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A cappella

Choral music sung without an accompaniment.


A two-part compositional form in which the second part differs from the first.


A three-part compositional form in which the first and last parts are the same and the middle part is different.


Rondo form in which a section alternates with two other contrasting sections.


Gradually becoming faster.


A stress or emphasis on a specific beat, tone, or chord.


A slow tempo, between largo and andante; literally, "at ease."


The philosophy or study of the nature of beauty, the value of art, and the human responses to those topics.


A fast and lively tempo; quicker than andante, but not as fast as allegro.


Literally, "cheerful or lively;" generally taken as a fast tempo, although not as fast as vivace or presto.


A low female voice in choral music or part songs.

Alto clef (C clef)

Used to notate the middle voices (such as viola); the arrow contained in the symbol indicates the third line of the staff is middle C.


Literally, "at a walking pace"; a moderately slow tempo, between allegretto and adagio.


Played by drawing the bow across the strings.


A composition for solo voice and accompaniment, usually within the context of an opera, oratorio, or cantata.


A chord the pitches of which are sounded successively rather than simultaneously.


The deliberate attack (clarity of production) of a note when it is played or sung and the degree to which notes are separated or connected, such as staccato or legato.


Avoidance of centering the pitch around a specific note or key.


A group of people who participate in an experience or encounter a work of art; a gathering of spectators or listeners at a performance.


A performance for a judge that will determine the performer's placement in or eligibility for an activity.


The adjustment of volume throughout an ensemble to achieve the desired blend.


An instrumental ensemble, usually made up of woodwind, brass, and percussion instruments, and no strings.

Bar/bar line

A vertical line on the staff separating one measure from the next.

Baroque period (1600—1750)

Time period during which music became more showy, ornate, and complicated.


A low male voice; the lowest part in choral music or part songs; the lowest range of pitches of an instrument.

Bass clef (F clef)

Used to notate the lowest sounding notes and pitch; the two dots surrounding the fourth line indicate a note written on that line is F.


The steady pulse in music; the basic unit of time and the underlying pulse in music; the basic unit within a measure.

Bending notes

Starting a note at the correct pitch and bending it downwards or upwards.


An early form of country music that combines the gospel vocals of the Blue Ridge Mountain region with folk melodies.


A style of music, characterized by slow tempo and flatted thirds and sevenths, that evolved from southern African-American secular songs.

Body percussion

Sounds made using parts of the body (for example, hand clapping, finger snapping, foot stamping, and thigh slapping).


A repetitive melodic or rhythmic pattern that is based on the harmony of the first and fifth notes of a scale and creates a drone (types of borduns: simple, complex, broken, crossover).


A group of wind instruments made of brass and other metals and played by blowing through a cup-shaped or funnel-shaped mouthpiece; the chief brass instruments of the orchestra are the trumpet, trombone, French horn, and tuba.


A melodic or harmonic configuration that creates a sense of repose or resolution.

Call and response

A musical form featuring a solo phrase that is answered by a larger group.


A pedagogical approach (applied to choral literature) that addresses the changing adolescent female and male voice.


A contrapuntal piece of music in which a melody in one part is imitated in other parts.


To recite with musical intonation; a short, simple series of syllables or words that are sung or intoned to the same note or a limited range of notes.


A group of people who sing together.


Related to, written for, or performed by a chorus or choir.


Two or more pitches that sound simultaneously.


A twelve note scale that moves in half steps.

Circle of fifths

The graphic representation of the relationship of the key signatures in music.

Classical period (1750—1820)

A period during which music was orderly, uncluttered, well planned, and precise. The piano replaced the harpsichord as the primary and/or most important keyboard instrument.


The last section of a musical composition, added to create an ending that is clear and final.


The act of intentionally arranging the elements of music to create a musical piece; to create music.


An arrangement of the elements of music to create a musical piece.

Compound time signature (compound meter)

A means of showing the number of notes in every measure rather than the number of beats; for example, 6/8 means six eighth notes in each measure, but these are usually counted as two dotted quarter-note beats in each measure.


To lead a group of musicians in the performance of a composition.


The lowest range in the female singing voice.


A texture in which two or more melodic voices proceed simultaneously and relatively independently.


The quality of using imagination rather than imitating something; the ability to produce something new or to generate unique approaches and solutions.

Crescendo (cresc.)

Indicates that the music should gradually get louder.


To review or discuss critically.


The combined characteristics (arts, customs, languages, traditions, and so on) that define a society or civilization.

Da capo (D.C.)

Indicates that the music is to be repeated from the beginning.

Da capo al fine

Indicates that the music is to be repeated from the beginning to the word fine (ending).

Dal segno (D.S.)

Indicates that the music is to be repeated from the sign.

Dal segno al fine

Indicates that the music is to be repeated from the sign to the word fine (ending).

Decrescendo (decresc.)

Indicates that the music should gradually get quieter.


A melodic part that is pitched higher than and concurrent with the melody.


The tones of the major or minor scale; distinct from chromatic.


Clear, exact pronunciation of vowels and consonants when singing.


Decreasing loudness; getting softer.


The fifth note of a musical scale and the chord that is built upon that note.

Dotted rhythm

Uneven rhythm that is usually long-short and is produced when a note (notated with a dot) is succeeded by another of one-third the value of the first note.

Down bow

To move the bow down across the strings.


An ensemble of two solo performers.

Duple meter

A time signature for which the basic unit of pulse recurs in groups of two.


The loudness and quietness of sound.

Echo song

A type of song in which the singer repeats the same musical pattern that was sung by the leader.

Elements of music

The basic components that make up a musical work: beat, rhythm, pitch, melody, harmony, texture, timbre/tone color, form, and expression (dynamics, style, tempo, phrasing).


Two or more singers or instrumentalists performing together.


1. In sonata form, the part of a work in which the principal themes are first stated; 2. in a fugue, the part of a work in which the voices first enter.


The use of the elements of music (such as dynamics, style, tempo, and phrasing) to create a mood or feeling.


A symbol placed over a note to indicate that the note is to be held longer than its normal metrical value.


A symbol indicating that a tone is to be lowered one half-step.

Folk music

Traditional music that has evolved through the process of aural transmission; music that originates among the common people of a nation or region, is transmitted or passed down orally, and is characterized by simple melodies.


The basic structure and design of a musical composition.

Forte (f)


Fortissimo (ff)

Very loud.


A type of contrapuntal composition that generally opens with one main theme (subject), which then sounds successively in each voice in imitation.


The basic components or principles from which other truths can be derived.


A type of popular music that combines the elements of jazz, blues, and soul and is characterized by syncopated rhythm and a heavy, repetitive bass line.


A musical genre that combines two or more genres; for example, rock and roll originally developed as a fusion of blues, gospel, and country.


In a broad sense, a particular branch or category of art; a type or category of art marked by certain shared features or conventions. Each general genre can be subdivided into more specific genres and subgenres.


A sliding movement from one pitch to another that includes all the pitches in between.


A poetic form and a type of poetry from the Japanese culture that combines form, content, and language in a meaningful, yet compact poem. Usually, the poet uses simple words and grammar and addresses the themes of nature, feelings, or experiences. The most common form of haiku is three short lines: The first line usually contains five (5) syllables, the second line seven (7) syllables, and the third line five (5) syllables. Haiku is unrhyming verse form. A haiku must "paint" a mental image in the reader's mind.

Half step

The smallest interval between two tones of a scale in Western music.

Harmonic progression

The succession of chords in a piece of music.


Sounding two or more tones at the same time.

Historical periods

Categorized periods of time in history that have relatively stable characteristics and/or are marked by particular events; for example, ancient, medieval, Renaissance, baroque, classical, romantic, impressionist, modern periods-modern, contemporary, and neo-classical, all of which refer to the 20th century, and electronic and digitized music, which refer to the 21st century.


Music that has one melodic line at a time, with the other voices or parts serving as accompaniment.


When a musical idea is repeated later in a different form, and still retains its original character.


The act of making up music on the spot.


To make up music in an instant, usually with a purpose, by using guidelines, and also retaining an element of chance.


The creation or introduction of something new; the act of starting something for the first time.


A musical device that produces musical tones or sounds and requires skill for proper use.


All of the music produced by musical instruments; a musical composition or recording without lyrics or any other sort of vocal music.


A section of music between themes.


The distance between two pitches.


The degree to which a performer sings or plays in tune; the accuracy of pitch in a musical performance.


A musical passage that precedes the main theme.


A form of American music born from African rhythms and slave chants.


A musical advertisement.


Pitch relationships that establish a tonal center or tonic.

Key signature

The sharps or flats that appear on the left side of each staff to show the scale in which the music is written.


Very slow.

Leading tone

The seventh note of a musical scale.


An interval larger than a whole step; motion from one pitch to another that is more than a whole tone away.


Smoothly; opposite of staccato.


A slow tempo, usually between a largo and an adagio.

Major and minor

Terms used to describe the sound of music based on the intervals used.

Major scale

A scale built on the formula of an ascending pattern of two whole steps, one half-step, three whole steps, and one half-step.

Marching band

A group of performers that consists of instrumental musicians and dance teams and/or a color guard and that generally performs outdoors and incorporates some type of marching (and possibly other movements) into the musical performance.


The segment of music contained between two bar lines.


The horizontal dimension in music (as opposed to the vertical dimension: harmony); a succession of organized pitches that have a definite rhythm, the vertical dimension of which arises from the harmony.


The grouping of beats in a measure determined by the time signature.

Mezzo-forte (mf)

Medium loud.

Mezzo-piano (mp)

Medium quiet.

Minor scale

A diatonic scale with a third scale degree at an interval of a minor third above the tonic.


A partnering activity that involves simultaneously following a leader's movement while facing that leader.


A musical system—popular in Renaissance, medieval, and folk music—that contains altered tones that color the perception of the scale.


A medium tempo.

Modern (1910—present)

A time period, also known as the 20th century, during which composers found entirely new ways to express themselves through music.


the process of changing from one key or tonic to another in a musical composition.


A short rhythmic or melodic passage that is repeated or evoked in various parts of a composition; the shortest musical idea that retains unique identity when elaborated or transformed.


Organized sound and the written representation of those sounds.

Music elements

See elements of music. (The basic components that make up a musical work: beat, rhythm, pitch, melody, harmony, texture, timbre/tone color, form, and expression {dynamics, style, tempo, phrasing}.)

Musical (musical theatre)

A form of theatre that combines music, songs, spoken dialogue, and dance.

New Age

A modern style of music that is characterized by quiet improvisation on the acoustic piano, guitar, and synthesizer and that usually has a dreamy, relaxing sound.


A system of visual symbols used when writing music to indicate pitch, duration, and expression.


A symbol used to indicate a musical tone and designated period of time.

Note values

A symbol used to show how long a tone should be held; expressed as a whole and its parts, including half note, quarter note, and eighth note.


A series of two notes occupying the interval between eight pitches that seem to sound at the same pitch, one having twice or half the frequency of vibration of the other.


A word or a group of words that imitates the sound being described; for example, quack, tick-tock, and clang.


An instrumental ensemble that consists primarily of musicians who play string instruments, and also includes musicians who play woodwind, brass, and percussion instruments.


A repeated melodic or rhythmic pattern.

Paired eighth notes

Two eighth notes barred together.

Part song

A song with two or more voice parts.

Partner song

Two or more different songs that can be sung at the same time to create harmony.


A combination of melodic and/or rhythmic elements that form a model that can be used for imitation.


A five-note scale; music based on such a scale.


Instruments that are played by striking, shaking, or scraping.


A term used to describe the intervals of a fourth, fifth, and octave.


The process of presenting—in a concert or recorded format—a musical work (composition) to an audience.


The act of presenting a piece of music or other entertainment to an audience.


A natural division of the melodic line, comparable to a sentence of speech.

Pianissimo (pp)

Very quiet.

Piano (p)

Quiet (soft).


The highness or lowness of a tone or sound.


Played by plucking the string.


Music that simultaneously combines two or more melodic lines.


Very fast.

Program music

Instrumental music associated with nonmusical ideas, often inspired by nature, art, or literature and representing a scene, image, or mood.


An ensemble of four solo performers.


Gradually slowing in tempo; synonymous with ritardando, and frequently occurring over a longer period of time.


Urban music that features spoken lyrics and reflects current social or political issues.


A part of a work in sonata form in which the material introduced in the first section, and then developed in the second section, returns.


A tubular wind instrument with eight finger holes and a fipple mouthpiece.


A section of a song that recurs at the end of each verse; sometimes called a chorus.


The range and manner of production of the human voice or a musical instrument.

Renaissance (1450—1600)

A time period that saw the rebirth of ideas and the appreciation of music in the lives of everyday people. Instrumental and accompanied music became as common as a cappella music.

Repeat sign

A symbol that indicates that certain measures or passages are to be sung or played twice.

Repeated notes

The recurrence of a tone at the same pitch level.


A collection of music that is familiar or preferred by an individual or group.


A symbol that is used to mark silence for a specific amount of time.


The way a pattern of sound moves through time.

Rhythm instruments

Pitched and unpitched percussion instruments the primary function of which is often rhythmic; for example, hand drum, claves, maracas, and cymbals.

Rhythmic value

Note value and rest value.

Ritardando (rit.)

Gradually getting slower.

Rock music

A form of music that combines African-American rhythms, urban blues, and the folk and country music of the rural South and that has developed since the early 1950s into hundreds of subgenres; simple chord progressions accompanied by a steady driving beat.

Romantic period (1820-1910)

A time period during which music was based on emotion, adventure, and imagination.


A composition that consists of one main theme that reappears several times in alternation (back and forth; taking turns) with other contrasting themes (ABACA).


A part song in which the melody is performed by individuals and/or groups starting and ending at different times.


In any system of music, an arrangement of notes in ascending or descending order of pitch.


Musical notation that shows all the parts arranged one underneath the other.


A sudden stress or accent on a single note or chord, indicated in the musical score by the marking sf or sfz.


A symbol that indicates that a tone is to be raised by one half-step.

Sight reading

The act or skill of performing unfamiliar written music on sight, without previously having studied it.


To sing music at first sight without preparation.

Simple meter

A time signature with a beat-unit that is divisible by two.


To produce tones with the voice.


Ability or proficiency; expertise that comes from training or practice; knowledge of facts or principles related to a particular subject area.


A curved line drawn over or under a group of notes to indicate that the notes are to be connected and smooth.


A system of syllables (do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do) that is used to represent the tones of a musical scale and that is used to practice singing and train the ear.


A musical piece or passage played or sung by one person, with or without accompaniment.


A movement that consists of three sections: the exposition (principal subject or second subject in a new key), development (development of the themes or episodical material, or both combined), and recapitulation (principal subject and second subject, usually transposed into the tonic key), often followed by a coda.


A high female voice; the highest part in choral music or part songs; the highest range of pitches of an instrument.


Detached, short, disconnected; the opposite of legato.


A set of lines and spaces used in writing music to show the pitches; usually five lines and four spaces; also referred to as a stave.


Motion from one scale-degree to the next, whether by a semitone or a whole tone.


Instruments (such as violins, violas, cellos, or double bass) on which vibrating, stretched strings are the sound-producing agents.


The distinctive character or technique of an individual musician, group, or period.


The musical theme.


the process of displacing the expected beats by anticipation or delay of half a beat.


The method or way of creating music; the skill that a musician employs to achieve an expressive effect.


The pace at which a piece of music is performed.


A high male voice; the third highest part in choral music or part songs.


The character of music that results from the ways in which the vertical and horizontal elements are combined.


A prominent or frequently recurring melody or set of notes.

Theme and variations

A musical form in which a fundamental musical idea is performed and then repeated with a series of modifications.


A curved line that joins two successive notes of the same pitch and that indicates that the second note is a prolongation of the first and should not be sounded separately.

Timbre/tone color

The tone quality of a singing voice or a musical instrument.

Time signature

Figures written on the staff at the beginning of the composition that indicate the meter or the number of beats used in a measure and what type of note equals one beat.


The organization of the melodic and harmonic elements to give a feeling of a key center or a tonic pitch.


The first note of a musical scale; the chord built upon that note.

Treble clef (G clef)

Used to notate the highest sounding notes and pitch; the curl of the clef surrounding the second line indicates a note written on that line is G.


Rapidly moving the bow back and forth in very short strokes.


A chord made up of three tones: one (root), with two others in the intervals of a third and a fifth above.


An ensemble of three solo performers.

Triple meter

A time signature in which the basic unit of pulse recurs in groups of three.


A combination of notes, voices, or instruments all singing or playing the same pitch.

Unpitched instrument

Percussive instruments without a definite pitch; for example, a bass drum, guiro, or rhythm sticks; usually notated by a symbol (typically an "X") on a line.


Repetition of a theme in new and varied ways.


A repeating melody with different sets of lyrics.


The motion of a string, a struck surface, or a column of air that produces musical sounds.


A repeated fluctuation of pitch used to impart more warmth or emotion.


Lively, brisk; generally faster than allegro, but not as fast as presto.


Relating to or using the singing voice; music intended to be performed by one or more singers.

Whole step

Two half-steps.

Whole-tone scale

A scale made up only of whole-step intervals; for example, intervals that span two half-steps.


A term used to refer to wind instruments that were originally and may continue to be made of wood; instruments played by blowing across a mouth hole or into a whistle mouthpiece or reed; principal members are the flute, oboe, English horn, clarinet, saxophone, and bassoon.

World language songs

Music with lyrics that combine influences from more that one cultural tradition, languages from indigenous cultures, and non-traditional types of instrumental accompaniment, melodic forms, and rhythms.

World music

Folk, indigenous, or roots music created by indigenous musicians of any culture.