Glossary of Musical Terms

Commonly Used Vocabulary, Terminology & Language in Music

Musical Terms & Terminologies

Just as every major industry, the music industry too, has its own special lingo and terminology which is commonly used by people who understand music. If you want to increase your general knowledge by reading up on some technical and common music terms, have a look at the list below –

Definitions of Musical Terms – Commonly used Terminology in Music

  •   A cappella – Singing or performing without any instrumental accompaniment.
  •  Accelerando – Increase the tempo gradually.
  •  Accent – Changing the volume or length of a note as compared to the others in an attempt to give more prominence to that note.
  • Adagio – Slow moving tempo.
  • Allegro – Fast and cheerful.
  • Alla Breve – 2 half note beats (2 minim). Alla breve is also known as cut time. (The capital C for “common” with a vertical line through it)
  • Alto – range of voice lying above the tenor.
  • A Due – meant for a Duet – 2 voices or 2 instruments played together.
  • Arpeggio – Playing a chord’s notes one at a time instead of together.
  • Atonal – a particular key is not kept in focus when writing or performing such music.
  • Avant Garde – artists who are experimental
  • Bass – The lower parts of music, lowest male voice.
  • Ballad – Narrative folk song
  • Beat – refers to the rhythm of the music piece.
  • Bitonal – music that uses 2 different tonalities at the same time.
  • Bow – usually a wooden flexible stick that produces music when drawn across strings of a musical instrument.
  • Cadence – Cadences mark the end of phrases, the end of a section, or the end of a piece. Cadences may be improvised only when the whole piece is being improvised.
  • Carol – Hymn or song that celebrates Christmas – Carol Singing.
  • Chant – singing and repeating texts or words – continuing in a fixed rhythm, pattern or tune. Chants are believed to have a calming effect on the listener.
  • Choir – group singing (in a Chorus) Choir Singing.
  • Chord – refers to 3-4 notes which are played together (simultaneously).
  • Chord Progression – playing a group of chords one after the other.
  • Chorus – choir (group of singers); section of a song / composition which is repeated after every verse.
  • Chromatic Scale – A scale that contains all 12 notes of an octave.
  • Clarinet – It is a wood wind instrument with a single reed.
  • Clef – It is a symbol which is used in Sheet Music and defines the pitch of notes in that particular staff.
  • Conductor – is one who conducts or supervises a group of performers.
  • Diatonic – music is created by dividing the octave into 7 notes – with intervals of 5 whole and 2 half notes.
  • Drone – is a boring or monotonous tone. It is not really a musical term except in the case of bagpipes!
  • Duet – sung or performed by two – vocalists or instrumentalists.
  • Duo – refers to 2 performers.
  • Encore – means again – usually performed once again due to popular demand or audience request.
  • Ensemble – a group of performers (singers or instrumentalists) or how they perform together.
  • Espirando – reducing or dying away
  • Flat – In music, a flat may look like the letter b, but it isn’t. It lowers the pitch by a semi-tone. Flat may also mean music that does not maintain its tune, too low in pitch and hence out of tune.
  • Fret – commonly refers to the metal strip which runs across the fingerboard of a stringed instrument.
  • Grave – A composition which is played slowly and in a serious manner.
  • Guitar – Is one of the most popular and commonly recognised musical instrument. It is a string instrument which is plucked and usually has 6 strings.
  • Half Note – Minim in western notation.
  • Harmonium – refers to a musical keyboard instrument which typically produces sound when air passes through the reeds and metal parts.
  • Harmony- refers to a mix or combination of two or three tones which are played together in the background while a melody is being played.
  • Harpsichord – It is a keyboard instrument. The Harpsichord produces music when the player presses its keys and the strings are plucked by the instrument.
  • Hymn – A devotional song which praises and honours God.
  • Impromptu – means improvised and unplanned
  • Interlude – Refers to a piece of instrumental music which is played in between the  scenes of a play or opera.
  • Interval – in music terms an interval is the distance in pitch between two notes.
  • Leading Note – is the seventh note in a scale.
  • Maestro – is a great performer of music – he can be a composer, conductor or teacher of music.
  • Major – refers to a form of scale with specific intervals. Music based on the Major keys have a positive and refreshing sound. In the major or diatonic scale, the pattern or steps followed are – whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half – is : eg C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C –
  • Mandolin – It is a plucked string musical instrument with fixed metal frets and metal strings in pairs.
  • Melodrama – refers to a drama that has musical accompaniment and interludes.


With inputs from Beverly A. Stagg, Piano and voice teacher, singer, choir director

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