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Classical musical terms
A
a the first letter of the musical alphabet
  note of the musical scale used generally for tuning
  the musical pitch relating to 440 oscillations per second of vibration, or any octave transposition of that pitch
a battuta with the beat, in strict time
a capella "as in the church"; unaccompanied (for voices only)
  sung music without instrumental accompaniment
a capriccio in a fanciful or capricious style
a due direction that two instruments notated on one staff should unison. However, the term is also used to mean divisi
  both instruments on the same part are to play
a piacere at pleasure
a poco bit by bit, gradually
a punto d'arco play with the point of the bow
a tempo return to the original rate of speed or tempo before the accelerando
  in the original tempo
ab off; Used in organ music
abandon freely, without restraint
abbreviations slash through the stem of a note means play an equal duration of eighth notes
  two slashes indicate sixteenths, three indicate thirty seconds, etc
  slashes through an octave chord indicate to alternate the notes of the octave
  one or more large percent signs following a series of notes means to repeat the same thing
  the word "segue" written above or below a chord means to play it broken
abellimenti embellishments, ornaments
abendmusik evening music
abnehmend diminishing
abschnitt section
absolute music music free from extra-musical implications; opposite of program music
  music written for its own sake, with no direct reference to anything outside itself. it has no words and does not depict a story
absolute pitch see perfect pitch
abstract music same as absolute music
abstrich down bow
abzug scordatura
acalanto Brazilian cradle song
accelerando getting faster
accelerando term in general use to show that the music should be played at an increasing speed
accent attack the note louder
  emphasis on a particular musical beat or sub-beat
acciaccatura a very short grace note played simultaneously on the beat with the main note and released quickly
accidental a sign indicating that a particular note is played sharper or flatter than normal for the key signature of the piece. it refers to the bar where it occurs and not to any subsequent bars, unless it is repeated there
accidentals sharps, flats, and naturals other than those in the key signature which are written in the body of the music
accompagnato the accompaniment must follow the singer so that the singer can vary the tempo, or speed, at will
accompaniment a vocal or instrumental part that supports the primary part, or provides background for a soloist
accompany to perform with another performer, but in a subordinate capacity. Their term is not used when two performers have equal status, as in a violin and piano sonata
accopiato tied
accordatura the set of pitches that one uses in tuning a stringed instrument
accordion an instrument made of two endpieces connected by bellows. the end pieces contain reeds which produce the sound. usually the right endpiece is configured as a piano keyboard and the left endpiece is configured with buttons that produce bass notes and chords
accordo chord
accuse with emphasis
achromatic not chromatic, see also diatonic
achtel eighth note or quaver
acoustic used to distinguish a non-electric instrument from the electric version-e.g., an acoustic guitar
acoustics the science relating to the creation and dissipation of sound waves
  the way in which sound productions affected by the physical properties of the room or chamber in which they are produced
action mechanical device for transferring the forces produced elsewhere (on an instrument) to the parts that produce the sound
  the mechanism on a harp which articulates with the foot pedals and shortens the effective vibrating length of the strings
ad libitum at the discretion of the performer , improvised, freely
adagietto a bit faster than adagio
adagio played slowly, but not as slowly as largo
  indication of tempo and is sometimes used to describe a slow movement, even when the indication of speed at the start of the movement may be different. The diminutive form adagietto is a little faster than adagio
adagissimo extremely slow
adaptation arrangement made to take advantage of the characteristics of a different instrument from that for which the piece was originally written
added sixth the addition of a sixth to a triad, heard often in contemporary and popular music
adiagietto not quite so slow as adagio. can also be used to mean a short adagio composition
advent Christian religious observance which takes place in the four weeks immediately preceding Christmas
aeolian a scale where the half tones occur between 2 and 3, and 5 and 6
aeolian harp an stringed instrument activated by a current of air
aeolian mode a medieval mode whose scale pattern is that of playing a to a on the white keys of a piano. this scale is also called the natural minor scale
aequalstimmen the eight-foot pipes of an organ
aerophones wind instruments
aerophor device invented to provide additional air for wind instruments when the breath would not suffice
affannato sad, in distress
affannoso anxious
affettuoso tender, passionate, affectionately
affibile gentle
afflito afflicted, sad
affrettando quickening, hurrying
agevole smooth
agiatamente relaxed, easily
agitato excited, fast, agitated
agnus dei "lamb of god". in the mass, the fifth part of the ordinary
agogic a way of accentuating a note by holding it for a long time, rather than by playing it forcefully
agogic accent a stress which is perceived solely because of prolongation of duration, not due to increased volume or pitch variation
agrements embellishments, ornamentation
air a song or melody, or a simple tune for voice or instrument, as in Bach's Air on the G string
  appearing sometimes with the earlier English spelling ayre, means a tune or melody, for voice or instrument
air tune see aria
akathistos famous Byzantine hymn to the virgin
akoluthia order of service of the Byzantine church
akzent accent
al fine to the end
al a la at the, to the
alberti bass a bass line in broken or appreggiated chords
  (from Domenico Alberti, an 18th-century Italian musician who used it in his harpsichord sonatas)
albumblatt a page or leaf from a book, or a short, easy piece
aleatory a piece of music whose composition or performance depends on improvisation, or on chance. the ad lib passages of baroque keyboard pieces are aleatory, as are those by modern composers who deliberately leave elements in an indeterminate state or compose using notes generated at random on a computer
alla all' after the manner of
alla breve a duple tempo in which the half note gets the beat
alla marcia in march style
allargando getting slower and broadening
allegretto fast and lively, but not as fast as allegro
allegro fast and lively, but not as fast as presto
allemand a slow dance movement which originated in Germany but then, during the baroque period, became established as the first movement of a suite. also refers to a specific step in square dancing, and is sometimes used incorrectly to refer to a German folk dance
allemande a German dance (the word itself is French) in 4/4 time, often the first dance in a baroque dance suite, where it is frequently followed by a courante, a more rapid dance. the allemande, which appears in earlier English sources often as alman, almain or with similar spellings, is generally moderate in speed
allentando getting slower
alphorn primitive horn used in the alps
alt pitches appearing above the lines of the treble staff
alteration the use of a sharp or flat to raise or lower a pitch from it's natural state
altered chord a chord in which a note has been changed from its normal position, usually chromatically
  see also harmonic analysis
altissimo very high
alto lower range of the female voice
  the second part from the top
alto clef a clef where c is the third line on the staff. see viola clef
am griffbrett bow nearer to the fingerboard
am steg bow nearer to the bridge
ambitus the range of melodies of Gregorian chant
amore love
anacrusis upbeat
analysis the study of the form and structure of music
anche reed organ stop
ancia reed
ancora encore, again
andacht devotion
andante word used to suggest the speed of a piece of music, at walking pace. the diminutive andantino is ambiguous and means either a little faster or a little slower than andante, more often the former
andantino andante tempo except just a bit slower
  a short piece in andante tempo
anfang to the top; see da capo
anglaise English country dance
angoscioso sorrowful, aggrieved
anhemitonic whole-tone scale
anima spirit or life
animato animated, lively
anlaufen to get louder
anmutig graceful
anonymous of unknown authorship
anreissen a forceful attack on the strings (of violin or other stringed instrument)
ansatz embouchure or position of vocal mechanism
anschlag touch (in piano)
anschwellend crescendo, swelling
answer a musical phrase appearing to respond to another, particularly in a fugue, where the first entry of the main theme is called the subject and the second is called the answer
antara quechua name for the panpipe. Also known as zampona, rondador, capador
antecedent the theme of a fugue or canon; the first part of a musical cycle
anthem an anthem is a short vocal composition. in the church of England the word indicates such a composition often using a non-liturgical text (i.e. not part of the official service). A full anthem is for full choir, without soloists, while a verse anthem makes contrasting use of solo singers. both these forms flourished in the church of England from the late 16th century
anticipation a note sounded before the chord to which it belongs, so that at first it is heard as a discord with the preceding chord
antico antique, old
antienne see antiphon
antiphon a religious chant, often part of roman catholic and Greek orthodox church services. may be sung as responses between a single voice and a group of voices, or between two different groups of singers. the effect of this back-and-forth is described as antiphonal
antithesis in the fugue, the answer
antwort answer
anvil instrument comprised of steel bars, played by striking with a wooden or metal beater
anwachsend crescendo
aperto open
appagiatura note of embellishment, or grace note.
appasionato passionately
appenato suffering, pained or grieved
applied music practical music
appoggiando supporting, very legato
appoggiatura a musical ornament written just before or after the main note, which takes attention away from the main note and halves its time. it may be written using an auxiliary note in small type, or it may be unwritten and inserted by the performer according to the conventions of the the period. chiefly an 18th-century practice
arabesque a short, decorative piece. it is a term that is sometimes applied to instrumental music. also a finely balanced ballet position in which the weight of the boy is on one leg, while the other leg is extended behind
arcato bowed
archet bow
archlute a lute with two separate pegboxes, one for the fingered strings and one for the basses or drones
arcicembalo micro tonic instrument of the 16th century having multiple manuals and at least 18 keys per octave
arco is used as an indication to string-players that they should use the bow, rather than pluck with the fingers (see pizzicato)
ardente fiery
ardito bold
ardore with ardor
aria an aria is a song or air. the word is used in particular to indicate formally constructed songs in opera. the so-called da capo aria of later baroque opera, oratorio and other vocal compositions, is an aria in which the first section is repeated, usually with additional and varied ornamentation, after the first two sections. the diminutive arietta indicates a little aria, while arioso refers to a freer form of aria-like vocal writing
arietta  a shorter and lighter aria
arioso in the style of an air or song
armure key signature
arpa harp
arpeggio chord wherein the tones are struck in sequence, rather than together, and usually sustained
arrange to set for one instrument (or instruments) a piece of music that was originally composed for another
arrangement an adaptation of a given composition into a form other than as originally composed.
ars antiqua "old art". refers to the old musical practices of Europe during the 12th and 13th centuries
ars nova "new art". a term invented by Philippe de Vitry to describe the music of his era, the 14th century, as opposed to the music of earlier generations
art song a serious vocal composition, generally for voice and piano. denotes a self-contained work, as opposed to an aria
articulation the type of attack used to play one note or a group of notes
aspiratamente breathy, flowing, smooth
assai appears often in indications to performers of the speed of a piece of music, as in allegro assai, very fast, or allegro assai moderato, very moderately fast
assez enough
asymmetric meter sometimes called composite meter. complex time - meter such as 7/8 that mixes simple and compound pulses
atempause very short rest, used for articulation and phrasing. sometimes expressed by an apostrophe
atonal music that lacks a tonal center, or in which all pitches carry equal importance
atonality the notes of an octave are played independently without a key center
attacca direction to the musician, meaning "proceed to the next section without a pause"
attack the style of starting phrases
aubade a morning-song. a well known example is the siegfried idyll, a work written by Richard Wagner to be played for his second wife cosima on the morning of her birthday
aufgeregt excited
aufsatz tube of an organ pipe
aufschnitt mouth of an organ pipe
aufstrich upbow
auftakt upbeat
augmentation lengthening of note values used in a theme to alter the melody without changing the pitches
augmented chord contains a root, a major third, and an augmented fifth
augmented intervals intervals which are one semitone larger than major or perfect
augmented sixth chord a chord which contains an augmented sixth above the bass, in addition to various other tones, which determine whether the chord is a German sixth chord, French sixth chord, Italian sixth chord, Neapolitan sixth chord, or doubly augmented sixth chord
augmented raised, or enlarged. generally refers to the raising of a pitch chromatically by one half step
aural training ear training
ausdruck expression
aushalten sustain
auslosung on a piano, the escapement
ausweichung modulation
authentic cadence a cadence that starts of the fifth of the key, and resolves to the tonic
autoharp instrument of the Zither family
ayre old spelling of air, referring to a composition written for several voices, often without instrumental accompaniment; popular around the early 17th century

 

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