Ma - But. Used with other words, e.g. lento ma non troppo, slow but not too slowly.
Maestoso - Majestically.
- The designation for certain intervals and scales. A key based
on a major scale is called a major key. The pattern for the major
Major chord - A triad composed of a root, major third, and perfect fifth.
Mancando - Fading away
Marcato - Emphasized, heavily accented.
Measure - A group of beats containing a primary accent and one or more secondary accents, indicated by the placement of bar lines on the staff. The space between two bar lines.
Medesimo - The same.
Mediant - The third degree of the major or minor scale. The triad built on this degree is labeled iii in the major scale, III in the natural minor scale, and III+ in the harmonic minor scale.
Medieval - The period prior to the Renaissance, c. 500-1450, marking the music of the early Christian church.
Melody - In general, a succession of musical tones. It represents the linear or horizontal aspect of music.
Meno - Less.
Meno mosso - Less motion.
Meter - The structure of notes in a regular pattern of accented and unaccented beats within a measure, indicated at the beginning of a composition by a meter signature.
Meter signature - The numbers placed at the beginning of a composition to indicate the meter of the music, e.g. . The upper number indicates the beats in a measure; the lower number tells what kind of a note will receive one beat.
Metronome - Invented by Maelzel in 1816, the instrument is used to indicate the exact tempo of a composition. An indication such as M.M. 60 indicates that the pendulum, with a weight at the bottom, makes 60 beats per minute. A slider is moved up and down the pendulum to decrease and increase the tempo. M.M. = 80 means that the time value of a quarter note is the equivalent of one pendulum beat when the slider is set at 80.
Mezzo - Half, Medium
Mezzo forte - Medium loud.
Mezzo piano - Medium soft.
Mi - In solmization, the third degree of the major scale.
Middle Ages - European historical period between roughly A.D. 500 and 1450.
Middle C - The note C in the middle of the Grand staff, and near the middle of the paino.
Minor - The designation for certain intervals and scales. A key based on a minor scale is called a minor key. The three types of minor scales include natural, hormonic, and melodic, which is used infrequently in choral music. The patterns for natural and harmonic scales are:
Misterioso - Mysteriously.
Mit - With.
Mode - Any scalewise arrangement of pitches; more generally, the term refers to the patterns upon which medieval music was structured, the patterns which preceded the development of major and minor scales and tonality.
Moderato - Moderate speed.
Modern - Music written in the 20th century or contempory music.
Modulation - The process of changing from one key to another within a composition.
Molto - Very. Used with other terms, e.g. molto allegro.
Mordent - "Biting." An ornament consisting of an alteration (once or twice) of the written note by playing the one immediately below it (lower mordent), or above it (upper, or inverted, mordent) and then playing the note again.
Morendo - Gradually decreasing in volume; dying away.
Mosso - Rapid. Meno mosso, less rapid. Piu mosso, more rapid.
Motive - A short melodic or rhythmic pattern.
Moto - Motion. Con moto, with motion.
Movable Do - The system of solmization in which do changes to accommodate the key, e.g. in the key of C major, do is c; in E major do is e. In the key of a minor do is c (relative major); in the key of c minor do is e (relative major).
Music - The organization of sounds with some degree of rhythm, melody, and harmony.
Music theory - The study of how music is put together.
Nach - After (as "in the manner of"); behind.
Nachtmusik - "Night music." A serenade.
Natural - A musical symbol which cancels a previous sharp or flat.
Neumatic - One style of chant in which two to four pitches occur on one syllable; in contrast to melismatic and syllabic.
Non - No; not.
Nonharmonic tones - A designation for tones outside the harmonic structure of the chord. Two frequently used examples are the passing tone and the appoggiatura.
Non troppo - Not too much. Used with other terms, e.g. non troppo allegro, not too fast.
Notation - A term for a system of expressing musical sounds through the use of written characters, called notes.
Note - The symbol which, when placed on a staff with a particular clef sign, indicates pitch.
Nuance - Subtle variations in tempo, phrasing, dynamics, etc., to enhance a musical performance.
Octave - The eighth tone above a given pitch, with twice as many vibrations per second, or below a given pitch, with half as many vibrations.
Octet - A piece for eight instruments or voices.
Open fifth - A triad without a third.
Open strings - Strings are not stopped, fingured, or fretted.
Opus, Op - The term, meaning work, is used by composers to show the chronological order of their works, e.g. Op. 1, Op. 2.
Orchestra - A large group of musicians made up of string, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments.
Orchestration - The art of writing, arranging, or scoring for the orchestra.
Ornamentation - Note or notes added to the original melodic line for embellishment and added interest.
Ornaments - Melodic embellishments, either written or improvised.
Ossia - "Or." Indicating an alternative passage or version.
Ostinato - A repeated melodic or rhythmic pattern, frequently appearing in the bass line.
Ottava - Octave.
Ottava alta - (8va) An octave higher.
Ottave bassa - (8va or 8vb) An octave lower.
Overtones - The almost inaudible higher tones which occur with the fundamental tone. They are the result of the vibration of small sections of a string (instrument) or a column of air. Other general terms for overtones are partials and harmonics.
- The introductory music for an opera, oratorio or ballet. A
concert overture is an independent work.
Leonard, Hal, Pocket Music Dictionary,
Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation, 1993.
Something to Sing About, G. Schirmer and Co., 1984.