Musical Terms, Definitions and Meanings
The Conductor Is the Father of Musical Expression
Music soothes, excites, calms, moves, motivates, speaks, refines, describes, stirs, celebrates, heals, connects, expresses, reaches and satisfies. The soul of music is released through expressive interpretation of notes, patterns, and rhythm. Music is both complex and simple at the same time. Music is the master and musicians are its slaves.
The musician must read notation flawlessly, live within the rhythm and heart beat of its pulsing meter. Musical interpretation is left to he who creates it. The conductor is the “Father” of musical expression and signals musicians in the orchestra to play together, loud, soft, slow, fast, start and stop. Every single musician and vocalist must know not only how to play every note flawlessly but follow the conductor with expression.
How boring music would be without the emotion. Music sets up anticipations and then satisfies them. Musicians breathe feelings into a piece by introducing minute deviations in timing and loudness. Every deviation from an anticipation tends to weaken subsequent anticipation and thereby undercut the impact of further deviations. A momentary shift in tempo brings a tinge of emotion.
All emotions are either negative or positive. Negative emotions arise when experience falls short of anticipation. But we experience a feeling of well-being when small positive emotional events occur continuously, and we become depressed or irritable when a train of small negative events occur. So we can see how music generates emotion.
Playing Piano Brings Peace to the Mind
Music's Road Map And Signals Are Musical Terms
Music plays a center role in the lives of many people. The more knowledge we gain about how music works, the more we can appreciate it and enjoy all types of music.
To help you evolve to a better understanding of musicianship, as well as increase your emotional response to the music itself, I've listed a few of the most used musical terms and definitions.
For those of you who play an instrument, these musical terms are your instruments language.
The F Clef Also Known As The Bass Clef
Common Terms, Definitions, and Meanings Found in Music
- Sequence. A successive transposition and repetition of a phrase at different pitches.
- Tune A melody.
- Una Corda. The muting (or damping) mechanism on a piano.
- Jig. A lively English dance, originating in the 16th century; it became the gigue.
- Jazz. A strongly influential musical form, emerging shortly after World War 1 from black communities in America, incorporating many styles, including blues and ragtime. Taken up by commercial musicians, it was disseminated into the wider musical culture.
Originally highly improvisational in character and played only on a small group of instruments, it developed into several forms, such as swing and bebop, and became popular as a form for big band ensembles.
It was a huge influence on the composers of the interwar period, many of whom wrote in a jazz idiom. Similarly, many musicians whose origins were in jazz produced works that have proved lasting in the context of art music, most notably George Gershwin.
- Acapella. Without instrumental accompaniment.
- Allegro. Lively, fast, cheerful or brisk.
- Appassionato. Passionately.
- Binary. A musical form in two sections. AB.
- Canto. Chorus, Choral or Chant.
- Contralto. Lowest singing female voice.
- Augment. To make larger, to increase in size. In music an augmented 5th would be to raise the 5th tone a half-step higher.
As the musician and student become familiar with musical terms the confidence rises to a new level and the music takes on a new, sometimes passionate, feeling for both the musician and the audience.
Musicians Must Learn Musicianship and Musical Terms and Definitions
More Definitions for Standard Musical Terms for all Music Lovers
- Downbeat—the beat with the strongest accent, at the beginning of a bar.
- Dynamics—the loudness or softness of music, indicated by a system of gradations; from softest to loudest, these are pp, p, mp, mf, f, ff. The extremes have been extended in both directions.
- Soprano—the highest female voice.
- Staccato—abbreviated and detached notes.
- Timbre—the tone "color" of an instrument, voice or register.
- Key Signature—the sharps or flats at the beginning of each line of music to indicate the key of the music.
- Moderato—moderate tempo.
- Movement—a separate section of a large work.
- Musicology—the theoretical and historical study of music
- Middle C—the C more or less at the center of the piano keyboard (about 262 vibrations per second).
- Riff—a repeating motif or refrain in a modern pop song or jazz piece.
- Monotone—the repetition of a single pitch.
- Chant—unison of singing of sacred texts in a free rhythm similar to the rhythm of speech.
- Crescendo—a steady increase in volume.
- Whole Tone Scale---a scale where each note is separated by the interval of a whole tone. The whole-tone scale comprises six degrees per octave. A prominent example of the whole tone scale that made its way into pop music are bars three and four of the opening of Stevie Wonder's 1972 song "You Are The Sunshine In My Life."
- Major and Minor -The real difference between a minor and a major chord is the third (just to remind, a basic chord is tonic + third + fifth). Minor and major thirds are just a half step away from each other, but this tiny little difference dramatically changes the emotional quality of a given song part. It is common to hear something like this:
“The minor third makes the chord more sad. On the other hand, the major third makes it happier”.
- MF- Mezzo Forte. This italian term means medium loud.
Why Learn Musical Theory?
As a piano instructor, I find that students who learn musical theory benefit in the following ways:
- Hastens the learning process. An example would be in learning scales in different keys. The student will recognize a particular scale in the body of the music. Because he has practiced the scale, he plays it fluently immediately, therefore saving hours of practice.
- Learning intervals. With a good knowledge of intervals, the student becomes a good sight-reader.
- A knowledge of music theory is essential for getting better-paying gigs.
- Knowing theory boosts confidence.
- The creative process is set free for improvising and interpretation.
- All well-trained musicians excel in knowing theory.
- Group playing demands a knowledge of musicianship.
- Understanding how music works are the foundation for all instrumentalists.
Playing Music Using Different Instruments
Every musician including the vocalist has a personal responsibility to follow suggested musical terms as they perform. The composer has noted on the music, the tempo, dynamics and expressive interpretation for a reason. He wrote the music and added musical terms (directions) to help others interpret the composition.
Keep learning musical terms and definitions. Once you find the meaning of a musical term, apply it to your playing. As you incorporate this habit, you'll be performing your masterpiece the way the composer intended as well as bringing an emotional and gratifying experience to your listener.
Can you imagine a full symphony orchestra all playing Beethoven at a very soft dynamic, except for one French horn, playing as loud as thunder?
Of course, he should be watching the conductor as he directs the orchestra to play loud or soft - fast or slow. One major reason for orchestral rehearsals is to make sure every musician is following the written dynamics and musical terms given in the music.
Artists final and most important responsibility is to interpret and create, thereby bringing life to the music itself.
Music itself is another language—but its language is universal.
“Don’t give notes. Give the meaning of the notes.”
–Pablo Casals, cellist
Questions & Answers
© 2011 Audrey Hunt