Glossary of
Useful Musical Terms!

The headline says it all… This is a glossary of useful Musical Terms for singers as well as musicians to refer to. It is certainly not an exhaustive list, but it is already rather comprehensive. To know more about the common terms you would need to know as a singer, click on this link now.

The musical terms in this list are arranged in Alphabetical Order for ease of usage. Some alphabets are skipped over due to lack of terms for that specific alphabet.

If you wish to read up more about other basics of singing, click on this link to find out more.

Enjoy, and hope this list is useful for you!

Musical Terms Meaning or Description
~~ A ~~
Absolute Pitch Ability to determine the exact pitch of a note as played on a musical instrument just by listening to it
A Cappella One or more singers performing without instrumental accompaniment
A Tempo To sing or play as per the original tempo of the song
Accelerando To gradually quicken the tempo of the song
Accent Rhythmically significant stress in a line of verse
Accidentals Any of various signs that indicate the alteration of a note by one or two semitones or the cancellation of a previous sign.
Accompaniment Music that is played as background to a solo singer or lead instrumentalist
Ad Libitum (Ad Lib; Latin) At liberty; the performer decides how to sing or play the respective section or notes
Adagio Slow
Alto Lowest female voice part in a choir group
Allegro Lively and quick
Andante At a moderate tempo
Arpeggio When the notes of a chord are played quickly, one after another. Usually used as accompaniment for a song, for example, broken chords.
~~ B ~~
Bar Unit of music contained between 2 bar lines; measure
Baritone Mid ranged male singing voice
Bass Lowest of the male singing voices
Bass Clef A symbol placed on the fourth line of a staff to indicate that the fourth line of the staff corresponds to the F next below middle C; F clef.
Beat Basic unit of musical rhythm, a single stroke of a rhythmic accent
Bridge A transitional passage that connects 2 sections of a composition or song. Usually placed after the chorus of a song.
Broken Chord A chord in which the notes are not played simultaneously at once, but in some consistent sequence. Notes are played either consecutively one after another, or 2 notes by 2 notes in a specific order.
~~ C ~~
Cadence A musical term referring to a chord sequence that brings an end to a musical phrase
Canon Musical form where a melody or phrase is imitated by individual instrument or voice parts at various intervals of the song. The melody or phrase may be repeated backwards, inverted, or even at various tempos.
Cantabile In a singing style
Capo Head; the beginning
Choir 3 or 4 notes played simultaneously in specific harmony
Chord Progression A series of chords played in succession
Chorus A group of singers; The main hook of a song that is repeated many times
Chromatic Scale A musical scale that includes all the notes within an octave, including sharps and flats. Total of 12 distinct notes within a chromatic scale.
Clef Symbol at the beginning of the staff that decides the pitch of the notes on the staff. Most common clefs are the treble and bass clef.
Crescendo A musical term for dynamics direction; gradually getting louder
Coda Tail; closing section appended to a movement or song
Coloratura Colouration, ornamentation of a vocal line or phrase. Can also refer to a Soprano voice suited for such colouration or ornamentation.
Common Time The time signature of 4/4; four beats per measure, each beat a quarter note (a crotchet) in length. 4/4 is often written on the musical staff as ‘C’.
Compound Time Metrical time such that 3 beats are counted as one; each beat is divisible by 3
Contralto Lowest female classical singing voice part
Countertenor Highest male classical singing voice part
Crotchet Quarter-note; 1 beat in duration
~~ D ~~
D.S. Dal Segno
Da Capo To repeat from the beginning of the piece and ending on the final chord of the song
Dal Segno Repeat from the Dal Segno (D.S.) sign
Dal Segno al Coda Repeat from the D.S. sign and continue until directed to move to the Coda, a separate ending section
Dal Segno al Fine Repeat from the D.S. sign and end at the last bar of the song (Fine)
Decrescendo Gradually getting softer (Same as Diminuendo)
Demi-semiquaver One out of 32 parts of a Whole Note; 1/16th of a beat in duration
Diminuendo Gradually getting softer (Same as Decrescendo)
Dolce Sweetly
Dominant 5th note of a musical scale
Dynamics Loudness or softness of a song. Also refers to the musical terms or symbols defining volume in a song.
Duet Piece of music written for 2 vocalists or instrumentalists, involving parts to be sung or performed in harmony
~~ F ~~
Falsetto A weaker and more airy voice, usually in the higher pitch ranges
Fermata Finished, Closed; Usually referred to as a Pause. A rest or note is to be held for a duration that is at the discretion of the performer or conductor.
Fifth An interval of a distance of 5 notes
Fine End of song
Flat To diminish the respective note by 1 semitone
Form Musical term referring to the structureans-serif” size=”2″>
~~ E ~~
Eighth An interval of a distance of 8 notes
Encore Additional song(s) or item(s) performed due to audience request, as indicated by resounding applause or noise, after the last song of a concert or performance. Can also refer to performing the relevant passage of a composition once more.
Enharmonic 2 notes that differ in name but refer to the same pitch. For example, C sharp and D flat.
Expressivo To play or sing expressively
Forte Loud
Fortepiano Loud then immediately soft
Fortissimo Very loud
Fourth An interval of a distance of 4 notes
~~ G ~~
Glissando Sliding quickly between 2 notes
Grave Serious and slow
~~ H ~~
Harmony 2 or 3 tones played together that create a pleasant sound or musical effect, often to back up the melody or solo singer. Can also refer to the study of chord progressions.
~~ I ~~
Interlude Instrumental music played between scenes in an opera or play. Can also refer to the music break in a song when the singer does not sing.
Interval Distance in pitch between 2 notes
Inversion A chord that is not played with the root note at the bottom, but with the other notes of the chord taking the bass position
~~ K ~~
Key A system of tones and pitches based on the respective key note
Key Signature The sharps and flats indicated at the beginning of a song, referring to the key of the song or piece of music.
~~ L ~~
Largo Broadly, slowly
Leading Note 7th note of a musical scale
Legato To be sung or played smoothly
Lento Slowly
~~ M ~~
Major One of 2 modes of the tonal system. Music that is written using the major key has a positive or happy character.
Measure Period of a musical piece that indicates a complete cycle of the time signature; for example, in 4/4 time, a measure has 4 crotchet beats.
Mediant 3rd note of a musical scale
Medley Musical term referring to sections of various songs that are performed one after another forming one complete song on its own
Mezzo Medium, Half
Mezzo Forte Moderately Loud
Mezzo Piano Moderately Soft
Mezzo Soprano The second highest female classical singing voice part, just below the Soprano voice
Minim Half-note; 2 beats in duration
Minor One of 2 modes of the tonal system. Music that is written using the major key has a negative or sad character.
Modulation To transition to another key
~~ N ~~
Natural To return the note to its original pitch after it has been augmented or diminished by a sharp(s) or flat(s)
~~ O ~~
Octave Musical term referring to 2 notes that are 8 full tones apart, indicating the start and end of a scale
Opera Performance of a drama where words are sung to instrumental music and not spoken
~~ P ~~
Passaggio The parts of a singing voice where register transitions occur
Pause To suspend or stop momentarily
Pedal To engage the piano or keyboard pedal and cause the respective notes or chords to sound for a longer duration
Pentatonic Scale A musical term referring to a musical scale consisting of only 5 basic tones. Often used in Oriental or Chinese music.
Pianissimo Very soft
Piano Soft, gently
Pre Chorus The section of a song between the verse and the chorus
Presto Very fast tempo
~~ Q ~~
Quadruple Time Measure consisting of 4 beats or pulses, with accents on the 1st and 3rd beats
Quartet A group of 4 musicians performing a piece of music consisting of 4 parts
Quaver One-eighth of a Whole Note; ½ a beat in duration
Quintet A group of 5 musicians performing a piece of music consisting of 5 parts
~~ R ~~
Rallentando Broadening of the tempo, becoming progressively slower. Similar to Ritardando.
Register A section of the range of an instrument or a voice
Repeat To play a certain section again
Rest To stop playing or singing for the specific note duration
Rit. Abbreviation for Ritardando. Sometimes used for Ritenuto although less frequent.
Ritardando Musical term for tempo direction; slowing down, decelerating
Ritenuto Held back, slower. Usually more so and also more temporarily than a ritardando. Ritenuto may apply to a single note, unlike ritardando.
Root Principal note of a triad
Root Position Position of a triad and its notes where the root note is in the bass
~~ S ~~
Scale Musical term referring to successive notes of a key or mode that are either ascending or descending in a specific defined pattern
Second An interval of a distance of 2 notes
Segno Sign, usually used in Dal Segno (D.S.)
Semitone Half of a tone; the basic pitch unit of the classical music system
Semiquaver One-sixteenth of a Whole Note; 1/8 of a beat in duration
Seventh An interval of a distance of 7 notes
Sharp To raise the pitch of the specific note by 1 semitone
Simple Time Rhythm characterized by 2 or 3 beats or pulses to a measure
Sixth An interval of a distance of 6 notes
Slur A curve over certain note(s) indicating that the respective note(s) are to be played or sung smoothly
Solo To perform or sing alone
Soprano The highest female classical singing voice
Staccato To sing or play in a short or detached manner
Staff 5 horizontal parallel lines on or between which musical notes are written, indicating their pitch or key
Stave Also means Staff
Subdominant 4th note of a musical scale
Submediant 6th note of a musical scale
Supertonic 2nd note of a musical scale
Sustain To sing or play a specific note for the specified duration
~~ T ~~
Tempo Speed of a piece of music or a song
Tenor The 2nd highest male classical singing voice part
Tessitura The most comfortable singing range of a singer
Third An interval of a distance of 3 notes
Tie A musical term referring to a curved line over 2 notes that indicates that the note is to be held for the duration specified
Timbre Tone colour and quality of sound that distinguishes an instrument or singer from another
Time Signature Symbol at the start of a song or music score, indicating the number of beats to a measure or bar
Tonality Sum of relations existing between the tones of a scale or musical system. Can also refer to the quality of tones.
Tone Intonation, pitch and modulation of a piece of music or song, affecting the mood, expression or feel
Tonic 1st note of a musical scale, also called the keynote
Treble Highest part in harmonized music. Or, highest pitch or range.
Treble Clef A sign that indicates the G above middle C, placed on the second line of the staff; Also known as the G clef.
Triple Time Time signature with 3 beats to the measure
Triplet 3 notes played in the same amount of time as 1 or 2 beats
Tune Succession of musical notes, melody for instruments or voices
~~ U ~~
Unison Various singers or instruments singing or playing the same note(s) together
~~ V ~~
Verse Section of a song usually at the start, leading to the chorus or pre chorus
Vibrato Rapidly repeated slight pitch variation during a sustained note, to give a richer and more varied sound
Vivace Brisk, lively and spirited
Voce Voice
Voice One of 2 or more parts in polyphonic music. Voice refers to instrument parts as well as singing voice parts.
~~ W ~~
Whole Note A whole note is equivalent to 4 beats or 2 half notes
Whole Tone Scale A musical term referring to a musical scale that consists of only whole-tone notes. This scale only has 6 basic notes.

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