Glossary of Musical Terms
- A musical punctuation mark. A cadence is a series of two
that marks the end of a musical statement or substatement, or thought. They
are like commas, periods, and other marks. They are often indicated by
a couple of Roman numerals indicating the roots (note on which a triad is
built) of the two triadic chords that make up the cadence.
- A bunch of notes being played together that usually sound good.
- Each note in a scale has a name. They are as follows:
- Leading Tone
- Also known as plain-song. A musical form from the early Catholic
Church wherein all voices sing one part in unison. The music has no feeling
of tempo, and most of the motion of the notes is
step-wise. This is meant
to remind the listener of God. It is medatative music. If it had a beat,
one would want to dance or move around. This draws the focus away from God.
- Other threads of music that aren't meant to stand alone. They exist only
to support the melody and augment whatever feeling the
melody is trying to convey.
- It is possible with certain music programs and music file formats
to define how an instrument sounds. For instance, if You wanted to have
a piano play a tune, You could have a whole long recording of it that could
easily take many megabytes of space, or, You could tell a program how a piano
sounds and then tell it what notes to play. Because You don't have an actual
performance where the sound is sampled around 44,000 times a second, You will
get a smaller file using instrument definitions. You will also get a file that,
when played, sounds not quite real.
- A distance between two notes. The interval between to
adjacent keys on a piano is a half-step (for instance, B to C). The interval
between two keys that have one key in between them is a whole step, or two
half-steps (for instance, C to D). Three half-steps are a minor third, four are a
major third, and so on. Some intervals have traditional
tunes associated with them.
- The main idea in a piece of music. What You hum when You listen
to a song or other piece of music. Usually the most memorable and singable
line of music in a piece.
- A series of intervals that define,
given a starting pitch, what notes may be used while still staying in that mode.
The scale we are used to, the one made famous in Do A Deer from The Sound
of Music, is the major scale. It is the series of notes that makes up the
Ionian mode. If You started on C and played only white keys, when You reached the
next C up, You will have played all of the notes in the Ionian mode. The Aeolean
mode corresponds to the minor scale. Play A to A on white
keys to hear the minor scale. Other prominant modes are Dorian, Lydian, Phrygian,
- To take a section of music and move it to a different
- Notes played that aren't in the same triadic
chord with the other notes being played. There are
many kinds of non-chordal tones, and many of them are listed in this project.
We will not define them here, but any basic music theory book should.
- A form of music in which an orcherstra plays and singers sing. Operas have
a plot and are meant to tell a story. Some are funny, some are tragic. Essentially,
they are stories put to music. There is very little, if any, spoken text in an
- When two notes are a certain distance apart and move the same
interval at the same time in the same direction. A parallel third, for
instance, would be when two notes are a third apart (C and E, for example),
and they move, say, a step upward. Parallel thirds and sixths are supposed
to sound good, while parallel fifths and octaves are supposed to sound bad.
- A musical technique where many voices are singing at once (or many
instruments are playing at once), but each one has its own
melody. None of the voices are meant to back any of the
others up, i.e. there is no harmony. It can sound
chaotic at times.
- Taking the same theme and,
quite simply, repeating it. Example:
Three Blind Mice. The 4-6 notes are a repetition of the 1-3.
- Markings to indicate that a player should not play for a certain
length of time.
- Taking a theme, playing it, then
moving the whole theme up or down some and playing it again. Example:
Beethoven's 5th. The first four notes are the theme.
Beethoven creates a sequence by then moving the theme down. After that, he continues
the sequence by moving it up and playing it three times
- When a tune moves up or down to the next note in the key and
doesn't skip any in between.
- How fast a piece of music goes. How many beats, or pulses, there are in
- A very short (often three or four notes) wisp of music
that is a basis for or recurring theme in a piece of music. Example:
Beethoven's 5th. The first four notes are the theme, and most everything after
that is based on that theme.
- How an instrument sounds. The technical definition has to do with how
an instrument amplifies the overtones of a note. Intuitively, it's that
distinct sound that makes a piano a piano and not an oboe. If someone
played a note on a piano, You would know, without looking, that a piano had
been played, and not some other instrument.
- Altering a theme to produce
variety. Various kinds of transformations exist, including
repetition, sequences, and
- A chord with the tonic, mediant,
and dominant (or, as they are otherwise known, the root, the third, and the fifth).
- If You look at a piano, You'll find that if You start on any note and play
every key going up until You reach an octave above the note You started on (the
repeated note does not count) that there are twelve notes in an octave.
(Incidentally, the scale You just played is called a chromatic scale.) The basic
idea behind twelve tone technique (invented by Arnold Schoenberg) is that the composer
starts with a twelve tone row, or a series of notes that uses all of the
twelve notes of a chromatic scale. The rule is that when You're on a note, You can
repeat that note as much as You want, but once You move to the next note, You can't
go back to any of the other notes You've already used until You complete the twelve
tone row. Then, throughout the piece, that row is repeated, inverted, and reversed.