(Italian), "slowly, at ease." Slower than
andante and faster than largo.
libitum (Latin), "at liberty." 1) After an
instrument name (e.g., Guitar II ad libitum) it
indicates the optional omission of that part. 2)
As a tempo marking it indicates rhythmic
freedom. 3) In a cadenza it indicates
improvisation or rhythmic freedom. Abbr.: ad
aerophone, a musical instrument that produces sound by causing a column of air to vibrate, i.e., a wind instrument. The French horn is an example of an aerophone:
breve (Italian), "in shortness." Cut time or
2/2 meter. Indicated with the symbol
(Italian), "harmonic." Abbr.: arm. The sound of harmonics (last 5 notes):
Ars nova, (Latin) "new art." Musical style that flourished in France and the Burgundian Low Countries during the Late Middle Ages.
(Italian) "much, very." Allegro assai: very
atonal or atonality, lacking a tonal center or key.
[plus Roman numeral), abbr. for barré
BII indicates a second fret bar.
bar or barré (French).
Fretting of two or more strings with the first
finger. Indicated with a capitol B and a Roman
numeral corresponding to the fret: BII, bar
second fret. A slash through the letter indicates
a half bar. See capotasto.
Baroque, c. 1600 to 1750, the era in European history between the Renaissance and Classical eras.
basso continuo, (Italian) "continuous bass." During the Baroque, an accompanying part that includes a bass line and improvised harmonies.
basso ostinato (Italian) or ground bass, a repeated pattern of bass and chords, typically 8 to 16 measures in length.
beat, the steady pulse underlying most music:
binary form, musical form with two sections of related materials. Typically each section is repeated, yielding an A A B B structure.
BPM, beats per minute.
con (Italian), "with vigor."
[plus Roman numeral], abbr.
for capotasto or ceja, i.e., bar technique. CII indicates a second fret bar. See bar.
cadence, notes or chords that create a sense of repose at the end of a phrase. The final note of Row, row, your boat is a cadence:
cadenza, a virtuosic solo passage inserted into a concerto or other work.
cantata (Italian), "sung." During the Baroque, a narrative work for voices with instrumental accompaniment, typically with solos, chorus, and orchestra.
cantus firmus, (Latin) "fixed song." A pre-existing melody forming the basis of a polyphonic composition.
(Italian), ceja, cejilla (Spanish).
Fretting of two or more strings with the first
finger. Indicated with a capitol C
and a Roman numeral corresponding to the fret:
CII, bar the second fret. A slash through the
letter (¢) indicates a half bar.
chamber music, instrumental music played by a small ensemble with one player to a part.
chordophone, a musical instrument that produces sound via a vibrating string, e.g., a stringed instrument. The guitar is a common chordophone:
chromatic scale, a musical scale with twelve pitches, each a semitone (half step) apart:
Classical, a term that refers to both an era and a category of music. The Classical era is approximately approximately 1750 to 1820, falling between the Baroque and Romantic eras. Classical music is also used as a broad catch-all term for Western art music created during the last one thousand years of European and American history.
clef, a symbol placed at the beginning of a staff to indicate the pitch of the notes written on it. A treble clef or G clef:
coda (Italian) "tail." The concluding section of a piece.
(Italian), "with." For phrases beginning with
this term, see the second word.
concertino (Italian), in the Baroque concerto grosso, the group of solo instruments pitted against the orchestra or ripieno.
concerto grosso (Italian), during the Baroque, a musical composition for a group of solo instruments (soli/concertino) accompanied by a larger group (tutti/ripieno).
contrapuntal, refers to a musical texture consisting of two or more melodic lines of relatively equal importance. Often used as a synonym for polyphonic.
countertenor, male singing voice with a range equivalent to the female alto or soprano range.
abbr. for crescendo.
(Italian). Gradual increase in volume. Abbr.:
cut time, alla
2/2 meter. Indicated with the symbol
capo (Italian), "from the head." Return to
the beginning. Abbr.: D.C. Da capo al fine:
return to the beginning and play to fine. Da
capo al: return to the beginning and skip ahead
to the next occurrence of the sign (the coda).
segno (Italian), "[play] from the
sign." Abbr.: D.S. Dal segno al fine: go to the
sign and end at fine.
abbr. for da capo.
abbr. for dal segno.
abbr. for decrescendo.
(Italian). Gradual decrease in volume. See
diminuendo. Abbr.: decresc.
abbr. for diminuendo.
(Italian). Gradual decrease in volume. See
decrescendo. Abbr.: dim.
dodecaphony, "twelve-tone technique." A method of composing with twelve tones devised by the composer Arnold Schoenberg.
(Italian), "sweetly, softly.
(Italian), "painful, sorrowful."
downbeat, the accented first beat of a meter or measure, e.g., in triple meter (1-2-3), beat 1 is the downbeat.
dynamics, degrees of loudness or softness in music.
Elizabethan, the English high Renaissance framed by the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603).
electrophone, a musical instrument that produces sound by electrical means. The synthesizer is an example of an electrophone:
equal or even temperament, a tuning system where the semitones of the chromatic scale are all adjusted to be exactly the same size.
(French), "suffocate or smother." The technique
of muting (not stopping) a tone on the guitar by laying the
palm on the bridge while plucking the string.
étude (French) or estudio (Spanish), "study." A musical composition designed to improve the technique or demonstrate the skill of the player.
Expressionism, an early 20th century musical style in which the composer used jarring rhythms and dissonance to stir emotions from the darkest recesses of the human psyche.
abbr. for forte.
abbr. for fortissimo.
figured bass, notation system for basso continuo. The numbers below bass notes indicate the intervals of the harmony.
(Italian), "finish, end." See da
First Viennese School, the three principle composers of the Classical era in late-18th-century Vienna: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven.
(Italian), "loud." Abbr.: f.
(Italian), "very loud." Abbr.: ff.
forzato (Italian), "forced." A sudden stress
on a single note or chord in a passage. Abbr.:
fz. See sforzando.
fugue (French) or fuga (Italian), "flight."A polyphonic composition in which a subject (the theme) is introduced by one part and successively taken up by others and developed by interweaving the parts.
abbr. for forzando or forzato.
abbr. for glissando.
(Italian), "slide." A rapid succession of
pitches made by sliding a finger up or down a
string. Indicated with a straight line between
note heads. Abbr.: gliss.
Gothic, latter part of the Middle Ages, c. 1150-1450.
(Spanish) "blow, stroke." Percussive tapping on
the guitar body. See tambora.
(Italian), "heavy, solemn." Slow and serious.
Similar to adagio.
Gregorian chant, also known as plainsong, is the sacred melody of the medieval Roman Catholic Church.
ground bass or basso ostinato (Italian), a repeated pattern of bass and chords, typically 8 to 16 measures in length.
harm., abbr. for harmonic or
(English), harmoniques (French),
"overtone." Abbr.: har., harm. See armonici. The sound of harmonics (last 5 notes):
homophonic, musical texture in which a melody is supported with chords.
idiophone, a musical instrument that creates sound by vibration of the entire body of the instrument when struck, shaken, or scraped. Typical idiophones include the bell, gong, rattle, cymbal and xylophone. Here's a xylophone:
Impressionism, an anti-realistic and anti-romantic musical style from late 19th century France, centering around the compositions of Debussy and Ravel.
intabulation or intavolatura (Italian), an arrangement of a vocal or ensemble piece for keyboard, lute or other plucked string instruments. Intabulation literally means "to write in tablature" and was a common practice during the Renaissance era.
interval, the distance between two pitches.
(Italian). Slow and broad but faster than
(Italian), "wide." Slow and broad.
(Italian), "bound." Played smoothly with no
separation between notes.
(Italian), "lightly." Light, nimble and quick.
lentamente (Italian) "slow."
luthier (French), "lute builder." A maker of stringed instruments such as violins, lutes and guitars.
major scale, a seven-tone scale with the interval pattern of whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step. The eighth tone starts the pattern over at the octave. This scale may also be symbolized as solfege syllables, do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do and sounds thus:
(Italian), "marked." With emphasis or stress.
mass, Roman Catholic Eucharist or Holy Communion service.
melisma, a group of notes sung to one syllable of text.
membranophone, an instrument that produces sound via a stretched membrane, e.g., a drum. The snare or side drum is a common example of a membranophone:
(Italian), "less." Meno mosso: less moved
mensural notation, musical notation used for European music from the late 13th century until about 1600. Mensural notation from the late 16th century:
(Spanish), "metallic." Play near the bridge. See
meter, grouping of pulses into regular patterns of stressed and unstressed beats. A grouping of strong-weak (1-2) is called duple meter; strong-weak-weak (1-2-3) is triple meter; etc.
meter signature or time signature, placed on the staff, consists of two numbers written one over the other: the top number specifies how many beats are contained in each measure whereas the bottom number indicates the note value equal to one beat.
metronome, a device, invented in 1815 by Johann Maelzel, used to play a beat for practicing music and specifying tempo.
forte (Italian), "half loud." Moderately
loud (softer than forte, louder than mezzo
piano). Abbr.: mf.
piano (Italian), "half soft." Moderately
soft (louder than piano, softer than mezzo
forte). Abbr.: mp.
abbr. for mezzo forte.
Middle Ages, c. 450-1450.
minuet (French), a moderate 18th century French dance in triple time, often in binary form. Minuet and trio expands the simple binary minuet into a longer structure of A B A, and was popular as a third movement in Classical sonatas and symphonies.
(Italian), "moderately." A tempo midway between
andante and allegro.
modulation, change of key.
(Italian), "very, much." Molto accelerando:
monody, solo vocal style from 17th century Italy distinguished by having a single melodic line and instrumental accompaniment.
monophonic, musical texture consisting of a single melodic line.
(Italian), "fading away, dying."
abbr. for mezzo piano.
Neoclassicism, an early 20th century musical style based on traditional forms such as the concerto grosso, fugue and symphony, and often paying tribute to earlier masters such as Bach and Handel.
nocturne (French), "of the night." A single movement work of a romantic or dreamy character suggestive of night, typically written for piano.
troppo (Italian), "not too much." Allegro
non troppo: lively [but] not too
octave, the interval from do to do. The scale pattern of do, re, mi, fa, so, la ti, do starts over at the octave.
opera (Italian), "work." A dramatic work in one or more acts, set to music for singers and instrumentalists.
oratorio (Italian), a large work for orchestra and voices, typically with a libretto based on stories from the Bible. Handel's Messiah is the best known example of an oratorio.
abbr. for piano.
pentatonic scale, a scale with five notes per octave:
(Italian), "dying away." See morendo.
(Italian), "heavy." Play with emphasis.
a (Italian), "to please." With rhythmic
(Italian), "very soft" (softer than piano).
(Italian), "soft." Abbr.: p.
pitch, the highness or lowness of a musical tone.
mosso (Italian), "more moved."
abbr. for pizzicato.
(Italian), to pluck or pinch the strings of a bowed instrument such as violin. On plucked string instruments such as guitar, pizzicato is used to indicate muting or palming the strings. Abbr.:
pizz. See étouffé. The sound of violins playing pizzicato:
plainsong, also known as Gregorian chant, is the sacred melody of the medieval Roman Catholic Church.
(Italian), "little." Poco crescendo: crescendo
a poco (Italian), "little by little." Poco a
poco crescendo: crescendo in small
polyphonic, musical texture consisting of two or more melodic lines of relatively equal importance. Often used as a synonym for contrapuntal.
abbr. for pianissimo.
(Italian). As fast as possible.
(Italian), "quickly." Very fast, faster than
Primitivism, an early 20th century musical style that borrows or evokes sounds from non-Western or prehistoric cultures.
program music, instrumental music intended to evoke images, stories or a sense of place.
(Italian), "almost." Quasi allegro: almost
allegro (slightly slower than allegro).
abbr. for rallentando.
(Italian), "slowing down." Abbr.: rall. See
(Spanish). A strumming technique that uses the
fingernails to strike the strings, often in a rapid and percussive rhythm. Abbr.: rasg.
Renaissance, c. 1450-1600, the era in European history between the Middle Ages and Baroque.
ripieno, (Italian), the group of instruments accompanying the concertino in the Baroque concerto.
(Italian), "resolute, energetic."
abbr. for ritardando.
recitative (French) or recitativo (Italian), a style of singing in operas, oratorios, and cantatas in which speech rhythms are used. The resulting sound is half way between speaking and singing.
(Italian), "gradually slowing down." Abbr.:
rit., ritard. See rallentando.
(Italian), "held back." A sudden slowing of
tempo. Abbr.: riten.
ritornello (Italian), the recurring tutti section in the Baroque concerto grosso.
rondo (Italian) or rondeau (French), a musical form with a recurring theme (A) alternates with one or more contrasting themes called episodes. Typical rondo schemes include A B A C A and A B A C A B A.
Romanesque, latter part of the Middle Ages, c. 1000-1150
Romantic, c. 1820-1900, the era in European history between the Classical and Modern eras.
(Italian), "rob." Use of a flexible
SATB, abbreviation for soprano, alto, tenor and bass.
time signature or meter signature, two numbers written one over the other: top number specifies how many beats are contained in each measure whereas the bottom number indicates the note value equal to one beat.
(Spanish), free stroke.
tremolo (Italian), rapid reiteration of a note.
(Italian), "sadly, sorrowfully."
twelve-tone technique or dodecaphony, method of composing with twelve tones devised by the composer Arnold Schoenberg.
(Italian), indefinite article similar to 'a' in
English: un poco rubato, a little rubato.
(Italian), "lively, brisk." The same or faster
than allegro. If used after another term
(allegro vivace), play faster than the first
term's normal tempo.
vibrato, enhancement of a musical tone by rapidly fluctuating pitch slightly sharp and flat. A flute playing a major scale with vibrato on each tone:
(Italian), "lively, brisk."
whole tone scale, a scale made of six tones separated by whole steps: