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musical terms

notes and rhythm

Accent An emphasis or “punch” at the beginning of a musical sound.
Adagio (Italian) Meaning a slow tempo or slow speed. Sometimes it is the name of a work like Mozart's Adagio for Violin and Orchestra.
Andante (Italian) Meaning a walking tempo or walking pace; a moderate speed.
Bar/Measure A specific number of musical sounds that are organized within a measure, and that are contained within two solid lines called bar lines.
Beat/Pulse Regular pattern within a bar or measure.
Cadenza (Italian) An extended solo (played alone) for the soloist in a concerto. A cadenza can also be a solo in an orchestral work for one or a group of instruments.
Chorale Originally refers to a German Protestant hymn tune. In composition, it typically means a choral composition for voices or instruments, such as a Bach chorale. The word “Chorale” is also sometimes used as the name of a choir or chorus.
Chord When two or more notes or pitches are sounded simultaneously a chord is created.
Concerto A work for one performer or a group of performers with orchestral accompaniment.
Crescendo (Italian) Meaning growing, as in a swelling of sound, or becoming louder.
Decrescendo/Diminuendo (Italian) Getting softer; the opposite of crescendo.
Dolce (Italian) Meaning to be performed sweetly or delicately.
Downbeat The first beat in a measure as conducted by the leader of an ensemble is called the downbeat.
Ensemble 1) A group of musicians playing together like an orchestra or a string quartet; 2) The actual act of playing as a unit, or performing together
Fanfare A musical work used as an announcement, often played by the brass section of the orchestra or a single instrumentalist like a trumpet.
Fermata A symbol that tells the performer to hold the note as long as s/he would like, but certainly longer than the written note value.
Flat When a flat symbol ♭ is added to a note it lowers the note by a half-step. For example, if we have the note D and we add a flat to it the note now becomes D-flat or D♭.
Form The shape or organization of a musical composition.
Forte (Italian) Loud or strong.
Fortissimo (Italian) Louder than forte.
Half-step A musical interval (as E-F or B-C) equivalent to 1⁄12 of an octave.
Harmony The simultaneous combination of pitches, especially when blended into chords that are pleasing to the ear.
Instrumentation This can also be called orchestration when assigned to an orchestra. It is the way a composer or arranger takes musical sounds and assigns them to specific instruments.
Key A group of pitches based on a particular tonic, and comprising a scale, regarded as forming the tonal basis of a piece or section of music.
Larghetto (Italian) Usually slightly faster than largo.
Largo (Italian) Meaning wide, broad. In music a tempo marking meaning to be performed quite slowly.
Measure A measurement of time in music that contains a specific number of pulses defined by a time signature, and that is contained within bar lines.
Melody An identifiable succession of musical sounds.
Molto vivace (Italian) Very lively, or at a very quick speed.
Motif An identifiable succession of musical sounds, but shorter than a complete melody.
Movement A large unit within a symphony or concerto. It usually is comprised of many themes or musical ideas.
Notes Symbols to represent sounds or pitches and duration of those sounds.
Octave The interval between two musical notes, the upper one of which has twice the pitch of the lower one. In a major or minor scale, the distance of this interval lies eight steps* away, hence the term “octave.”
Opus (Latin) Meaning work. Work numbers are usually assigned by the composer. Often the opus numbers are assigned in order of composition, but at times the numbers are assigned by order of publication.
Pianissimo (Italian) Softer than piano.
Piano (Italian) Gently, soft.
Pitch The frequency* of a note determining how high or low it sounds (* “frequency” in this context is the number of complete oscillations per second of energy as sound in the form of sound-waves).
Piu (Italian) More. For example, piu piano would mean more softly.
Resolution A group of chords can create harmonic tension. When this tension is released with a calm chord, or a chord without tension, it is “resolved” and is thus called a resolution.
Scale An ordered succession of adjacent pitches, arranged in a sequence of whole steps and half steps, for example the major or minor scales. A specific scale is defined by its characteristic interval pattern and by its most prominent pitch, known as its tonic.
Sempre (Italian) Always. For example, sempre forte would mean always loud.
Sempre piu (Italian) Always more.
Sforzando(Italian) Forceful, usually accented.
Sharp When a sharp symbol ♯ is added to a note it raises the note by a half-step. For example, if we have the note G and we add a sharp to it the note now becomes G-sharp, or G♯.
Solo For one player (musician), or to be played alone. In an orchestral work it has come to mean the important line or part for one player, while soli would be the same for a group or section of players.
Step (or “whole step”) A musical interval between pitches (such as C–D or C–B♭) comprising two half steps.
Symphonic form The structure of a work for large ensemble.
Tempo (Italian) The rate of speed of a musical work.
Theme The most important melody at any specific time in a musical work. There can be one main theme in a work, or many themes.
Tonality The organization of all the tones and harmonies of a piece of music in relation to a tonic.
Tonic A pitch that is the first degree of a major or minor scale and the tonal center of a piece composed in a particular key.
Upbeat The preparatory sign given prior to the first beat in a bar.
Created by: lalamei