Music Definitions

AESTHETIC, n  1.  Of things having to do with the beautiful, as distinguished from the useful, scientific, etc.  [< Greek aisthetikos - sensitive]  (World Book)

ALLEGRO,   adj : (of tempo) fast n 1: a brisk and lively tempo 2: a musical composition or passage performed quickly in a brisk lively manner adv : in a quick and lively tempo; "play this section allegro"

ALLEGRO VIVACE - With vivacity; very rapidly.

ART,  n  1.  A form of human activity appealing to the imagination, especially drawing, painting and sculpture, but also including architecture, poetry, music and dancing.  (World Book)  2.  Human effort to imitate, supplement, alter or counteract the work of nature.  (American Heritage Dictionary).  3.  The conscious production or arrangement of sounds, colors, forms, movements, or other elements that affects the sense of beauty; specifically, the production of the beautiful in a graphic or plastic medium.  [< Old French art < Latin  ars, artis ] (American Heritage Dictionary).

BARRE,  n. Playing a chord or figure using one finger for two or more strings. 

BAR LINE, A vertical line drawn through a staff to separate measures.


BEAT,  The temporal units of a composition, as indicated  by the up and down movements, real or imagined, of a conductor's hand. In moderate tempo the 4/4 measure includes four beats (one on each of the four quarter notes), the first and third of which are strong, the others weak, while the 3/4 measure has three beats, only the first of which is strong.


BEATS, An acoustical phenomenon resulting from the interference of two sound waves of slightly different frequencies. It is heard as a minute yet clearly audible intensification of the sound at regular intervals.  The number per second of these beats is equal to the difference in frequency of the two notes.


BPM,  1.  Beats per minute.  Quarter note equals 120 BPM is standard dance and march tempo.


CLEF,  1.  A sign written at the beginning of the staff to indicate the pitches.  There are three such signs which respectively represent the tones G, C and F, hence the names G clef, C Clef (of which there are three common forms) and F Clef.  The G clef is also called the Treble clef or Violin Clef, is used on the second line of the staff; it indicates that the note on the second line is G.  F Clef which is also called the Bass Clef is used on the fourth line of the staff; it indicates that the note on the fourth line is F. The C clef is used in two positions, on the third line (alto or viola clef) or on e the fourth line (tenor clef).  The G clef is used for the upper staff of piano music and for all high instruments (flute, violin).  The F clef is used on the lower staff of piano music and is used for lower pitched instruments (Bass, Cello). The alto clef is used for viola and other instruments of similar range.  The Tenor clef is used for the high range of the cello, the bassoon and the tenor trombone.


 COMMON TIME,  1.  The standard time signature of music: 4/4


CHORD,  1.  3 or more simultaneously sounded pitches.


COMMUNICATION,  n  1.  Ideas, concepts, symbols, energy etc.  exchanged between two points.  It originates with an idea at point A and is sent out through space to point B with duplication, partial duplication or no duplication at  point  B.


CRESCENDO - (kre-SHEN-doe)  [It.]

A musical directive to the performer to smoothly increase the volume of a particular phrase or passage.


DAL SEGNO  (dahl SAI-n(y)oe)   [It., from the sign]

A mark in a composition which informs the performer to repeat a specific section of the composition marked by a dal segno sign. This directive is abbreviated: D.S.


DA CAPO   (D.C.)   \Da`ca"po\ [It., from [the] head or beginning.] (Mus.) From the beginning; a direction to return to, and end with, the first strain;  indicated by the letters D. C.


DECRESCENDO  (day-chreh-SHEN-doe)  [It.]  A gradual diminishing in the volume of a passage.

DOLCE- DOLE-che) [It.]  A directive to a performer to play a certain passage sweetly, softly, with tender emotion.

DOMINANT - the note or chord that's built from the 5th degree of that scale. It's the tension point that wants to return to the tonic or root of the scale. It's is the most important pitch in the scale, second only to the tonic. 

ENHARMONIC - of or relating to notes that have the same pitch but have different names. For example B natural and C flat.


HAMMER ON - The action of bringing your finger down on a string for a note or a chord to make an embellishment. It's very common for guitar. It's contrasted with PULL OFF where you pull the finger off the string. With hammer on you pick the string and then drop your finger on the fretboard. 

HARMONY,  1.  Simultaneously sounded pitches.


KEY, 1.  In a tonal composition, the main pitch or tonal center to which all of the compositions pitches are related.


MEASURE,  1.  A group of beats or pulses (units of musical time) marked off in musical notation by "bar lines".  The number of beats contained in a measure and the particular note-value used to represent each beat determine the meter or time of the measure


MELODY,  n.   1.  A succession of single pitches and perceived as such.  (Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music).


METER,  The pattern of fixed units or beats [see beat] by which the time span of a piece of music or section thereof is measured. Meter is indicated by time signatures. For instance, 3/4 meter or 3/4 time means that the basic values are quarter notes and that these recur in groups of three. Such metric groupings are indicated by bar lines that mark off measures. According to whether there are two, three or four units to the measure, one speaks of duple (2/2, 2/4, 28), triple (3/2, 3/4,  3/8), and quadruple (4/2, 4/4, 4/8) meter. 4/4 also being called common meter or common time. All of these are simple meters.  Compound meters  are simple meters multiplied by three: compound duple (6/2, 6/4, 6/8) compound triple (9/4, 9/8) compound quadruple (12/2, 12/4, 12/8). Quintuple meter (5/4) is usually either 2/4 + 3/4 or 3/4 + 2/4, depending on where the accent lies.


MODERATO - of moderate tempo


MUSE,  n  1.  One of nine Greek goddesses of the fine arts and sciences.  2.  The spirit or power regarded as inspiring and watching over poets, musicians and artists;  a source of inspiration.


MUSIC, n 1.  Music is an art form that uses as it's basic elements sound and/or pitch placed in time.  2.  Music is a form of communication.  3.  Music is an Art form that uses as its basic elements sound (with or without pitch) and time consciously structured by both the composers and/or players (Musicians) of the music (source point; cause) as well as that of the listener (receipt point; effect).  4.  The art of organizing tones to produce a coherent sequence of sounds intended to elicit an aesthetic response from the listener.  (American Heritage Dictionary)  5.  Vocal or instrumental sounds having some degree of rhythm, melody and harmony.  [< Middle English musik < Old French musique  < Latin musica< Greek mousike techne art of the muses <Mousa Muse] (American Heritage Dictionary).

Natural n. A note not altered as a sharp or flat.  On the piano keyboard the natural notes would be the white keys.  The black keys being either sharp or flat. 

NOTE, n 1. a single tone of definite pitch made by a musical instrument or the human voice. 

Open String n. This is an indication, most often seen above guitar notation or a guitar griod, that the string is to be played by striking the string and not holding down a fret. The symbol for this is a O. 


PIMA - acronym classical style finger picking.  The letters indicate, on written music, what fingers to use. The term is Spanish in origin. 

   Pulgar, or thumb.

   Indice, or index finger.

   Medio, or middle finger.

   Anular, or ring finger.

PITCH,  1.  The perceived highness or lowness of a sound. It is a function primarily of frequency.  2.  The Absolute pitch of one specific note, standardized for the purpose of obtaining identical pitches on all instruments. The present day standard of pitch A is 440 cycles per second.  This wasn't always the case. This standard was adopted in 1939 by an international conference held in London. under the auspices of the International Standards Association.  It replaced the old standard of 435 that had been fixed by the Paris Academy in 1859 and confirmed under the term "international pitch" at a conference held in Vienna in 1885.

PULL OFF - the action of striking (picking) a string and then pulling the finger off. Compare this with Hammer On. 

RIFF, n. a short melodic phrase, often repeated, used in jazz and popular music. Sometimes a riff is played over changing chord changes.

REPEAT,   II:          :II  When you see a double bar with two dots on the left side of the bar ( :II ) look for and go to a double bar with two dots facing back on the right hand side ( II: ). Repeat only one time unless otherwise indicated.


RHYTHM,  n  1.  That aspect of music concerned with the organization of time. Most western music organizes time by regularly recurring pulses or beats.  (Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music).


SCALE n. - A graduated series of steps or degrees. The Major Scale has 7 degrees or steps.  The Pentatonic has 5. 

SPICCATO -  Separated, detached; in music played on a bowed stringed instrument, the directive "spiccato" implies that the notes are to be played with the point of the bow.


STAFF, STAVE,  1.  A series of 5 horizontal lines, on and between which musical notes are written, their location indicating (in connection with a clef) their pitch. On the lines in the treble or G clef from bottom to top: E (every), G (good), B (boy), D (does), F (fine).  The spaces in Treble clef are F, A, C, E which spells FACE.

TEMPO -  The rate of speed or or BPM (beats per minute) that the music moves.  Fast or slow refers to the tempo of the music.


THEORY,  n  1.  An explanation;  explanation based on thought;  explanation based on reasoning and observation.  2.  The principles or methods of a science or art rather than its practice.  [ Greek < theoria a looking at, thing looked at.


TIME SIGNATURE,   The time or meter of a work is indicated at the beginning  by two numbers, one above the other;  the lower number indicates the the chosen unit of measurement (half note, quarter note, etc.), while the upper indicates the number of units or counts making up a measure

TONIC - The root note or chord of a scale or key. 

TRANSPOSE  – To change the key of a song or piece.


TRIAD – n. The basic chord. It is a three note chord of stacked 3rds, constructed from three degrees of a scale: root, 3rd and 5th scale steps.


TRI-TONE,  n  The exact halfway point of the octave.  Often it is characterized as the augmented or raised fourth degree or  the famous "flat 5" in jazz, which is also known as the diminished 5th.


VIVACE - A direction to perform a certain musical  passage very quickly.

VOICING - the range and order of notes in a chord or harmony. 


 Wiki List of Musical Symbols© Henry Robinett 2020