Glossary of Common Musical Terms

A

A capella

Singing without any instruments accompanying the voice.

Accelerando

A tempo term that means to gradually speed up. May be abbreviated accel.

Learn more about tempo  

Accent

To play an accent you should 'hit' the note substantially louder than you normally would. This means you will place emphasis at the beginning of a note.

The symbol for an accent

Accompaniment

Instrumentation that supports a more important part of a song. For example, a piano may accompany a vocalist.

Acoustic

There are two potential definitions for this term:

  1. Acoustic instruments are those with a natural sound that has not been enhanced via electrical modification (think of an acoustic guitar versus an electric one).

  2. As it relates to acoustics, the science that explains the physics of sound.

    Adagio

    Play the piece at a slow and leisurely pace.

    Learn more about tempo  

    Agitato

    The Italian word for "agitated."

    Alla Breve

    See cut time.

    Allegretto

    A tempo term indicating that the song should be played quite quickly, but slightly slower than allegro.

    Learn more about tempo  

    Allegro

    Play fairly quickly. Allegro is faster than moderato but slower than vivace.

    Learn more about tempo  

    Alto

    The Italian word for "high." Alto is used in several ways:

    • It is used to describe instruments, like the alto clarinet.
    • There's an alto clef that is used with only a very few instruments.
    • In vocal ranges, alto describes a female voice of notably low range (typically the lowest that women sing).

    Andante

    A tempo term that means "at a walking pace."

    Learn more about tempo  

    A Piacere

    A term for tempo that permits the speed of a song to be played at the performer's discretion.

    Learn more about tempo  

    Aria

    Originally this term was used for particularly expressive melodies but over time its meaning has changed. Today we use the word to describe a piece of music that's written for one voice, which may or may not be accompanied by other instruments. A famous aria is "Largo al factotum" from The Barber of Seville.

    Arpeggio

    Quickly play the notes of a chord sequentially rather than all at once.

    Articulation

    Notation that impacts the transition or duration of a note. Accents, as well as sforzando, legato, and staccato markings are all examples of articulation.

    A Tempo

    Used after a change in tempo to tell the performer to return to the tempo played before the change occurred.

    Learn more about tempo  

    B

    Ballad

    A narrative that is accompanied by music. Originally, ballads were composed to go along with dances.

    Baritone

    A male singing voice that falls in the middle range between bass and tenor. Baritones have a range between G2 and F4 (the second G below Middle C to the F above Middle C).

    Bar Lines

    Bar lines divide the staff into measures. The below staff has been split into two measures by one bar line placed in the middle. If you look carefully, you'll see another bar line at the end.

    two measures on treble clef

    Learn more about bar lines and measures  

    Baroque

    A period of music from 1600 - 1700 that came right after the Renaissance. Songs from this period are marked by grandiosity and ornamentation.

    Popular composers from the baroque period include Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederick Handel, and Antonio Vivaldi.

    Bass Clef

    Also known as the F clef, the bass clef is where lower notes are written. It is used by the bass guitar, trombone, tuba, timpani, and by the baritone and bass voices, among other instruments.

    the notes on bass clef
    The notes on bass clef

    Learn more about reading notes on treble and bass clefs  

    Bass (Voice)

    The lowest of all male voice types.

    Beam

    The horizontal line that connects multiple notes together. This makes them easier to read.

    eighth notes with the beam indicated

    Beat

    The basic unit of time in music is the beat. People are following the beat when they bob their heads or clap along to a song.

    Beats Per Minute (BPM)

    BPM is a very precise way of writing tempo. It describes the number of times a beat will occur within a one minute interval.

    This is easiest to understand with an example: Let’s say a song is to be played at 60 BPM. As there are 60 seconds in a minute and the song is to be played at 60 beats per minute, there will be one beat per second.

    C

    Cadence

    A series of notes or chords with a natural sounding conclusion to the melody, harmony, or rhythm.

    Cadenza

    An ornamental solo. In a concerto the orchestra stops playing which leaves the soloist room to play without a strict beat. They may improvise or play the solo as written. A cadenza may also be a vocal or instrumental flourish.

    Cantata

    A composition written for voice that includes instrumental accompaniment. There are often multiple movements in a cantata.

    Cesura

    A pause. It may be as long as a breath or notably longer.

    cesura symbol next to a whole note on the staff
    A cesura is indicated by two slanted lines

    Chest Voice

    When singing, low notes seem to resonate from the chest. Singing in this range is known as chest voice.

    Chorale

    Originally the term was used to describe Lutheran hymns, however today we mainly use it to describe a choral arrangement for vocals and/or instruments.

    Chord

    Two or more notes played at the same time.

    a chord on the treble clef
    A chord

    Chord Progression

    The series of chords played in a song. The chord progression forms the foundation of harmony and is a critical element of modern music.

    Chromatic Scale

    The chromatic scale consists of a series of 12 semitones played sequentially. If one were to begin on C the scale would be played C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B C and then back down in reverse.

    chromatic scale starting on c
    Chromatic scale

    Learn more about scales  

    Circle of Fifths

    The circle of fifths is an invaluable tool that shows how key signatures and their related major and minor keys are connected. On the circle of fifths, major keys are shown on the outer circle and minor keys on the inner one. To the left of center are keys with flats and to the right keys with sharps.

    the circle of fifths
    Image of circle of fifths showing major and minor keys provided by Just Plain Bill on Wikipedia via CC BY-SA 3.0

    Learn more about the circle of fifths  

    Classical Period

    A period of music between 1730 and 1820 that came after the Baroque period and before the Romantic era. Music from the Classical period is lighter than Baroque music, and simpler too. It features the piano in place of the harpsichord.

    Notable composers include Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, and Schubert.

    Common Time

    Common time is another phrase for 4/4 time.

    symbol for common time
    The symbol for common time


    Learn more about time signatures  

    Con Brio

    Play with vigor.

    Concerto

    A song in which a solo voice or instrument is accompanied by an orchestra.

    Consonance

    Notes played together or in succession that sound pleasant. An example is a perfect octave.

    Countertenor

    A rare male voice type. Also called contra tenor, this singing voice is rather high and equal to the female contralto or mezzo-soprano voices.

    Crescendo

    The crescendo, which is sometimes abbreviated Cresc., means to gradually play louder.

    A crescendo

    Cut Time

    Cut time is another way of saying 2/2 time.

    symbol for cut time
    The symbol for cut time


    Learn more about time signatures  

    D

    D.C. al Fine

    D.C. stands for “da capo,” which means “from the head” (the beginning of the song). When you see this phrase you will play from the beginning of the song. Al fine instructs you to play to the “Fine” marking on the sheet music (fine stands for “end”).

    D.C. al fine explained on the staff

    Learn about different kinds of repeats in music  

    Derescendo

    The decrescendo, which is sometimes abbreviated Decresc. or written as diminuendo (abbreviated dim.), is the opposite of a crescendo and means to gradually play softer.

    A decrescendo

    Diatonic Scale

    A "standard" scale that contains five whole tones and two semitones per octave. C major is an example of a diatonic scale.

    diatonic c major scale on the treble clef
    C major - a diatonic scale

    Dissonance

    Notes played together or in succession that sound unpleasant and filled with tension. An example of a chord with dissonance is a minor second.

    Dolce

    The Italian word for "sweetly." In music this means to play delicately and with a light touch.

    Dotted Notes

    Dots add half of a note’s length onto its duration. If, for example, you add a dot after a half note then fifty percent of a half note’s value (a quarter note) is added to the half note.

    a dotted half note equals a half note and a quarter note
    A dotted half note explained


    Learn about other types of music notes  

    Dotted Rests

    Dotted rests work the exact same way dotted notes do - they increase the duration of silence by half. For example, a dotted quarter rest is equal to a quarter rest and an eighth rest. Shown visually, here’s what that looks like:

    dotted quarter rest
    Dotted rests explained


    Discover more about rests  

    Double Bar Lines

    Double bar lines are used to indicate that something important is happening in the song that will have a substantial change on how it is played.

    double bar line
    Double bar line

    Learn more about bar lines and measures  

    Double Flat

    This symbol is very uncommon. It lowers a note by a whole tone (two semitones). A double G flat would mean to play a F.

    double flat symbol
    A double flat

    Double Sharp

    These rare symbols raise a note by a whole tone (two semitones). A double C sharp would indicate that the musician should play a D.

    double sharp symbol
    Double sharp symbol

    Downbeat

    The first beat of a bar. Typically played with emphasis.

    D.S. al Coda

    D.S. stands for “dal segno” which means “from the sign.” This tells you to go back and play from this sign:



    The coda is another symbol that will be found later in the music. It looks like this:



    When playing you’ll ignore the dal segno sign the first time you play through. When you get to “D.S. al coda” you’ll go back to the dal segno sign and play until you get to another sign that says “to Coda,” at which point you will skip ahead to the coda.

    D.S. al coda explained on the staff

    Learn about different kinds of repeats in music  

    Duet

    A piece of music that has been written for two performers.

    Dynamics

    While commonly used to describe the loudness of a note or phrase, technically the term refers to variance in loudness.

    a short piece of music with dynamics
    Dynamics listed below the staff

    E

    Eighth Note

    An eighth note is worth one eighth of a beat in 4/4 time. Two eighth notes make up one quarter note and there are eight eighth notes in a whole note.

    eighth note
    An eighth note


    Learn about other types of music notes  

    Eighth Rest

    An eighth rest is a period of silence that has the same duration as an eighth note.

    eighth rest
    Eighth rest


    Discover more about rests  

    Encore

    A call for the performer to return to the stage after they have completed their set and play additional material. This extra performance is also called an encore.

    End Bar Line

    The end (or final) bar line is used to illustrate completion of a song. It is found at the end of the final measure.

    end bar line symbol
    End bar line symbol

    Endings (First and Second)

    These symbols mean to repeat sections in a song. The first time playing through a section you will play the first ending. At the end of the first ending you will find an end repeat sign. Find the begin repeat sign and continue playing from there. When you get back to the first ending skip it and go directly to the second ending.

    first and second endings
    First and Second Endings

    first and second endings explained on the staff

    Learn about different kinds of repeats in music  

    Ensemble

    There are two potential definitions for this term:

    1. A group playing a specific piece of music together
    2. Musicians that regularly play together

    F

    Falsetto

    A very high singing voice that is pitched outside of the regular range. It is achieved by non-standard vocal technique.

    Fanfare

    A fanfare is a short musical introduction, often to a piece of music (though it can also be a standalone piece). Most often it is played by trumpets and other brass instruments. It's the regal music a monarch would walk into a room to.

    Fermata

    A fermata means to hold a note longer – it should feel as though you are drawing the note’s duration out for a considerable period of time (about one and a half times as long is the general rule). This is stylistic, so don’t feel like you need to precisely stick to this duration. If you’re in a band, your director will conduct when to release a fermata.

    A fermata symbol

    Fill

    A short bit of music or rhythm used to "fill" gaps between melodic phrases and to add variety in repetitive sections.

    Finale

    The final movement of a composition.

    First Inversion

    First inversion occurs when the bottom note of a chord is played one octave higher. Instead of I, III, V, first inversion is III, V, I.

    Flat

    Flats lower the pitch of a note by a semitone.

    flat symbol
    A flat

    Forte

    Forte means to play loudly.

    The symbol for forte

    Fortissimo

    Play very loudly. This is the equivalent to speaking with a substantial amount of volume, like talking in a busy restaurant.

    The symbol for fortissimo

    Fortississimo

    Play very, very loudly. This is the equivalent to yelling.

    The symbol for fortississimo

    Frequency

    Sound travels through the air via sound waves, which have different lengths. Low notes have long waves and high notes have shorter ones.

    Waves repeat many times, more often if they have a short wavelength and less often if they have a longer one. The rate at which a wave repeats is its frequency.

    Frequency is directly correlated to the pitch of a note.

    Fundamental

    Also known as the fundamental frequency, this is the base pitch a chord is built upon.

    Furioso

    An Italian term indicating that you should play furiously.

    G

    Glissando

    Glide from one pitch to another without stopping to play each individual note (for example, sliding your hand up or down a piano).

    glissando between two quarter notes
    A glissando symbol

    Grace Note

    A musical decoration where one note is quickly played before another. Grace notes are not counted as part of time and should last only a split second.

    grace note
    A grace note

    Grandioso

    Play in a grand and noble manner.

    Grand Pause

    See fermata.

    Grand Staff

    Combining treble and bass clefs together creates the grand staff.

    middle c on the grand staff
    The grand staff

    Learn more about treble and bass clefs  

    Grave

    Indicates that the song should be played extremely slow and solemn.

    Learn more about tempo  

    H

    Half Note

    A half note is worth two beats in 4/4 time. Two half notes take up the same amount of time as one whole note.

    half note
    A half note


    Learn about other types of music notes  

    Half Rest

    Half rests (sometimes called "hat rests" because of their appearance) are a period of silence that have the same duration as a half note and are equal to two beats in 4/4 time.

    half rest
    A half rest


    Discover more about rests  

    Harmony

    Harmony describes the way music sounds with regards to chords and their progression. It is the complement to the melody of a song.

    Head Voice

    For singers, the head voice is used to describe the part of the voice that is responsible for high notes (but not falsetto).

    Hertz

    Hertz (Hz) is the unit used to measure frequency. One hertz is equal to one cycle per second.

    I

    Imperioso

    Play imperiously - with command, authority, and power.

    Impetuoso

    Italian word for "impetuous" which means to move quickly and rashly.

    Improvise

    To play off the top of your head, making it up as you go. Jass is famous for its improvised solos.

    Intro

    The beginning of a piece of music (the introduction).

    Inversion

    Chords don't have to be played in the standard I, III, V format. We can invert a chord by moving the lowest note(s) up an octave.

    For example, I, III, and V could be inverted to III, V, and I or V, I, and III.

    J

    Jazz Standard

    Songs that so important to jazz musicians that they are widely known and performed. Examples of jazz standards include Chameleon by Herbie Hancock and Milestones by Miles Davis.

    K

    Key

    The key refers to the scale that a piece is written in. Musicians commonly say things such as, "the key is in C" meaning that the scale is C major.

    Learn more about key signatures  

    Key Signature

    Key signatures are how composers write sharps and flats used repetitively throughout a song on the staff. For example, a composer might want to write all F notes in a song as being sharp and so they’d use a key signature like this:

    g major key signature on the treble clef
    A key signature on the treble clef


    Learn more about key signatures  

    L

    Larghissimo

    Play as slowly as possible.

    Learn more about tempo  

    Largo

    Play slowly and stately.

    Learn more about tempo  

    Ledger Lines

    From time to time composers will run out of notes on the treble and bass clefs. When this happens they use ledger lines above and below the clefs to extend each staff. Ledger lines continue the sequential order of the notes written on the staff.

    ledger lines on the treble clef
    Ledger lines on the treble clef

    Legato

    Indicated with a curved line over or under a series of notes, legato means to play smoothly and in a connected manner. There should be little to no space between notes.

    slur marking over notes
    Legato marking over notes

    Lento

    Play slowly. Lento is slower than adagio.

    Learn more about tempo  

    M

    Major Scale

    Also known as an Ionian scale, major scales are happy sounding. They have a consistent interval sequence consisting of whole tones and half tones (whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half).

    c major scale
    C major scale

    Learn more about scales  

    Marcato

    A stronger accent. When playing a note with a marcato marking you will typically play a loud accent and then quickly lower the volume (if possible on the instrument).

    The symbol for marcato

    Mask

    For singers, the mask is a mid-range vocal placement that lies between the chest voice and the head voice.

    Measures

    Measures break the staff into smaller elements, each of which is allowed a specific number of beats are allowed. Measures make it easy to keep time.

    two measures on treble clef
    Two measures on the treble clef

    Learn more about bar lines and measures  

    Meno

    The Italian word for "less." You will see it used with other terms like "meno presto" which means "less fast."

    The opposite of meno is piu.

    Melody

    Melody is the lead line of a song. Typically, it’s the bit that stands out the most.

    Metronome

    A metronome is a device that helps musicians keep tempo. It plays an audible click or tone at a predictable interval set by the musician.

    To use a metronome first set the number of beats per minute, then play the song while keeping pace with the audible tones from the device.

    Go to our online metronome  

    Mezzo

    Italian for "half" or "medium."

    Mezzo Forte

    Play moderately loudly. The volume should be just a little louder than your speaking voice.

    The symbol for mezzo forte

    Mezzo Piano

    When you see a mezzo piano symbol you will play moderately soft – just a touch quieter than your speaking voice.

    The symbol for mezzo piano

    Middle C

    Middle C is the fourth C from the left on a standard size piano. Also labelled as C4, it's one of the first notes students learn.

    middle c
    Middle C

    Minor Scale

    Considered the counterpart to major scales, minor scales sound dramatically unhappy. There are three different kinds of minor scales: natural minor, harmonic minor, and melodic minor.

    a natural minor
    A natural minor

    a harmonic minor
    A harmonic minor

    a melodic minor
    A melodic minor

    Learn more about scales  

    Moderato

    Play at a moderate speed. Moderato indicates that you should play faster than andante but slower than allegro.

    Learn more about tempo  

    Motif

    A short but important series of notes in a piece of music. One example is the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

    Movement

    A distinct section of a song that is part of a larger work.

    N

    Natural

    A natural cancels sharps and flats.

    natural symbol
    A natural

    Nocturne

    A composition that evokes the feeling of, or is inspired by, the night.

    Note

    Notes are an essential component of music. They represent the pitch and duration of a sound.

    quarter note
    A quarter note


    Learn about other types of music notes  

    O

    Octave

    The interval between two notes of the same pitch is an octave - but only if the paired notes are next to each other. For example, Middle C and the first C above and below it form octaves.

    Opus

    An opus is a work of art. In music you may see a number by the word "Opus" or "op." which refers to the chronological order the composer wrote the pieces.

    Overture

    A composition played by an orchestra as a prelude to an opera or play.

    P

    Phrase

    Similar to a paragraph in literature, a phrase is a section of music that has meaning on its own. A phrase is often four bars long in modern music.

    Pianissimo

    Play very softly. This dynamic means to play just above a whisper and is only slightly louder than pianississimo.

    The symbol for pianissimo

    Pianississimo

    Play very, very softly. This is the musical equivalent to a whisper.

    The symbol for pianississimo

    Piano

    Play softly. The volume should be notably quieter than your speaking voice but well above a whisper.

    The symbol for piano

    Pitch

    How high or low a note sounds. This is determined by a note's frequency.

    Piu

    An Italian word that means "more." It's used in combination with other music terms - for instance "piu lento" would mean "more slowly."

    The opposite of piu is meno.

    Portamento

    A subtle and stylistic slide from one note to another. Differs from glissando in that it is not required to play all the notes in between.

    It wouldn't be entirely inaccurate to think of portamento as a quick series of grace notes.

    Portato

    Also called mezzo-staccato, portato indicates that you should play notes moderately detached. It is indicated by placing dots on notes under a legato marking.

    Portato is also a bowing technique for string instruments where notes in a series are rearticulated while being played under a single and continuous bow stroke.

    portato marking under quarter notes
    Portato marking under notes

    Prelude

    In the Baroque period a prelude was an introduction to a larger composition. In the Romantic era the term changed to mean a standalone piece. Preludes tend to be rather short.

    Prestissimo

    Play the piece extremely fast. Prestissimo is even faster than presto.

    Learn more about tempo  

    Presto

    Play very fast. Presto is faster than vivace but not as quick as prestissimo.

    Learn more about tempo  

    Q

    Quarter Note

    In 4/4 time a quarter note is assigned one beat and has a duration of one fourth of a whole note, hence its name. Two quarter notes make up one half note.

    quarter note
    A quarter note


    Learn about other types of music notes  

    Quarter Rest

    A quarter rest is a period of silence that has the same duration as a quarter note (one beat in 4/4 time).

    quarter rest
    A quarter rest


    Discover more about rests  

    Quarter Tone

    An interval equivalent to one half of a semitone. Quarter tones are extraordinary uncommon in Western music.

    R

    Rallentando

    A tempo term that means to gradually slow down. Used interchangeably with ritardando.

    Learn more about tempo  

    Rapide

    The French word for "quick" indicates that you should play quickly.

    Learn more about tempo  

    Renaissance Era

    A period of enlightenment that had a profound impact on the arts (including music). Ranging from 1400 - 1600 AD, the invention of the printing press in 1439 made it much easier to reproduce music. This invention, along with a growing middle and upper middle class, meant far more people were engaged with music than in the Middle Ages.

    Music from the Renaissance is notable for being based on modes and for utilizing harmony in a more modern way.

    Repeat Signs

    Begin and end repeat signs instruct the musician to play a basic loop. Here's how they work: When playing through a section with these signs you should first ignore the begin repeat sign by playing past it. When you reach the end repeat sign go back to the begin repeat sign and continue playing. When you reach the end repeat sign for the second time ignore it and continue playing.

    repeat signs explained on the staff

    Learn about different kinds of repeats in music  

    Repente

    A term that means "suddenly."

    Reprise

    Think of a reprise like a call back - it's a return to a previously used section of a song.

    Requiem

    A composition written to honor the dead. Mozart's Requiem in D minor is a famous example of such a work.

    Resolution

    A resolution occurs in music when two conflicting tones "resolve," eliminating tension in the sound. An example of this is how a 2nd resolves when a 3rd is played right after. See also consonance and dissonance.

    Rest

    Rests are used to indicate silence – periods where you will not play.

    Learn more about rests  

    Rhythm

    Rhythm is the arrangement of music in time. If you were to look at sheet music and clap the notes you'd be clapping the rhythm of the song.

    Ritardando

    A tempo term that means to gradually slow down. Used interchangeably with rallentando.

    Learn more about tempo  

    Ritenuto

    A tempo term that means to immediately slow down.

    Learn more about tempo  

    Romantic Era

    A period of music ranging from 1780 - 1910 that was marked by the use of longer melodies, a wider range of dynamics, and higher and lower notes.

    Famous composers from this period include Chopin, Mendelssohn, Johann Strauss II, Tchaikovsky, and Verdi. Beethoven and Schubert are considered to span both the Classical and Romantic eras.

    Run

    A quickly moving series of notes that lasts for a typically brief but noticeable period of time. Scales, arpeggios, and other musical patterns are examples of runs.

    S

    Scale

    A scale is a series of notes ordered by pitch.

    See also major scales and minor scales.

    Scale Degree

    The number assigned to each step on a scale.

    scale degree on the staff with labels indicating the position

    Score

    Another term for sheet music. In symphonic and orchestral settings the score is usually a reference to the sheet music a conductor reads (the one with all of the parts written on it).

    Second Inversion

    Second inversion occurs when the first and second notes of a chord are raised by an octave. Instead of playing I, III, V play V, I, III.

    Semitone

    In Western music a semitone is considered a “half step” and is the smallest utilized interval between notes.

    Sempre

    The Italian word for "always." Sempre piano would mean "always quiet."

    Sempre Piu

    Italian for "always more."

    Sforzando

    A sudden and powerful increase in loudness. May also be abbreviated as sf, or sz.

    A sforzando symbol

    Sharp

    Sharps raise the pitch of a note by a semitone.

    sharp symbol
    A sharp

    Sixteenth Note

    A sixteenth note has a very short duration - it is worth only one sixteenth of a beat in 4/4 time. There are sixteen sixteenth notes in a whole note, and two sixteenth notes in an eighth note.

    sixteenth note
    A sixteenth note


    Learn about other types of music notes  

    Sixteenth Rest

    A sixteenth rest is a period of silence that takes up the same amount of time as a sixteenth note.

    sixteenth rest
    A sixteenth rest


    Discover more about rests  

    Solo

    During a solo a performer will play alone.

    Sonata

    This term has had a variety of meanings over time, but it can be taken to mean a composition that was written for instrumentation - a song meant to be played instead of sung.

    Soprano

    A female voice type with the highest range humans are able to sing.

    Staccato

    Play the note for a very brief period of time. Do not hold or “sustain” it for any length of time.

    The symbol for staccato

    Staff

    The staff consists of five lines and is where composers write notes for musicians to play. Each line and each space on the staff represents a single note (if you are familiar with the piano, every line or space on the staff represents a white key on the keyboard).

    the staff
    The staff

    Stem

    The vertical line on a note.

    A quarter note with the stem indicated

    Stentato

    Play with a labored and sluggish feeling. Abbreviated sten. or stent.

    Syncopation

    Interruption to the regular or expected rhythm, commonly achieved by playing notes on the offbeat.

    T

    Tabs

    Short for tablature, tabs are a form of notation commonly used with string instruments that indicate finger position instead of notes.

    Tacet

    A period of silence that spans multiple measures. The number above the H-bar indicates the number of measures that should be silent.

    Tempo

    Tempo dictates the speed at which a song should be played.

    Learn more about tempo  

    Tempo Primo

    Indicates the performer should play at the original tempo.

    Learn more about tempo  

    Tenor

    A male voice type with a range between baritone and countertenor.

    Tenuto

    Music symbols like this mean you should hold the note for the entire duration – do not release it early.

    The symbol for tenuto

    Tessitura

    The average, or normal, range of a singer's voice or of an instrument's sound.

    Theme

    A recognizable and often overarching melody in a piece of music.

    Ties

    Ties combine multiple notes together, increasing their duration by the value of the notes in the tie. Composers use ties when the duration of a note will cross a bar line, otherwise they will tend to use a dot.

    to tied notes in music
    Two tied notes


    Learn about other types of music notes  

    Timbre

    Officially defined as "sound quality," timbre is what allows us to tell the difference between two sounds that are on the same note and are equally loud - it's the reason reason why a guitar sounds different than a piano.

    Time

    Time refers to the beat and pace of a song. If you're "keeping time" then you're playing with regards to the time signature and tempo of a composition.

    Time Signature

    The time signature tells us two things: how many beats are in a measure and which note is worth one beat. Time signatures always appear at the beginning of sheet music but keep your eyes peeled as they can also appear throughout the song. Here’s what the time signature looks like when written on the treble clef.

    4 4 time signature on the treble clef
    A time signature on the treble clef


    Time signatures always have two numbers, with one written on top of the other. The top number defines the number of beats in a measure. If you see a 2 that means there are two beats in every measure while a 4 means there are four beats. The bottom number refers to the note that is worth a single beat. If you see a 4 that means a quarter note is worth one beat, an 8 means an eighth note, and a 2 the half note. We say this note “gets the beat.”

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    Tonic

    The first note on a diatonic scale is the tonic.

    Treble Clef

    Also known as the G clef, the treble clef is the most common clef. It is used by the flue, violin, oboe, clarinet, bagpipe, saxophone, trumpet, recorder, guitar, and many more instruments, as well as by the soprano, mezzo-soprano, alto, contralto, and tenor voices.

    the notes on treble clef
    The notes on treble clef

    Learn more about reading notes on treble and bass clefs  

    Tremolo

    A rapid shaking or trembling effect generated by rapidly playing the same note or notes.

    tremolo
    How to indicate tremolo

    Trill

    Quickly alternate between two adjacent notes, usually a whole tone or a semitone above the indicated note.

    trill symbol
    The trill symbol

    Triplets

    If you were to divide a note into three parts you would make a triplet. The most common triplet is the eighth note triplet which occurs when you split a quarter note into three even parts.

    eighth note triplet
    An eighth note triplet


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    Tutti

    Italian for "all" or "together." This is used to indicate that an entire symphony should play or the full choir should sing.

    U

    Unison

    All parts should be played together.

    Un Poco

    Italian for "a little."

    Upbeat

    The last beat in the previous bar. It comes directly before the downbeat.

    Uptempo

    A quick and lively speed.

    V

    Veloce

    A tempo term that means to instantaneously speed up. It is a more immediate tempo change than accelerando.

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    Vibrato

    A quick variation in pitch that makes the note sound as if it's vibrating.

    Virtuoso

    A musician or other individual with remarkable skill in music, singing, composition, and/or other fine arts.

    Vivace

    Play at a lively and brisk pace. Vivace is faster than allegro but not as quick as presto.

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    Vivo

    Play the piece in a lively manner.

    W

    Whole Note

    A whole note has the longest duration in modern music. It is the equivalent of four beats in 4/4 time.

    whole note
    A whole note


    Learn about other types of music notes  

    Whole Rest

    A whole rest makes an entire measure silent regardless of the time signature (except in 4/2 time).

    whole rest
    A whole rest


    Discover more about rests  

    Whole Tone

    In western music a whole tone is considered a “full step” and is the equivalent of two semitones.

    Z

    Zelo

    Play with zeal.