Music Dictionary

A - L

Absolute - Absolute music. Music which is inspired by itself rather than extramusical implications such as the stories legends of "program" music.

Accelerando, accel - Gradually faster.

Accent - placed above a note to indicate stress or emphasis.

Accidental - A sharp, flat, or natural not included in the given key.

Adagio - Slow; slower than andante, faster than largo.

Addolorato - Sorrowfully.

Ad libitum, ad lib - A term which permits the performer to vary the tempo and/or to include or omit a vocal or instrumental part. Synonymous with a piacere.

Alla breve - Cut time; meter in which there are two beats in each measure and a half note receives one beat.

Allargando, allarg - Slowing of tempo, usually with increasing volume; most frequently occurs toward the end of a piece.

Allegretto - Slower than allegro.

Allegro - Quick tempo; cheerful.

Andante - Moderate tempo.

Andantino - Slightly faster than andante.

Arabesque - A fanciful piano piece. Ornate passage varying or accompanying a theme.

Arpeggio - A term used to describe the pitches of a chord as they are sung or played one after the other, rather than simultaneously.

Ballade - In the medieval period a form of trouvere music and poetry. In later time, German poetry set as a through-composed song.

Bass clef - The other name for the F clef.

Bourree - A French dance from the 17th century in brisk duple time starting with a pickup.

Cadence - A chordal or melodic progression which occurs at the close of a phrase, section, or composition, giving a feeling of repose; a temporary or permanent ending. The most frequently used cadences are perfect, plagal, and deceptive.

Cadenza - a solo passage, often virtuosic, usually near the end of a piece, either written by the composer or improvised by the performer.

Caesura - A sudden silencing of the sound; a pause or break, indicated by the following symbol: //

Calmo, calmato - Calm.

Canon - The strictest form of imitation, in which two or more parts have the same melody but start at different points.

Cantata - Baroque sacred or secular choral composition containing solos, duets, and choruses, with orchestral or keyboard accompaniment.

Carol - The term was derived from a medieval French word, carole, a circle dance. In England it was first associated with pagan songs celegrating the winter solstice. It then developed into a song of praise and celebration, usually for Christmas.

Chromatic - Ascending or descending by half steps.

Circle of fifths - The succession of keys or chords proceeding by fifths.

Clef - A symbol placed at the beginning of the staff to indicate the pitch of the notes on the staff. The most commonly used clefs in choral music are the G, or treble, clef and the F or bass clef . On the keyboard, all the notes above middle C are said to be in the G clef; all the notes below middle C in the F clef.

Coda - Closing section of a composition. An added ending.

Concerto - A piece for a soloist and orchestra.

Concert pitch - The international tuning pitch -- currently A 440 or 442. The pitch for non-transposing (C) instruments.

Countermelody - A vocal part which contrasts with the principal melody.

Counterpoint - The technique of combining single melodic lines or parts of equal importance.

Crescendo - Gradually louder.

Da capo, D. C. - Return to the beginning.

Decrescendo - Gradually softer. Synonymous with diminuendo.

Dissonance - Sounds of unrest, e.g. intervals of seconds and sevenths; the opposite of consonance.

Do - The first degree of the major scale.

Dolce - Sweetly.

Down beat - The first beat; given by the conductor with a downward stroke.

Eighth note/rest - A note/rest half the length of a quarter note and an eighth of the length of a whole note.

Espressivo - Expressively.

Fa - In solmization, the fourth degree of the major scale.

Fine - The end.

Flat - A symbol which lowers the pitch of a note one half step.

Forte - Loud.

Fortissimo - Very loud.

Glissando - Gliss. The rapid scale achieved by sliding the nail of the thumb or third finger over the white keys of the piano. Glissando is commonly used in playing the harp. For bowed instruments glissando indicates a flowing, unaccented playing of a passage.

Homophony, Homophonic - Musical texture which is characterized by chordal support of a melodic line.

Impressionism - A musical movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Inspired by the French impressionist painters, the movement had its impetus in the music of Debussy and Ravel.

Inversion - As applied to music the term may be used in both melody and harmony. Melodic inversion: an exchange of ascending and descending movement, e.g. c up to f in descending becomes c down to g. Harmonic inversion: the position of the chord is changed from root position (root on the lowest pitch) to first inversion, with the third, or second inversion, with the fifth in the lowest voice. An example: root position c-e-g; first inversion e-g-c; second inversion g-c-e.

La - In solmization, the sixth degree of the major scale. Also, the first degree of the relative minor scale, e.g. a is the sixth degree, or la, in the C major scale and the first degree of the a-minor scale.

Lacrimoso - Tearful, mournful.

Lamento - Mournful, sad.

Largo - Very slow.

Legato - Smooth, connected.

Lento - Slow; slightly faster than largo, slower than adagio.

Liberamento - Freely.

Linear - Melodic; horizontal lines.