Glossary of Terms

6 string violin

Glossary of Music Terms

The Stockton Symphony glossary offers brief definitions and translations, mostly of music terms but also pertinent other references, to enhance the reading of the program pages and program notes. The reader may also wish to consult The Harvard Dictionary of Music, ed. Don Randel, 4th ed., 2003, and The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd edition, ed. Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell, 2001, and the regularly updated online version available to educational institutions and private subscribers.




A-B-A form See Ternary form.


Absolute music Instrumental music, also called abstract music, that is not based on explicit or implied extramusical connections, such as text, visual arts, or other specified inspiration; considered the antithesis of program music.


Adagio (It. slow, at leisure) 1) Slow tempo between andante and largo, or, as used by certain 18th- and 19th-century writers, the slowest tempo. 2) A slow movement.


Adagio assai Slowly enough.


Adagio ma non troppo Slow but not too much.


Adagio molto Very slow.


Afterbeat A beat (pulse) that follows a metrically stronger beat such as the first beat of a measure, or downbeat; for example, beats 2 and 3 in triple meter or waltz time; or even beats 2 and 4 in 4/4 meter or common time.


Alberti bass Left-hand accompaniment figure in keyboard music in which the notes of a triad are played in the order lowest, highest, middle, highest, named for composer Domenico Alberti (c. 1710–1746), who used it frequently in his harpsichord sonatas.


Alborada 1) Music performed at dawn. 2) Spanish folk dance.


Alborada del gracioso Morning song of the jester.


Alla Polacca In the style of a polonaise, a characteristic Polish dance in triple meter.


Allegretto Slightly less fast than allegro, often of lighter texture or character.


Allegretto non troppo Slightly less fast than allegro, but not too much.


Allegro (It. merry, lively) 1) Fast tempo. 2) A movement in a fast or moderately fast speed, often the first movement of a sonata or symphony.


Allegro agitato e appassionato assai Fast, agitated and impassioned enough.


Allegro appassionato Fast, impassioned.


Allegro assai Fast enough.


Allegro brioso Fast, lively.


Allegro con brio Fast with liveliness.


Allegro con fuoco Fast with fire.


Allegro con grazia Fast with grace.


Allegro di molto Very fast.


Allegro ma non troppo Fast, but not too fast.


Allegro maestoso Fast, majestic.


Allegro moderato Moderately fast.


Allegro moderato molto e marcato Fast, very moderate and marked or emphasized.


Allegro molto Very fast.


Allegro molto moderato Fast, very moderate.


Allegro non troppo Fast but not too fast.


Allegro molto e vivace Very fast and vivacious.


Allegro scherzando Fast, playful.


Allegro vivace Fast, vivacious.


Allegro vivacissimo Fast, as vivacious as possible.


Allegro vivo Fast, lively.


Amadè The form of Mozart’s middle name he himself favored; he also used “Amadé, though less frequently. Only rarely did he use the Latin form “Amadeus” and then in jest. The 1798–1806 edition of Mozart’s works published by Breitkopf & Härtel used “Amadeus,” which caught on owing to 19th-century academia’s penchant for things Latin.


Andante (It. walking) 1) Moderately slow tempo, between allegro and adagio. 2) A movement of moderately slow tempo.


Andante assai Moderately slow enough.


Andante cantabile con moto Moderately slow, singing, with motion.


Andante comodo Moderately slow, comfortably.


Andante con moto Moderately slow, with motion.


Andante sostenuto Moderately slow and sustained.


Anthem Choral composition with a sacred or moralizing text.


Antiphonal Alternating between two choirs, instruments, or groups of instruments, often separated by space, as in opposite choir lofts.


Arco Played by drawing the bow across the strings.


Aria Elaborate solo song found mainly in opera, oratorio, and cantata. Three typical types: strophic (same music repeated for all verses), ostinato (lengthy melodic line over repeated pattern in the bass), and da capo (A-B-A form).


Arioso A songlike style; a short section or aria in this style


Arlequin Harlequin; stock buffoon character of the Italian commedia dell’arte, played with shaven head, multicolored clothes; beloved of Columbine to the distress of rival Pierrot.


Arpeggio, Arpeggiation A chord whose pitches are sounded in succession rather than simultaneously.


Assez vif (Fr. sufficiently fast).


Autograph Manuscript of a musical work in the composer’s own hand.




B. Burghauser, Jarmil; cataloger of Dvořák’s compositions.


Ballad 1) Simple narrative song in verses, in earlier time somewhat impersonal, later often of romantic or sentimental character. 2) Literary text in this style.


Ballet Theatrical dance, typically with a scenario, music, choreography, scenery, and costumes.


Bar 1) Vertical line through a musical staff dividing it into measures. 2) A measure.


Baroque Period in Western music extending from the end of the 16th century to c. 1750. Neo-Baroque signifies a return to the style traits of the period.


Binary form Form containing two parts, each repeated, often found in Baroque dance movements or sonata movements.


Blues Predominantly black American folk music often expressing melancholy or depression that originated in the 20th century, paralleling jazz.


Book Script or story for a play or musical.


Broken chord Arpeggio or non-simultaneous sounding of chord pitches, often in a pattern such as an “Alberti bass.”




Cadence Melodic and/or harmonic formula concluding a musical phrase, section, or piece. Common final cadence—dominant (V chord) to tonic (I chord).


Cadenza Elaborate passage for the soloist(s) interpolated usually near the end of a movement, often not written out by the composer, but left to the performer to improvise.


Canon, Canonic Exact imitation of a melodic line in one voice or instrumental part by another, continued for more than one phrase. Best known example: a round.


Caprice, Capriccio A fanciful, free-form instrumental piece like a fantasia but with more daring contrasts.


Carnaval Carnival, referring to the festive season preceding Lent in the Roman Catholic church.


Cassation See Serenade.


Cha-cha, Cha-cha-cha Popular dance that arose in the 1950s from Cuban dance styles such as the mambo, characterized by the rhythmic pattern slow, slow, fast, fast, slow (step, step, cha, cha, cha).


Chamber music Music for a small ensemble, generally one player to a part.


Chance music Compositions in which factors such as pitch, duration, rhythms, dynamics, order of events, etc., are not, or not completely, specified by the composer. Also called aleatoric or indeterminate music.


Chorale Melody, song, or hymn originally sung in Protestant churches.


Chord Usually three or more notes sounding simultaneously. Two-note vertical sonorities are also sometimes described as chords.


Choreograph, Choreographer, Choreography To plan the movements in a dance or ballet; the plan for these movements; the person who invents the plan; the plan itself.


Chromatic, Chromaticism Use of notes not in the basic scale of a composition or passage. Harmonic style frequently using such notes.


Clair de lune Moonlight.


Classic, Classical 1) In Western music, the period or style beginning tentatively in Italy in the early 18th century, extending through the early 19th century. 2) In popular usage, “art” or “serious” music as opposed to “popular.” 3) In general usage, the Greco-Roman tradition, or basic characteristics of balance, simplicity, and proportion, or standard of excellence. Neoclassical refers to a return to the style characteristics of the period.


Coda Concluding section of a composition, particularly of a fugue or movement of a sonata or symphony.


Col legno With the wood—striking the strings with the wood of the bow rather than the hair.


Columbine (Columbina) Stock character of the Italian commedia dell’arte, a lady’s maid, sometimes portrayed as the daughter of Pantalone, beloved of Harlequin, often pursued by Pierrot.


Commedia dell’arte Italian improvised theater begun in the 16th century performed by stock comic characters, with stock dramatic situations and stereotyped costumes.


Compose, Composer Write music; person who writes music.


Concertante Word to describe a work similar to a concerto for two or more soloists with orchestra, or an orchestral work in which two of more of the performers take on a soloistic role.


Concertmaster Head of the orchestra’s first violin section, male or female, who assumes a leadership role among the musicians.


Concerto Work for one or more solo instruments accompanied by orchestra, often in three movements.


Concerto grosso Baroque concerto contrasting a small group of soloists (concertino) against a small orchestra (ripieno).


Conduct, Conductor Direct an orchestra, chorus, or other musical ensemble; person who directs such a group.


Con moto moderato With moderate motion.


Con moto tranquillo With quiet motion.


Contrapuntal See Counterpoint.


Contrary motion One part moving up while another moves down.


Concertstück, Konzertstück (Ger. concert piece) Work for solo instrument and orchestra, often in one movement.


Counterpoint, Contrapuntal Texture in which two or more melodic voices proceed simultaneously and relatively independently.


Cyclic The use of the same thematic material in two or more movements of the same work.


Crescendo Gradual increase in volume.




D. Deutsch, Otto Erich; cataloguer of Schubert’s compositions.


Development 1) Growth of a musical idea through change or transformation. 2) Second section in a sonata form.


Dies irae (Lat. day of wrath) Sequence sung in the Requiem Mass of the Roman Catholic Church, originally a single line of chant but later often set polyphonically with dramatic flair.


Diminuendo Gradual decrease in volume.


Divertimento See Serenade.


Dominant 1) Fifth note of the scale. 2) In harmonic practice, the chord based on that note.


Dotted rhythm Uneven rhythm—usually long-short—produced when a note (notated with a dot) is succeeded by another of one third the value of the first note.


Double fugue Fugue (see below) on two subjects, in various forms.


Duple meter Basic unit of pulse recurring in groups of two, such as two or four beats per measure.




Eclogue Piano piece with pastoral character; title derived from earlier poetry in which shepherds converse.


Eine kleine Nachmusik A little night music.


Entr’acte Instrumental piece played between the acts of a play.


Episode Section in a rondo between returns of the refrain; scene in a narrative.


Étude Piece designed to improve a specific aspect of a performer’s technique. Composers such as Chopin and Liszt elevated such “studies” to a high artistic level.


Eusebius Introverted character from Jean Paul Richter’s novel Die Flegeljahre (Adolscent Years), used by Schumann as a voice for his music criticism and to project an intimate character in his music.


Exposition First section of a sonata-form movement or fugue, presenting main material.


Extramusical Dependent upon extrinsic (nonmusical) ideas—narratives, poems, visual images—rather than self-contained, absolute, or abstract principles.




Fantasia, Fantasy Imaginative free-form instrumental composition.


ff See Fortissimo.


Fifth Interval between two notes 7 half steps apart (called a perfect fifth); diminished = 6 half steps apart, augmented = 8 half steps).


Flat Lowered a half-step in pitch.


Florestan Extroverted character from Jean Paul Richter’s novel Die Flegeljahre (Adolscent Years), used by Schumann as a voice for his music criticism and to project an exuberant character in his music


Forlane (Fr., It. forlana) Lively dance from northern Italy that in the 17th and 18th centuries flourished as an elegant French court dance, typically in 6/8 or 6/4 meter with dotted rhythms.


Fortissimo (It.) Very loud.


Fugue, Fugal, Fugato Contrapuntal composition or section based on the development of a short theme or subject in imitation.




Gamelan Indonesian, Malaysian, Javanese ensemble of gongs, gong-chimes, other metallic percussion, and drums.


Gavotte Graceful Baroque dance in duple meter, usually in four-bar phrases that begin and end in the middle of a bar and without complicated rhythms.


Gigue (Fr., Eng. jig, It. giga) Fast Baroque dance in binary form with fast even running notes in compound meter in Italian style, or dotted rhythms in duple meter often with imitative texture in French style. The gigue or giga became standard as the last movement in Baroque dance suites.


Glissando Sliding movement from one pitch to another, sounding all pitches in between.




Half step Smallest interval in traditional Western music—on the piano the distance between two adjacent keys; semitone.


Harmonics Sounds produced by activating pitches in the overtone series by touching the string lightly on a stringed instrument These overtones are higher than the fundamental and often project a glassy, flutelike quality. On the harp harmonics usually sound an octave higher than written.


Harmony, Harmonic Simultaneous combination of notes, blended into a structure often thought to be pleasing to the ear. Harmonization = the use of such combinations in an accompaniment.


Home key See Tonic and Key.




Idée fixe (Fr. “obsession”) Berlioz’s term for a recurring melodic image, similar to a leitmotif.


Imitation Closely following repetition of a melody or phrase by different voices; called “strict” if exact, “free” if slightly changed.


Impressionist, Impressionism Stylistic period in music from about 1890 to 1910, named for the French art movement of the late 19th century that explored effects of light, color, and atmosphere, particularly in nature. Debussy transferred such coloristic effects to music, as did Ravel and others, through nuanced instrumental effects, melodies without traditional goals, and lush harmonies extended by chromatic inflection.


Impromptu Piano piece of the 19th century in an improvisatory style, often in ternary form.


Incidental music Music that accompanies a play.


Intermezzo 1) Middle movement or section of a larger work, often lighter or more lyrical than the surrounding movements. 2) Lyrical character piece for piano. 3) In the 18th century, a comic work performed between the acts of a serious opera. 4) Music between acts of a play.


Interval Distance between two notes.


Istesso tempo, L’ The same tempo even though the meter changes.




Jazz Popular music of black American origin that sprang up in the early 20th century, characterized by syncopation, melodic and harmonic elements derived from the blues, standard formal structure, and improvised solos.




K. Köchel, Ludwig; cataloguer of Mozart’s compositions. We use the K. numbers from the sixth and newest edition, followed the original, traditional K. number in parentheses if they differ.


Key Pitch relationships that establish a tone as tonal center or tonic. The key of a work is typically classified as major or minor depending on the scale from which the notes are drawn. A work said to be in one key can contain passages in other keys.




Langsam mit Ausdruck (Ger.) Slow with expression.


Larghetto Slightly less slow than largo, which is very slow.


Largo (It. broad, large) 1) Very slow tempo, considered the slowest tempo by some theorists, others place it between andante and adagio. 2) A movement of very slow speed.


Leading tone Seventh degree of the major scale, or of the harmonic or ascending minor scale, which often “leads” or resolves to the tonic.


Leitmotif Motive, phrase, or theme associated throughout a music drama with a person, place, emotion, object, or idea.


Libretto Text of an opera or oratorio.


Loop pedal Device operated by the foot that records passages for repeated replay as other layers are added; also the repeating music thus generated.


Lyrics The words of a song.




Maestoso Majestic.


Major Based on a mode or scale pattern of pitches arranged in whole- (W) and half- (H) step intervals: WWHWWWH; stereotyped as happy, victorious, majestic.


Mambo Ballroom dance derived from Cuban rumba, with elements of jazz.


March au supplice March to the scaffold.


Marcia funebre Funeral march.


Mass 1) The most important service of the Roman Catholic rite. 2) A large music work for chorus, vocal soloists, and orchestra employing the text or a portion of the text of the Roman Catholic rite.


Mazurka Polish folk dance in triple meter, adapted by Chopin and others for piano pieces of varying tempo and character.


Measure Rhythmic unit of time made up of beats, set off in written music by bar lines.


Menuet, Menuett, Menuetto See Minuet.


Meter Pattern in which a succession of rhythmic pulses is organized; described as 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, 6/8, 7/8, 9/8 time, for example, in which the top number signifies how many beats per measure and the bottom what type of note (quarter, eighth, etc.) is being counted.


Minor Based on a mode or scale pattern of pitches arranged in whole- (W) and half- (H) step intervals: WHWWHWW; stereotyped as sad, dramatic, passionate. (The preceding pattern is known as “natural minor”; slight alterations produce “harmonic minor” and “melodic minor.”)


Minuet, Minuetto Dance of the Baroque and Classic periods in triple meter and moderate tempo; often, with trio, used as third movement of Classical symphony.


Modal, Mode Music centered around a Medieval or Renaissance system of scales or “church modes,” of which major and minor are only two. Often used to describe non-Western or folk music.


Moderato (It.) Moderate.


Modulate, Modulation, Modulatory Harmonic motion from one key or tonic to another in a composition.


Molto Very.


Molto vivace Very lively.


Motive, Motivic Smallest unit of a musical idea. Longer units are described as phrases or themes.


Motto Musical idea that returns, sometimes transformed, at various points in a piece.


Movement A complete and relatively independent part of a large composition. In modern concert etiquette, audience members applaud only at the end of a work, not after individual movements. (In previous centuries this was not so!)


Musette Small French bagpipe.


Musical Pertaining to music; play interspersed with song and dance, also called musical comedy


Mute, Muted Device to dampen an instrument’s vibrations to make a softer sound, somewhat altering the tone color.




Neoclassic, Neoclassical A retrospective imitation of style characteristics of the Classic period.


Nicht zu schnell (Ger.) Not too fast.


Nocturne “Night piece,” often of pensive character.


Notturno “Night piece,” see Serenade.


Non troppo allegro Not too fast.




Octave Interval outlined by two pitches of the same letter name, the higher of which is twice the frequency of the lower; or interval between two notes 12 half steps apart.


Op. (pl. abbreviation: opp.) See Opus.


Open fifth A perfect interval of a fifth with no intermediate third sounding as in a triad; often heard as sustained pedals or drones as on certain folk instruments.


Opera Drama that is primarily sung, accompanied by instrumental ensemble, and staged.


Operetta Comedic stage work consisting of song, spoken dialogue, and dance.


Orchestrate, Orchestration Distribute (or distribution of) musical phrases among various instruments.


Opus (abbreviated “op.”) Literally “work,” used to indicate the chronological publication number of a composition within a composer’s output. Opus numbers can be unreliable for the actual order in which compositions were written.


Ostinato Short melodic or rhythmic figure persistently repeated throughout a composition or section, often in the bass.


Overture Instrumental composition intended to introduce an opera or other dramatic vocal work, or instrumental suite. Since the 19th century, a composition similar to a dramatic overture, but intended for independent concert performance.




Pantalon (Pantalone) Miserly, greedy merchant character of the Italian commedia dell’arte, often with a young wife or adventurous daughter.


Pedal, Pedal Point 1) A sustained tone, usually in low register, occurring during changing harmonies in the other parts. 2) Lever operated by foot on instruments such as piano, organ, harp, timpani.


Phrase, Phrasing Musical unit of one or more motives, corresponding to a sentence in speech, or a line of poetry.


Pianissimo (It.) Very soft.


Pierrot (Pedrolino) Favorite mime character of the Italian commedia dell’arte—a clown lover played with white powdered face and hair and white billowy costume with big buttons down the front; in love with Colombine.


Pizzicato Played by plucking the string.


Polonaise Polish dance in triple meter, often characterized by the rhythm of two eighths, two sixteenths, four eighths.


Polyphony, Polyphonic Many-voiced texture; also a specific texture of independent contrapuntal voices.


Portamento Expressive connection between notes, sometimes synonymous with glissando but often denoting a continuous variation in pitch rather than a rapid succession of discrete pitches.


Postlude Piece performed at the end of a larger work or at the end of a church service.


pp See Pianissimo.


Préambule Preamble, prelude.


Prélude, Prelude Introductory piece.


Presto (It. very fast) Faster than allegro.


Presto ma non tanto Very fast, but not too fast.


Program The narrative description of the non-musical inspiration for an instrumental piece (see Program music).


Program music, Programmatic, Program Instrumental music associated with non-musical ideas often inspired by nature, art, or literature; the narrative description of that succession of ideas.




Quartet Ensemble of four players; a piece for four players. See also String quartet.




Ragtime Pieces primarily for piano, also in ensemble arrangements, combining syncopated melodies and march rhythms, often composed by African-Americans.

Ranz des vaches (Fr. dialect) Melody sung or played on an alpenhorn by Swiss herdsman to call cattle.


Recapitulation 1) Thematic restatement. 2) Third section in a sonata form.


Recitative, Rezitativo 1) Declamatory style of singing, used particularly in opera, oratorio, and cantata, with a minimum of musical structure. 2) A section in that style, often preceding an aria.


Refrain Phrase recurring at intervals in a poem or song; main recurring section in a rondo.


Register Segment of a total range of pitches, often referred to as high or low.


Requiem Mass for the Dead (see Mass).


Rigaudon (Fr., Eng. rigadoon) Merry Baroque dance in duple meter, typically beginning with a quarter-note upbeat and unfolding in binary form made up of four-measure phrases.


Rococo Stylistic period in music coinciding with and named for the French style in art from about 1690 to 1765, characterized by elegance and graceful ornamentation.


Romance, Romanza, Romanze Slow, lyrical instrumental work.


Romantic, Romanticism Period in Western music usually considered to have extended from the early 19th century up to the modernist innovations of the early 20th century, often subdivided about 1850. Neo-Romantic denotes a return to style traits of the period.


Rondo Form prominent in the Classical period in which a main theme, in the tonic key, alternates with contrasting episodes in other keys; frequently used for last movements.




Scale, Scalar Arrangement of pitches, described from lowest to highest or highest to lowest, on which tonal organization is based.


Scène aux champs Scene in the country.


Scherzo 1) Movement of a sonata, symphony, or quartet that replaced the minuet in the 19th century. 2) An independent composition, usually written in a light rapid style often with contrasting trio.


Scordatura Unusual tuning of stringed instruments.


Score, Scoring (noun) Musical notation showing all parts vertically aligned; (verb) To create a score by distributing musical materials among instruments or voices; orchestrate, arrange.


Sehr lebhaft (Ger.) Very lively.


Serenade Originally a musical greeting performed to a beloved or person of rank often outdoors in the evening; an instrumental piece of several movements, often incorporating dance movements, that lies between a suite and a symphony, sometimes associated with its origins and performed at an evening entertainment or concert. Also called notturno (night piece), cassation, or divertimento.


Sharp Raised a half-step in pitch.


Sinfonia 1) Symphony. 2) Baroque-period designation for an ensemble sonata or certain keyboard pieces. 3) instrumental overture, interlude, or postlude performed in operas of the 17th and 18th centuries.


Sinfonia concertante Concerto for two or more solo instruments and orchestra.


Sixteenth note A note lasting 1/16 the rhythmic duration of a whole note.


Sixth degree The sixth note or “la” in the scale sequence “do re mi fa sol la ti do.”


Sonata Composition for one or more instruments, usually in several movements; takes on different forms in different style periods.


Sonata-allegro See Sonata form.


Sonata form Structure of many single movements, in which musical ideas are presented through exposition, development, and recapitulation (often preceded by an introduction and followed by a coda) and underpinned by a harmonic scheme: tonic (home) key, excursions to other keys, return to tonic. Also called sonata-allegro form.


Sonata rondo Combination of sonata and rondo form, typically with a) an exposition in which the main theme functions like a rondo refrain framing the second theme which itself corresponds to a rondo episode, b) development section, c) recapitulation in which the main theme returns like a refrain surrounding a new episode and/or a return of the second theme/episode, and may be followed by a coda. Naturally composers have created countless ingenious variants.


Slur Curved line indicating two or more notes to be played in smoothly connected fashion. (For string players a slur generally means played in one bow without changing direction.)


Songe d’une nuit de sabbat Dream of a witches’ Sabbath.


Sotto voce In an undertone, barely audible like a whisper.


Staccato 1) Detached. 2) Notes to be played in this fashion, marked with a dot.


Stopped horn Tones produced on the French horn by closing off the bell with the hand or a mute, which changes the tone color and sometimes the pitch.


String quartet Performing group consisting of two violins, viola, and cello; composition for such an ensemble.


Subdominant 1) Fourth note of the scale. 2) In harmonic practice, the chord based on that note.


Subject Theme.


Submediant 1) Sixth note of the scale. 2) In harmonic practice, the chord based on that note.


Suite Instrumental composition consisting of several movements in dance character, usually in the same key. Later suites are often extracts from an opera or ballet.


Symphonic poem Programmatic or narrative orchestral composition in one movement. Also called a tone poem.


Symphony 1) In the broadest sense, an orchestral composition, often consisting of four movements. 2) An ensemble that plays such works.


Syncopation, Syncopated Displacement of the normal accent by transferring it from a strong to a weak beat.




Tempo Speed at which a composition is performed, often given in Italian.


Tenth Interval between two notes 15 or 16 half steps apart, or an octave and a third (called a minor or major tenth.


Ternary form Composition or movement in three sections following the pattern A-B-A. Also called song form.


Theme Musical idea, often a melody, serving as the basis for a composition or section thereof.


Theme and variations Form in which a self-contained musical unit is followed by a series of modifications of the original material.


Theory Study of how musical elements such as melody, harmony, rhythm, texture, and structure function in a piece of music; the academic discipline for teaching and acquiring such skills.


Third Interval between two notes 3 or 4 half steps apart (called a minor or major third; diminished = 2 half steps apart, augmented = 5 half steps).


Third-related juxtaposed keys or tonalities distant from one another by the interval of a major or minor third-for example, C major and E major.


Time signature Indication for the meter of a piece (see Meter).


Toccata Literally “touch piece,” a virtuoso composition for keyboard or plucked-string instrument featuring sections of brilliant passage work.


Tonality, Tonal Centering of music around one note or key.


Tone poem See Symphonic poem.


Tonic First or home note of a scale; key note.


Transpose Reproduce in a key higher or lower than what is written.


Transposing instruments Instruments that sound higher or lower than the pitch notated in the music.


Tremolo Quick and continuous reiteration of a single pitch.


Triad, Triadic Chord made up of three tones: one (root), with two others in the intervals of a third and a fifth above. Adjective refers to melody or harmony made up of such chords.


Trio 1) Composition in three voices. 2) Composition for three performers. 3) Second section in a symphony or sonata minuet or scherzo movement, followed by a repetition of the minuet or scherzo.


Triple meter Basic unit of pulse recurring in groups of three, sometimes called waltz time.


Triplet A group of three notes to be played in the time normally occupied by two.


Tritone Interval between two notes an augmented fourth or three whole steps apart, sometimes called “the Devil’s interval.”


Turn Melodic ornament that circles around the main note.


Tutti (It. all) The ensemble in a concerto, as distinct from the soloist; a passage for the ensemble. A tutti exposition often precedes that for the soloist in a Classic concerto.




Upbeat One or several notes leading to the first metrically accented beat or downbeat.


Unison Simultaneous performance of the same pitch (note).




Variation 1) Technique of altering or elaborating a musical motive, phrase, or section. 2) Section employing this technique.


Valse (Fr.) Waltz


Valse allemande German waltz.


Valse noble Noble waltz.


Vif (Fr.) Fast


Vivace (It. lively, brisk) Used separately to indicate a tempo equivalent to allegro or faster, but often used with allegro: Allegro vivace.




Waltz Ballroom dance in triple meter, the music for this dance.

—©Jane Vial Jaffe