Jargon

This is a quick guide to common music terms. It should smooth out confusions caused by too much music jargon.

A

Accent
An accent is an emphasis on one note. Accents come in three types: dynamic, agogic, and tonic. This is the accent symbol <.
Accelerando
Italian. (accel). Directs the musicians to play with gradually increasing tempo.
Accidental
Symbols which are used to raised or lower the pitch of a note by one half steps. Ex: sharps, flats, and naturals.
Adagio
Italian. A slow tempo.
Affrettando
Italian. (affret.) Quickening or hurrying.
Allargando
Italian. Gradually slower, louder, and broader.
Allegretto
Italian. (alltto.) Light and cheerful, faster than moderato, slower than allegro.
Allegro
Italian. A fast tempo. In Italian the word means lively or merry.
Andante
Italian. A moderately slow tempo. In Italian the word means walking.
Arpeggation
Playing the notes of a chord one after the other.
Assai
Italian. Very.

B

Bar Line
The vertical lines drawn across the staff to indicate the measures in a musical composition.
Beam
A broad, straight line connecting two or more eighth notes.
Beat
The steady pulse of music. Beats form the basis of sense of musical time.
Blue tone
Blue tones ('worried' tones) are tones that are between the diatonic and flatted thirds and sevenths, which characterize the blues scales.
Blues scale
A major scale with a flat third and seventh. It must be remembered that the flat third and seventh were sometimes 'worried' notes, thus their pitches did not always correspond to equal-tempered tuning.
Boogie-woogie
A modern blues style created for instrumental application. Boogie-woogie is characterized by adaptation of the ground bass principle - a repetitious bass figure that suggests the blues chord progression.
Brio
Italian With vigor and spirit.

C

Canon
A melody that can be sung against itself in imitation. Also called a round.
Chord
A combination of three or more pitches sounding at the same time.
Chordal Texture
A texture in which the musical material is concentrated into chords with relatively little melodic activity.
Circle of Fifths
A clockface arrangement of the twelve pitches in the order of the number of accidentals in the key signature.
Common Time - C
Another name for a 4/4 meter signature, sometimes written as a large capital C in place of a meter signature.
Compound Division
The division of the beat into three equal parts.
Compound Meter
A meter in which the beats have a compound division.
Consonance
A combination of sounds producing a feeling of stability, or of little desire for resolution.
Crescendo
Italian. (cresc.) A gradual increase in loudness.
Cut Time
Another name for the 2/2 meter signature, it is written as a large capital C with a line drawn vertically through it.

D

Da capo
Italian. (D.C.) Repeat from the beginning.
Dal segno
Italian. (D.S.) Repeat from sign.
Degree
One of the notes in a scale. Degrees are usually numbered starting with the tonic.
Decrescendo
Italian. (decresc.) A gradual decrease in loudness.
Diatonic
Any one of the common scales made of whole and half steps in a particular pattern. The white keys on a piano instrument from a diatonic scale.
Diminuendo
Italian. (dim.) Gradually softer.
Dissonance
A combination of sounds that produce harsh, discordant results, and increase the desire for resolution.
Do
The solfeggio syllable that corresponds to the tonic.
Dolce
Italian. (dol.) Softly, sweetly, delicately.
Dominant
The fifth scale degree of a diatonic scale. The solfeggio syllable Sol corresponds to the Dominant.
Double Flat
A symbol written to the left of the note head, which lowers the pitch by a whole step. It is double the effect of a single flat. The symbol looks like two flats connected.
Double Sharp
Written to the left of a note, The double sharp raises the pitch of a note by a whole step. It is double the effect of a single sharp. The symbol looks like an X.
Duple Meter
A meter that consists of two beats.
Dynamic Accent
Often indicated with an accent sign, This is an accent created when one note is louder than surrounding notes.

E

Enharmonic
Two tones having the same pitch but different spelling.
Espressivo
Italian. (espress.) With expression.

F

Fa
The solfeggio syllable that corresponds to the subdominant.
Fine
Italian. The end.
Flag
The curved shaded line extending from the head of a stem used to indicate and eighth or shorter note.
Forte
Italian. (f.) Loud.
Fortissimo
Italian. (ff.) Very loud.

G

Grand Staff
Keyboard music is frequently rotated using this combination of the treble and bass clefs. The two staves are arranged treble over bass. A long, curved, thick bar connects the two staves.
Grave
Slow, solemn, deep.
Grazioso
Italian. In a graceful manner.

H

Half Step
The smallest interval on the standard keyboard. The interval between two adjacent keys (incl. both black and white keys) is a half step.
Harmonic Progression
Movement from one chord to the next; a succession of chords or a chord progression.
Harmony
The study of simultaneously sounding tones.

I

Imitation
A melody or melodic group is repeated in at different pitch level.
Improvise
To play on the spur of the moment. To perform without a prepared text or composed material.
Interval
The relationship between two tones.
Interval, Compound
Any interval greater than one octave. Compound intervals are usually expressed as simple equivalents (the "extra" octave is subtracted). ex: A major tenth interval is a simple major third.
Inversion (of a melody)
An ascending interval in a melody becomes as Descending interval (and vice versa) of the same size in the inversion of the melody.
Inversion (of intervals)
The lower tone forming the interval becomes the upper tone (or vice versa).

J

Jazz
A popular music style influenced by the blues, popular song, and other musical genre. Jazz is characterized by highly sophisticated improvised melodic lines over chord progressions (changes) with a steady beat and considerable syncopation.

K

Key
Music that is based on a major or minor scale is said to be in a key. Keys are identified by their tonic.
Key Signature
The arrangement of accidentals at the beginning of a staff. The key signature indicates the pitches that will be most common in a piece of music. Key signatures are associated with particular major and minor scales.

L

La
The solfeggio symbol that corresponds to the submediant.
Largetto
Italian. A tempo slightly faster than largo.
Largo
Italian. A very slow tempo. In Italian, the word means broad.
Ledger Line
A small line written above or below the staff to extend its range.
Leggiero
Italian. (leggo.) Light, delicate.

M

Major Scale
A diatonic scale with half steps between the third and fourth, and the seventh and eighth scale degrees.
Marcato
Italian. (marc.) Maked, accented.
Measure
One unit of meter, consisting of a number of accented and unaccented beats. A measure is indicated in music notation by bar lines.
Melody
An organized succession of pitches.
Meno mosso
Italian. Less quickly.
Meter
The system of regularly recurring pulses, they are most often grouped by periodic accents.
Meter Signature
A symbol placed at the beginning of a composition to indicate the meter of the piece. Meter signatures usually consist of two numbers, the lower indicating the note of value, and the upper the number of these notes per measure.
Meter, Asymmetrical
Meters in which the pulse cannot be divided into equal groupings of two, three or four in the measure. The groupings, instead, are uneven. Examples include, 7/4, 5/4, 11/8.
Meter, Compound
A meter in which the basic pulse may be subdivided into groups of three. Examples include 6/8, 9/8 and 12/8.
Meter, Simple
Meter signatures whose upper numbers are 1,2,3 or 4. Simple meters can be divided into multiples of two(duples).
Mezzoforte
Italian. (m.f.) Moderately loud.
Mezzo-piano
Italian. (m.p.) Moderately soft.
Mi
Mi is the solfeggio syllable that corresponds to the mediant.
Middle C
The C nearest to the middle of the piano keyboard. This note is an important point of reference because it is on the ledger line between the treble and bass on the ground staff.
Moderato
Italian. Moderate speed.
Modes, Authentic
Associated with Gregorian chants. The Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, and Mixolydian modes are considered to be authentic. Each has the final as the first note.
Modes, Plagal
Also associated with the Gregorian chants, The Hypodorian, Hypophrygian, Hypolydian, and Hypomixolydian modes extend above and below the final.
Morendo
Italian. (mor.) Fading away.

N

Natural
A symbol written to the left of a note head. The natural cancels a pervious sharp or flat.
Natural Minor Scale
The basic form of a minor scale. The natural minor contains half steps between scale Degrees 2-3 and 5-6.
Nonharmonic Tone
A tone that does not fit into the surrounding harmony.
Notation, Tablature
Notation using letters, numbers, or a diagram. In the case of guitars, lutes and vihuela the diagrams frequently represent the strings of the instrument.

O

Ostinato
Italian. A short musical pattern which repeats throughout a given passage. Ostinatos are generally a part of the supporting or accompanying material in a piece of music.

P

Piano
Italian. (p.) Soft.
Pianissimo
Italian. (p.p.) Extremely soft.
Pitch class
All notes of the same name on the keyboard.
Poco a poco
Italian. Little by little.
Prestissimo
Italian. As fast as possible. Faster than presto.
Presto
Italian. A very fast tempo. Faster than allegro.
Primary Melody
The most significant melodic idea in a given musical texture.

Q

Quadruple Meter
A meter consisting of four beats.

R

Rallentando
Italian. (rall.) Gradually slower.
Re
Re is the solfeggio syllable that corresponds to the supertonic.
Rhythm
The movement of the music in time. A patternn of different duration over the steady background of the beat.
Ritardando
Italian. (rit.) Gradual lessening of tempo.
Ritenuto
Italian. Immediate reduction in tempo.
Round
A cannon in unison. One singer begins the round. As the first singer reaches a specific point, a second singer begins at the beginning. Rounds are usually in three or four parts.

S

Scale
A summary of the pitches in a piece of music arranged in order from the lowest to the highest.
Sequence, Modulating
A sequence that leads from one total center to the next.
Sforzando
Italian. (sfz.) With sudden emphasis.
Simple Division
The division of the beat into two equal parts.
Simple Meter
A meter that has a simple division of beat.
Sol
The solfeggio syllable that corresponds to the the dominant.
Solfeggio
Italian. A system used to help singers to remember the pitches of a piece or section of music.
Spacing
The interval distance between voices or pitches of a chord.
Staff
A group of five horizontal lines on which music is written.
Subdivision
The division of the beat in simple meter (div. by two) into four equal parts or in compound meter (div. by three) into six equal parts.
Swing
The rhythmic style of most jazz. In swing music, the division of the beats is uneven and there is considerable stress on the notes between beats. The feeling of swing music is compound, but it is usually written in simple.
Syncopation
A rhythm in which normally unaccented beats are stressed either through agogic or dynamic rhythm.

T

Tempo
The speed of the beat in music. Tempo may be expressed in general terms (slow, fast, warp-speed) or in beats per minute.
Tessitura
Italian. The average range of a particular voice or instrument in a composition. If a tessitura is "high," the notes tend to be in the higher extreme of the total range of that voice or instrument.
Texture
A term that refers to how the melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic materials are woven together in a piece of music.
Theme
A melodic figure or phrase that is the basis for a composition or a section of a composition. Themes can and are repeated many times in many different formats and by many different voices or instruments. *Some very good examples of thematic presentation are the closing credits for any and all of the Star Wars movies. The ending music presents all the themes presented in the movie.*
Ti
Italian. The solfeggio syllable that corresponds to the leading tone.
Tie
A curved line connecting two notes. The tie indicates that the notes are to be played as a single note.
Tonality
A system of tones (ex: tones of major scale) used in such a way that one tone becomes central and the remaining tones assume a hierarchy based on this interval relationship to the central tone or tonal center.
Tone
A musical sound of definite pitch.
Tonic
The keynote of a piece of music. The tone that is felt to be a point of rest. Music often concludes on this note for a feeling of completeness.
Transposition
The process of rewriting a piece of music or a scale so that is sounds higher or lower in pitch. This involves raising or lowering each pitch by the same interval.
Triad
A triad is a three-tone chord. The four types of triads are major, minor, diminished, and augmented.
Triple Meter
A meter consisting of three beats.

U

Unison
Two pitches that are the same. Several singers singing a melody together.

V

Vivace
Italian. Lively, quick.

W

Whole Step
An interval consisting of two half steps.