I get it. Some music definitions may seem gibberish or just way too complicated. The purpose behind this glossary isn’t to include all the music terms I can think of. I just wanted to create an environment, as pleasant as possible, for you: our readers. And no, it doesn’t matter how many; it can be 1 or 1,000,000,000. What I wanted to accomplish is to create an inviting page that helps you understand the common knowledge of musicians in a non-intimidating way. If I were to create a lexicon or a dictionary or an encyclopaedia or whatever, not only would I be forced to include purely scientific vocabulary, I wouldn’t have the liberty to do something else that I love: teach music. There are many ways to teach music, but the people who truly love it seem to use all sorts of methods, from visualization and humor to food -and yes, I realize that I share a nickname with a pizza and a salad-. Back on track. I want to share the knowledge I have acquired through a span of more than two decades and the new knowledge I keep acquiring day to day with a kind stranger that has the will to spend some time in order to understand a continuously evolving and somewhat encrypted language… Enjoy.
See perfect pitch.
It’s NOT that DIF-fer-ent from SPEECH. The syllables written in capital are the accents. Same goes for music.
For a warm up, have a look at the key signature, the flat and the sharp. Otherwise, let’s start. Usually, music compositions are written in a scale. What would happen if we wanted to include notes that do not belong in the scale we are in? Be patient. Do we have to change the scale? We could. But what happens if we don’t want to change the scale? Simple: we use accidentals. Accidentals are either a sharp, a flat or a natural that’s written before the note we want to change. In case we are in the scale of A minor (which has no key signature, as every note is a natural), we usually see the G sharpened and sometimes the F, as well. These two notes are not be part of the key signature. They are accidentals, no matter how commonly they may appear within the piece.
Think of chords, but play each note individually in ascending order instead. For instance, an arpeggio in C major would have the same notes as the C major chord, but C, E and G would be played one after the other.
Think of arrangement as ‘who is playing what’. When arranging a music composition, not only do you select the instrument in which each part is going to be performed on, you can also tweak a bit the melody and the harmony or you can even add new tiny music ideas. So again, it’s quite a broad term, as you can do a lot of things while arranging a composition. You could keep the main elements of the harmony, but change a few chords. You could keep the melody and add another melodic layer on top, which would give the newly arranged composition a new character. You could simply change the instruments while keeping the melody and the harmony mostly intact, thus creating an entirely different sound. You could add vocals or remove them. You could change the tempo a bit. You could change the genre. You could change how you transition from each music section to the next, repeat certain sections or just skip some entirely. However small the change may seem, it makes a huge difference. Many composers choose not to arrange their compositions, while others do it themselves. A good arrangement can be a make or break deal, so collaboration is essential.
Similar to speech, we articulate notes just like we articulate consonants. How do we have to produce a certain sound? Does is have to be staccato [detached]? Does it have to be marcato [marked]? Is it tenuto [held]?
Audio channel is the signal that a source of sound is producing. It’s easier than it sounds. Think of a person talking. The audio signal is the depiction of the sound that person is producing. It’s the sound wave that we see when we record our voices. Go on, download an app and record yourself. Be crazy and creative. The audio signal is the representation or all those sorts of sounds you are making. See audio track for more.
See sound mixing.
Let’s visualize something. We have person A who is speaking and person B who is writing down whatever person A is saying on a notebook. The notebook is more or less the audio track. It’s the medium in which the voice is recorded; it’s where the sound is written. Also, see audio channel.
Similar to the diminished chord, there is the augmented chord. (surprise, surprise!) So we have two major thirds on top of one another. The interval between the first and and the third notes of the chord is an augmented fifth.
See diabolus in musica.
Typically the interval between the tonic and the fourth, fifth or eighth degrees of the scale, plus a semitone. We can also have an augmented third (it’s basically a perfect fourth, but it’s written differently), which is a major third plus a semitone.
They also answer to ‘measures’. Depending on the time signature, bars contain a certain number of beats in them. Technically, we put music into boxes that do not have an impact on the rhythm, but help us read and perform the music more accurately.
Our hearts beat and so does music. It’s a unit of time, just like seconds. However, beats can be shorter, longer or have the same length with seconds. There are strong beats and weak beats. See bar and tempo for more.
Bowed string instruments
Music instruments that have strings. The strings oscillate from the friction of the bow. Example: violin.
Beats per minute (BPM)
It’s what mph is to speed. The only thing is that you won’t be counting how many miles you can travel within an hour. You will be counting how many beats there are within a minute. The higher the number, the faster the song. In 60BPM, one beat is equal to one second, as there are 60 seconds within a minute. See tempo for more.
Bridges unite verses and choruses, just like real-life structural bridges unite land. Same principle. Bridges are small segments of music that are used to tie larger segments of music together and form a song.
A harmonic progression that lets us know when a passage of a song or a song is about to come to an end. It’s the resolution of the previous harmonies, usually to the tonic or the dominant. Depending on the resolution, the mood and essence of the entire composition changes. Plainly speaking, it’s a chord progression thingy that when heard, the audience knows that the song’s over.
Think of pulling daisy petals and start counting on a music scale. As it is customary, you start with ‘he/she loves me’, so for the music, the first note will be included in our progression. That leaves us only with the 1-3-5-7-9-11-… degrees of a scale. (I know that there are only 7 unique notes in each scale, so when you run out of notes, start again from the beginning!) Most basic chords are the 1-3-5 chords. If you want to spice things up a little bit, you can have 1-3-5-7, 1-5-7-9, 1-3-5-9, 1-7-9-11 and so on.
What’s not a verse will most likely be a chorus. It’s usually what has all the instruments smashing either together or in unison. It’s what the composer wants us to remember and make us identify the song the next time we listen to it. It’s also called the song’s refrain, although technically, the refrain is much smaller in length and the lyrics don’t change. But we still use it anyway.
It means ‘key’ and it’s French. Man, you need to learn a few languages to know your music… If we have notes on a stave without a clef, we wouldn’t know which notes they are. Depending on the clef, the first line (the lowest one) of the stave could represent the Es, Gs, Cs, Fs or Ds and what’s more, on different octaves. Now, that could be troublesome, right? Not to mention that if we don’t have a clef, a composition could be interpreted in all sorts of different ways, as not all natural notes (aka. the white keys on a piano keyboard) are equally apart from one another and we would have different starting points. So we use the clefs to indicate which notes are written down. When we draw a G clef, we start from about its center and do the spiral thing, then we go up and draw the loopy thing and finally we go straight down and draw the squiggly thingy. So if the G clef starts off from the second line (counting from bottom up), that means that the second line represents the G above middle C. There are more than one G clefs, so, I know… *mind blown*. The other, less usual G clef starts from the first line. Similarly, the most common F clef starts off from the fourth line of the stave. It does an almost spiral shape (it ends after the end of the first spiral-like revolution) and has two dots to its right, the lower dot in the third space and the upper dot in the fourth space of the stave. Now, in the cases where the F clef starts from the fourth line of the stave (and the fourth line passes between of the two dots), this line represents the F below middle C. Let me present you with another *mind blown* moment (if you find this interesting, like I do), as there are a total of 3 F clefs. From the most common to least common: the one starting from the 4th line, the one starting from the 3rd line and the one starting from the 5th line of the stave. Finally, the C clef. It kinda looks similar to a ‘B’. Let’s take as an example the C clef starting from the fourth line of the stave. The point where the two semicircles touch has the fourth line coming through. This line represents the middle C. This is the fastest one, I promise. There are 5 different C clefs, one for each line of the stave. See? Done. *sigh*
An original work of music. It comes in all flavors and shapes.
As in consonance, not as in the consonants of the English alphabet. Think of consonant intervals as round sounds and of dissonant intervals as sounds with edges. Consonant sounds are robust and elegant and don’t need to be resolved. Think of Gregorian chant- it’s mostly what they used to make people feel closer to a higher entity.
Lit.: against time. Although contra tempo is not widely used, it has the same meaning as off-beat. When I use it, I tend to use contra tempo in longer phrases, while off-beat in a couple of notes, although both terms have the same meaning.
Polyphonic music. Something in the lines of ‘opposing points’, like saying point against point. In the case of two voices, you can have a bass line as the cantus firmus and add a corresponding line that would act as the melody or have a soprano voice and add a corresponding line for the bass. All melodies heard simultaneously should be independent and the notes heard simultaneously should be in harmony with one another. There can be different species of counterpoint and more than two voices, usually, up to four.
See contra tenor.
Initials for Digital Audio Workstation. They are apps, programs or whatever that you can use to produce, record or edit audio. You can create or manipulate sounds, mix and master them and finally export them. Voilà, you have just created a song.
Degree (of a scale)
There’s no imagination here. Lay down the notes of a scale in ascending order and start counting. First degree is the first note; second degree is the second note. That’s it. So on and so forth. But that’s the easy part. They are also called (in ascending order): tonic, supertonic, mediant, subdominant, dominant, submediant, leading note. Mostly, we use tonic, dominant and leading note. The rest are normally counted in numbers (so we don’t have to remember a lot, I guess).
Diabolus in musica
Lit.: the devil in music. It’s the interval that splits an octave into two equal parts. It’s a dissonant sound that needs to be resolved into a consonant interval. It was heavily criticized in the older days, as its sound has an eerie quality to it.
In this case, the diminished interval is the fifth, not the third. So we have two minor thirds on top of one another. The interval between the first and and the third notes of the chord is a diminished fifth.
See diabolus in musica.
Technically, it’s the same interval as major third, but from a different perspective. Let’s say that we have A to C#. That would be a major third. But knowing that C# is Db, if we have the interval of A to Db, it would be a diminished fourth.
Typically the interval between the tonic and the fourth, fifth or eight degrees of the scale, minus a semitone. We can also have a diminished third (it’s basically a major second), which is a minor third minus a semitone.
Think of consonant intervals as round sounds and of dissonant intervals as sounds with edges. Dissonant sounds are cloudy, ‘noisy’ and ever so slightly irregular. They want to be resolved into more consonant sounds. They’re what make music colorful.
In my articles, I’m turning around in circles in order to avoid using the term dotted note. I have used the phrase ‘elongated notes’ in its place, which is by no means a proper way. Under the note duration section, I have included the most commonly used notes (as in half notes, eighth notes, etc). The thing is what happens when you add a small dot to the note’s right hand side. Its duration increases by half of the note’s value. So, if a note’s duration is 1, the duration of 1 dotted will be 1.5. Similarly, if the duration of the note is 1/8, a dotted eighth note would have a duration equal to (1/8+1/16) 3 sixteenth notes.
See strong beat.
It’s how loud you want to play a note, a certain group of notes or a passage. Dynamic markings are part of the music notation. Directions are usually given by the composer. However, there are some general rules we can follow to add our own dynamics to a composition. But that’s from the scope of the performer. The important piece of information is that it’s not the same with volume. If you make a violinist play a note really silently and digitally increase the volume of the produced sound, the digitally altered sound will not be the same when compared to the loud sound produced by the violin directly. So, the dynamics increasing in loudness are:
All terms above are words in Italian. “Piano” means “soft”, “forte” means “loud/strong”, “mezzo” means “middle/halfway” and all the “-issimo” are “more/very”. So, Fortississimo means “very very loud”.
Also, see crescendo and decrescendo for more.
If we have a triad, let’s say A-C-E, its first inversion will be 3-5-1, so C-E-A. That’s the first, the third and the fifth degrees of the scale, but in a different order. Basically, what we do is displace the note with the lowest frequency higher to the register and use the note with the slightly higher frequency as the lowest note of the bunch. See chord, root position and second inversion for more.
In music it’s a flat, not a lowercase ‘B’, although I keep writing it as a ‘b’…. Symbol: ♭. It’s a note (any note) minus a semitone, aka it’s the opposite of a sharp. For instance, A flat is note A minus a semitone. On a piano keyboard, it’s the black key located to the A’s left. On a guitar’s fretboard, it’s a fret further apart from the guitar’s body. Also called bemolle (deriving from Italian).
Think of cakes. What is their structure? Let’s think of a cake that is made of the sponge, the frosting and some jam. Now, let’s start layering from the bottom up. Sponge, frosting, sponge, jam, sponge, frosting, sponge. Same goes with music. Let the main idea (the sponge) be A and the rest (the frosting and the jam) be B and C, respectively. You can create ‘structures’ like ABA, ABCA, ABACA, ABABCA, and so on. The layered cake with jam was ABACABA. Those ‘structures’ are the forms of music.
It shows how often a periodic phenomenon occurs during a certain amount of time. It’s counted in Hertz (Hz). All sounds have a frequency. Deep sounds have low frequencies and high sounds have high frequencies.
A categorization of a composition that has a certain style, vibe, context, form or theme.
Lit.: to glide. It’s when we glide from one note to another (that’s usually a bit far away from the first one), while hitting all frequencies in between the two. Let’s do some visualization with three different instruments. Think of a violin, a guitar and a piano. We can do a glissando on all three instruments. However, there are some differences, as each instrument has different characteristics and limitations.
Think of a violin. Right-handed people place the violin on their left shoulder and use their left hand on the violin’s neck to press the strings. Now, the glissando is quite straightforward: a) press down on a string with your left hand at the furthest point possible, b) use your bow to produce a nice and long sound, so move your bow slowly, c) start moving your left hand closer to your neck, d) stop moving both hands. And voilà, you have a glissando on a violin.
Now, think of a guitar. Right-handed people place classic guitars on their left legs. So, to do a glissando: a) select a string (preferably one of the metallic and thick ones as the sound resonates for longer) and with your left hand press on the first fret, b) use your right hand to pluck the string and produce a sound, c) start moving your left hand towards the right, d) stop moving your left hand and mute your guitar’s string. Note that there’s a difference between the glissando on a guitar and the glissando on a violin. Although both instruments are string instruments, the one has frets while the other one doesn’t. Frets don’t allow you to produce frequencies that fall in between two semitones. On the other hand, the glissando on a violin produces frequencies in between the set frequencies of the individual notes, thus creating a smoother glissando.
Moving on to the piano. This can cause an ouchie, so proceed with caution, especially if the touch of your keys falls onto the weightier side. a) turn your right hand, palm facing up, b) press a note with the tip of your middle and index fingers c) if your nails touch the keys, it’s normal but watch out so that you don’t get injured under or around your nails, d) slide your hand towards the right, e) move your hand away from the keyboard. And that’s a glissando on a keyboard instrument. As the piano can produce fixed sounds, similar to the guitar (as it has frets and all), the glissando consists of a sequence of notes played consecutively.
So, we could produce an ascending glissando from E2 to G4 or a descending glissando from A4 to E4.
Now, this is a treat for me. It has music, mathematics and physics, all in one big bite. Let’s imagine an electric guitar (it’s easier, as its sound is amplified, so we will be hearing more clearly the tones we are to produce). Let’s play an open string (the first one, e; it’s in lowercase, as it’s the high e, not the low E, it’s the string closest to your legs not your chest) and produce a fundamental frequency. Now, if we touch (touch, not press) the string with out left hand, right at the end of the 12th fret and strike the string with a pick (or with our fingers, both work the same), we will be hearing a different tone. This tone will be an octave higher, which is twice the frequency and half the length of the string. Now, let’s move our left hand towards the 7th fret and touch the same string. The sound will change once again. This time, we’re listening to a B, which is an octave plus a perfect fifth on top of the original sound of the open e string. That’s three times the frequency of the original sound and one third of the string’s length. Similarly, if you place your hand on the 5th fret of the guitar, you will be producing another E, which will be (octave + perfect fifth + perfect fourth =) 2 octaves higher when compared to your original tone. Again, that would be four times higher in frequency and one fourth of the string’s length. And the progression goes on and on and on… Let’s go with A2 at 110 Hz, as our fundamental frequency.
2nd harmonic: A3, 220 Hz (octave)
3rd harmonic: E4, ~330 Hz (above + perfect fifth)
4th harmonic: A4, 440 Hz (above + perfect fourth)
5th harmonic: C#5, ~523 Hz (above + major third)
6th harmonic: E5, ~659 Hz (above + minor third)
7th harmonic: a tone slightly lower than G5, ~784 Hz (above + smaller minor third or better, a harmonic seventh interval)
The list goes on… But I guess you’re getting the hang of it…
Now, if you’re a pianist. Go to an acoustic piano, an upright is fine. Press down your right pedal, so as to sustain the sound of the strings. Look to your left. For the sake of my example above, press rather hard the same note, A2. If you listen quite closely, you’ll be able to hear higher tones, as the harmonics of the key you struck resonate with the open strings of the rest of the piano. Cool, huh?
Pythagoras is to blame for this one. It’s him who demonstrated the relation between the fractions of a string and the intervals of the notes. So, harmony is when producing two -or more- tones at the same time. Usually, these notes are related with each other and evoke different emotions, depending on their relation.
A unit that counts how often a periodic phenomenon occurs in a certain amount of time. It’s counted in repetitions per second. Similar to RPM (rounds per minute), where time is counted in minutes instead of seconds.
The selection of instruments. Like in recipes, it’s the raw materials you’ll be using to make your favorite meal.
Lit.: between the acts. It’s a small -usually instrumental- movement connecting other larger sections in a musical composition. Technically, it’s the frosting layer between the two layers of cake; refreshing, delicious and it helps stack the cake. As simple as that.
The distance between two notes. Instead of measuring in meters, we measure in semitones. Let’s say we want to find the interval between B and G. Forget about music, just take the alphabet and start counting from B (not from C!). So we have: B, C, D, E, F and G. That’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. So B and G are a sixth apart. If we are to clarify what kind of sixth we are talking about, we would need to state if the two notes are closer together or further apart by saying whether they are minor or major, diminished or augmented. More or less, that’s the essence.
Anything that can be used to deliberately produce a sound. Instruments can be divided into string, wind, keyboard, percussion or a combination of the aforementioned… Our voices can be used as instruments. Well, technically speaking, our voice boxes are.
No entries for now.
A form of abbreviation in music notation, not just a way of notating the scale (or scales) a composition is in. Think of a lengthy work for a string quartet. Not a lot can fit in a single page, right? So, you’d need quite a few pages to write the entire composition. Now, think that we go back in time, before printing; back when books were written by hand. Think of all the parchment, all the ink that would go to waste. And on top of that, think how hard it would be to read every single note with a sharp before it, in the occasion the composition is in C sharp major. It would be a nightmare… So, right after the clef and before the time signature, we have the key signature. The key signature can have sharps or flats. (It can also have naturals, in case the previous section is written in a scale that contains more flats or sharps that the new one. It’s like resetting the notes back to their original frequencies.) Now, what do the flats or sharps mean and where are they located? Simple. Depending on their position on their stave, each corresponding note will always be sharp or flat (depending on the symbol), unless instructed otherwise inside the score. If you notice closely, the flat symbol (♭) has an enclosed section. Depending on which line or space that enclosed section fall into, we know which note we should flatten. Similarly, if you notice closely, the sharp symbol (♯) has another enclosed section and depending on its position on the stave, we sharpen the appropriate note. Same rule applies for the natural sign (♮). To sum up, key signature makes things easier for us musicians and saves us some time and money (especially in the past). In case that’s too much, you start smelling something burning and happen to fall into the category of knowing a thing or two about PCs and programming, think this: the key signature is the CSS code, while the accidentals are plain HTML. Do you see it now?
It’s the seventh degree of a scale. It’s called the leading note because it leads us to the tonic, both because the tonic is right after it and because the leading note is considered to be an unstable tone that sort of needs to be resolved into something more robust.
Words that are adapted to music. It’s what the singer pronounces while singing. Lyrics can either be a poem or can have free form. The important parts are repeated throughout the song during the chorus or refrain.
Once more, take the major scale and lay it down. If you can find the interval you have (or want) within the major scale, it’s a major interval. That’s half the story. For the full story, check the minor interval and the perfect interval.
Major pentatonic scale
It means ‘marked’ and is an articulation mark. And no, we don’t take a marker and start drawing on top of the notes… It’s a note, a chord or a group of notes that needs to stand out in terms of loudness.
Simple. A succession of notes.
Once more, take the minor scale and lay it down. If you can find the interval you have (or want) within the minor scale, it’s a minor interval. That’s half the story. For the full story, check the major interval and the perfect interval.
Minor pentatonic scale
It’s small. Typically and very broadly speaking, it’s the scales whose third degree forms a minor third with the tonic. The intervals between the notes don’t change and always follow a certain pattern.
Start counting from the first note of the minor scale until you reach number three (as it’s a third). So, if the scale is A minor, a minor third interval would be 1-2-3: A-B-C, so it would be A-C. If that doesn’t do it for you, you can always remember that it’s a tone plus a semitone apart from your root note.
A music composition that is self-contained. It can either be performed as a single piece or as part of a larger work. Sonatas are a classic example, as they usually consist of three movements. Performers can either choose to play a single movement or all three of them.
Musical narrative (or narrative of music)
I am not talking about narrative music. Just like we can compose stories by using words, we can create ‘made-up’ stories by using music phrases. The only reason I say ‘made-up’ is because musical stories can be more abstract when compared to their counterparts that use words. It’s a semi-formal way to say that a composition has a certain vibe, progression, etc. Just think of where the music takes you. That progression of the composition is what musicians call ‘musical narrative’.
It’s music that is used in film and is something like the narrator. It’s the part of the soundtrack that tells you ‘Now you should feel sad’, ‘Be compassionate towards this character’, ‘There will be a fight’, etc. It’s the music that helps you understand what you’re watching and how you should react. Very bluntly, it’s what manipulates the feelings and reactions of the audience.
When a note isn’t a flat nor a sharp, it’s a natural. Naturals are the white keys on the piano keyboard. We usually call a note natural when it’s an accidental. We don’t go on and say ‘it’s a G natural’, we just say ‘it’s a G’. But, it we are in a scale in which the G is normally sharp or normally flat, then we go ‘it’s a G natural’.
Any writing system used to represent music.
Notes mainly give us two different pieces of information: the pitch and the duration. I believe that you have come across the terms half note or eighth note… So, let’s go in descending order this time; from the longest to the shortest.
The whole note (also called a semibreve): it fits perfectly in a bar in 4/4; it’s as long as 4 quarter notes.
The half note (also called a minim): it needs two half notes to fill a bar in 4/4; it’s as long as 2 quarter notes.
The quarter note (also called a crotchet): it needs four quarter notes to fill a bar in 4/4; it’s as long as 2 eighth notes.
The eighth note (also called a quaver): it needs eight eighth notes to fill a bar in 4/4; they usually go in pairs.
The sixteenth note (also called a semiquaver): it needs 16 semiquavers to fill a bar in 4/4; they usually go in fours.
The thirty-second note (also called a demisemiquaver): it needs 32 demisemiquavers to fill a bar in 4/4; they also go in fours or in eights as it’s easier to read.
The sixty-fourth note (also called a hemidemisemiquaver, *lol*): it needs 64 hemidemisemiquavers to fill a bar in 4/4; they also go in fours or in eights as it’s easier to read; usually, they are used as embellishments or if the composer wanted to mess with the performers…
Oct- is eight. Let’s take numbers from 1 to 7 and repeat them: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-1-2-3-4-5-6-7… The distance between the two 1s is eight notes apart; it’s an octave apart. The distance between the two 5s is an octave apart. Now, if 1 is A, 2 is B, 3 is C and so on, two consecutive ‘A’ notes will be an octave apart. And if we take their frequencies, the high ‘A’ will have twice the frequency of the low ‘A’ (example: low A: 440 Hz, high A: 880 Hz).
Let’s think of bars and rhythm. Let’s take a bar in four-four. We can count it: 1-2-3-4. Normally, the accent, the emphasis is on 1 and on 3. We can also count a bar in four-four as 1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and. The beat with the most emphasis is 1, then it’s 3, then it’s 2 and 4 and lastly, it’s all the ‘ands’. So by saying ‘off-beat’, we mean that we add notes to the beats that are accented the least. We add interesting notes to beats that have no emphasis at all.
The use of ornaments.
Also, embellishments. They make no difference in the structure of a piece and don’t affect the melody or the harmony. What they do is simple. They give some character to the composition and some freedom to the performer, as some embellishments are open to interpretation.
It’s the distribution of sound. Let’s say that we have two speakers, one on our left and one our right. Now, let’s play some music. If you notice closely, what comes out from the left speaker isn’t the same with what comes out from the right. Usually, the right speaker has the complimentary tracks, while the left has the core elements of the music piece. That doesn’t mean that what comes out from the right speaker doesn’t come out from the left. We listen to the main vocal track from both speakers, but the additional tracks are slightly more loud either on the left or on the right. Same principle with more speakers. Movies that are edited and exported in 5.1 or 7.1 do the same thing with 6 or 8 speakers respectively.
A fancy way (or better, the proper way) of saying pan.
A strand of music. For instance, in orchestral works the violins usually have two parts. That means that the violin section is divided into two smaller groups and each group plays the corresponding part. The notes of each part can either be the same, both parts may follow the same rhythm but play different notes, the two parts can be totally different while being faithful to the harmony of the composition or one or more parts can be silent for a while.
Penta is five, tonic (as in tonos) is tone. So, it’s a scale with five different notes in an octave. There can be major or minor, and hemitonic or anhemitonic pentatonics. Major and minor pentatonic scales are not only related; they are technically the same scale starting from a different note. See major pentatonic scale and minor pentatonic scale for more info.
Another consonant interval. However, less consonant than the octave. Start counting to five either in a minor or a major scale. Or, if it helps you more this way, the perfect fifth is made of 3 tones and 1 semitone.
Another consonant interval. However, less consonant than the perfect fifth. Start counting to four either in a minor or a major scale. Or, if it helps you more this way, the perfect fourth is made of 2 tones and 1 semitone.
It’s like watching colors and recognizing them. There’s no trick to it. It’s just the ability to recognize any given pitch without a reference note. You just listen to a tone and know it’s C sharp. Same as watching the clear sky and knowing it’s a certain shade of blue. If you are intrigued, read about relative pitch.
Just like a phrase in English, a music phrase is a series of notes that express an idea. Phrases are not complete on their own, as we need more than one phrase to form a sentence. This rule of thumb applies in language, as well as in music.
Think of a piano keyboard. The pitch isn’t just the name of the note. It’s where it’s located on the keyboard. Is it towards right or left? So, technically, it’s the note’s frequency. Birds chirping produce high-pitch sounds, with a higher frequency, so a lot more oscillations. On the other end, a tanker ship horn would produce a low-pitch sound, with a lower frequency and waaay fewer oscillations.
Pitched percussion instruments
Lit.: to pinch. It’s when we pinch or pluck the strings of bowed string instruments (like the violin), instead of using the bow.
Plucked string instruments
Music instruments that have strings. The strings oscillate by the plucking from a pick or fingers/nails.
‘Poly’ is many and ‘phony’ is voice. So it’s music written for more than one voice. Back when monophonic music was a thing, it was like saying ‘Let’s perform two songs together. One song by itself is just way too mainstream.’ The two voices sing (or play) different phrases and are linked by their harmonies. Two people singing exactly the same thing isn’t polyphony.
See polyphonic music.
A music section placed before the chorus.
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It means ‘to repeat’. A term used in poetry. It’s the repetition of a small part of a song’s lyrics in order to make the audience remember it. This term can also apply to music and describes the parts that are repeated throughout a song.
Very bluntly, it can be related to our hearing range or the range of an instrument or voice. If we say ‘in the upper register’ we mean that it has a high pitch. Low pitch sounds belong in the lower register. Now, if we refer to a specific instrument, the high and low registers are related to the range of said instrument. For instance, violins belong to the upper register. However, their lowest sound, which is in their low register, belongs somewhere around our mid register. It’s not as complex as it sounds.
Similar to perfect pitch, you can recognize a note given that you have a reference note first. So, instead of listening to a tone and immediately go ‘It’s a G’, you’ll need to listen to another tone first and know what it is. So, this ability is mainly based on intervals, rather than the tones themselves. It’s more useful with chords, as the harmony -ie. the blend of notes- is perceived and identified as a whole, rather than identifying each note individually. So, people with relative pitch have arguably an advantage when listening to E-G-C, because as soon as they know that the lowest tone is an E, they go ‘It’s a first inversion of C major’. While, someone with perfect pitch would think ‘The lowest note is an E, then I’m listening to a G and the uppermost is a C, so it has to be C major in first inversion’. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Both can be developed over time with a lot of work. Or, in case you are lucky, you’re just born with one or the other, or if you are reaaally lucky, you’re born with both.
Dissonant chords tend to be resolved to consonant chords… or dissonant chords tend to be resolved into less dissonant chords. Usually, unstable sounds resolve into more stable sounds to denote the end of a section or the end of a composition.
Rests are intervals of silence. They have different durations, just like notes, so that we know how long… well, how long we should keep it shut.
Rhythm is the flow. It is related to a number of variables. The tempo, the beat, the time signature, the performer’s interpretation and of course, the rhythmic sequence (or the rhythmic pattern) of a song. Think of Simon Says, but instead of colors you have notes and/or rests.
Here, we’re interested in which note is on top of the other within a chord. If we have a triad in root position, let’s say A-C-E, its root position will be 1-3-5. That’s the first, the third and the fifth degrees of the scale, the basic form of any chord. See root note, first inversion and second inversion for the full picture.
A small recording of virtually anything that can be used and reused and reused one or more times within a song. Samples can be recordings of instruments or voices. A person may speak or sing. They can have melody or rhythm. They can have sounds or music. They can be recorded or created by electronic means. They can be altered or used unmodified. They can be layered or looped. They can be slowed down or fast forwarded. They can be used in hip hop or in EDM. Imagination is our guide here.
The process of taking samples.
A series of individual notes that can be played back to back in ascending or descending order.
Same as the root position and the first inversion, we’re interested in which note is on top of the other within a chord. Similar to the first inversion, if we have a triad, say A-C-E, its second inversion will be 5-1-3, so E-A-C. That’s the first, the third and the fifth degrees of the scale, but in a different order. Basically, what we do is throw the first two notes with the lowest frequencies higher to the register and use the note with the slightly higher frequency as the lowest note. It’s just a circle. ACEd it. (Not my fault, musicians aren’t really known for their good sense of humor…)
You know this one, probably not with this name… It’s the voice actor. The person who gives his/her voice to a character, usually animated.
Semi means half. So, it’s half a tone. Considering that a tone is one full step, similar to the distance between numbers 1 and 2, the semitone would be half a step, as is the distance between 1 and 1.5.
See sound effects.
In music it’s a sharp, not a hashtag. Symbol: #. It’s a note (any note) plus a semitone. For instance, G sharp is note G plus a semitone. On a piano keyboard, it’s the black key located to the G’s right. On a guitar’s fretboard, it’s a fret closer to the guitar’s body. Also called diesis (deriving from Greek), or dièse (deriving from French).
Lit.: alone. Plural: soli (the proper plural form), solos (the English plural); whichever works for you. It’s when a single instrument (or voice) plays alone for a section of a song. We have guitar solos, bass solos, drum solos, voice solos etc.
Ok guys, we know this one. We use it all the time… Song → sing. In songs, there’s a singer singing the melody. The accompaniment has usually quite a few parts that make up the harmony and the rhythm of the piece. It usually has either two or three main music ideas that are repeated (verse and chorus OR verse 1, verse 2, chorus) and linked with one another. See structure for more.
Sound is a form of energy. Sound consists of waves that travel through a medium (that is usually air) and reach our eardrums. Our brains take the stimuli from our eardrums and interpret them into the sense of hearing. See hearing range.
Artificially created, enhanced or altered sounds. Technically, you use a program to see the sound wave and then mess with it.
Also audio mixing. It’s when we mix many sounds together. Let’s say that we have different tracks of audio and we want to listen to everything at the same time. We have to mix all the tracks together by manipulating each and every one in terms of volume, frequency, panoramic position, etc. Sound mixing is done with speech or music (well, with any kind of sound, really…) and is a really important bit of audio and audiovisual productions. See audio track and audio channel for more.
An environment created by a set of sounds.
The music tracks of motion pictures (aka film). That’s the number of compositions used in film. Soundtracks can either be original or they can consist of tracks and songs that have already been released.
Species of counterpoint
Now this one has a bigger bite to it than the rest, but is still quite straightforward. You have a pre-existing cantus firmus, aka given melody. And then, you have five different ways to add a new voice to your given melody. These are the five species of counterpoint. Each species has a characteristic.
First species: The added voice(s) move(s) along with the cantus firmus. One against one (1:1). All voices share the same note values. If the voice of the bass is in half notes, the voice of the soprano will be in half notes as well. If the soprano is in eighth notes, the alto will also be in eighth notes.
Second species: It’s one over two (1:2). The one note of the cantus firmus corresponds to two notes of the added voice. If the given voice is in half notes, the added voice will be in quarter notes. Two quarter notes correspond to one half note.
Third species: One against four (1:4). Usually, the given voice is in whole notes and the added voice is in quarter notes.
Fourth species: One over one with a twist. The added voice is shifted by half the duration of the given voice’s notes. The notes of the added voice are heard before and after the notes of the given voice, creating suspensions and thus forming something like a dialogue between the voices.
Fifth species: All of the above mixed together.
Lit.: separated. It’s an articulation mark. It’s when a note is interrupted slightly before resonating for its whole duration. It’s like skipping instead of walking, or better, it’s like a horse trotting.
The music stave. Think of a notebook that has lines, so that we write straight. Something similar is the music stave. It has five lines now, but it had either more or even less lines in the past.
Trivia: sometimes, there were only a couple of lines and the notes were levitating between them… Not very practical but still, it worked.
We can write notes either right on the lines (like a yakitori, where the line is the skewer and the note is the chicken) or just between them. The space between two lines is called *drumroll…* a SPACE. See? No imagination there. So, in a stave we have 5 lines and 4 spaces. All staves need to start with a clef, as clefs are located in each individual line of the composition, not thrown just once somewhere in there. Next to the clef, we have the key signature and the time signature. Then, it’s the notes.
Bars of music have strong and weak beats. Strong beats tend to be the first beats of a bar. They usually come before weak beats. The main factor is the time signature. Bars containing two beats have a strong beat (beat 1) and a weak beat (beat 2). Bars in 3/4 have one strong beat (beat 1) and two weak beats (beats 2 and 3). Bars in 4/4 have two strong beats (1 and 3) and two weak beats (2 and 4). If in doubt, think of parades and marching bands or think of walking and waltzing…
Structure of a song
Words make up sentences, that make up paragraphs, that in turn, make up texts. Similarly, notes make up phrases, that make up forms, that in turn, make up songs. The structure of a song is more or less an identification of the components that make it.
A genre that belongs to another genre. For instance, Symphonic black metal is a subgenre of Black metal, which is a subgenre of Heavy metal, which is a subgenre of Metal…
Track is an audio file of a musical composition. Right? So temporary tracks (or temp tracks in our lingo) is when we use a piece of music temporarily while producing a film. Don’t go all ‘well, duh’ on me, let me elaborate. That means that the director, the editor(s) and other staff want to have a vague idea of a scene by adding an existing music composition instead of the one they will actually be using. Temp tracks are used kinda like a notepad. Music tracks are added to a part of the video in order to indicate that there needs to be something, or more specifically, what kind of emotion the music needs to project. But, perhaps, the most important role of temp tracks is to show the composer what the director has in his/her mind, which becomes a vital point in the collaboration between the two, as both parties should start throwing ideas in and start making decisions on how to proceed.
Tempo is the speed in which music is played in. It is counted in beats per minute (BPM). Since there are 60 seconds within a minute, a tempo of 60BPM would mean that each beat is exactly 1 second apart from the next. So if we are to say ‘How fast should I be playing “Guren no Yumiya”?’, the answer would be [quarter note] = 90BPM. Meaning that within a minute, there should be 90 beats and that each beat should have a certain value, which in this case would be a quarter note.
See temp track.
A word in Italian that means ‘to hold’ and is an articulation mark. Notes have specified durations and sometimes, us performers don’t hold them long enough, either because we have to move fast to an entirely different section of the instrument or because we are plainly bored. And yes, that’s a thing. It’s as if the higher the level of dexterity, the easier it is for us to slack off with the duration of the notes… So, tenuto is to deliberately hold the note for its full duration.
Think of food. It can be crispy, smooth, creamy, chewy. The magic happens when you combine all those textures together. Same with music. You have melody, harmony, rhythm, instrumentation, timbre. Texture is when you combine those elements together.
That’s a bonus… See root position, first inversion and second inversion to get the hang of it. This cannot happen with triads, so we need chords that have at least four notes. So, it would be 1-3-5-7, let’s say A-C-E-G. That’s the first, the third, the fifth and the seventh degrees of the scale, but in a different order. Basically, what we do is throw the first three notes with the lowest frequencies higher to the register and use the note with the slightly higher frequency as the lowest note.
The proper way of referring to the collaboration of an artist (music) with a studio (animation). Tie-ups are the opening and ending themes of an anime.
Let’s increase our appetite a bit and think about pizzas, pies or cakes -whichever works better for you. For the record, I’m picking pizza. Let it be an Italian thin, margherita. So, time signature is a fraction that indicates how many beats there are within a bar of music and what their duration would be. For example, a 4/4 time signature would mean that we take a pizza, cut it into 4 equal slices and use all of them. Now, let’s place them one next to the other; the first beat is the first slice of pizza, the second beat is the second slice of pizza and so on. So, each bar in 4/4 contains 4 slices of pizza and each slice is 1/4 of the entire pizza. A 3/8 time signature would be so wasteful, as we will be cutting the pizza into 8 equal pieces and use only 3 of them. In this case, one bar would have three eighths of a pizza. You get it now… Note: Don’t waste food, people.
Technically, it’s like a keyboardist saying “Yeah, I’m that good. This is the level of my technique. My dexterity rocks!” without really saying it. It’s the equivalent of a guitar solo but it takes the duration of an entire piece of music.
Think that the interval of a tone is the distance between numbers 1 and 2. It’s a full step apart.
See audio track.
Basically, it’s keeping the intervals of a music phrase intact, but shifting the entire thing to a higher or a lower frequency, thus changing its notes. It’s like taking the same route, but changing the starting point. I know that it doesn’t really make sense IRL, but it does in music. Think of numbers 1 to 7 as in 1, 2, (…), 7, 1, 2, (…), 7 and so on. If we have the pattern 1-3-5-4 and want to start from 4 instead of 1, we would be transposing it 4 steps higher or 5 steps lower. So, the new pattern would be 4-6-1-7. The notes are different, but their intervals remain the same. That means that the melody doesn’t change, but we hear it from a higher or lower starting point.
A kind of ornament. It is notated with the lowercase letters ‘tr’ on top of a note. So when for instance we see a crotchet with ‘tr’ on top of it or right below it, we know that we have to perform fast alterations between the note that we see and the one next to it, higher in frequency, while remaining on the scale we’re currently in. Now, this can be a bit tricky as there are quite a few rules surrounding trills, but things will start making sense soon enough. Let’s say that we are in G major, as it’s a scale that has only one sharp in its key signature, F#. In case we have a trill above the note E, we need to alternate between notes E and F# (as F# is in G major, not F natural, ie. F♮). In case we have an accidental above or below the letters ‘tr’, we know that the note on top probably isn’t in the scale we’re currently in. For instance, in G major, if we see on top of note E the letters ‘tr’ and above that the sign of a natural, then we would alternate between notes E and F, instead of E and F sharp. Usually, we start a trill with the lower note and go 2-3-2-3 instead of 3-2-3-2, but that depends on the era the composition was written in… Also, trills can end in more interesting ways, by adding a note below the ones of the trill. For instance, again in G major, we would alternate between the notes E and F# and end the trill with a D followed by another E, doing something like: 2-3-2-3-2-3-2-1-2. Kinda starts to make sense now, right?
See diabolus in musica.
An ‘unusual’ grouping of notes within a bar. For instance, notes are grouped in twos or in fours within bars in 4/4 (that would be the time signature where there are 4 quarter notes within a bar). So, if we want to fit 3 notes where 2 notes would have been, we notate it with triplets. If we want to fit 7 notes where 2 notes would have been, we would notate it with septuplets. Funky names, right?
In its original form, it’s a really, really, really common chord progression. It’s not just about the blues. In altered versions, it can also be used in pop and rock. The progression revolves around chords based on the first, fourth and fifth degrees of the scale.
Unpitched percussion instruments
See weak beat.
Variations are one of the ways to develop musical ideas. So, you take the material you want to develop and repeat it in an altered form. By combining these variations, you can create a verse or a chorus. By developing these variations, you can combine what you have altered and create many songs that are closely related, yet seem totally different to one another.
A verse to music is what a stanza is to poetry. It’s one of the two main parts that make up a song. It’s not what’s repeated, it’s the chorus’ not-as-popular brother. Joking aside, it’s music that accompanies usually two or four lines of lyrics that most likely rhyme in pairs.
Lit.: to vibrate. In vocals: instead of keeping the note as smooth and steady as possible, we slightly variate the pitch. In instruments: same principle, most commonly used in string instruments and wind instruments.
Also VSTi or VST instrument. Call them however, depending on your mood or on how fancy you wanna sound, I guess… Virtual instruments use VST technologies to produce their sound. If we have a VSTi violin, for instance, we have the sound of a violin without the actual physical violin. Everything takes place inside your computer and your DAW.
The proper way to say vocal cords.
As in our voices. The sounds we produce when we speak, when we sing, when we sigh, when we exclaim… Animals also have voices. And yes, animals do speak… I should know, our cats are really verbal… *Sigh*
It’s another way to say larynx.
The initials of Virtual Studio Technology. In broad terms, you have stuff in your computer that you don’t actually have in real life. It takes significantly less space than the actual physical instruments, keys, synths, drum machines, pads, etc, etc. As most of that comes in the form of files, you just throw it into your DAW and you’re good to go. Omedetou gozaimasu [Congratulations!]. Now you have every imaginable sound at your fingertips.
See virtual instrument.
See virtual instrument.
Bars of music have weak and strong beats. Weak beats aren’t always the same. The main factor is the time signature. Bars containing two beats have a strong beat (beat 1) and a weak beat (beat 2). Bars in 3/4 have one strong beat (beat 1) and two weak beats (beats 2 and 3). Bars in 4/4 have two strong beats (1 and 3) and two weak beats (2 and 4). If in doubt, think of parades and marching bands or think of walking and waltzing…
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