Glossary courtesy of Bonnie Romkey
A: A is the note of the musical scale generally used for tuning.
A capriccio: in a fanciful, capricious manner
A niente: to the end
A piacere: at the performer’s discretion, at pleasure
A tempo: resuming the preceding tempo after a slowing or speeding up
Accelerando: ‘becoming faster’… indication that the music should be played at an increasing speed.
Accent: the emphasis on a beat resulting in that beat being louder or longer than another in a measure.
Accidental: a sign – a sharp, flat or natural – indicating the raising or lowering of a note.
Accompaniment: an accompaniment is an additional part for a performer of any kind that is less important than another, which it serves to support and enhance.
Ad libitum: freely; like a cadenza, abbreviated ad lib.
Adagio: ‘quite slow’… is sometimes used to describe a slow movement, even when the indication of speed at the start of the movement may be different. Quite slow. The diminutive form adagietto is a little faster than adagio.
Affetuosamente: tenderly, with feeling and emotion
Affrettando: hurrying, pressing forward
Agitato: restless, hurried, agitated
Al fine: to the end
Al segno: return to the sign
Alla: ‘in the manner of’… may be found in titles like that of Mozart’s ‘Rondo alla turca’, Rondo in the Turkish Style.
Alla breve: 2/2 or 4/2 meter.
Alla marcia: in march style
Allargando: slowing down, usually accompanied by crescendo
Allegramente: Brightly, merrily, happily, cheerily
Allegretto: the diminished form of the tempo marking allegro. Generally indicates a meter should be played a ‘little less fast’. Pieces scored allegretto are also generally lighter in attitude than pieces scored allegro. When categorized in lists of tempos allegretto is found between allegro and andantino.
Allegro: ‘lively, fast, merry, cheerful’… is generally taken as fast, although not as fast as vivace or presto. Allegretto is a diminutive, meaning slightly slower than allegro. These indications of speed or tempo are used as general titles for pieces of music headed by instructions of this kind. The first movement of a classical sonata, for example, is often ‘an Allegro’, just as the slow movement is often ‘an Adagio’.
Allegro guisto: quick, with exactness
Allegro moderato: moderately quick
Amabile: sweet, lovable
Amore, Amoroso: lovingly, tenderly, fondly
Andante: ‘walking’… at a walking pace, moderately slow.
Andantino: less than andante; correctly means slower than andante, but often used to mean a little faster than andante.
Animando, animato, anime: getting livelier; animated, spirited, lively
Aperto: broad, majestic
Appassionato: passionately, with intense feeling
Aria: a solo vocal piece with instrumental accompaniment, as in an opera; An air; a melody.
Arco: ‘bow’… used as an indication to string-players that they should use the bow, rather than pluck with the fingers (see pizzicato).
Arpeggio: broken chord in which the individual tones are sounded one after another instead of simultaneously.
Articulation: the degree to which notes are connected, such as staccato or legato.
Aspro: rough, harsh
Assai: qualifier meaning ‘very’… appears often in indications to performers of the speed of a piece of music, as in allegro assai, very fast.
Attaca: ‘attack’, proceed without a pause between movements.
Atonal: atonal music is music that has no specific tonality, is not in a specific key and therefore has no specific ‘home’ note or chord. The word atonality refers technically to various forms of 20th century music not in a key.
Augmentation: statement of a melody in longer value notes, often twice as slow as the original.
Au talon: bow at the frog
Avec: qualifier meaning ‘with’
Avvivando: becoming livelier
Badinerie: ‘teasing’… indicates a piece of music of light-hearted character.
Bar: the vertical line through the staff to mark metrical units or bars (measures). The double bar or double bar-line marks the end of a section or piece.
Bariolage: the undulating up and down motion of the bow between two strings.
Baroque: used in music to designate a period of musical history from about 1600 to about 1750. Composers of this era include Bach, Handel and Vivaldi.
Bass bar: a specially carved and fitted piece of wood attached to the back of the top of the instrument. Its purpose is to support the ‘down’ pressure of the strings on top of the violin and spread the sound vibrations.
Beat: regular pulsation; a basic unit of length in musical time. The beat or pulse in a piece of music is the regular rhythmic pattern of the music. Each bar should start with a strong beat and each bar should end with a weak beat. These may be known as the down-beat (strong, at the beginning of a bar) and the up-beat (weak, at the end of a bar).
Ben: used as a qualifier meaning ‘well’. E.g. Ben marcato meaning ‘well-marked’.
Ben marcato: well-marked, sustained, or well-accented
Bewegt: moving, agitated
Binary form: the term for describing a composition of two sections. AB, each of which may be reported.
Bowing distribution: the correct distribution of the bow throughout a passage which maintains a uniform evenness of sound, and no distorted or loud notes which stand out and ruin or disturb the fluidity of the music.
Bravoure: bravura, bold, virtuosic
Bridge: transitional passage connecting two sections of a composition, (also transition). Also the decorative, carved piece of wood placed on top of the belly of the violin and adjacent to the f-holes. Holds strings in place, up and away from the body. The way it is fitted on the instrument has a major effect on the transmission of vibrations.
Brillante: brilliant, showy, sparkling
Brio, brioso: ‘vivacity, fire or energy’, vigorously… appears as an instruction to performers as, for example, in allegro con brio, fast with brilliance and fire.
Burlesco: comical, jesting
Cadence: a resting place in a musical phrase; a cadence usually consists of two chords that provide musical punctuation at the end of phrases or sentences.
Cadenza: virtuosic solo passage in the manner of an improvisation, performed near the end of a movement or a concerto. A cadenza, based often on an extended and embellished final cadence, at least in classical concertos, is a passage originally improvised by a performer in which virtuoso ability might be shown. Cadenzas are now more often written by the composer, although some modern performers continue to improvise. In classical concertos the cadenza often leads to the last section of a movement.
Calamando: becoming calm and quiet
Calmato, Calamato: calmly, quietly, tranquilly
Calando: dying away, gradually becoming softer and slower
Canon: type of polyphonic composition in which one musical line strictly imitates another at a fixed distance throughout. A canon in music is a device in counterpoint in which a melody announced by one voice or instrument is imitated by one or more other voices or instruments, entering after the first has started, in the manner of a round. The word canon may describe the device as it occurs in a piece of music or a complete composition in this form, like Pachelbel’s well known Canon.
Cantabile: singing quality, melodious
Cantando: singing, smooth, flowing
Cappricio: a light-hearted, improvisational, usually quick instrumental or orchestral piece.
Capriccioso: capricious, fanciful, fantastic
Cédez: French for poco ritardando; a slight holding back
Cesura: indicates a complete break in sound. Often called ‘railroad tracks’.
Chamber Music: ensemble music for up to about ten players, with one player to a part. Chamber music is music for a small ensemble of instruments, intended for performance in a room or chamber, as opposed to a church or larger building.
Chamber Orchestra: a chamber orchestra has come to indicate an orchestra smaller in size than the usual symphony orchestra.
Chanterelle: note or passage on the E string.
Chord: simultaneous combination of three or more tones that constitute a single block of harmony.
Chromatic Notes: chromatic notes are those that do not belong to the key in which the piece is written. If an ascending scale is taken from the note C, in the form C, D, E, F, etc., chromatic notes would be C# (C sharp), D# (D sharp), etc., notes not found in the diatonic scale of C major, which has no sharps or flats.
Circle of fifths: the succession of keys or chords proceeding by fifths.
Classical: used in music to designate a period of musical history from about 1750 to about 1820. Composers of this era include: Haydyn, Mozart and Beethoven. In the most general meaning of the word, classical music may designate fine music or serious music.
Clef: the five lines generally used in musical notation have no precise meaning without the addition at the left-hand side of a clef, a sign that specifies the note to be indicated by one of the lines, from which other notes may be gauged.
Coda: a supplementary ending to a compostion. The last part of a piece, usually added to a standard form to bring it to a close. This may be very short, but in a composition on a large scale may be extended. The diminutive codetta may be used to indicate the closing part of a section of a composition.
Codetta: in sonata form, the concluding section of the exposition. Also a brief coda concluding an inner section of work.
Col, coll’, colla: qualifier meaning with or ‘with the’
Colla parte: following the solo part
Collé: an off the string lower-half détaché. The attack of the note should be on the string, and the moment the bow is suddenly drawn horizontally it begins its lift away from the string. It is possible to play collé at the tip, though not usually musically desirable.
Common time: the time signature 4/4
Comodo, commodo: comfortable, moderate, at an easy pace, easily, quietly, moderately, at a moderate pace, without haste
Con: a qualifier meaning ‘with’
Con amore: with love, tenderly
Con anima: with animation
Con brio: with brilliancy
Con calore: with warmth
Con delicatezza: with delicacy
Con fermezza: firm energetic style
Con forza: with force
Con fuoco: with fire, impetuous
Con furore: with furor
Con gusto: with taste
Con grazia: with grace
Con moto: with motion, movement, animation
Con passione: with passion
Con rigore: with rigor, strict
Con sordino: with the mute
Con spirito: with spirit, animated
Concertante: a concertante part in a piece of music is a part that calls for some element of solo performance, as in a classical concerto. The word is found in the phrase Sinfonia concertante, which is used to indicate an orchestral composition with two or more solo instruments, a title used from the late 18th century onwards.
Concertmaster: the leader of an orchestra (that is, the principal first violin).
Concerto: instrumental genre in several movements for solo instrument (or instrumental group) and orchestra. A concerto is a piece of instrumental music that contrasts a solo instrument or a small group of solo instruments with the main body of the orchestra
Conductor: person who, by means of gestures, leads performances of musical ensembles.
Conjunct: smooth, connected melody that moves principally by small measures.
Contrast: contrast of music materials sustains our interest and feeds our love of change; it provides variety to a form.
Countermelody: an accompanying melody sounded against the principle melody.
Counterpoint: the compositional art of combining two or more simultaneous melodic lines; term means ‘point against point” or ‘note against note”. Counterpoint is the combination of two or more melodic lines, the second or later additional melodies described as counterpoints to the first. If harmony is regarded as vertical, as it is in conventional notation, signifying the simultaneous sounding of notes in chords, counterpoint may be regarded as horizontal. The adjective from counterpoint is contrapuntal.
Crescendo: ‘growing, becoming louder’… the dynamic effect of gradually growing louder, indicated in the musical score by the marking “<”
Cue: indication by the conductor or a spoken word or gesture for a performer to make an entry. Small notes that indicate another performer’s part.
Cut time: synonymous to the meter 2/2: two half-note beats per measure. Cut time is denoted by a 3/4 circle with a vertical line through it.
D.C. (or Da capo): ‘from the beginning’… an indication to return to the beginning of a piece. Abbreviated to the letters D.C. at the end of a piece of music or a section of it, means that it should be played again from the beginning (De capo al fine) or from the beginning up to the sign (Da capo al segno).
Da, dal or de: qualifier meaning ‘from’
Da ballo: in dance style, light and spirited
Da capo (or D.C.): ‘from the beginning’… an indication to return to the beginning of a piece. Abbreviated to the letters D.C. at the end of a piece of music or a section of it, means that it should be played again from the beginning (De capo al fine) or from the beginning up to the sign (Da capo al segno).
Dal segno: repeat from the sign
Declamatory: ostentatiously lofty in style
Decrescendo: ‘growing less’… the dynamic effect of gradually growing softer, indicated in the music score by the marking “>”
Détaché: a fundamental bowing stroke used when a passage is made up of even up and down bows. One note per bow. The bow should be firmly on the string at all times, and this stroke is usually played in the middle of the bow.
Development: structural reshaping of thematic material. second section of sonata-allegro form; it moves through a series of foreign keys while themes from the exposition are manipulated.
Diatonic: melody or harmony built from seven tones of major or minor scale. A diatonic scale encompasses patterns of seven whole tones and semitones.
Diminuendo: ‘becoming less’… is used as a direction to performers to play softer.
Disjunct: disjointed or disconnected melody with many leaps.
Disperato: desperate, hopeless
Divisi: divided, each part to be played by a separate instrument
Dolce, dolcemente: sweetly, softly, suave
Dolente: sad, weeping, mournful
Doloroso: grievingly, painfully, pathetically, mournful
Dominant: the fifth scale step, sol. Also, a brand of quality violin strings.
Dominant Chord: chord built on the fifth scale step, the V chord.
Double exposition: in the concerto, twofold statement of the themes, once by the orchestra and once by the soloist.
Double-stop: playing two notes simultaneously on a string instrument.
Downbeat: first beat of the measure, the strongest in any meter.
Duet: a piece of music written for two performers.
Duramente: firmly, boldly, harshly
Dynamics: element of musical expression relating to the degree of loudness, or softness, or volume, of a sound.
Effreto: the effect of music on an audience
Embellishment: melodic decoration, either improvised or indicated through ornamentation signs in the music.
Emphatique: emphatic, decisive
Encore: ‘again’; an audience request that the performer(s) repeat a piece or perform another.
Energico: vigorous, spirited, decisive
Elegy: an elegy (French: élégie) is a lament, either vocal or instrumental.
Ensemble: a group of performers. It may also refer to the togetherness of a group of performers: if ensemble is poor, the players are not together.
Eras: classical music is commonly grouped into six eras: Middle Ages (500-1420), Renaissance (1420-1600), Baroque (1600-1750), Classical (1750-1820), Romantic (1820-1900), 20th Century (1900-present).
Etude: a study piece that focuses on a particular technical problem.
Exposition: opening section. The exposition in sonata-allegro form is the first section of the movement, in which the principal thematic material is announced. In the exposition of a fugue (a fugal exposition) the voices (parts) enter one by one with the same subject: the exposition ends when all the voices have entered.
Facile: easy, fluent
Facilité: ease, fluency
False tone: refers to the tone of a string that is no longer true to pitch and which cannot be tuned to stay in pitch. Sometimes called a ‘dead string’.
Fermata: a hold or pause; when placed over a note it indicates that the note is to be held longer.
Fiddle: a fiddle is a violin, but the word is used either colloquially or to indicate a folk-instrument.
Fieramente: flashy, fiery, energetic
Fine: ‘the end’
Fingerboard: a long strip of wood fixed on the neck of stringed instruments against which strings are pressed in order to vary the pitch.
Flat: the word “flat”, indicated by a sign derived from the letter b, shows that a note should be lowered by a semitone.
Flautando: the bow is played lightly over the fingerboard, creating a hazy sound. See also: sul tasto
Flying Spiccato: like regular spiccato, but instead of remaining stationary the bow is drawn along the strings as it is bounced, producing a virtuoso effect.
Form: the structure or shape of a musical work, based on repetition, contrast, and variation; the organizing principle in music.
Forte: ‘loud’…indicated in a musical score by the marking ‘f’. It appears in the superlative form fortissimo, very loud. The letter f is an abbreviation of forte, ff an abbreviation of fortissimo, with fff or more rarely ffff even louder.
Forte-piano: accent strongly, then diminsh at once to piano (soft). Indicated by the marking ‘fp’.
Fortissimo: ‘very loud’… indicated in the musical score by the marking ‘ff’.
Forza, Forzando: with force, accented. Indicated by the marking ‘fz’.
Frequency: rate of vibration of a string which determines pitch.
Frog: the portion of the bow held by the player’s hand.
Furioso: furiously, wildly
Genre: general term describing the standard category and overall character of a work.
Giocoso: ‘jocular, cheerful, gaily’…sometimes found as part of a tempo instruction to a performer, as in allegro giocoso, fast and cheerful.
Giusto: ‘just, exact’… indicating a return to the original speed of the music after a freer passage.
Glissando: rapid slide through pitches of a scale.
Grace note: ornamental note, often printed in small type and not performed rhythmically.
Grandioso: with grandeur, pompously, majestically, loftily
Grave: ‘slow, solemn’… is used as an indication of tempo and mood, meaning very slow and serious.
Grazioso: gracefully, elegantly
Guisto: strictly, exactly
Gut string: a string that has a gut core and is wound with some other material. A gut string has a beautiful sound with less volume than a steel string and has a short life expectancy before it goes false.
Half step: smallest interval used in the western system, the octave divides into twelve such intervals; on the piano, the distance between any two adjacent keys, whether black or white.
Harmonics: individual pure sounds that are part of any musical tone; in string instruments, crystalline tones in the very high register, produced by lightly touching a vibrating string at a certain point.
Harmony: the simultaneous sounding of two or more notes and the technique governing the construction of such chords and their arrangement in a succession of chords. Following the convention of writing music from left to right on a horizontal set of lines (staff or stave), harmony may be regarded as vertical, as opposed to counterpoint, which is horizontal. In other words harmony deals with chords, simultaneous sounds, and counterpoint with melody set against melody.
Imitation: compositional technique in which a melodic idea is presented in one part, then restated in another while the first voice continues with new material.
Impetuoso: impetuously, vehemently
Improvisation: the art of creative expression derived from a spontaneous individual interpretation. Improvisation was once a normal part of a performer’s stock-in-trade. Many of the greatest composer-performers, from Bach to Mozart and Beethoven, were masters of improvisation, but in the 19th century this became a less common part of public performance.
Incalzando: Growing more vehement, to chase.
Inflection: small alteration of pitch by a microtonal interval.
Interval: distance and relationship between two pitches.
Intonation: the exactness of pitch or lack of it in playing or singing.
Issimo: a suffix that when added to a word means ‘more’. E.g. presto is ‘fast’, prestissimo is ‘very fast’.
Key: defines the relationship of tones with a common center or tonic. The key in which a piece of music is written indicates the scale used and the key note or home note, on the chord of which it must end.
Key Signature: sharps or flats placed at the beginning of a piece to show the key of a work.
L’istesso tempo: ‘the same speed/tempo’… signifies that the tempo remains as before, after a change of time signature.
Lamentoso: like a lament
Largamente: in a very broad style, not quite as slow as largo
Largando: growing slower and more marked while also making a crescendo
Larghetto: ‘broad, wide, large’… is a diminutive form of Largo usually a direction of tempo, meaning slow. Larghetto is slowish, not as slow as Largo.
Largo: broadly and slowly but not as slow as grave.
Legatissimo: exceedingly smooth
Legato: long, smooth bow stroke; smooth and connected, opposite of staccato.
Leggiero, Leggero: lightly, delicately, nimble, quick, airy
Legno: ‘wood’; appears in the phrase ‘col legno’, with the wood, an instruction to string players to hit the strings with the back of the bow.
Lento: very slow and in a calm, deliberate manner. Slower than adagio, but not quite as slow as largo.
Lesto: gay, lively, brisk
Loco: play as written (generally used to cancel an 8va direction).
Louré: a slightly pulsating legato, also sometimes referred to as portato. The notes are purposely separated (only slightly and within a slur) and a slight vibrato emphasis may be used to draw out each individual note.
Lusingando: coaxingly, teasingly
Ma: a qualifier meaning ‘but’.
Ma non troppo: but not too much, without rushing
Maestoso: ‘majestically’… used to suggest a majestic or dignified manner of performance, either in mood or speed.
Major Scale: a collection of seven different pitches ordered in a specific pattern of whole and half steps. (whole whole half whole whole whole half).
Marcato: marked, distinct and accented
Marcatissimo: with much accentuation
Marcia: a march
Martelé, Martellato: hammered notes played with a sharp, decided stroke; very strongly accented
Martiale: in military style
Mazurka: a Polish national dance in triple time; music compsed for dancing the muzurka.
Measure: a rhythmic grouping that contains a fixed number of beats; in notated music it appears as a vertical line through the staff.
Melody: a succession of single tones or pitches that together express a distinctive sequence and idea.
Meno: qualifier meaning ‘less’… used in musical directions to qualify other words as in meno mosso, with less movement.
Meno mosso: slower, less motion/movement
Mesto, mestoso: ‘sad’… used as an indication of mood
Meter: organization of rhythm in time; the grouping of beats into larger, regular patterns, notated as measures.
Metronome: device used to indicate the tempo by sounding regular beats at adjustable speeds.
Mezza, mezzo: qualifier meaning ‘half or moderately’… found particularly in the compound words mezzo-forte, half loud, represented by the letters mf, and mezzo-piano, half soft, represented by the letters mp.
Mezzo-forte: ‘moderately loud’… indicated in the musical score by the marking ‘mf’
Mezzo-piano: ‘moderately soft’… indicated in the musical score by the marking ‘mp’
Middle Ages: used in music to designate a period of musical history from about 500- 1420. Composers of this era include Euripides, Ventadorn and Halle.
Minor Scale: a collection of seven different pitches ordered in a specific pattern of whole and half steps (whole half whole whole whole half whole).
Mode: scale or sequence of notes used as the basis for a composition; major and minor are modes. Modal scales are found in various forms. The first church mode is the Dorian, the third the Phrygian, the fifth the Lydian and the seventh the Mixolydian. These are the ‘authentic modes’, their range from D to D, E to E, F to F and G to G respectively. Theorists later distinguished two further pairs of authentic and plagal modes, the Aeolian, A to A, and the Ionian, C to C. The Locrian mode, B to B, is inaccurately named, but was early distinguished as Hyperaeolian.
Moderato: ‘moderate’… an indication of the speed to be adopted by a performer. It may be used to qualify other adjectives, as allegro moderato, moderately fast.
Modulation: the process of changing from one key to another.
Molto: ‘very much’, a great deal… often found in directions to performers, as in allegro molto or allegro di molto, molto vivace or molto piano.
Mordent: ‘biting’. An ornament consisting of an alteration (once or twice) of the written note by playing the one immediately below it (lower mordent), or above it (upper, or inverted, mordent) and then playing the note again.
Morendo: dying away slower and softer
Mosso: ‘moved, agitated, energetically’… is generally found in the phrases più mosso, faster, and meno mosso, slower.
Motif / Motive: a short melodic or rhythmic idea; the smallest fragment of a theme that forms a melodic-harmonic-rhythmic unit.
Moto: ‘motion, movement’… is found in the direction ‘con moto’, with movement, fast. A moto perpetuo is a rapid piece that gives the impression of perpetual motion, as in the Allegro de concert of Paganini or the last movement of Ravel’s Violin Sonata.
Moto perpetuo: perpetual motion
Movement: complete, self-contained part within a larger musical work. A movement is a section of a more extended work that is more or less complete in itself, although occasionally movements are linked together, either through the choice of a final inconclusive chord or by a linking note, as in the first and second movement of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.
Mutes: mechanical device used to muffle the sound of a violin by controlling the vibration of the bridge.
Natural: a natural is a note that is neither a sharp nor a flat. A musical symbol which cancels a previous sharp or flat.
Nel, nella, nell’: in the, at the
Neoclassical: a style in music which indicates a 20th century eclectic return by some composers to various styles and forms of earlier periods, whether classical or baroque. The style is exemplified in the score for the ballet Pulcinella by Stravinsky or by the same composer’s opera The Rake’s Progress.
Niente: ‘nothing’ (as in a niente, ‘diminishing to nothing’).
Non: qualifier meaning ‘not’, no
Notation: the method of writing music down.
Note: either a single sound or its representation in notation.
Obbligato: a secondary part added to a composition to enhance.
Octave: interval between two tones seven diatonic pitches apart; the lower note vibrates half as fast as the upper and sounds an octave lower. The octave is an interval of an eighth, as for example from the note C to C or D to D.
Open Strings: the strings of a stringed instrument when played without being fingered.
Opus: ‘work’; is generally used in the listing of a composer’s works by opus numbers, usually abbreviated to Op.
Orchestra: a performing group of diverse instruments, usually comprised of multiple string sections (violin, viola, cello), with various woodwind, brass and percussion instruments.
Orchestration: the art of arranging music for the orchestra or the way in which this is done.
Ornamentation: formalized decorations of a melodic line, such as the trill or mordent. Embellishment.
Ostinato: a short melodic, rhythmic, or harmonic pattern, element or phrase that is repeated throughout a work or a section of one.
Ottava: an octave, an eighth
Ottava alta: the octave higher
Ottava basso: the octave lower
Overture: an introductory movement; also an orchestral work for concert performance.
Part: a part may indicate the line or music intended for a particular performer.
Passionato: passionately, fervently
Pastorale: pastoral, country-like
Pedal point: sustained tone over which the harmonies change.
Peg box: the portion of a stringed instrument that holds the tuning pegs.
Perdendosi: dying away; gradually diminish in volume, rhythm and tone
Perfect cadence: the chordal progression of dominant to tonic, in a major key V-I, in minor V-i.
Perfect pitch: the ability to hear and identify a note without any other musical support.
Performance practice: the attempt to perform music in the way envisaged originally by the composer.
Pernambuco: a very hard wood which is the preferred wood for making a very fine bow.
Pesante: heavy, ponderous, firm, vigorous.
Philharmonic: the adjective Philharmonic and noun Philharmonia are generally used as adopted titles by orchestras or by music-loving societies of one sort or another. The words have no other technical meaning.
Phrase: musical unit; often a component of a melody, generally ending in a cadence of some kind, and forming part of a period or sentence. Phrasing in performance has a less precise use, indicating the correct grouping of notes, whether as phrases in the technical sense or in smaller distinct units, corresponding to the various possible syntactical uses of punctuation.
Piacere: ‘pleasure’. E.g. A Piacere or Suo Piacere: at the performer’s discretion, at pleasure
Pianissimo: ‘very soft’… indicated in the musical score by the marking ‘pp’
Piano: ‘soft’… indicated in the musical score by the marking ‘p’. Pianissimo, represented by pp, means very soft. Addition of further letters p indicates greater degrees of softness, as in Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, where an excessive pppppp is used.
Pie, plus: qualifier meaning ‘more’
Pitch: the highness or lowness/deepness of a tone, depending on the frequency (rate of vibration). Perfect pitch is the ability to distinguish the pitch of a note, according to generally accepted nomenclature. Relative pitch is the ability to distinguish the pitch of one note with relation to another, given note.
Più: ‘more’… is found in directions to performers, as in più forte, louder, or più lento, slower.
Più mosso: more motion, more rapid
Pizz.: see pizzicato
Pizzicato: performance direction to pluck a string of a bowed instrument with the finger. A return to the use of the bow is indicated by the word ‘Arco’, bow. Pizzicato notes on the violin, viola and cello are normally plucked with the index finger of the right hand. The great violinist Paganini, however, introduced the technique of left-hand pizzicato for occasional use, notably in one of the variations of his 24th Caprice, where it produces a very special effect.
Placido: placid, tranquil, smooth
Play position: the correct posture (including stance, bow hold, violin positioning etc.) of readiness before beginning to play or perform.
Poco: ‘little’… is found in directions to performers, as in poco allegro, although un poco allegro, a little fast, would be more accurate. Poco, in fact, is commonly used meaning un poco, a little.
Poco a poco: ‘little by little’.
Polonaise: heroic or ceremonial polish dance
Polyphony: the art of counterpoint, or combining melodies.
Pomposo: pompously, loftily, majestic, dignified
Ponticello: bowing is down near the bridge and creates a glassy sounding tone.
Portamento: a mild glissando between two notes for expressive effect.
Portato: a lightly emphasized détaché, with added inflection possibly aided to a slight degree by a more expressive vibrato. This can be bowed with several notes in the same bow, or separately.
Postlude: is played at the end of a piece and indicates, in particular, the additional piano phrases that may appear at the end of a piece, after the performer has stopped. The word is more widely used to describe the closing section of a work or to indicate a piece of music to be played as the conclusion of some ceremony, the opposite of a prelude.
Prelude: a movement or section of a work that comes before another, usually larger, movement or section of a work, although the word also has been used for short independent pieces that may stand alone, or even for more extended works, such as Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune.
Prestissimo: as fast as possible. Indicated by ‘pp’ or ‘ppp’.
Presto: ‘quickly’, rapidly… is used frequently as a direction to performers. (Faster than allegro.) An even faster speed is indicated by the superlative prestissimo or even il più presto possibile, as fast as possible.
Presto assai: very very fast.
Prima volta: the ‘first time’
Primo: first, principal
Programme music: music that has a narrative or descriptive extra-musical content. Music of this kind has a long history, but the term programme music was coined by Liszt, whose symphonic poems principally attempt to translate into musical terms works of literature, such as Goethe’s Faust or Dante’s Divina Commedia. It seems preferable that the term should be limited to instrumental music for concert use and should not include either incidental music or ballet music.
Progression: a series of harmonies.
Pronto: promptly, swiftly
Purfling: ornamentation or decoration inlaid around the edges on the top of a stringed instrument.
Quadruplet: a group of four notes played in the time normally occupied by three.
Quarter-tone: Divisions of the tone smaller than a semitone are occasionally found in art-music, particularly in the 20th century. Quarter-tones occur in the solo violin part of the Second Violin Concerto of Belá Bartók.
Quasi: almost, ‘as if’, in the manner of
Quasi sognando: dreamily
Rallentando: ‘becoming slower’… gradually growing slower, not as slow as ritardando
Range: distance between the lowest and highest tones of a melody, an instrument or a voice. This span can be generally described as narrow, medium or wide in range.
Recitativo: a style used in operas, oratorios, and cantatas in which the text is declaimed in the rhythm of natural speech with slight melodic variation and little orchestral accompaniment.
Register: specific area in the range of an instrument or voice.
Relative major and minor: the najor and minor keys that share the same key signature. Thus, the E major is the relative sharp of C minor, since both have four sharps.
Relative pitch: the ability to determine the pitch of a note in terms of its relationship to the notes that precede and follow it.
Religioso: in a reverent, devotional style
Renaissance: used in music to designate a period of musical history from about 1420 to about 1600. Composers of this Machaut, Dufay and Josquin.
Repeat sign: musical symbol that indicates repetition of a passage in a composition.
Resolution: conclusion of a musical idea, as in the progression from an active chord to a rest chord.
Resonance: the phenomenon by which several strings tuned to pitches that are harmonically related will vibrate even if only one of the strings is struck.
Rest position: stance or posture (feet together, violin under arm) a player takes directly preceding a bow.
Restez: stay in the position
Rhythm: the arrangement of notes according to their relative duration and relative accentuation.
Ricochet: rebounding/springing bow. Bow rebounds on several notes in the same bow.
Rinforzando: suddenly reinforce the volume of tone by an abrupt heavy accent (rfz)
Risoluto: in a resolute, vigorous, decided style
Ritardando: ‘becoming slower’… abbreviated often to rit. or ritard.
Ritenuto: ‘held back’… directs a player to slow down at once.
Ritornando: holding back, getting slower.
Ritornello: a short recurring passage that unifies an instrumental or vocal work. It became a frequent element in baroque solo concertos by composers such as Vivaldi.
Romantic: used in music to designate a period of musical history from about 1820 to about 1900. Composers of this era include Mendelssohn, Brahms and Tchaikovsky.
Romanticism: commonly applied to a period or the predominant features of that period, from the early 19th century until the early 20th. Features of romanticism in music include an attention to feeling rather than to formal symmetry, expressed in a freer use of traditional forms, an expansion of the instrumental resources of music and an extension of harmonic language.
Rondo: musical form in which the first section recurs. Rondo form involves the use of a recurrent theme between a series of varied episodes, often used for the rapid final movement of a classical concerto or symphony.
Rosin: substance made from the hardened tree sap, rubbed on the hair of a bow to help it grip the strings.
Rubato: flexibility of tempo within a musical phrase for expressive effect. In ‘robbed time’… taking from one note and adding to another.
Ruvido: rough, harsh
Saltando: rebounding/springing bow. Bow rebounds on several notes in the same bow.
Saltato: bouncing or ‘jumping’ bow. Usually two or more notes per bow are used.
Sans: qualifier meaning ‘without’
Sautille: fast spiccato acquired through a completely relaxed hand that permits sufficient elasticity to allow the bow to bounce itself. A rapid bounce, half on and half off the string, relies on natural rebound.
Scale: a series of tones or pitches in ascending or descending order.
Scherzando: ‘playfully’… in a sporting, livey manner.
Scherzo: a joke
Score: the full copy of written music that shows all parts. A conductor’s score, for example, may have as many as thirty different simultaneous instrumental parts on one page.
Scroll: the curved head of a stringed instrument where the tuning pegs are set.
Segue: proceed without interruption
Semplice: simple and unaffected, natural, with simplicity
Semi-tone: also known as a half step, the smallest interval commonly used.
Sempre: ‘always’… is found in directions to performers, as in sempre piano, ‘always soft’.
Sentimentale: with feeling
Senza: qualifier meaning ‘without’… is found in directions to performers, particularly in phrases such as senza crescendo, ‘without crescendo’.
Senza Sordino: without the mute
Sequence: a successive transposition and repetition of a phrase at different pitches.
Sereno: in a serene, tranquil style
Serialism: method of composition in which various musical elements (pitch, rhythm, dynamics, tone, color) may be ordered in a fixed series. Serialism is the important 20th century compositional technique that uses, as a basis of unity, a series of the twelve semitones of the octave in a certain order, which may then be taken in retrograde form, in inversion and in retrograde inversion, and also in transposition.
Sforzando (or sfz.): giving a strong accent.
Sharp: represented by the sign #, added before a note, raises its pitch by a semitone. In general terms music that is sharp may be simply out of tune, at too high a pitch.
Siciliano: a fairly slow dance with swaying rhythm in compound time, usually 6/8 or 12/8.
Simile: ‘similarly’… continue in a like manner.
Sinfonia: in earlier usage indicated a passage or piece of instrumental music, sometimes an introductory piece, leading later to the Italian overture, known as the sinfonia before the opera, the origin of the Italian symphony.
Sinfonia Concertante: a concerto that uses two or more solo instruments. The title was used in the later 18th century by Mozart, Haydn and their contemporaries, and has occasionally been used by composers since then.
Sinfonietta: a small symphony. The word is sometimes used to indicate a small orchestra.
Sforzando: perform the tone with special stress, or marked and sudden emphasis, indicated in the musical score by the marking ‘sf’ or ‘sfz’ or ‘sffz’.
Slur: a curve over notes to indicate that a phrase is to be played legato, in the same bow stroke. E.g. Up up or down down.
Smorzando (or smorz.): fading away, growing slower and softer, dying away to a whisper
Solo: a composition for a single instrument
Son Filé: sunstained tone
Sonata: The title sonata originally designated music that was to be played rather than sung. The baroque sonata developed in two parallel forms. The first, the sonata da chiesa or church sonata, was generally of four movements in the order slow-fast-slow-fast, the faster movements fugal in character. The second, the sonata da camera or chamber sonata, was in essence a dance suite.
Sonata-form: based on a triple division of a movement into exposition, development and recapitulation. The first section normally contains two contrasting subjects, the first in the tonic key and the second in the dominant key or in the relative major of a minor key movement. The section ends with a coda or codetta. The middle section, the development, offers varied treatment of themes or parts of themes that have already been heard. The recapitulation brings back the first and second subjects now in the tonic key. The movement ends with a coda.
Sonatina: a ‘little sonata’, simpler in structure and shorter in length than a sonata.
Sonore: deep, full, rich tone
Sordamente: with a veiled, muffled tone
Sotto Voce: ‘very softly’… in an undertone.
Sostenuto: ‘sustained’… prolonged, is a direction to performers to play smoothly, slower than before.
Sound Post: A dowel-like stick specially carved and fitted and placed inside the violin through the f-hole in a certain position near the bridge. The sound post greatly influences the tonal capabilities of the instrument and also supports the top of the instrument against the tenison of the strings.
Spiccato: a type of bowing in which the bow is allowed to bounce rather than be drawn across the string.
Subito: suddenly, quickly, rapidly
Spiritoso: spiritedly, animated
Staccato: short, detached notes, marked with a dot above them. Play sharply in an abrupt, disconnected manner.
Staff: indicates the set of lines used for the notation of notes of different pitches.
Stentato: forced, loud
Stretto: quickened in tempo
Stringendo: pressing forward; sometimes erroneously intepreted as a combination of accelerando and crescendo.
Strings: String instruments are chordophones, instruments that sound by the vibration of a string of a certain tension. The string section of the modern orchestra uses first and second violins, violas, cellos and double basses. A string trio consists of violin, viola and cello; a string quartet consists of two violins, viola and cello and a string quintet either of two violins, two violas and cello, as in the case of Mozart’s work in this form, or of two violins, viola and two cellos, as in the case of Schubert’s famous C major String Quintet and the Quintets of Boccheri. Other numbers and combinations of string instruments are possible in other ensembles.
Study: a piece of music originally designed primarily for the technical development of the player.
Style: characteristic manner of presentation of musical elements (melody, rhythm, harmony, dynamics, form etc.).
Subdominant: the fourth scale step, fa.
Subdominant chord: chord built on the fourth scale step, the IV chord.
Subject: main idea or theme of a work.
Suite: an instrumental piece consisting of several shorter pieces. The baroque suite generally contains a series of dance movements, in particular the allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue.
Sul G: play the passage on the G string only.
Sul Ponticello: bowing is down very near to the bridge and creates a glassy sounding tone.
Sul Tasto: the bow is played lightly over the fingerboard, creating a hazy sound. See also: flautando
Suspension: the use of a nonharmonic tone to delay the resolution of a chord, frequently as it occurs in a cadence.
Symphony: large work for orchestra, generally in three movements. Interchangeable with the word ‘orchestra’ when describing a large ensemble of musicians.
Syncopation: accent on an unexpected beat. Deliberate upsetting of the meter or pulse through a temporary shifting of the accent to a weak beat or offbeat.
Tacet: remains silent. Indicates that a performer is not to play.
Tanto: ‘so much’… is occasionally found in tempo indications, as in allegro ma non tanto, similar in meaning, if slightly weaker than allegro ma non troppo, allegro but not too much.
Tempestoso: stormily, passionately
Tempo: rate of speed or pace of music.
Tempo I: resuming the opening tempo
Tempo giusto: in strict time; the correct tempo
Tempo rubato: irregular or robbed time; flexible with some beats slower and others faster
Teneramente: tenderly, delicately, softly
Tenuto: ‘held’, sustained. Is to touch on a note slightly longer than usual, but without generally altering the note’s value.
Ternary Form: three-part (A-B-A) form based on a statement (A), contrast or departure (B), and repetition (A).
Tertian harmony: a term used to describe music based on chords arranged in intervals of thirds.
Texture: the interweaving of melodic (horizontal) and harmonic (vertical) elements in the musical fabric. Texture is generally described as monophonic (single line), heterophonic (elaboration on a single line), homophonic (single line with accompaniment), or polyphonic (many voiced).
Thematic development: musical expansion of a theme by varying its melodic outline, harmony or rhythm.
Theme: melodic idea used as a basic building block in the construction of a composition.
Theory: the study of how music is put together.
Third: interval between two notes that are two diatonic scale steps apart.
Timbre: the quality of a sound that distinguishes one voice or instrument from another. (Also: ‘tone color’.)
Time: unlike the word tempo, which means speed or pace, ‘time’ is used in music for the metrical divisions or bar-lengths of a piece of music. These are indicated by two numbers at the beginning of a work or at the introduction of a changed time by two numbers that form a time-signature. The higher of the two numbers shows how many beats there are in a bar, while the lower number shows what kind of note it is. In this way a duple time-signature of 2/4 means that each bar consists of two quarter notes or crotchets or their equivalent in notes of shorter or longer duration. An indication of compound time such as 6/8 shows that there are six quavers or eighth notes in each bar, although in faster speeds these will be in two groups of three. Prime higher numbers such as five or seven necessitate asymmetrical groupings of notes.
Time signature: the two numbers that indicate the number of beats per bar of a piece of music, given at the beginning of the first staff, and whenever the number of beats changes. The lower number shows the length of note assigned one beat (i.e., 2 as the lower number refers to half notes, 4 refers to quarter notes, 8 to eighth notes, etc.) and the upper number shows how many of those notes are in a single bar. Thus, 3/4 means three quarter notes to the bar; 5/16 means five sixteenth notes, and so on.
Tonality: principle of organization around a tonic, or home, pitch, based on a major or minor scale.
Tone: a sound of definite pitch.
Tone cluster: highly dissonant combination of pitches sounded simultaneously.
Tone color: the quality of a sound that distinguishes one voice or instrument from another. (Also ‘timbre’.)
Tonic: the first note of a scale, which serves as the home base around which the other pitches revolve and to which they ultimately gravitate.
Tonic chord: triad built on the first scale, the I chord.
Tosto: quick, swift, rapid
Traditional music: music that is learned by oral transmission and is easily sung or played by most people; may exist in variant forms.
Tranquillo: quietly, calmly
Transcription: music may be transcribed or arranged for instruments other than those for which it was originally designed. Well known transcriptions are found among the short pieces arranged for violin and piano by the famous violinist Fritz Kreisler.
Transition: transitional passage connecting two sections of a composition, (also bridge).
Transpose: the process of re-writing music to suit a different key signature, pitch or instrument.
Tre corde: three strings
Treble: treble instruments are instruments of higher register and the G clef in use for this register is commonly known as the treble clef.
Tremolo: (Italian: ‘trembling’) indicates the rapid repetition or alternation of a note(s).
Triad: the basic form of three-note chord on which all diatonic harmony is based; it consists of a tonic plus the notes that lie a major (or minor) third and a perfect fifth above it.
Trill: a musical ornament consisting of the rapid alternation between one tone and the next above it.
Triple meter: basic metrical pattern of three beats to a measure.
Triple stop: playing three notes simultaneously on a string instrument.
Triplet: group of three equal-valued notes played in the time of two; indicated by a bracket and the number 3.
Troppo: ‘too much’… warns a player not to overdo an effect, as in allegro ma non troppo, allegro but not too much.
Tutta, tutti: ‘all’, the whole… is used in orchestral music to distinguish the part of a solo instrument from that of the rest of the section or orchestra.
Twentieth Century: used in music to designate a period of musical history from about 1900 to present. Composers of this era include Bartok, Prokofiev and Stravinsky.
Un poco: ‘a little’
Unison: the simultaneous sounding of the same note by two or more singers or players.
Up-beat: the beat before a strong beat; also, the conductor’s signal immediately before the first entry.
Upbow staccato: there are many kinds of upbow staccatos: normal/loose, stiff, off-the-bow. To execute properly, set the weight with your arm. This weight is constant and never varies. The bow stick should remain down, as opposed to jumping up and down. From there, the secret is in the wrist. Do clockwise motions with your hand so that the third finger is doing the work. Use the first finger as the pivot point with the third doing the motion. Combine that with a smooth arm.
Variation: a formal principle in which some aspects of the music are altered but the original is still recognizable. Variation form involves the repetition of a theme in changed versions.
Vibrato: is an oscillation in the pitch of a note designed to add interest, warmth, tension and character to the tone of a note.
Vigoroso: vigorous, with energy
Violin: a bowed instrument with four strings, which is used to provide the soprano and alto parts in the string section of the modern orchestra and the string quartet. It was developed in something approaching its modern form in the 16th century, gradually coming to occupy an unrivalled position because of its remarkable acoustical properties and its versatility. Particular distinction was added by the great violin-makers of Northern Italy and of the Austrian Tyrol, while the later 18th century brought gradual changes of construction of bow and instrument to provide greater resonance. The violin’s four strings are set in vibration (usually one at a time) by drawing a bow across them with the right hand while the fingers of the left hand stop the strings, changing its vibrate length and thus the pitch.
Virtuoso: performer of exceptional technical ability.
Vivace: lively, animated, brisk. Faster than allegro.
Vivo: lively, spirited, briskly
Volta: time (2da volta = 2nd time through)
Volta prima: first time
Whole step: interval separated by two half steps, or semi-tones.
Whole-tone scale: scale pattern built entirely of whole step intervals.
Wolf tone: A tone that is not clear