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Music Glossary of Terms
Glossary of Musical Terms
139
Music
02/27/2011

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Term
a cappella
Definition
unaccompanied vocal music
Term
accelerando
Definition
tempo mark: getting faster
Term
accent
Definition
emphasis or stress placed on a musical tone or chord
Term
accidental
Definition
a sharp, flat, or natural sign that alters the pitch of a note a half step
Term
adagio
Definition
tempo mark: slow
Term
aleatoric (chance) music
Definition
music that involves an element of chance or whimsy on the part of the performers; especially popular with avant-garde composers
Term
allegretto
Definition
tempo mark: moderately fast
Term
allegro
Definition
tempo mark: fast
Term
allemande
Definition
a stately dance in 4/4 meter with gracefully interweaving lines
Term
andante
Definition
tempo mark: moderately moving
Term
andantino
Definition
tempo mark: moderately moving but faster than andante
Term
anthem
Definition
a composition for chorus on a sacred subject; similar in design and function to a motet
Term
aria
Definition
an elaborate lyrical song for solo voice
Term
arpeggio
Definition
the notes of a triad or seventh chord played in direct succession and in a direct line up or down
Term
arioso
Definition
a style of singing and a type of song midway between an aria and a recitative
Term
atonal music
Definition
music without tonality, music without a key center, most often associated with the twentieth-century avant-garde style of Arnold Schoenberg
Term
augmentation
Definition
the notes of a melody held for longer, usually double, their normal duration
Term
ballad
Definition
a traditional song, or folk song, sung by a soloist that tells a tale and is organized by stanzas
Term
ballet
Definition
an art form that uses dance and music, along with sodumes and scenery, to tell a story and display emotions through expressive gestures and movement
Term
bass clef
Definition
a sign placed on a staff to indicate the notes below middle C
Term
basso continuo
Definition
a small ensemble of at least two instrumentalists who provide a foundation for the melody or melodies above, heard almost exclusively in Baroque music
Term
basso ostinato
Definition
a motive or phrase in the bass that is repeated again and again
Term
Bayreuth Festival House
Definition
an opera house in the town of Bayreuth, Germany, constructed exclusively for the music dramas of Richard Wegner
Term
beat
Definition
an even pulse in music that divides the passing of time into equal segments
Term
bel canto
Definition
Italian for "beautiful singing", a style of singing and a type of Italian opera developed in the 19th century that features the beautiful tone and brilliant technique of the human voice
Term
binary form
Definition
a musical form consisting of two units (A and B) constructed to balance and complement each other
Term
cabaletta
Definition
the concluding fast aria of any two or three section operatic scene, a useful mechanism to get the principals off the stage
Term
perfect cadence
Definition
the concluding part of a musical phrase, dominant to tonic
Term
cadenza
Definition
a showy passage for the soloist appearing near the end of the movement in a concerto, it usually incorporates rapid runs, arpeggios, and snippets of previously heard themes into a fantasy-like improvisation
Term
canon (round)
Definition
a contrapuntal form in which the individual voices enter and each in turn duplicates exactly the melody that the first voice played or sang
Term
cantata
Definition
a term originally meaning "something sung", in its mature state it consists of several movements, including one or more arias, ariosos, and recitatives, cantatas can be on secular subjects, but those of J.S. Bach are primarily sacred in content
Term
plagal cadence
Definition
end of musical phrase: subdominant to tonic
Term
caprice
Definition
a light, whimsical character piece of the 19th century
Term
castrato
Definition
a boy or adult singer who had been castrated to keep his voice from changing so that it would remain in the soprano register
Term
chanson
Definition
a French term used broadly to indicate a lyrical song from the Middle Ages into the 20th century
Term
chorale
Definition
the German word for the hymn of the Lutheran church, hence a simple religious melody to be sung by the congregation
Term
chord
Definition
two or more simultaneously sounding pitches
Term
chord progression
Definition
a succession of chords moving forward in a purposeful fashion
Term
chromaticism
Definition
the frequent presence in melodies and chords of intervals only a half step apart, in a scale, the use of notes not part of the diatonic major or minor pattern
Term
clef sign
Definition
a sign used to indicate the register, or range of pitches, in which an instrument is to play or a singer is to sing
Term
coda
Definition
Italian "tail", a final and concluding section of a musical composition
Term
color (timbre)
Definition
the character or quality of a musical tone as determined by its harmonics and its attack and decay
Term
comic opera
Definition
a genre of opera that originated in the eighteenth century, portraying everyday characters and situations, and using spoken dialogue and simple songs
Term
concert overture
Definition
an independent, one-movement work, usually of programmatic content, originally intended for the concert hall and not designed to precede an opera or a play
Term
concertino
Definition
the group of instruments that function as soloists in a concerto grosso
Term
concerto
Definition
an instrumental genre in which one or more soloists play with and against a larger orchetra
Term
concerto grosso
Definition
a three-movement concerto of the Baroque era that pits the sound of a small group of soloists (the concertino) against that of the full orchestra (the tutti)
Term
consonance
Definition
pitches sounding agreeable and stable
Term
counterpoint
Definition
the harmonious opposition of two or more independent musical lines
Term
courante
Definition
a lively dance in 6/4 wit an upbeat and frequent changes of metrical accent
Term
crescendo
Definition
a gradual increase in the volume of sounds
Term
da capo aria
Definition
an aria in two sections, with an obligatory return to and repeat of the first, hence an aria in ternary (ABA) form
Term
dance suite
Definition
a collection of instrumental dances, each with its own distinctive rhythm and character
Term
development
Definition
the center-most portion of sonata-allegro form, in which the thematic material of the exposition is developed and extended, transformed, or reduced to its essence, it is often the most confrontational and unstable section of the movement
Term
diatonic
Definition
pertaining to the seven notes that make up either the major or the minor scale
Term
Dies irae
Definition
a Gregorian chant composed in the 13th century and used as the central portion of the Requiem Mass of the Catholic Church
Term
diminished chord
Definition
a triad or seventh chord made up entirely of minor thirds and producing a tense, unstable sound
Term
diminuendo
Definition
a gradual decrease in volume of sound
Term
diminution
Definition
a reduction, usually by half, of all the rhythmic durations in a melody
Term
dissonance
Definition
a discordant mingling of sounds
Term
dominant chord
Definition
the chord built on the fifth degree of the scale
Term
dotted note
Definition
a note to which an additional duration of fifty percent has been added
Term
downbeat
Definition
the first beat of each measure, it is indicated by a downward motion of the conductor's hand and is usually stressed
Term
eleventh chord
Definition
a chord comprised of five intervals of a third and spanning eleven different letter names of pitches
Term
Eroica symphony
Definition
Beethoven's symphony NO. 3 (1803) originally dedicated to Napoleon but published as the Heroic Symphony
Term
etude
Definition
a short one-movement composition designed to improve one aspect of a performer's technique
Term
exposition
Definition
in a fugue, the opening section, in which each voice in turn has the opportunity to present the subject, in sonata-allegro form, the principal section, in which all thematic material is presented
Term
fantasy
Definition
a free improvisatory-like composition in which the composer follows his or her whims rather than an established musical form
Term
fermata
Definition
in musical notation, a mark indicating that the performers should hold a note or chord for an extended duration
Term
figured bass
Definition
in musical notation, a numerical shorthand that tells the player which unwritten notes to fill in above the written bass note
Term
finale
Definition
the last movement of a multi-movement composition, one that usually works to a climax and conclusion
Term
flat
Definition
in musical notation, a symbol that lowers a pitch by a half step
Term
folk song
Definition
a song originating from an ethnic group and passed from generation to generation by oral tradition rather than written notation
Term
form
Definition
the purposeful organization of the artist's materials, in music, the general shape of a composition as perceived by the listener
Term
forte (f)
Definition
in musical notation, a dynamic mark indicating loud
Term
forte (f)
Definition
in musical notation, a dynamic mark indicating loud
Term
fortissimo (ff)
Definition
in musical notation, a dynamic mark indicating "very loud"
Term
free counterpoint
Definition
counterpoint in which the voices do not all make use of some preexisting subject in imitation
Term
French overture
Definition
a two-part musical form of the Baroque era consisting of a slow first section in duple meter with dotted rhythms and a fast second section with imitative counterpoint
Term
fugato
Definition
a short fugue set in some other musical form like sonata-allegro or theme and variations
Term
fugue
Definition
a composition of three, four, or five parts played or sung by voices or instruments, which begins with a presentation of a subject in imitation in each part and continues with modulating passages of free counterpoint and further appearances of the subject
Term
full cadence
Definition
a cadence that sounds complete, in part because it usually ends on the tonic note
Term
Gesamtkunstwerk
Definition
German for "total art work", an art form that involves music, poetry, drama, and scenic design, often used in reference to Richard Wagner's music dramas
Term
gigue
Definition
a fast dance in 6/8 or 12/8 with a constant eighth-note pulse that produces a gallop-like effects
Term
glissando
Definition
a device of sliding up or down the scale very rapidly
Term
grave
Definition
a tempo mark indicating very slow and grave
Term
great staff
Definition
a large musical staff that combines both the treble and the bass clefs
Term
Gregorian chant (plainsong)
Definition
a large body of unaccompanied monophonic vocal music, set to Latin texts, composed for the Western Church over the course of fifteen centuries, from the time of the earliest Fathers to the Council of Trent
Term
ground bass
Definition
the English term for basso ostinato
Term
imperfect cadence
Definition
a cadence at which the music does not come to a fully satisfying stop but stands as if suspended on a dominant chord
Term
half step
Definition
the smallest musical interval in the Western major or minor scale, the distance between any two adjacent keys on the piano
Term
harmonics
Definition
the secondary tones above a fundamental pitch that taken in sum help form the totality of that sound
Term
harmony
Definition
the sounds that provide the support and enrichment - an accompaniment - for melody
Term
homophony
Definition
a texture in which all the voices, or lines, move to new pitches at roughly the same time, often referred to in contradistinction to polyphony
Term
hornpipe
Definition
an energetic dance, derived from the country jig, in either 3/2 or 2/4 time
Term
idee fixe
Definition
literally a "fixed idea", but more specifically an obsessive musical theme as first used in Hector Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique
Term
imitation
Definition
the process by which one or more musical voices, or parts, enter and duplicate exactly for a period of time the music presented by the previous voice
Term
imitative counterpoint
Definition
a type of counterpoint in which the voices or lines frequently use imitation
Term
incidental music
Definition
music to be inserted between the acts or during important scenes of a play to add an extra dimension to the drama
Term
intermezzo
Definition
Italian for "between piece", a light musical interlude intended to separate and thus break the mood of two more serious, surrounding movements or operatic acts or scenes
Term
interval
Definition
the distance between any two pitches on a musical scale
Term
inversion
Definition
the process of inverting the musical intervals in a theme or melody, a melody that ascended by step, now descend by step, and so on
Term
key
Definition
a tonal center built on a tonic note and making use of a scale, also, on a keyboard instrument, one of a series of levers that can be depressed to generate sound
Term
key signature
Definition
in musical notation, a pre-placed set of sharps or flats used to indicate the scale and key
Term
Kyrie
Definition
the first portion of the Ordinary of the Mass and hence usually the opening movement in a polyphonic setting of the Mass
Term
largo
Definition
a tempo mark indicating "slow and broad"
Term
leading tone
Definition
the pitch a half step below the tonic, which pulls up and into it, especially at cadences
Term
legato
Definition
in musical notation, an articulation mark indicating that the notes are to be smoothly connected, the opposite of staccato
Term
Leitmotif
Definition
a brief, distinctive unit of music designed to represent a character, object, or idea, a term applied to the motives in the music dramas of Richard Wagner
Term
lento
Definition
a tempo mark indicating "very slow"
Term
libretto
Definition
a text of an opera
Term
Liebestod
Definition
German for "love death", the famous aria sung by the expiring Isolde at the end of Richard Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde
Term
Lied
Definition
German for "song", the genre of art song, for voice and piano accompaniment, that originated in Germany ca. 1800
Term
madrigal
Definition
a popular genre of secular vocal music that originated in Italy during the Renaissance, in which usually four or five voices sing love poems
Term
major scale
Definition
a seven-note scale that ascends in the following order of whole and half steps: 1-1-0.5-1-1-1-0.5
Term
Mass
Definition
the central religious service of the Roman Catholic Church, one that incorporates singing for spiritual reflection or as accompaniment to sacred acts
Term
mazurka
Definition
a fast dance of Polish origins in triple meter with an accent on the second beat
Term
measure (bar)
Definition
a group of beats, or musical pulses, usually the number of bears is fixed and constant so that the measure serves as a continual unit of measurement in music
Term
melisma
Definition
in singing, one vowel luxuriously spread out over many notes
Term
melodic sequence
Definition
the repetition of a musical motive at successively higher or lower degrees of the scale
Term
melody
Definition
a series of notes arranged in order to form a distinctive, recognizable musical unit, it is most often placed in the treble
Term
meter
Definition
the gathering of beats into regular groups
Term
middle C
Definition
the middle-most C on the modern piano
Term
Minimalism
Definition
a style of modern music that takes a very small amount of musical material and repeats it over and over to form a composition
Term
Minnesinger
Definition
a type of secular poet-musician that flourished in Germany during the twelfth through fourteenth century
Term
minor scale
Definition
a seven-note scale that ascends in the following order of whole and half steps: 1-0.5-1-1-0.5-1-1
Term
minuet
Definition
a moderate dance in 3/4, though actually danced in patterns of six steps, with no upbeat but with highly symmetrical phrasing
Term
mode
Definition
a pattern of pitches forming a scale, the two primary modes in Western music are major and minor
Term
moderato
Definition
a tempo mark indicating "moderately moving"
Term
modulation
Definition
the process in music whereby the tonal center changes from one key to another, from G major to C major, for example
Term
monophony
Definition
a musical texture involving only a single line of music with no accompaniment
Term
motet
Definition
a composition for choir or larger chorus setting a religious, devotional, or solemn text, often sung a capella
Term
motive
Definition
a short distinctive melodic figure that stands by itself
Term
movement
Definition
a large, independent section of a major instrumental work, such as a sonata, dance suite, symphony, quartet or concerto
Term
music
Definition
the rational organization of sounds and silences as they pass through time
Term
music drama
Definition
a term used for the mature operas of Richard Wagner
Term
musical comedy
Definition
a popular genre of musical theatre designed to appeal to a general audience by means of spoken dialogue, songs, and energetic dances
Term
musique concrete
Definition
music in which the composer works directly with sounds recorded on magnetic tape, not with musical notation and performers
Term
nationalism
Definition
a movement in music in the nineteenth century in which composers sought to emphasize the indigenous qualities to their music by incorporating folk songs, native scales, dance rhythms, and local instrumental sounds