major
A term applied to the keys based on major scales; any note combination utilizing a natural third interval.
Mathematonal
The calculable relationship between operative sounds.
Mediant
The third tone of a scale.
Metronome
A mechanical or electronic device used for sounding a steady beat at various rates of speed.
Minor
A term applied to the keys based on minor scales; any note combination utilizing a flatted third interval.
Mixolydian
The authentic mode which begins on the G note in relation to C major.
Mode
A pattern of pitches or tones within the octave making up the basic melodic material of a composition.
Modulate
To change from one key to another. 
Motif
Also referred to as a figure; the shortest possible musical idea sometimes consisting of only two notes.
Parameter
Any aspect of a musical sound that can be varied (e.g., pitch, duration, volume, tone color, overtones, attack, decay, intensity, etc.).
Perfect Intervals
Perfect unison, perfect fourth, perfect fifth, perfect octave; those tones are not affected by the different arrangement of whole tones and half-tones, and half-tones in major and 
minor.
Period
A group of eight measures containing two phrases of four measures.
Perspective
The aspect in which a subject or its parts are viewed.
Phrase
A series of notes sounded within four measures containing two sections.
Phrasing
Musical statements performed artistically so that the notes sound as though they belong together similar to actual speech or poetic recital.
Phrygian
The authentic mode which begins on the E note in relation to C major.
Riff
A short melodic phrase, one or two measures long, played repetitively.
Rubato
Freely : The expression of musical statements without the use of a fixed tempo.
Run
A musical passage which consists of a scale, or closely thereto, and performed quite rapidly.
Scale
A selection of tones within one octave.
Section
The notes within one measure divisible into its melodic or rhythmic motif.
Style
The manner of presenting or performing a musical composition.
Subdominant
The fourth degree of the diatonic scale.
Submediant
The sixth degree of the diatonic scale.
Subtonic
The seventh degree of the diatonic scale. Also called the Leading tone.
Supertonic
The second degree of the diatonic scale.
Syncopation
A shifting of the regular musical accent to notes which are on the weak beat. The effect of using short notes, ties, or rests to misplace the natural accents.
Technique
Physical skills involved in singing or in playing an instrument; hand and finger dexterity, breath control, articulation, etc.
Tempo
The rate of speed at which a piece of music is performed.
Tetrachord
A series of four notes that form the intervals of whole-tone, whole-tone, half-tone.
Timbre
The blend of harmonics or overtones which distinguish the same note played from two different sources. (Tone Color.)
Tonic
The key note of a key; the first degree of the diatonic scale.
Transpose
To write or perform a musical work in a key other than that in which it was originally written.
Triad
A chord comprised of three tones. 
Whole-Tone
The second smallest interval used in European and American music; equal to two half-tones in movement.
Whole-Tone Scale
Any scale that uses only whole-tones and no half-tones and therefore has only six notes per octave.

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