MUSICAL 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

 
A
 Adagio  A slow tempo, slight faster than a Largo.
 Allegro  A medium fast tempo.
 Alto or Contralto  The lowest-pitched female singing voice.
 Andante A moderate tempo.
 Aria A solo song sung in an opera or oratorio.
B
 Ballade A melodic piano piece from the Romantic period.
 Ballet A danced story with instrumental accompaniment.
 Bass The lowest-pitched male singing voice.
C
 Cadenza An unaccompanied solo within a movement of a concerto.
 Canon A piece in which several voices or instruments perform the same melody but start at different times (like "Row, row, row your boat"). One or more "free" parts may be added: Pachelbel's Canon, for instance, has a "ground-bass" - the bottom part playing the same notes over and over.
 Cantata A sacred choral piece popular during the Baroque period.
 Chamber Music Compositions for small groups of instruments, usually no more than five or six.
 Chorus master Director of the chorus for a large orchestra/choral piece or an opera.
 Concerto A piece of solo instrument accompanied by orchestra.
 Concerto Grosso A concerto for a small group of instrumental soloists and orchestra.
 Conductor Leader of the orchestra (and any extra performers - vocalists, instrumentalists, choruses) who directs the orchestra from a podium.
 Countertenor see Tenor The highest male singing voice, reaching well into the female alto range; seldom used by composers since the Baroque period. To achieve their high range, most countertenors use a special vocal technique called "falsetto".
 Crescendo Gradual increase of volume from soft to loud.
E
 Etude A study piece with exemplary compositional style.
F
 Fantasia A free-flowing composition with no pre-set style or form.
 Forte Instruction to play a passage of music loudly.
 Fortissimo Instruction to play very, very loudly.
 Fugue A Baroque piece with a recurring theme against various independent voices.
K
 Key Signature The instruction to the performers as to the tonality (the key) the piece is to be played in. Major key signatures are bright and "happy" and minor keys are dark and contemplative. Key signatures are denoted with "flats" and "sharps".
M
 Minuet A court dance in 3/4 time used by composers for instrumental compositions.
N
 Nocturne A dreamlike piece most often for piano.
O
 Opera A large theatrical piece involving orchestra, chorus and soloists in a dramatic setting, performed in costume.
 Operetta A lighter version of opera in subject and style.
 Opus Latin for "work" - abbreviated Op. - denotes the position of a composition in the sequence of the composer's complete works.
 Oratorio A large-scale sacred work for orchestra, chorus and vocal soloists popular in the Baroque period.
 Overture The orchestral opening piece to an opera or oratorio. Overtures also have been written as independent concert pieces by Romantic and Modern composers.
P
 Partita A suite for solo instrument popular in the Baroque.
 Passion An oratorio dealing specifically with the crucifixion of Christ.
 Pavane A French dance in 3/4 time.
 Piano (1) A keyboard instrument.
(2) Instruction to play a passage of music softly.
 Pianissimo Instruction to play very, very softly.
 Pizzicato A technique in string playing where the string is actually plucked with the finger.
 Polonaise A Polish dance in 3/4 time.
 Prelude A short instrumental piece preceding other movements in a larger work.
 Presto A very quick tempo.
R
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 Requiem A musical mass for the dead usually featuring vocalists, chorus and orchestra.
 Rondo A compositional form where the main blocks of music (denoted as A, B & C) appear in the following sequence: A - B - A - C - A.
S
 Sarabande A slow Spanish dance in 3/4 time.
 Sinfonia An instrumental prelude to a large-scale Baroque piece (like an oratorio or cantata)
 Sonata Allegro Sonata Allegro (so-not-ah, ah-leg-grow) or Sonata form This compositional form is the basis of the vast majority of instrumental works from the late Baroque period on. It involves three large blocks of music within the same movement: (1) Exposition - the statement of the main themes of the movement; (2) Development - the interplay of the themes in a contest or struggle; (3) Recapitulation - the restatement of the original themes and the conclusion.
 Sonata A piece for solo instrument (usually with piano accompaniment) in three or four movements.
 Soprano The highest female singing voice.
 Suite A collection of short instrumental movements.
 Symphonic Poem Tone Poem or Symphonic Sketch A large scale orchestral work, usually in a single long movement, that adheres to a program or story.
 Symphony An orchestral work (which occasionally involves singers) of three to four movements that was refined in the Classical period and became all the rage in the Romantic era.
T
 Tenor The highest natural male singing voice, between base and tenor.
 Toccata A Baroque instrumental piece displaying the performer's gifts as a virtuoso.
V
 Virtuoso An instrumental performer of exceptional skills.
 Vivace A very quick tempo.
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