Music Glossary

Brush up with our glossary of musical terms

Skip to
A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X Y Z

A

acappella music for voices only, without accompaniment

accent stress or emphasise a note

accidental any musical symbol that alters the pitch of a note, eg. a sharp, flat or natural

accompaniment the music that supports the main melody

arpeggio a chord where the notes are played in succession rather than at the same time

B

bar a rhythmic grouping consisting of the number and type of beats indicated by the time signature. Notated with vertical lines on the staff

beat the regular basic unit of length in musical time

blue note a particular kind of chromatic note which is characteristic of blues and jazz music (as seen in This little light of mine)

body percussion using claps, stamps, slaps and tongue clicks etc. to create rhythmic patterns and sounds

C

call and echo a question and answer pattern in which a solo voice sings a phrase, and then a group of voices copies this phrase exactly

call and response a question and answer pattern in which a solo voice sings a phrase, and then a group of voices responds by singing something different

canon two or more parts overlapping in exact imitation (as seen in London’s burning)

chant rhythmic speech

chord two or more notes played at the same time

chromatic note a note that is outside of the key (as seen in Mexican counting song)

D

D.C. al fine return to the beginning and finish at ‘Fine’ (Italian - ‘end’)

Da Capo (D.C.) (Italian – ‘to the head’) return to the beginning

dotted note where a dot is placed immediately after a note, indicating that the note’s rhythmic value is increased by half

dotted rhythms where a dotted note precedes or is followed by a shorter note, creating a characteristic ‘tum-ti-tum-ti’ rhythm (as seen in Dr Knickerbocker ek, dho, teen!)

downbeat the accented first beat of the bar

drone a long sustained note or chord

dynamics the loudness or softness of the music

F

flat a musical symbol that indicates lowering the pitch of a note by a semitone

G

glissando a rapid slide swooping up or down (plural = glissandi)

I

interval the pitch distance between two notes

intonation the accurate pitching of musical notes (good intonation = being ‘in tune’)

K

key a tonal centre, based on one of the 24 major or minor scales. Some examples are C major or D minor

key change a change from one tonal centre to another

key signature sharps or flats, placed at the beginning of each system, to indicate the key of a piece of music

L

legato smooth melodic line

M

major key a tonal centre based on one of the 12 major scales

major scale an eight note scale with a characteristically joyful sound

melody a series of notes creating a distinctive and memorable sequence (often referred to as ‘the tune’)

minor key a tonal centre based on one of the 12 minor scales

minor scale an eight note scale with a characteristically melancholy sound

N

natural a musical symbol that cancels out any other accidental, indicating that the pitch of a note is neither sharp nor flat 

O

ostinato a repeated rhythmic or melodic pattern

P

pedal note a note which is sustained against changing chords (as seen in The animal fair)

pentatonic scale a five note scale

percussion instruments that create sound by being struck, scraped or rattled

pitch how high or low a musical note is

pulse the regular beat of a piece of music

R

range the interval between the lowest and highest notes of a piece of music

round another name for a canon

S

scale a series of notes in ascending or descending order

scat non-verbal vocal improvisation, eg. ‘doo-be-doo’ etc. Often associated with jazz music (as seen in Sunshine in my heart or I wanna sing scat)

Scottish snap (or ‘scotch snap’) a kind of dotted rhythm where the short note comes first, followed by the longer dotted note. (As seen in Roll the old chariot along)

semitone the smallest interval in Western music, eg. between E and F, or A natural and A sharp

sequence where a melody is stated and then repeated at increasing or decreasing pitches (as seen in In the autumn)

sforzando a note or chord which is strongly accented, then fades away quickly

sharp a musical symbol that indicates raising the pitch of a note by a semitone

slur where a series of notes is played in succession, without separation. With singing, a slur is used when one syllable is sung to more than one note

staccato short, detached notes, indicated with a dot underneath or above the note head

staff (plural - staves) the five horizontal lines, divided vertically into bars, on which music is notated

syncopation where rhythms fall just before or after the strong beat, creating a dance-like feel (as seen in Switching it on and Life is what you make it)

system multiple staves that are bracketed together, indicating that they are meant to be played at the same time

T

tacet where the accompaniment stops playing for a prolonged period of time

tempo the speed of the music

time signature numbers on the staff, located at the start of a piece, that show the number and type of beats in each bar

triplets a group of three notes having the time value of two notes of the same kind (as seen in Wreck of the Sloop John B.)

tune a series of notes creating a distinctive and memorable sequence (also known as a ‘melody’)

U

unison where a group of voices are all singing together at the same pitch

upbeat a weak beat preceding a strong downbeat (as seen in the first beat of A Keelie)

V

vocal percussion using the voice to imitate the sound of percussion instruments

Related Resources

Sing Up Playlists: Music Lessons
Classroom resource
Sing Up Playlists: Music Lessons
Learn the language of music through singing
PITCH
Classroom resource
PITCH
Musical development
RHYTHM
Classroom resource
RHYTHM
Developing musicianship