Music Vocabulary

Students in music are not only learning to read music, but they are also learning how to read in Italian (and sometimes German and French!)  Musical terms in the students’ repertoire and method books are traditionally written in Italian.  Therefore, when they are starting in music classes, they are learning two second languages at the same time!


Word Symbol Definition



emphasize the note



symbol that alters the pitch of a note until the end of the measure



fast tempo

Andante   walking tempo slower than Moderato

notes of a chord sounded one after another


type of attack used to play a note or group of notes

Bar line   divides the staff into measures
Breath mark   take a breath
Chord   two or more notes sounded at the same time
Chromatic scale   scale of 12 ascending or descending half steps
Closing   last measures of a composition, often containing new material added to give a feeling of finality
Common time   means the same as 4/4

creation of music that can be performed later, usually from written notation

Courtesy accidental   reminder that the bar line has canceled an accidental
Crescendo   gradually louder
Crossing the break  

moving between the lower and higher registers of the clarinet

Da Capo al Fine (D.C. al Fine)  

go back to the beginning of the piece and play or sing until the Fine

Decrescendo   gradually softer
Divisi div.

some performers play or sing the top notes while others play or sing the bottom notes


fifth note of a scale; chord built on the fifth note of scale

Duet   piece of music featuring two different parts played or sung together
Dynamics   softness of loudness of a piece of music

mouth formation used to play an instrument

Fermata   hold a note or rest longer than its usual value
Final double bar line   marks the end of the music
1st and 2nd endings   play or sing the 1st ending the first time through, repeat, skip the 1st ending, and play or sing the 2nd ending
Flat flat lowers the pitch of a note one half step
Forte f loud
Half step   smallest interval used in Western music
Harmony   two or more notes played or sung at the same time

spontaneous composition of music through playing or singing

Interval   distance between two pitches
Introduction   opening passage of a piece of music
Key signature   sharps or flats placed after a clef
Ledger line   short line used for notes above or below the staff
Long rest   rest for the number of measures indicated
Maestoso   majestically
Major scale   of whole and half steps in the following patter: wwhwwwh

area between two bar lines

Mezzo forte mf medium loud
Mezzo piano mp medium soft
Moderato   medium tempo
Music alphabet   first seven letters of the alphabet; these note names are assigned to the lines and spaces of the staff
Natural nat cancels a flat or sharp
One-measure repeat sign   play of sing the previous measure again
Orchestration   choice of instruments used to play the music
Phrase   musical sentence, often 4 or 5 measures long
Piano p soft
Pick-up   music that comes before the first full measure of a piece
Rehearsal number   find important places in the music using these markers
Repeat sign   play or sing the music again
Ritardando rit.

gradually slow the tempo

Round   song in which the same part is played or sung by two or more groups
Sharp sharp raises the pitch of a note one half step
Sight-reading   playing or singing a piece of music for the first time

articulation that connects notes of different pitches; indicates a very smooth sound

Soli   a small group or section plays or sings
Solo   only one person plays or sings
Staccato stqc

shorten the note

Staff   5 lines and 4 spaces for writing music

fourth note of a scale; chord built on the fourth note of a scale

Syncopation   rhythmic effect that places emphasis on the weak beat
Tempo   speed of a piece of music
Ternary form   music with three sections: Section A, following by a contrasting Section B, then Section A again
Theme   a melody within a piece of music
Theme and variation   type of composition that begins with a main melody (theme) and continues with a different version (variation) of the main melody

marking that connects notes of the same pitch to make one longer note

Time signature   top number tells you the number of counts per measure; bottom number tells you the type of note that gets one count
Tonic   first note of a scale; chord built on the first note of a scale
Treble clef   the line it circles on the staff is called G
Trio (ensemble)  

piece of music featuring three different parts played or sung together

Trio (march)  

third theme in a march, typically a contrasting section

Tutti   everyone plays or sings
Unison unis. everyone plays or sings the same notes
Whole step   interval consisting of two half steps