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Appendix A: Musical Terms


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



A



absolute music:

abstract instrumental music with no extra-musical reference.



A cappella:

"As in the chapel." Unaccompanied vocal music. Without instruments.



accelerando:

"accelerate." This Italian term indicates the the beat must speed up over time.



accent:

An expressive marking that indicates that a note should be stressed by playing it a bit louder than other surrounding notes.



accidentals:

A musical notation marking placed before a note to indicate that it should be played "sharp", "flat", or "natural."



adagio:

A tempo and expression marking that means "slow and relaxed."



allegretto:

"quick." A tempo and expression marking which is a bit slower than allegro.



allegro:

"fast"



alto:

The low female voice. The lower female voice in a choir today; originally, the high male voice in a liturgical choir



andante:

A tempo and expression marking a walking, relaxed pace.



andantino:

A tempo and expression marking a bit faster than andante.



antiphon:

A type of plainschant that is primarily syllabic. a plainsong refrain that frames the psalm verse in the introit, gradual, offertory, and communion of the Mass, and in the psalms of the Divine Office.



aria:

A type of composition for voice and orchestra. Generally found in operas, cantatas, and oratorios.



arpeggio:

A musical gesture that plays the pitches of a chord in succession instead of simulteneously.



ars antiqua:

"antique art." Primarily associated with music written during the 12th and 13th centuries in Paris which saw the development of organum, a precursor to polyphony. Composers associated with this are Léonin and Pérotin.



ars nova:

"new art." Primarily associated with music written during the 14-century which saw the development of polyphony. Composers associated with this are Machaut and Landini.



A Tempo:

"in time." This Italian term is used after a ritardando, accelerando, or other tempo change and it instructs the performer to return to the original tempo.



atonality:

"without tonic." Music written that does not gravitate toward a specific pitch.



avant-garde:

"vanguard." Music that is current and experimental, ground breaking, or innovative in some way.



Ave Maria:

A prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary, recited in the Rosary; among the sacred texts most frequently set to music, beginning "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. . ." (Luke 1:28)

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B



baritone:

A male voice that is higher than bass and lower than tenor.



barline:

A vertical line in musical notation that marks the end of a measure.



bass:

1. The lowest male voice part
2. The lowest vocal or instrumental part in a composition.



basso continuo:

Primarily associated with the Baroque era, an accompaniment where only a bass line is notated. Following specific rules the upper harmonic voicing of the accompaniment is improvised (known as "realizing the bass") by the performer. Also known as figured bass, continuo, and thorough bass.



basso ostinato:

An ostinato in the bass. A recurring musical gesture in the bass; a ground bass repeated many times while the texture changes above it in continuous variation



beam:

The heavy horizontal line that connects notes in musical notation. One beam indicates an eigth note, two beams indicate a sixteenth note, three beams indicate a thirty-second note, etc.



beat:

A pulse that underlies most music. This pulse is often regular.



beat syncopation:

Small shifts of accents off the beat.



binary:

A musical form that has two different sections. Also known as AB form where "A" is the first section and "B" is the second.

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C



cadence:

The arrival points in music. Cadences end sections of music with a feeling of conclusiveness.



cadenza:

Generally near the end of a movement in a concerto, an improvised musial passage.



cantata:

A large-scale work for voices and instruments. Cantatas can be either secular or sacred.



chamber music:

Music played by a small group of performers. The group is sometimes called a "chamber ensemble."



chance music:

Music that is the result of a compositional process that utilizes chance or random probabilities.



chanson:

A French song. A French part-song in the Renaissance. French songs of the 19th and 20th centuries are called melodies.



character piece:

Generally written for piano, a short composition that depicts one mood.



chorale:

A 4-part choral work in the protestant traditions.



chord:

Two or more pitches sounding simulteneously.



chromatic scale:

The set of twelve pitches within the octave.



clef:

In musical notation, a symbol that defines the pitches on a staff. The most common clefs are "treble", "bass", "alto", and "tenor".



compound meter:

A meter that subdivides the beat into groupings of three.



con:

"with."



con brio:

"With brilliance."



concerto:

A composition for instrumental soloist and orchestra, usually in three movements.



concerto grosso:

A work for a small group of soloists (concertino) and orchestra (ripieno) popular in the Baroque



con moto:

"With motion."



continuo:

see basso continuo.



contralto:

The low female voice.



counterpoint:

"Point against point." Polyphony. The relationship between musical voices that are harmonically related, but melodically independent.



crescendo:

"growing." An indication that the music should swell or gradually get louder over time.



CSO:

Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

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D



da capo:

A direction to the performer to repeat the music from the beginning.



da capo aria:

A song in tertiary (ABA) form in Baroque operas and cantatas. The last "A" section is a da capo.



decrescendo:

"diminish." An indication that the music should gradually become softer over time. Same as diminuendo.



diatonic scale:

The seven notes that make up the scale of a major or minor tonal scale. For example in the key of "C", the white notes on the piano.



diminuendo:

"diminish." An indication that the music should gradually become softer over time. Same as decrescendo.



dissonance:

A relationship of pitches that seem unstable within a context.



divertimento:

an 18th century genre of lighthearted instrumental music.



Divine Office:

The canonical hours sung daily in monasteries; liturgical services of the Roman Catholic Church where Holy Communion is not offered, consisting of scripture reading and psalms. Matins and Vespers are services of the Office.



dynamics:

The volume of music.

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E



electronic music:

Music in which some element was created with electronics. The same as "electroacoustic music."



electroacoustic music:

Music in which some element was created with electronics. The same as "electronic music."



ensemble:

A group of musicians.



Epistle:

The scripture reading taken from the letters of the Apostle Paul read after the Gradual (responsorial psalm).



espressivo:

"Expressively."



estampie:

An instrumental dance popular during the medieval era.



etude:

A musical study of a specific technique. Music written to aid in the technical study of an instrument.



exposition:

1. The first section of a fugue.
2. The first section of a sonata-form movement.



expressionism:

A primarily German musical movement in the early 20th century associated with the free atonality of Arnold Schoenberg.

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F



fermata:

A musical notation symbol that indicates a note or rest is to be held for an indefinite length of time, pausing the beat.



figured bass:

see basso continuo.



finale:

The last movement of a composition.



forte::

"Loud." A dynamic marking.



fortissimo:

"Very loud."



frequency:

The rate of a sound vibration or oscillation measured in herz (Hz) or cycles-per-second (cps). We perceive frequency as pitch.



fugue:

An imitative polyphonic composition characterized by a tonic and dominant use of a primary theme.



fuging tune:

A simple anthem based upon a hymn.

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G



galliard:

A lively French Renaissance dance in ¾ time, often paired with a pavane; later a dance appearing in a Baroque suite.



gamba:

or viola da gamba, a six-string bowed instrument of the Renaissance, held between the legs (gamba=leg, it.)



gigue:

A fast Baroque dance in binary form, usually the last movement of a suite.



glissando:

A sliding movement from one pitch to another, played without pausing on the individual notes of the chromatic scale.



Gloria (in excelsis Deo):

The second item in the Ordinary of the Mass, the text taken from the song of the angels at the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:14).



Gospel:

A scripture reading from Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John that follows the singing of the Alleluia in the Mass.



grave:

A tempo marking meaning solemn or slow.



Gregorian chant:

The liturgical plainsong of the Roman Catholic Church, sung at Mass or the Divine Office.

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H



harmony:

Musical sonorities consisting of pitches sounded simultaneously; chords.



homophonic:

Musical texture characterized by harmony, or by melody with chordal accompaniment, rather than by counterpoint



hymn:

A song in praise of God, often in strophic form.

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I



Ideé fixe:

A musical motive or melody associated with a character or idea, which often undergoes transformation.



imitation:

In a polyphonic composition (motet, madrigal etc.) successive entrances of voices using the same melodic profile or gestures; imitative counterpoint.



Impressionism:

A style associated mainly with French composers, such as Debussy and Ravel, at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century in Paris. It has a visual analogue in the paintings of Manet, Monet, Renoir, Matisse, etc.



impromptu:

A piece for piano that gives the impression of being improvised.



incidental music:

Music composed, usually for orchestra, to accompany a stage play; the precursor of film music.



instrumentation:

Orchestration, scoring for musical instruments, often for the orchestra.



intermezzo:

A piece meant to be played between the acts of an opera.



intonation:

Playing or singing in tune, both with oneself and with others.



inversion:

In composition, the replication of a melody or series of pitches in mirror image or "upside down"



isorhythm:

The repetition of a rhythmic pattern throughout a voice part.

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J



jazz:

A popular American musical style, created largely by African-Americans in the 20th century, characterized by dance rhythms, swing beat, and improvisation.



jongleur:

A traveling entertainer during the medieval period.

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K



Kapellmeister:

Master of the chapel, maestro di cappella, director of music; a title held by Bach and other German composers of the 18th century.



Kyrie eleison:

"Lord, have mercy." The opening petition and first item of the Mass Ordinary.

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L



lento:

"slow." A tempo marking indicating a slow or broad tempo



largo:

A tempo and expression marking that means "slow and broad."



legato:

An articulation indicating smooth connection of the notes; opposite of staccato.



lento:

A tempo marking meaning slow.



libretto:

The text of an opera or oratorio.



lied:

German art-song of the 18th and 19th centuries sung by a soloist with piano accompaniment. plural: Lieder

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M



Magnificat:

A canticle sung by Mary at the Annunciation (Luke 1:47-55), a liturgical text frequently set to music.



Mass:

1. The principal liturgical service of the Roman Catholic Church, culminating in the Eucharist (Holy Communion). The text of the Mass Ordinary (the items sung to the same words every time Mass is celebrated) is the most frequently set to music of any liturgical text.
2. A multi-movement work for choir, sometimes with orchestra, on the texts of the Mass Ordinary.



madrigal:

A polyphonic composition for a small group of voices, usually unaccompanied, based on Italian or English poetry of the Renaissance.



marcato:

An articulation marking indicating that each note of a melody is to be stressed



melisma:

A passage in plainsong or other vocal music where one syllable of text is sustained over many notes.



measure:

A unit of musical time within two bar lines in a given meter.



melody:

A sequence of pitches sung or played consecutively.



meno mosso:

A tempo indication that means "less motion."



meter:

The aspect of music notation that groups beats into measures, often in twos or threes, but sometimes in unequal combinations.



mezzo-soprano:

The medium-range female voice (mezzo=half).



minuet:

An 18th century court dance in triple time that became the third movement of the classic period symphony and string quartet.



moderato:

"moderate."



modulation:

The process of changing keys within a composition.



monophonic:

A unison melody without accompaniment.



motet:

A polyphonic choral composition on a sacred Latin text sung at Mass or at the Divine Office. From the French mot, meaning "word."



movement:

A piece that makes up a larger work, such as a sonata, concerto, symphony or string quartet.

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N



nationalism:

A movement in the 19th century that resulted in music based on national folk and patriotic songs.



neoclassicism:

A movement in the 20th century where composers revisited the aesthetics of the Classic period.



nocturne:

A composition inspired by nighttime.



non troppo:

"not too much." e.g., allegro non troppo = "not too fast".



notation:

Any system of signs written to indicate musical sounds. Western musical notation using a staff dates back to the first millennium.

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O



obbligato:

An instrumental solo in a Baroque aria.



octave:

An interval encompassing eight tones of the diatonic scale.



offertory:

The presentation of the gifts at Mass; one of the propers.



oratorio:

A large musical work for choir, soloists, and orchestra based on a biblical story. Oratorios are performed without costumes or acting, as opposed to opera.



opera:

A large musical work for solo singers, choir, and orchestra performed in a theatre with costumes and acting; music drama.



operetta:

Light opera with spoken dialog rather than recitative.



opus number:

A number given to a work or a group of pieces that refers to the order of publication within a composer's output.



organum:

Composed during the Medeival era, the earliest type of polyphonic music.



ornamentation:

The embellishment of melody, often improvised.



ostinato:

Motivic material that is repeated over and over again.



overture:

A composition played by the orchestra before an opera or ballet, later called a prelude.

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P



passion:

A musical setting of the portions of the Gospel that tell the story of the suffering and death of Christ.



pentatonic scale:

A scale of five notes, often the pitches of the black keys of the piano.



pitch:

The aspect of music that concerns the frequency of vibration of the medium producing the sound.



piú mosso:

A tempo indication that means "more motion."



plainsong (plainchant):

Monophonic liturgical chant sung in various rites of Christian worship: Gregorian, Ambrosian, Gallican, Mozarabic, Byzantine, etc.



poco:

"little." e.g., poco rallentando = "slowing a little bit."



poco a poco:

"litle by little." e.g. crescendo poco a poco = "become louder little by little."



polonaise:

A Polish dance in triple meter.



polyphonic:

Musical texture characterized by counterpoint



prestissimo:

As fast as possible. A tempo and expression marking that is faster than presto.



presto:

A tempo and expression marking that means "very fast."



program music:

Instrumental music that refers to a non-musical idea, image, or event, often indicated in a printed program to communicate the idea to the listener. Composers such as Beethoven, Berlioz, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, and Musorgsky have been inspired by poems, dramas, natural wonders, pictures, etc.



psaltery:

The collected book of 150 psalms in the Hebrew Bible. Psalms are sung in every language and every Judeo-Christian rite in a variety of musical styles ranging from plainsong to gospel music.

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Q



quarter note:

A note that is one-quarter the length of a whole note.



quartet:

A composition to be performed by four musicians. Often used to denote a string quartet: 2 violins, viola, and cello.



quintent:

A composition to be performed by five musicians. Often used to denote a woodwind quartet: flute, oboe, clarinet, horn,and bassoon.

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R



rallentando:

"slowing down." See ritardando. Most musicians view rallentando and ritardando as synonyms. Some musicians, however, think that these two words are slightly different. To them, rallentando indicates a more gradual slowing of the beat than ritardando.



recapitulation:

The return of the principal theme in sonata form.



recitative:

A style of solo singing used in opera and oratorio analogous to the spoken dialog of musical comedy. Recitative avoids text repetition and follows the inflections of speech, usually with light accompaniment. This is in contrast to the melodic style of the aria.



Requiem:

The Mass for the Dead in the Roman Catholic Church.



rest:

In music notation, a symbol that creates a moment of silence in music.



retrograde:

In composition, rendering a melody or series of pitches backwards.



ritardando:

"slowing down." See rallentando. Also an Italian term, this indicates that the music should slow down over time.



rondo:

A form employing the scheme ABACA, often used in the finale of symphonies and string quartets.



rubato:

A marking that instructs the performer to play more freely within the time structure for expressive reasons. The beat continues consistently, but the performer "robs" time from one beat to give to another.



rhythm:

The aspect of music that concerns time: duration, speed, and metric groupings.

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S



sarabande:

A slow Baroque dance in triple meter, often present in a suite.



scherzo:

"joke." A lively piece in 6/8 time that replaced the minuet as the dance movement of a symphony.



schola cantorum:

A choir that sings Gregorian chant.



scordatura:

An alternative tuning of stringed instruments.



semitone:

A half step, the smallest interval in common-practice music.



soave:

Sweet, gentle.



sonata:

A work for solo instrument, usually in three movements. Piano sonatas are for piano alone; sonatas for monophonic instruments are usually accompanied by the piano.



sonata form:

A complex binary form that became the most important organizing principal of the classic period and persisted into the 20th century.



song:

A musical composition with text intended to be sung. One cannot refer to instrumental pieces or movements of instrumental works as "songs."



soprano:

The highest voice in a choir.



sordino:

"mute." The marking con sordino tells the performer to play the following passage "with a mute."



staccato:

An articulation marking indicating that the notes should be separated from one another, or played short; opposite of legato.



string quartet:

1. A chamber ensemble consisting of two violins, viola, and cello.
2. A composition, usually in four movements, for string quartet.



subito:

"suddenly." Although this term may be used to affect other elements of music, it is often used before a dynamic to indicate a sudden change in volume.



suite:

An instrumental work (keyboard or orchestra) of several movements based on dances, the four most common of which are allemand, courant, sarabande, and gigue.



symphony:

A type of multi-movement composition for orchestra.

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T



tempo:

The speed at which music is performed.



tenor:

1. The higher male voice in choral music.
2. The cantus firmus in a polyphonic composition



thorough bass:

see basso continuo.



timbre:

The tone color produced by a voice or instrument; tone



triad:

A chord of three pitches.



troubadours:

Composers and singers of secular monophonic song in southern France in the late Middle ages; their poems in Old Provencal glorify women and courtly love. Their northern French counterparts are the Trouveres, and their German ones Minnesaenger.



tutti:

An Italian word that means "all". Tutti often indicates that all performers should play.

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U



upbeat:

A weak beat that leas to a downbeat or a strong beat.

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V



vivace:

A tempo and expression marking that means "fast and vivacious."



vocalise:

A composition for voice without text, often with piano accompaniment.

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W



waltz:

A couple dance in triple time, often adapted as a piano solo or employed as the dance movement of a symphony.

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Z



zarzuela:

Spanish light opera with spoken dialog.



znamenny chant:

Russian liturgical monophonic chant sung at the Divine Liturgy or at the All-Night Vigil.