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.
Click here to see a picture
depicting the equivalency
of sound pressure levels and also how acoustic
placed within the frequency spectrum.
A B C D E F
I J K L M N O-Z
Accidental: a sign -- a sharp, flat, or natural --
the raising or lowering of a note.
Analogue sound: method of sound reproduction that
imitates the original on electromagnetic tape or disc.
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.
Cadence: a sequence of two chords that brings a
phrase to an end, with an air of wither finality or
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
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
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,
opposed to head voice.
Choir: a group of singer, usually more than one to
Chorale: a hymn, especially a :Lutheran setting of
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
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
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
Courante: a Baroque dance form, utilizing a
combination of three or two beats to the bar, often
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.
Da capo: a term meaning "from the beginning"
instruction to repeat the first section of a piece
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.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.
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.
Grave: very slowly and serious.
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.
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
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
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
Hymn: a church song, often choral.
Idee fixe: a recurring motto or theme (literally,
or obsession) in a large-scale work, somewhat like the
later leitmotif. The term was invented by Berlioz for his
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
Impromptu: a short piano piece of improvisatory or
intimate character, there are examples by Schubert
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,
Incidental music: music written to be performed with a
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.
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.
Key: in tonal music, the concept of
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
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.
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
Leger line: short line which indicates the pitch of a
note above or below the five-line staff.
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.
Madrigal: a secular composition of the 14th through
17th centuries, written for four, five, or six
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
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").
Metronome: a pendulum-like instrument dating
from the early 19th century, used to regularize and
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
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
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
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,
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
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
Mute: a device used to dampen the tone of an
instrument, affecting its volume and tone color.
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
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
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.
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