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Music Definition

 

  What is "serial" music? I know a "cannon" is used for Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture but what is a cannon as referred to in musical terms? Well, look below as we explore the wonders of the musical world.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O-Z

 

A

Accidental: a sign -- a sharp, flat, or natural -- indicating the raising or lowering of a note.

Analogue sound: method of sound reproduction that imitates the original on electromagnetic tape or disc.

B       

BeBop: jazz form of the 1940's and 50's, characterized by fast tempo and complex chord patterns, played by small ensembles with often dizzying instrumental virtuosity.

Blues: melancholic, usually guitar-based, modern folk music, originating in the work songs of the black American plantation workers.  Typically constructed around a simple twelve-bar, three chord pattern on which a vast amount of popular music has been based ever since.

Bossa nova: Brazilian dance of the 1950's, closely related to the samba.

C       

Cadence: a sequence of two chords that brings a phrase to an end, with an air of wither finality or partial completion.

Cadenza: originally an improvised decoration of a cadence by a soloist; later a more or less elaborate and written-out passage in a aria or concerto to display performance skills by a singer or an instrumentalist.

Calypso: folk music of Trinidad

Can-can: a fast, boisterous dance of scandalous repute, characterized by high kicking, which originated in 19th century Paris and was immortalized in Offenbach's opera Orpheus in the Underworld (1858).

Canon: a musical form in which a tune in imitated by individual parts at regular intervals; known as a round when each part is continuously repeated. In simple examples, such as "London Bridge is Falling Down," the successive voices enter at a same pitch and at the same speed.  In more elaborate examples, such as the canons in J.S. Bach's keyboard work known as the Goldberg Variation, the voices may enter at different pitches and present the tune at different speeds or even backwards or upside down (in inversion).

Cantabile: in a singing style.

Cantata: a vocal work, wither sacred or secular. Some early examples approach operatic style and may have narratives; others, such as Bach's church cantatas, are inventions on chorales. Twentieth-century revivals of the form, most notably by Stravinsky and Webern, have been meditative rather than storytelling.

Cantus firmus: a preexisting tune, often familiar, used by medieval and Renaissance composers as the basis of a polyphonic composition in which the other parts are invented.

Capriccio: a lighthearted, improvisational, usually quick instrumental or orchestral piece.

Carol: originally a round dance with singing, later a popular song or hymn celebrating Christmas.

Castrato: male singers whose voices were preserved in the soprano or alto range by early castration. The virtuosity attained by certain castrati can be gauged by parts of Handel's operas that modern sopranos often find nearly unsingable. The last castrati lived into the 20th century and were recorded.

Cavatina: a short, usually simple operatic aria, in one or two sections without repetition; occasionally, an instrumental piece in a songlike style.

Chaconne: a variation form in slow 3/4 time in which a bass pattern is repeated while the parts around it successively change; virtually identical to a passacaglia.

Chamber music: music of an intimate character in which there is usually one player to a part, each of which is equal in importance to the others, written for from two to ten players, although "chamber symphonies" have been written for small orchestras.

Chanson: a French song of simple character, or, in the medieval and renaissance eras, a French art song first developed by the troubadours.

Chant: unison singing of sacred texts in free rhythm similar to the rhythm of speech.

Charleston: popular 1920's syncopated dance.

Chest voice: the lower part of the singing voice, as opposed to head voice.

Choir: a group of singer, usually more than one to a part.

Chorale: a hymn, especially a :Lutheran setting of sacred text.

Chord: three or more note sounded simultaneously.

Chromatic: in tonal music, notes that do not belong to the key in which a piece is written. the chromatic scale includes all twelve notes in the octave.

Classicism: a period in music that extended from the middle of the 18th century to the first decade of the 19th.  Its major figures were Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. although it characteristics are a concern for order and balance, its most important productions are notable as much for passion and feeling within considered forms.

Clavier: the keyboard of an instrument, or any keyboard instrument with strings.

Clef: a symbol at the beginning of a line of music that denotes the pitch of a particular note and thus also the pitches of the notes on all the other lines and spaces. the most common clefs are treble, bass, alto and tenor; some instruments commonly use two or even three in succession to accommodate their wide range.

Coda: the closing section of a movement.

Col legno: (of stringed instruments) tapping against or drawing across the strings with the wooden back of the bow rather than the hair.

Compound time: a time signature that indicates two, three, or four groups of three notes (or the equivalent) in each measure-for instance, 6/4 constitutes two groups of three quarter notes, and 9/8 three groups of three eighth notes.

Concert: a musical performance for an audience.

Concertmaster: first violin in an orchestra, called the leader in Britain.

Concerto: a work for solo instrument (or occasionally, instruments) and orchestra; usually in three movements, but sometimes four, as in Brahms,  or more - Ferruccio Busoni's piano concerto is in five movements. Generally designed to display virtuosity, it has been a consistently popular form since the 18th century. Concertos have been written for every imaginable instrument as soloist; and there are also "concertos for orchestra" displaying virtuosity throughout the orchestra, written by such 20th century composers as Bartok, Roberto Gerhard, and Elliot Carter.

Conductor: - the director of a group of performers, indicating the tempo by beating and communicating phrasing, dynamics and style by gesture and facial expression.

Console: the keyboards, stops, and pedals of an organ, by which the player activates and controls the organ's sounds.

Consonance: in diatonic harmony, a group of tones that are heard as a compatible combination when sounded together; its opposite is dissonance.

Consort: a group of instruments, in Renaissance and early Baroque music. A "whole consort" constitutes instruments of one sort (for instance, a consort of viols); a "broken consort" is made up of instruments of different sorts.

Continuo: the part played, in Baroque music, by a bass instrument and keyboard. Generally, only the bass line is written out, with the harmonics indicated by means of chord numbers, which the keyboard player fills in and decorates in appropriate style.

Contralto: the lowest female voice.

Cool: the term for California jazz in the 1950s, a reaction to the more frenetic style of bebop.

Counterpoint: the combination of simultaneous melodic line to form chordal progressions and harmony.

Country music: white American folk music - a term preferred by fans to the more common Country and Western.

Courante: a Baroque dance form, utilizing a combination of three or two beats to the bar, often compound duple.

Crescendo: a steady increase in volume.

Crotchet: the British term for a quarter note.

Cycle: a sequence of pieces, particularly songs, with a common theme or subject.

D       

Da capo: a term meaning "from the beginning" - an instruction to repeat the first section of a piece before stopping.

Downbeat: the beat given the strongest accent, at the beginning of a bar.

Drone: a held bass note under a melody, such as that heard in the playing of bagpipes.

Duet: a piece of music for two performers.

Duple time: a tempo with two beats in a bar (for instance, 2/4, 2/2, or 6/8).

Dynamics: the loudness of softness of music, indicated by a system of gradations; from softest to loudest, these are pp, p, mp, f, ff. The extremes have been extended in both directions.

E       

Ecossaise: a dance in duple time of the late 18th century, supposedly of Scottish origin.

Electronic music: music produced by live performers on electronic instruments; or sound manipulated by electronic means into a recording, which contains a piece of music rather than being a record of performance of a piece.

Elegy: an instrumental lament.

Embouchure: the position of the lips in wind instrument playing, by which the player controls the sound, especially for brass and the flute.

Encore: an extra piece played at the end of a recital in response to an audience's enthusiastic reaction to the performance.

Energico: a tempo marking meaning "energetically".

Enharmonic interval: two notes that sound the same (as played on a modern keyboard instrument) and differ from each other only in name-for instance, A sharp and B flat, or E sharp and F natural.

Ensemble: a group of performers; also, the term used to describe the quality of playing together with unanimity of attach and balance of tone.

Expressivo: expressively.

Etude: literally, a "study," A musical form originally intended solely to improve technique, it was raised to a level of musical interest by Chopin, and concert studies have been written by many composers since.

Exposition: the opening section in sonata form or a fugue, which sets out the initial thematic and harmonic material.

Expressionism: a school of German music at the beginning of this century, often atonal and violent in style, as a means of evoking heightened emotions and expressing states of mind.

F       

Falsetto: a style of male singing in which, by only partial use of the vocal cords, the voice reaches the pitch of a female voice.

Fandango: a lively Spanish dance in triple time or 6/6 time.

Fanfare: a short exclamatory phrase on brass instruments, originally for ceremonial occasions.

Fantasia: a piece in free form or of improvisational character, often for a single performer.

Fermata: a pause.

Fifth: the interval between notes that are three whole tones and a semitone apart is a perfect fifth-for instance, C natural to G natural. increased by one semitone, it becomes an augmented fifth-C natural to G sharp. Decrease by one semitone, it becomes a diminished fifth-C natural to G flat.

Finale: the last movement of a sonata-form work: also, a sequence of numbers at the end of an act in an opera.

Fingerboard: the long piece of hardwood over which the strings of a stringed instrument are stretched.

Fingering: a system of indicating by numbers which finger should play which note on keyboard, wind, or stringed instruments.

Flat: a sign showing that a note should be lowered by one semitone.

Flutter-tonguing: in wind instruments, a coloristic effect produced by the performer rolling "R" sound while playing.

Form: the structure or architecture of a piece of music.

Forte:  dynamic marking meaning  "loud", indicated by the letter f. May by strengthened to fortissimo (ff).

Fourth: the interval between notes two whole tones and a semitone apart is a perfect fourth - for example, C natural to F natural.  Reduced by one semitone, it becomes a diminished fourth - C sharp to F natural. increased by one semitone, it becomes an augmented fourth-C natural to f sharp.

Foxtrot: a lively American popular dance in duple time.

Free Jazz: cutting itself loose from the harmonic and rhythmic shackles of the past, free jazz was a radical improvising style of the 1960's.

Frequency: the rate of vibration that produces a particular pitch. On the piano, the lowest C has a frequency of 32 vibrations per second, the next C has 64 per second, and so on.

Fret: on some stringed instruments such as guitar, a metal band on the fingerboard to mark a particular position of the fingers.

Frog: the heel of the bow of a stringed instrument.

Fugue: a contrapuntal form, beginning with an exposition in which each voice enters with the same subject in turn and proceed in imitation. Unlike a canon, fugues have free passages of imitation and passages without imitation.  They commonly have from three to six separate voices. In more complex examples a fugue may have two or three different themes, contrapuntally combined. These are known as double and triple fugues. Fugues were most regularly written in the later Baroque period, but, regarded as a demonstration of compositional virtuosity, have also been written by most composers since then.

Fundamental: the root of a chord, or its bass note.

G       

G.P.: general pause

Gagaku: the ceremonial music of the Japanese court. It exerted a strong influence on some Western composers in the 1960's, notably Karlheinz.

Gallaird: a Renaissance dance in triple or 6/8 time.

Galop: a lively 19th century round dance in duple time.

Gamelan: an Indonesian instrument similar to a xylophone; also, an Indonesian orchestra, consisting of such instruments as well as gongs, flutes, strings, drums, and voices. Notable for the prominence given to tuned gongs, its sounds have been used by many Western composers since it was first widely heard at the Paris World's Fair of 1889.

Gavotte: a 17th century dance in quadruple time, always beginning on the third beat of the bar.

Gigue: a lively dance in triple time or 6/8; the English jig, often incorporated in Baroque dance suites.

Giocoso: cheerfully

Giusto: exact, precise, as in "tempo giusto"

Glee: unaccompanied male-voice composition of the late 18th and early 19th century in England, somewhat similar to the later barber shop quartet in America.

Glissando: sliding between two note.

Gopak: lively Russian in duple time.

Gospel: the hymn-based choral music of the African-American evangelical churches.

Grace note: an ornamental fast note or notes immediately
  proceeding a main note.

Grandioso: grandly

Grave: very slowly and serious.

Grazioso: gracefully

Gregorian Chant: the unison chant without strict rhythm collected and codified during the reign of Pope Gregory at the end of the 6th century for singing of psalms and other elements in the church service.

Griot: French term describing a traditional West African story-teller or praise singer.

Ground bass: a repeating phrase underneath freely varying upper parts in passacaglias or  similar forms.

Grunge: rock hybrid of the 1990's, combining punk anger with heavy metal guitar histrionics.

H       

Habanera: a slow Cuban dance in duple time.

Half note: a note equal in time value to two quarter notes or fourth eighth notes; in Britain it is called a minim.

Harmonics: When a note is played on an instrument, along  with the fundamental there may often be heard higher pitches, extending in a series up to four octaves above the note.  The sounds are known as harmonics, or overtones.  In some instruments, such as a bell, they may be heard strongly; in others, they are relatively faint.

Harmony: the combination of sounds of different pitch to form chord, which developed initially from the weaving together of two or more melodic lines; and, within the tonal system, the interrelationship of the major and minor chords based on each of the seven degrees of the scale.  Although a sophisticated harmonic sense may be discerned in relatively early music, the modern sense of tonal harmony dates back only to the 17th century.

Heavy metal: loud, riff-centered rock, fixated on the power and symbolism of the electric guitar.

Hip-hop: another name for rap music.

Homophony: a non-contrapuntal chordal style, in which all the parts move together in the same rhythm (as in hymns); or a melody with a chordal accompaniment.

Hornpipe: a lively British folk dance in duple or triple time, originally accompanied by a reed instrument of the same name, and which became popular among sailors.

House music: a form of disco music, with dominant bass motifs, developed in Detroit in the early 1980's.

Humoresque: an instrumental composition of playful or unpredictable nature.

Hymn: a church song, often choral.

I       

Idee fixe: a recurring motto or theme (literally, "fixed idea" or obsession) in a large-scale work, somewhat like the later leitmotif. The term was invented by Berlioz for his Symphonie Fantastique.

Idiophone: an instrument consisting of material producing a simple sound, such as a bell.

Imitation: in counterpoint, when a phrase or theme introduced by one voice is repeated almost exactly (but higher or lower) by a second voice. If it is repeated exactly, with part of it overlapping in each voice, as in the stretto of a canon or round, then it is strict imitation.

Impressionism: a term borrowed from painting and applied, often inappropriately, principally to the works of Debussy and Ravel.  Characteristics are often a shimmering texture and loose tonality.  Other composers who may be classed as Impressionist are Frederick Delius,  Emmanuel Chabrier, and Karol Szymanowski.

Impromptu: a short piano piece of improvisatory or intimate character, there are examples by Schubert and Chopin.

Improvisation: creating music spontaneously, with the player inventing as he or she plays.  It has been a common element in much music, and composers including Bach, Handle,  Mozart, Beethoven, and Liszt have been celebrated for their ability to improvise. Many forms, such as the classical piano concerto, incorporate opportunities for improvisations.  In the postwar period, aleatoric music raised  improvisation to a more important place than it had occupied for many years, as in music by Cage, Stockhausedn, and Xenakis.

Incidental music: music written to be performed with a stage play.

Instrumentation: the art of assigning appropriate parts of a composition to individual instruments within an ensemble.

Interlude: a piece of instrumental music played between scenes in a play or an opera.

Intermezzo: either an interlude in a play or opera, or a short comic opera of the 18th century Italy, performed originally a s part of a longer evening. Nineteenth-century composers such as Brahms have used the term for a short, intimate piano work.

Interpretation: the art of bringing expression to the performance of a work.  Although a composer will probably indicate, in addition to the notes to be played, an appropriate tempo, some articulation, and the dynamic markings for each passage in more or less detauk, the performer inevitably has a good detail if leeway, within these indication where his or her powers of interpretation and skill become important.

Interval: the difference in pitch between two notes, expressed as a second, third, fourth and so on.  These intervals, if altered by a semitone in either direction, may be qualified as major or minor, augmented or diminished.

Intonation: singing or playing in tune.

Introduction: an opening section of a piece or a movement, formally separate often containing themes or passages that do not recur.  In sonata forms, the introduction to a fast movement is very often on a slow tempo.

Invention: the term used by Bach for his fifteen short keyboard pieces in two contrapuntal parts.

Inversion: the tuning of a musical line upside down, so that an interval moving upward in a melody becomes the same interval downward in its inversion, and vise versa.  Invertible counterpoint means that a piece is written in such a way that the individual parts may be exchanged, so that the bass part may be reassigned to the soprano and the result is harmonically satisfactory.

J       

Jam session: a term used, especially in jazz, when two or more players get together to improvise.

Jazz: a strongly influential musical form, emerging shortly after World War I from black communities in America, incorporating many styles, including blues and ragtime.  Taken up by commercial musicians, it was disseminated into the wider musical culture.  Originally highly improvisational in character and played only on a small group of instruments, it developed into several forms, such as swing and bebop, and became popular as a form for big band ensembles.  It was a big influence on the composers of the interwar period, many of whom wrote in a jazz idiom.  Similarly, many musician whose origins were in jazz produced works that have proved lasting in the context of art music, most notably George Gershwin.

Jig: a lively English dance, originating in the 16th century;
  it became the gigue.

Jongleur: a wandering musician in the Middle Ages of relatively low status, possibly also capable of juggling, acrobatics, and general entertainment.

Jota: a quick Spanish dance in triple time.

K        

Key:  in tonal music, the concept of interrelated chords based on the  notes of the major and minor scales, and centered on the tonic (the fist note of the scale,   also called the fundamental). A key is indicated at the beginning of each piece by means of a key signature. Other notes, foreign to the key, may be used in a piece, but the nomination of all else b the basic key-exerted by gravitational pull of the tonic-is  virtually constant.  Most tonal works, even a very substantial piece such as a symphony or, on occasion, an entire opera, are written in a single key.  Although the piece may in its course move far away from the fundamental key for the sake of variety, the unity   imposed by the  fundamental key is always felt.

Keyboard: the range of levers pressed by the player   on an instrument such as a piano or harpsichord   to sound the note; also; generically, an instruments having such a keyboard.
 
Key signature: the sharps or flats at the beginning of   each line of music to indicate the key of the music.
 
Klangfarbenmelodie: literally, "melody of tone colors." A term invented by Schoenberg to describe the   technique of altering the tone color of a single note or musical line by changing from one instrument to   another in  the middle of the note or line.

Klavier: any keyboard instrument; in German, the piano.

L          

Landler: an Austrian or Bavarian dance in triple time, a precursor of the waltz. There are examples by Beethoven and Schubert.

Leader: British term for the concertmaster (first violinist) in an orchestra or ensemble.

Leading note: the seventh note of the scale, characterized by a strong tendency to lead upward to the tonic.

Legato: smoothly.

Leger line: short line which indicates the pitch of a note above or below the five-line staff.

Leggiero: lightly.

Libretto: the text of an opera.

Lied: "song." A German art song with piano accompaniment, such as those by Schubert, Schumann, and Hugo Wolf.

Ligature: a form of plainchant notation combining two notes in a single symbol.

M

Madrigal: a secular composition of the 14th through 17th centuries, written for four, five, or six unaccompanied voices.

Maestoso: majestically.

Maestro: the Italian term given to a distinguished inusician, usually a conductor.

Major: one of the two modes of the tonal system; the other is the minor mode. The sequence of degrees in the major scale is always as follows: whole tone, whole tone. semitone, whole tone, whole tone, whole tone. semitone. Works written in major keys are often felt by listeners to have a positive, affirming character.

Malaguena: in the style of the music of Malaga occasionally refers to a type of fandango.

Manual: an organ or harpsichord keyboard.

March: music for marching to, in quadruple time, originally for military use.

Masque: an allegorical court show of the Renaissance and early Baroque, which almost invariably included music and songs as an essential part of the spectacle.

Mazurka: a Polish dance in triple time, with much use of rubato; the most celebrated examples are by Frederic Chopin.

Medley: a sequence of tunes, often used in overtures of musicals or operettas.

Melisma: several notes sung to a single syllable.

Melodrama: spoken text over music, popular from the late 18th century onwards.

Melody: a particular, identifiable association of notes and pitches; a tune.

Meno: less (for example, meno vivo, "less fast").

Mesto: mournfully.

Metronome: a pendulum-like instrument dating from the early 19th century, used to regularize and measure tempo.

Mezzo: half (for example, mezzo tempo, "half speed"; mezzo soprano, a voice between soprano and alto in pitch).

Microtone: an interval between semitones.

Middle C: the C more or less at the center of the piano keyboard (about 262 vibrations per second).

Minim: the British term for a half note.

Minor: one of the two modes of the tonal system. The melodic minor scale differs from that of the major scale in having a flattened third degree (and, in the harmonic minor, a flattened sixth). When used melodically, the sixth and seventh degrees are the same as the major scale when ascending, but both are flattened when descending. The minor mode is often felt by listeners to have a more poignant, less positive sense than the major mode, and in Classical usage, a piece in the minor mode would often have a conclusion in the major, which was felt to have a more final effect.

Minstrel: a singer of verses ac companied by harp in the Middle Ages.

Minuet: a formal 18th-century court dance in triple time, very commonly used in substantial Classical sonata-form works.

Moderato: moderate tempo.

Modes: the system that predated the tonal system. In each mode, the ordering of tones and SCMiLones in the scale differed somewhat. Tonal music consists of only two modes, major and minor. In post-tonal music some composers (such as Messiaen) have written pieces using artificially constructed scales as modes.

Modulation: changing from one key to a related key in the course of a musical passage.

Monotone: the repetition of a single pitch.

Morden: a formalized ornament in Baroque music, involving a quick alternation between the principal note and the note immediately above or below it in the scale.

Morendo: diminishing to nothing.

Motet: an accompanied or unaccompanied choral work, in a single, usually fairly short movement on a sacred text, of polyphonic character.

Mosso: literally, "moved" (for example, piu mosso, "quicker").

Motif or Motive: a short melodic or harmonic idea, perhaps a fragment of a larger theme in a symphonic development. Wagner's leitmotifs are short themes associated with particular characters or certain psychological or symbolic elements in his operas.

Moto: motion (for example, con moto, "moving onwards").

Movement: a separate section of a large work.

Musette: an instrumental Baroque dance with a bagpipe-like drone bass.

Musicology: the theoretical and historical study of music.

Mute: a device used to dampen the tone of an instrument, affecting its volume and tone color.

N

Nationalism: a 19th-century political movement that led to investigation of native folk music by musicologists, and the incorporation of folk material into art music. The most notable musical nationalists were in Russia (Glinka, Mussorgsky), Czechoslovakia (Smetana, Dvordk, Jangcek), Scandinavia (Gfieg, Nielsen, Sibelius), Hungary (Kodaly, Bart6k), America (Ives), and Britain (Vaughan Williams, Hoist).

Natural: a sign that, after a particular note has been raised by a sharp or lowered by a flat, restores it to its original pitch.

Neck: the narrow part of a stringed instrument extending from the body.

Neoclassicism: a movement in music which sought, during the period between the two world wars, to use past forms and styles in more or less stylized and even ironic ways. Its traces may be found in composers as varied as BarL6k, Schoenberg, and Poulenc, but the composer most associated with Neoclassicism is Stravinsky, who wrote several compositions reinterpreting the works of previous composers, including Bach, Pergolesi, Gounod, and Tchaikovsky. Its characteristic manner is crisp and direct, and only rarely are Neoclassical works written for large orchestra.

Neumes: the ancient system of notation, indicating the rise in pitch of plainchant.

Niente: nothing (as in a niente, "diminishing to nothing").

Nocturne: originally a salon piano work, as in examples by John Field and Chopin, with nighttime associations. Mozart's Nottumi are small chamber pieces. A celebrated orchestral set by Debussy owes more to the paintings so titled by Whistler than to previous musical examples.

Nonet: a work for nine instruments.

Notation: methods of writing music. Notation was first developed in the 8th century with neumes, and slowly evolved into the present system by the middle of the 17th century.

 

Click here to see 'O'  through 'Z'.

 

     
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