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A Harper's Glossary of Terms


A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

Accelerando - Abbreviated: accel. To increase the speed gradually.

Accent - A stress on notes so marked.

Accidental - Symbols that raise or lower the pitch of a note.

Adagio - Tempo designation: very slow and expressive.

Affrettando - To increase the speed gradually.

Allargando - Abbreviated: allarg. Slower and louder.

Allegretto - Tempo designation: light and cheerful, but not as fast as allegro.

Allegro - Tempo designation: "merry", quick, lively, bright.

Alto - The lowest of the treble voices.

Andante - Tempo designation: rather slow, but with a flowing movement ("Walking tempo").

Andantino - Tempo designation: a little quicker than andante.

Arpeggio - A broken chord (each note of the chord played in succession).

A tempo - Return to original tempo after a ritard.

Baritone - Between the tenor and bass range.

Bar line - A vertical line that divides the staff into measures.

Basic scale - A scale with no accidentals. Half-steps are between B & C and E & F.

Bass - Lowest of the male voices.

Bass clef - Names the fourth line of a staff F. Also called F-clef.

Basso profondo - See bass.

Cadenza - An elaborate solo passage with fancy embellishments to display the proficiency of a performer.

Chromatic - Movement by half-step.

Chromatic scale - A scale made up of all half-steps.

Clef - A symbol that assigns pitch to a staff.

Coloratura - 1) Brilliant runs, trills, etc., used to display a singer's skill.
2) A singer capable of singing such music in the soprano range: in full coloratura soprano.

Contralto - See alto.

Crescendo - (abbr: cresc.) or the sign < means gradually getting louder.

Diminuendo - (abbr: dim.) or the sign > means gradually getting softer.

Dot - A symbol added to a note or rest that increases its value by 50%.

Double bar line - Indicates the end of a section or the entire piece of music.

Down beat - The first part of the beat, always labeled with a number.

Enharmonic - Two or more spellings of the same pitch.

F-clef - Names the fourth line of a staff F. Also called bass clef.

Fixed Do - System of sight-singing: C is always Do regardless of the key.

Flat - 1) An accidental that lowers pitch one half-step: b
2) Singing out of tune, below pitch.

Forte - (abbr: f) Loud.

Fortissimo - (abbr: ff) Very loud.

G-clef - Names the second line of the staff G. Also called treble clef.

Grand Staff - Made up of at least two staves, treble clef and bass clef.

Grave - Tempo designation: very slow and solemn.

Half-step - From one pitch to the next nearest pitch in either direction.

Interval - The distance between two pitches.

Key signature - A number of sharps or flats placed at the beginning of each measure.

Largo - Tempo designation: very slow and broad, with dignity.

Larghetto - Tempo designation: not as slow as largo, but slower than andante.

Ledger lines - Lines added above and below the staff to extend the range of the staff.

Legato - Smooth and connected, in a flowing manner (opposite of staccato).

Lento - Tempo designation: very slow.

Major scale - A scale made up of half-steps and whole-steps.

Major second - A whole-step, made up of two half-steps.

Measure - The distance between two bar lines.

Mezzo - Medium or moderately.

Mezzo forte - (abbr: mf) Moderately loud.

Mezzo piano - (abbr: mp) Medium soft.

Mezzo-soprano - "Middle soprano." Between soprano and alto range.

Minor second - A half-step, from one pitch to the next nearest pitch in either direction.

Moderato - Tempo designation: moderate speed--not fast, not slow.

Movable Do - System of sight singing. The solfege symbols may be transposed to any key. Example: in the key of F#, F# is Do. In the key of D, D is Do.

Natural - An accidental that cancels the effect of a sharp or flat.

Pianissimo - (abbr: pp) Very soft.

Piano - (abbr: p) Soft.

Presto - Tempo designation: very quick, faster than vivace.

Rallentando - Abbreviated: rall. Slowing down, gradually.

Repeat sign - A double bar (one light and one heavy) and two dots to the left of the bars.

Ritardando - Abbreviated: ritard. or rit. Gradually slackening the speed.

Rubato - Literally means "Robbed"--a lingering on some notes and hurrying of others; free from strict tempo, but preserving the value of the rhythmic notation.

Scale - A stepwise series of tones.

Scale degrees - The individual steps in a scale are numbered 1 through 7 starting on the tonic.

Score - Another name for Grand Staff. Shows every part, the entire composition.

Sforzando - (abbr: sfz) A strongly accented note or chord.

Sforzato - (abbr: sfp) Strongly accented, then immediately piano.

Sharp - 1) An accidental that raises pitch one half-step: #
2) Singing out of tune, above pitch.

Semitone - A half-step, minor second, from one pitch to the next nearest pitch in either direction.

Slur - A curved line connecting two or more different pitches to indicate the notes sung to a single syllable or word.

Solfeggio - Syllables for sight-singing, a sight-singing method (Do, Re, Mi, et cetera).

Soprano - Higest treble voice.

Staccato - Short and detached, with distinct precision (opposite of legato).

Staff - Made up of five lines and four spaces.

Stringendo - Abbreviated: string. To increase intensity by increasing tempo.

Subito - Suddenly. Usually to indicate a dramatically sudden change in dynamic level of sound; e.g., from pp to subito ff.

Tempo - Refers to the speed of the beat.

Tenor - Highest of the changed male voices.

Tie - Connects two notes of the same pitch and adds their values (length) together.

Time signature - Made up of two numbers: The top number tells you the number of beats per measure, the bottom number tells you the unit.

Tonic - The first scale degree or beginning note of a scale.

Treble clef - Names the second line of a staff G. Also called G-clef.

Unison - The writing, playing, or singing of parts in a musical passage at the same pitch or in octaves.

Unit - The note that recieves one beat.

Upbeat - The second half of a divided beat, the weak part of the divided beat. Always labeled with an &.

Vivo - Tempo designation: lively, brisk (usually with allegro, as ALLEGRO VIVO).

Vivace - Tempo designation: vivacious, faster than allegro.

Whole-step - Two half-steps.



Some of the definitions on this page came from Gary Ewer's Easy Music Theory.

All references to worlds and characters based on Anne McCaffrey's fiction are copyright
Anne McCaffrey 1967, 2001, all rights reserved, and used by permission of the author.