Musical Dictionary
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Term
Abbreviation
MeaningNotes
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aat; to; by; for; in
eg: a tempo = in time (back to the previous speed).
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a capellaunaccompanied
usually in choral music
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a piacereat pleasure
The performer is not bound to follow the given rhythm exactly.
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accent/accentoaccented; emphasised
An accent is an emphasis on one note. Accents come in three types: dynamic, agogic, and tonic. This is the accent symbol >.
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accidental
Symbol used to raised or lower the pitch of a note by one half step. Eg: sharps, flats, and naturals.
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ad libitumad lib.at choice; freely
A passage may be performed freely. / An instrument in a score may be omitted.
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affabilefriendly
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affettuosotenderly
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affrettandohurrying
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agitatoagitated; restless
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al; allain the manner of
eg: alla marcia = in the style of a march
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alla brevewith a minim beat
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amabileamiable; pleasant
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amorelove
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animasoul; spirit
eg: con anima = with spirit
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animandobecoming more lively
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animatoanimated; lively
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appassionatowith passion
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arcowith the bow
An instruction to string players to use the bow.
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ariosolike an aria
Play in the style of an aria (singing)
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arpeggiationPlaying the notes of a chord one after the other.
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assaivery
eg: allegro assai = very fast
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attaccago straight on
Indicates an immediate move to the next section of music.
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bar line
The vertical lines drawn across the staff to indicate the measures in a musical composition.
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beamA broad, straight line connecting two or more eighth notes.
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beatThe steady pulse of music. Beats form the basis of sense of musical time.
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benwell
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bistwice
Indicates the repetition of a short passage.
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blue tone
Blue tones ('worried' tones) are tones that are between the diatonic and flatted thirds and sevenths, which characterize the blues scales.
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blues scale
A major scale with a flat third and seventh. It must be remembered that the flat third and seventh were sometimes 'worried' notes, thus their pitches did not always correspond to equal-tempered tuning.
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boogie-woogie
A modern blues style created for instrumental application. Boogie-woogie is characterized by adaptation of the ground bass principle - a repetitious bass figure that suggests the blues chord progression.
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bravuraskill; brilliance
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briovigour; spirit
eg: con brio = with vigour
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calandogetting softer; dying away
Usually includes slowing down
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canonA melody that can be sung against itself in imitation. Also called a round.
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cantabilein a singing style
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cantandosinging
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capothe beginningliterally head
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capricciosoin a whimsical or fanciful style
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chordA combination of three or more pitches sounding at the same time.
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chordal texture
A texture in which the musical material is concentrated into chords with relatively little melodic activity.
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circle of fifths
A clockface arrangement of the twelve pitches in the order of the number of accidentals in the key signature.
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col; colla; collewith the
eg: colla voce = with the voice
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comeas; similar to
eg: come prima = as before
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common time - c
Another name for a 4/4 meter signature, sometimes written as a large capital C in place of a meter signature.
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comodoconvenient
eg: tempo comodo = at a comfortable speed
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compound divisionThe division of the beat into three equal parts.
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compound meterA meter in which the beats have a compound division.
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conwith
eg: con moto = with movement
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consonance
A combination of sounds producing a feeling of stability, or of little desire for resolution.
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crescendocresc.gradually getting louder
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cut time
Another name for the 2/2 meter signature, it is written as a large capital C with a line drawn vertically through it.
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da capoD.C.from the beginning
An instruction to repeat from the beginning.
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dal segnoD.S.from the sign
An instruction to repeat from the sign.
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decisowith determination
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decrescendodecresc.gradually getting softer
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degree
One of the notes in a scale. Degrees are usually numbered starting with the tonic.
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delicatodelicate
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diatonic
Any one of the common scales made of whole and half steps in a particular pattern. The white keys on a piano instrument from a diatonic scale.
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diminuendodim.gradually getting softer
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dissonance
A combination of sounds that produce harsh, discordant results, and increase the desire for resolution.
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dotonic
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dolcedol.sweetly
eg: dolcissimo = as sweet as possible
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dolentesad; mournful
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doloregrief
eg: doloroso = sorrowful
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dolorososorrowful
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dominantThe fifth scale degree of a diatonic scale.
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doppio movimentotwice as fast
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double flat
A symbol written to the left of the note head, which lowers the pitch by a whole step. It is double the effect of a single flat. The symbol looks like two flats connected.
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double sharp
Written to the left of a note, The double sharp raises the pitch of a note by a whole step. It is double the effect of a single sharp. The symbol looks like an X.
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duple meterA meter that consists of two beats.
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dynamic accent
Often indicated with an accent sign, This is an accent created when one note is louder than surrounding notes.
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e; edand
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energicoenergetic
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enharmonicTwo tones having the same pitch but different spelling.
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espressivo
espr./espress.
expressive, with expression, with feeling
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fasubdominant
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facileeasy
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felicehappy
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fermatapause
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ferocefierce
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finethe end
Often used in conjunction with "da capo" or "dal segno" to indicate where to end the piece after repeating. eg: al fine = to the end
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flag
The curved shaded line extending from the head of a stem used to indicate and eighth or shorter note.
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flessibileflexible
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fortefloud; strong
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fortepianofploud then immediately soft
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fortissimoffvery loud
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forza; forzandofzforce; strongly accented
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frettahaste
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fuocofire
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furiosofurious
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giocosoplayful; humorous
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giojosojoyful; merry
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giustoproper; exact
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grand staff
Keyboard music is frequently rotated using this combination of the treble and bass clefs. The two staves are arranged treble over bass. A long, curved, thick bar connects the two staves.
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grandiosograndly
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gravevery slow
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graziosograceful
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half step
The smallest interval on the standard keyboard. The interval between two adjacent keys (incl. both black and white keys) is a half step.
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