Music Encyclopedia

Music Encyclopedia

If you would like to prepare for school subjects or simply increase your general knowledge, then enjoy our music encyclopedia. We tried to focus only on very important terms and definitions. We also kept our terminology very brief so that you absorb the concept more quickly and easily.

Music Glossary (Page 1)


(-AD): Suffix (set theory, nonlinear) ; a set of pitch classes, the prefix of which indicates the number of pitch classes; e.g. Dyad, hexad, pentad. However, the term triad has come to have a special meaning.
(-CHORD): Suffix used with an appropriate prefix to designate a specific number of pitch classes considered to be a structural unit, e.g. Dichord, trichord, tetrachord, hexachord, etc.
(-TONIC): Suffix used with appropriate prefix to indicate a specific number of pitch classes in a scale, e.g., ditonic, tritonic, tetratonic, pentatonic, etc.).
A 2: See a due in this list.
A BATTUTA: Return to normal tempo after a deviation; same as 'a tempo'.
A BENE PLACITO: Up to the performer.
A CAPPELLA: Purely vocal (or choral) music, without instrumental accompaniment.
A DUE: Intended as a duet; for two voices or instruments; together; two instruments are to play in unison after a solo passage for one of the instruments.
A NESSUNA COSA: To nothing; an indication to hold a fermata until it dies away (this only works with instruments which cannot sustain a note).
A NIENTE: To nothing; an indication to make a diminuendo which fades to pppp.
A PIACERE: At pleasure; i.e., the performer need not follow the rhythm strictly, for example in a cadenza.
A PRIMA VISTA: Sight-read (lit. "at first sight"); i.e., (to be) played or sung from written notation but without prior review of the written material.
A TEMPO: In time; i.e., the performer should return to the main tempo of the piece (after an accelerando or ritardando, etc.); also may be found in combination with other terms such as a tempo giusto (in strict time) or a tempo di menuetto (at the speed of a minuet).
A, └ (FR): At, to, by, for, in, in the style of.
ABER (GER): But.
ABSOLUTE MUSIC: Music which has no associations outside itself; it has no text, and does not attempt to narrate a story, portray characters, events, impressions, etc.; e.g., Bach's fugues.
ACCAREZZ╔VOLE: Expressive and caressing.
ACCELERANDO, ACCEL.: Accelerating; gradually increasing the tempo.
ACCENT: Attack hard.
ACCENTATO/ACCENTUATO: Accented; with emphasis.
ACCESO: Ignited, on fire.
ACCIACCATURA: Crushing; i.e., a very fast grace note that is "crushed" against the note that follows and takes up no value in the measure.
ACCIDENTALS: Signs used in musical notation to alter notes, e.g. Sharps (#), flats, naturals; however, accidentals are not key signatures.
ACCOMPAGNATO: Accompanied; i.e., with the accompaniment following the soloist, who may speed up or slow down at will.
ACOUSTICS: How a room sounds based on reverberation and other acoustical qualities.
ACTION NOTATION: Musical notation that directs the performer in a course of action without indicating the resulting sound. Syn. Process notation; e.g., John Cage's 4'33".
AD LIBITUM (COMMONLY AD LIB; LATIN): At liberty; i.e., the speed and manner of execution are left to the performer.
ADAGIETTO: Rather slow.
ADAGIO: At ease; i.e., play slowly.
ADAGISSIMO: Very, very slow.
AEOLIAN MODE: A mode consisting of T-S-T-T-S-T-T (T=whole tone, S=semitone), equivalent to the natural minor mode. Note the difference between mode and scale.
AFFETTUOSO: AFFETTUOSAMENTE, OR AFFECTUEUSEMENT (FR) With affect (that is, with emotion); see also con affetto.
AFFRETTANDO: Hurrying, pressing onwards.
AGGREGATE: (set theory, linear) 1. Any combination of all twelve pcs. 2. (Babbitt) a vertical combination of hexachords or smaller sets found in the use of combinatorial rows.
AGILE: Swiftly.
AGITATO: Agitated.
AL, ALLA: To the, in the manner of (al before masculine nouns, alla before feminine).
ALBERTI BASS: A special type of chord figuration that alternates 1 5 3 5 and repeats as an accompaniment figure. It is very common in the music of the 18th century Classical style and is named after the composer Domenico Alberti, who used it frequently.
ALEATORY: (Boulez) the European term for chance music. John Cage is the primary proponent of the use of chance in musical composition. The meaning of aleatory, however, is different from chance. Aleatory, which was a European adoption of American chance, implies the use of chance with selected aspects of control; thus, aleatory was considered, by Cage, to be a corruption of chance. The correspondence of Cage and Boulez is particularly enlightening about this. "Alea" was the original term used by Boulez in an essay he wrote which criticized the use of chance in musical composition, referring to, without naming, the practice of John Cage. Aleatory is also often mistakenly confused with indeterminacy, which refers to performance practice, rather than to composition. It is sometimes confused with improvisation, as well.
ALGORITHM: (mathematics) a repeatable series of steps used to solve problems, etc., e.g., a computer program or a process used to analyze music. The manual analysis of music using a repeating series of steps is also an algorithm.
ALL COMBINATORIAL: (Babbitt) (set theory, linear) a set in which any of its transformations (P, I, R, RI and their transpositions), may occur simultaneously with any other transformation without duplicating pitch classes (pc) before all twelve pcs have occurred.
ALL INTERVAL CHORD OR ALL INTERVAL SET: (set theory, nonlinear) a chord that contains one of each interval class, i.e., 0146 (4-Z15), which has the interval vector (iv), 111111.
ALL INTERVAL ROW: (set theory, linear) (a) a twelve tone row that contains all eleven directed intervals (DI); e.g., in Alban Berg's Lyric Suite, f,e,c,a,g,d,g#,c#, d#,f#,a#,b, the dis are: 11,8,9,10,7,6,5,2,3,4,1.
ALL' OTTAVA: At the octave, see ottava.
ALLA BREVE: In cut-time; two beats per measure or the equivalent thereof.
ALLA MARCIA: In the style of a march.
ALLARGANDO: Broadening, becoming a little slower each time.
ALLEGRETTO: A little lively, moderately fast.
ALLEGRETTO VIVACE: A moderately quick tempo.
ALLEGREZZA: Cheerfulness, joyfulness.
ALLEGRISSIMO: Very fast, though slower than presto.
ALLEGRO: A fast tempo.
ALS (GER): Than.
ALT (ENGLISH) (ALSO ALT DOM OR ALTERED DOMINANT): A jazz term which instructs chord-playing musicians such as a jazz pianist or jazz guitarist to perform a dominant (V7) chord with altered upper extensions (e.g., sharp 11th, flat 13th, etc.).
ALTERED CHORD: See chromatic chord.
ALTISSIMO: Very high.
ALTO: High; often refers to a particular range of voice, higher than a tenor but lower than a soprano.
ALTO CLEF: A C clef that is placed so that middle C is the middle line of the staff. It is used for instruments that have an alto range, especially the viola.
ALZATE SORDINI: Lift or raise the mutes; i.e., remove mutes.
AM STEG (GER): At the bridge; i.e., playing a bowed string instrument near its bridge, which produces a heavier, stronger tone (see sul ponticello in this list).
AMABILE: Amiable, pleasant.
AMBIANCE OR AMBIENCE: The background noise or environmental sound.
AMBIT: The range of pitches . It is suggested here that the International Pitch Notation, or IPN, (after the Acoustical Society of America) be the standard (A4=A440).
AMETRIC: Without meter. Gregorian chant is an example of music without a meter. Metrical music became the norm after the Middle ages, although some ametrical music also occurs in the 20th century; e.g., Ives's The Cage.
AMOROSO: Loving.
ANACRUSIS: A note or notes that precede the first full bar; a pickup.
ANDAMENTO: Used to refer to a fugue subject of above-average length.
ANDANTE: A moderate tempo.
ANDANTINO: Slightly faster than andante (but earlier it is sometimes used to mean slightly slower than andante).
─NGSTLICH (GER.): Anxiously.
ANHEMITONIC: A scale or set that lacks semitones. The "black key" pentatonic is an example.
ANIMA: Feeling.
ANIMANDOSI: Animated, lively.
ANIMATO: Animated, lively.
ANSTIEG: (Schenker: ascent) (English: mounting) the initial stepwise ascent to a tone of the tonic (3,5, or 8) where the descent in the Urlinie begins (see also Kopfton).
ANTIMUSIC: Music in which the purpose is to overthrow conventional associations, stereotypes, or expectations, e.g., Satie's Vexations.
ANTIPHON: A liturgical or other composition consisting of choral responses, sometimes between two choirs; a passage of this nature forming part of another composition; a repeated passage in a psalm or other liturgical piece, similar to a refrain.[1].
ANTIQUE CYMBALS: Hand cymbals made of brass that the player strikes together gently and allow to vibrate.
APAIS╔ (FR): Calmed.
APPASSIONATO: Passionately.
APPOGGIATURA: A nonharmonic tone that is approached by leap and resolved by step, normally in the opposite direction.
APPOGGIATURA ALSO CALLED A "LEANING NOTE": One or more grace notes that take up some note value of the next full note.
ARCH FORM: A musical form that is symmetric in time and climaxes in the middle.
ARCHITECTONIC: (literally, the architecture of music); formal structure in which large scale aspects echo small scale structures, particularly the organization of structures within structures; e.g. A binary subject in a binary form.
ARCO: The bow used for playing some string instrument; i.e., played with the bow, as opposed to pizzicato (plucked), in music for bowed instruments; normally used to cancel a pizzicato direction.
ARIETTA: A short aria.
ARIOSO: Airy, or like an air (a melody); i.e., in the manner of an aria; melodious.
ARMONIOSO: Harmoniously.
ARPEGGIATO: A way of playing a chord starting with the lowest note, and with successively higher notes rapidly joining in. Sometimes the effect is reversed, so that the highest note is played first.
ARPEGGIO: A chord that is played one note at a time, rather than as simultaneous tones.
ARRAY: (set theory, linear) an arrangement of a series according to its quantitative values, i.e., smallest to largest; e.g., the interval vector.
ARTICULATION: The manner in which notes are struck, sustained, and released. This includes legato, staccato, tenuto, etc.
ASCEND: To rise in pitch.
ASSAI: Very.
ASSEZ (FR): Enough, sufficiently.
ATONAL: An apparent lack of key.
ATONALITY: An apparent lack of key.
ATONIC: Having no tonal center, hence no key; syn. Pantonal.

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