A Brief Music Glossary          (and some silly ones too!)
A Very complete on-line music Dictionary can be found at Virginia Tech Multimedia


  • Accelerando- Gradually increase the tempo.
  • Accent- Attack the note louder.
  • Accidental- A sharp, flat or natural thrown into a piece with a different key signature.
  • Adagio- Slow, tranquil
  • Affretando (affret.)- Quickening, hurrying.
  • Alla Breve- Same as cut time.
  • Alla Marcia- In march style.
  • Allegretto- Quite lively, moderately fast, (faster than Andante, slower than Allegro).
  • Allegro- Lively, rapid
  • Andante- "Moving", moderately slow
  • Andantino- A little faster than Andante.
  • Appagiatura- Note of embellishment, or grace note.
  • Arabesque- Ornamented.
  • Arietta- A short melody.
  • Arpeggio- The notes of a chord played one at a time.
  • Articulation- The type of attack used to play one note or a group of notes.
  • Assai- Very
  • A Tempo- Return to the original rate of speed or tempo before the Accelerando.


  • Bar Line- It divides the music staff into measures.
  • Breath Mark- It looks like a comma at the top of the staff. It means, take a breath.
  • Brio- Vigor, life, spirit
  • Cantabile- In a singing style.
  • Chord- Two or more pitches sounded at the same time.
  • Chromatic Scale- Scale of half steps (C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, etc...)
  • Common Time (C)- Same as 4/4 time.
  • Con Moto- With motion.
  • Countermelody- A less important melody that can be played along with the main melody.
  • Crescendo- Gradually increasing in loudness. Written as a less-than sign. (cres. or cresc.)
  • Cut Time (Alla Breve)- A time signature indicating two counts in each measure (2/2, time signature), the half note gets one count.
  • Da Capo al Coda (D.C. al Coda)- Go back to the beginning and play until the coda sign. When you reach the coda sign, skip to the Coda.
  • Da Capo al Fine (D.C. al Fine)- Repeat from the beginning to the end-Fine
  • Dal Sengo al Fine- Repeat from the sign (it looks like an "S" with two dots and a line through it) to the end-Fine
  • Decrescendo- Gradually decreasing in loudness (decres. or decresc.)
  • Diminuendo- Gradually softer. (dim.)
  • Divisi- Means that part of the section should play the top notes and the other half of the section should play the bottom notes.
  • Dolce (dol.)- Softly, sweetly, delicately.
  • Dominant- The fifth note of a scale
  • Double Appogiatura- Two grace notes before the melody note.
  • Double bar-line- It marks the end of a piece of music.
  • **Drone-bass- A bas on the tonic, or tonic and dominant, throughout a movement or a piece, as in a musette.
  • Duet- A composition for two performers.
  • Dynamics- The loudness or softness of music.
  • Embouchure- The mouth formation used to play an instrument.
  • Enharmonics- Notes that sound the same but are written differently.
  • Espressivo- With expression.
  • Etude- A study
  • Fermata- A symbol that means to hold the note or rest until the conductor directs you to stop.
  • Fine- The end; the conclusion.
  • Flat- It lowers the pitch of a note 1/2 step.
  • Forte (f.)- Often interpreted as 'Loud'    (a better translation :   'Full / breadth / width'
  • Fortissimo (ff.)- Very loud but under control.
  • Gavotte- An old French dance in double rhythm beginning on the unaccented beat.
  • Grave- Slow, solemn, deep.
  • Grazioso- In a graceful manner.
  • Harmony- Two or more different notes played or sung at the same time.
  • Il canto ben marcato- The melody played distinctly.
  • Interval- The distance between two notes.
  • Introduction- A section of the music that precedes the first theme.
  • Largo- Broadly, slowly; the slowest tempo mark.
  • Ledger Lines- Short lines used to extend the staff.
  • Legato- Play as smoothly and connected as possible.
  • Leggiero (leggo.)- Easily, lightly, delicately.
  • Long Rest- A long rest looks like a bold line in a measure with a number above it. It means to rest the number of measures indicated.
  • Maestoso- Majestically
  • Marcato (marc.)- Marked, accented.
  • Measure- The space between two bar lines; also known as a "bar".
  • Melody- An organised succession of tones.
  • Meno mosso- Less motion; slower
  • Mezzo Forte (mf.)- Medium Fullness (loud.)
  • Mezzo Piano (mp.)- Medium Intensity (soft.)
  • Minuet- An early French dance in triple rhythm, stately movement.
  • Misterioso- In a style suggestive of mystery.
  • Moderato- Moderate speed.
  • Molto- Much.
  • Monophony- A single unaccompanied melody.
  • Musette- Short piece imitating a bagpipe or a small oboe. **Drone-bass
  • Natural- Cancels a flat or a sharp for that measure. Unless the natural is placed in the key signature. Then that note is natural in the whole section.
  • Pesante- Heavy, ponderous; with weight.
  • Phrase- A musical though or sentence.
  • Piano (p)- Often interpreted as 'Soft'.   (a better translation:   'intense, small
  • Pianissimo (pp)- Very intense/ small soft.
  • Pick-Up Notes- Note or notes that come before the first full measure.
  • Poco- Little.
  • Poco a poco- Little by little.
  • Polyphony- Two or more melodies played at the same time.
  • Presto- Quickly; faster than Allegro.
  • Primo- First part.
  • Rallentando (rall.)- Gradually growing slower.
  • Repeat Sign ( ||: )- Repeat from the beginning or repeat section of music between the repeat signs.
  • Ritardando (rit. or ritard.)- Gradually slackening the pace.
  • Scale- A collection of pitches arranged from lowest to highest or highest to lowest.
  • Secondo- Second part.
  • Sempre- Always.
  • Sforzando (sfz.)- With sudden emphasis.
  • Sharp (#)- Raises the pitch of a note 1/2 step.
  • Short Appogiatura- One grace note before the melody note.
  • Slur- A curved line over or under two or more notes of different pitches to show they are played legato.
  • Soli- The whole section plays.
  • Solo- Only one person plays.
  • Staccato- A dot placed above or below the note which means to play short and detached.
  • Staff- The lines and spaces on which music is written.
  • Stringendo (string.)- Pressing or accelerating.
  • Subdominant- The fourth note of a scale; chord built on the fourth note of a scale.
  • Tempo- The speed of the music.
  • Tenuto- A line placed above or below the note meaning to sustain for full value.
  • Texture- The character of a composition as determined by the relationship of its melodies, countermelodiees, and/or chords.
  • Theme- The main musical idea in a piece of music.
  • Tie- A curved line that connects two notes of the SAME pitch; tied notes are played as one unbroken note.
  • Time Signature- A time signature consists of two numbers at the beginning of a piece of music but can change throughout the piece. The top number tells you the number of counts in each measure; the bottom number tells you the type of note that receives one count.
  • Tonic- The first note of a scale; a chord built on the first note of a scale.
  • Treble Clef- Also called the "G Clef"; read by Saxophone, Flute, Oboe, Clarinets, Trumpet, French Horn & Mallet Percussion.
  • Triad- Three toned chord; root-its third and its fifth.
  • Triplet- A group of three notes to be played in time of one note to the next higher value.
  • Turn- An embellishment consisting of four notes (usually) a principal note played twice with its higher and lower auxiliary.
  • Tutti- Everyone plays.
  • Unison- Everyone plays the same notes and rhythms.

  • Variation- A repeated musical idea which has been slightly changed in some way from the original.
  • Vivace- With vivacity; lively, quick.
  • Vivo- Lively.