Glossary of Music Terms

An every expanding list of musical terms. This is the lingua franca of music and leads to better communication when dealing with musicians and even understand what people are referring to when they are making up their own terms.



In music, an accidental is sharp (♯), flat (♭), and natural (♮) symbols, among others changing the pitch of a note higher or lower.
When used in a key signature, the apply to all the affected notes throughout an entire piece, unless canceled by another key signature
Accidentals other than accidentals introduces by the key signature apply to subsequent notes for the remainder of the measure where they occur, unless explicitly changed by another accidental. Once a barline is passed, the effect of the accidental ends, except when a note affected by an accidental is tied to the same note across a barline. Subsequent notes at the same staff position in the second or later bars are not affected by the accidental carried through with the tied note. There is some debate that as with a key signature an accidental applies to ANY of the same note name when introduced - that is what I adhere to.
Double Flat Lowers a note two semitones or one whole step.
Flat Lowers a note one semitone or one step.
Natural Cancels a previous double flat, flat, sharp or double sharp. Return a note to it's nature note or letter (A B C E F or G).
Sharp Raises a note one semitones or one step.
Double Sharp Raises a note two semitones or one whole step.
Add 2
Any Triad that has a second added to it.
Add 9
Any Triad that has a ninth added to it. There is no distinction between add 2 and add 9 on ukulele.
Aeolian scale
A modal scale whose step pattern is 2, 1, 2, 2, 1, 2, 2. Based on a 1 b3 b5 7 of a Major Scale it's the scale degrees are: 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 8. Contains the same notes as the Natural Minor with the same root.
The raising or lowering of the fifth, ninth, eleventh and thirteenth degrees of a chord.
The intro, ending, interlude, order of themes, instruments, parts, solos, backup harmony. It includes all elements that help transform a song from a song to a performance.
A rising direction. The term may apply to a scale, melody, arpeggio, sequence, root movement, bass line or a physical direction on an instrument especially a string instrument.
Augmented 7 (+7)
A 4 part chord consisting of 1 3#5 b7 of a Major Scale .
Augmented Chord (+)
A Triad consisting of 1 3 #5 of a Major Scale .
Augmented Large 7 (+L7)
A 4 part chord consisting of 1 3 #5 7 of a Major Scale .


A single pulse of rhythm.
Binary Form
A song writing form using two themes.
The blues form is a musical form in which repeating progression of chords mirrors the call and response scheme commonly found in African and African-American music. A famous song writing form using a 12 bar pattern, featuring the I, IV and V chord of any major or minor key. It typically has a single musical theme.


A chord, in music, is any harmonic set of three or more notes that is heard as if sounding simultaneously. These need not actually be played together: arpeggios and broken chords may, for many practical and theoretical purposes, constitute chords.
Chord Root
The individual note used as the foundation of the chord, the alphabetical component of the chord name. Roots may be naturals, sharps or flats, using one of the seven letters of the musical alphabet: A B C D E F G.
Chord Species
Identifies one chord from another, its unique internal construction examples are major, minor, diminished, augmented, 7th etc.
Chord Spelling
The ability to identifying all notes that theoretically belong in a chord. This capability can enhance your ability to craft melodies or improvisations.
Chromatic most often refers to structures derived from the twelve-note chromatic scale, which consists of all semitones or half steps.
Chromatic Passing Tone (cpt)
A passing tone outside the current scale. It will connect scale tones by half step or one semitone.
A Clef is a musical symbol used to indicate the pitch of written notes. Placed on a stave, it indicates the name and pitch of the notes on one of the lines.
Here are a bunch of other common clefs.
Coda (Italian for "tail", plural code) is a term used in music in a number of different senses, primarily to designate a passage that brings a piece (or a movement) to an end. Technically, it is an expanded cadence. It may be as simple as a few measures, or as complex as an entire section.
Color Chords
Chords which are extensions or variations of functional chords.
Multiple melodies creating chord harmony at points of intersection.
Any specific set of tools and building blocks used to compose, arrange, accompany or improvise.
Curt Sheller
Ukulele guru and keeper of this amazing, treasure trove of goodies on this site.
A keyless principle characterized by three conditions. 1) a minimum of three consecutive chords 2) the same chord type for each chord 3) equidistant roots from chord to chord.


D. S.
In music notation, Dal segno (Italian pronunciation: [dal ˈseɲɲo], English: /ˌdæl ˈseɪnjoʊ/ or /ˈsɛɡnoʊ/) (often abbreviated D.S.) is used as a navigation marker. From Italian for "from the sign," D.S. appears in sheet music and instructs a musician to repeat a passage starting from the sign shown at right, sometimes called the "segno" in English
Diatonic Passing Tone (dpt)
A passing tone within the current scale. It may connect scale tones by half or whole step.
Diatonic Substitution
The use of the III or VI chord for the I chord and the use of the V, IV, II or VII chord for the V chord.
Diminished Chord (°)
A Triad consisting of 1 b3 b5 of a Major Scale .
Diminished 7 (°7)
A 4 part chord consisting of 1 b3 b5 bb7 of a Major Scale .
Diminished Large 7, major 7 (°L7)
A 4 part chord consisting of 1 b3 b5 7 of a Major Scale .
Direct Substitution
The use of one chord for another chord which shares the root and harmonic function of the original chord.
Dominant scale
A scale whose step pattern is 2, 2, 1, 2, 2, 1, 2. Based on a Major scale the scale degrees are: 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7 8.
Dorian scale
A modal scale whose step pattern is 2, 1, 2, 2, 2, 1, 2. Based on a 1 b3 b5 7 of a Major Scale the scale degrees are: 1 b2 3 4 b5 6 b7 8. Sometimes referred to as the Minor scale.
The soft and loud of music along with their gradations.


Electronic processing gear used to shape the sound of recorded music Examples are reverb, chorus, distortion, echo, flange etc. For guitar players it's those array pf little pedals at their feet.
The actual recording, mixing and mastering skills used in transforming a performance into a finished recording.
Expansion Substitution
The use of a different chord in addition to the original chord.
Equal Temperament
An equal temperament is a musical temperament, or a system of tuning, in which every pair of adjacent notes has an identical frequency ratio. As pitch is perceived roughly as the logarithm of frequency, this means that the perceived "distance" from every note to its nearest neighbor is the same for every note in the system.
A term that refers to the extended / upper partial chord tones of a chord. The 9th, 11th and 13th of chords.


An identifiable pulse and motion usually created by the drummer and bass player Examples are 2 feel, swing, rock, jazz waltz, bossa, samba, ska etc.
First Ending
A transitional part of a song that typically connects the first A Theme to its repeat.
Functional Chords
Chords of three or four part harmony that form the basis of standard and contemporary song writing.
The structure of a song organized into sections based on its harmonic and melodic structure.
AAB - A Binary song form showing an alternate sequence of two themes.
AABA - A thirty-two-bar form, often called AABA from the musical form or order in which its melodies occur, also ballad form, is common in Tin Pan Alley songs and later popular music including rock, pop and jazz. Famous examples include: Satin Doll, Misty, The Girl from Ipanema, I Got Rhythm, Great Balls of Fire, Surfer Girl, and countless other.
AABAC - A common three theme sequence.
AABBC - An alternate sequence of three themes.
AABC - A second form of the three theme sequence.
ABAB - A third Binary form using alternating themes.
ABABC - A third form of Tertiary , three section structure.


A synonym for feel.


Half Diminished 7 (Ø7)
A 4 part chord consisting of 1 b3 b5 b7.
Harmony is the use of simultaneous pitches (tones, notes), or chords. The study of harmony involves chords and their construction and chord progressions and the principles of connection that govern them


The most common resolving chord module in standards and jazz.
The abstract source of musical ideas.
Internal Modulation
A term from used in harmonic analysis. It refers to a temporary key change without a key signature change. It implies the eventual return of the original key.
Ionian scale
A modal scale whose step pattern is 2, 2, 1, 2, 2, 2, 1. This is the Major scale starting on the same root. By numbering each note of the scale 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 you can use the Major Scale for comparison and deriving other scales.






Leading Tone
The seventh note of a scale or the chord built on that note.
Leap Recovery
A melodic device which suggests that a melody reverses its direction after a leap.
A melodic device in which the distance between two consecutive notes is 2 and 1/2 steps or more. Usually followed by a Leap Recovery
In musical notation the Italian word legato (literally meaning "tied together") indicates that musical notes are played or sung smoothly and connected. That is, in transitioning from note to note, there should be no intervening silence. Legato technique is required for slurred performance, but unlike slurring (as that term is interpreted for some instruments), legato does not forbid re articulation. In standard notation legato is indicated either with the word legato itself, or by a slur (a curved line) under the notes that are to be joined in one legato group. Legato, like staccato, is a kind of articulation. There is an intermediate articulation called either mezzo staccato or non-legato.
Locrian scale
A modal scale whose step pattern is 1, 2, 2, 1, 2, 2, 2. Based on a Major Scale it's the scale degrees are: 1 b2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7 8. This is a diminished type scale.
Lydian scale
A modal scale whose step pattern is 2, 2, 2, 1, 2, 2, 1. Based on a Major Scale it's the scale degrees are: 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7 8.


Major scale
A diatonic scale whose step pattern is 2, 2, 1, 2, 2, 2, 1. By numbering each note of the scale 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 you can use the major scale for comparison and deriving other scales.
Visit the Major Scale Lesson Page .
Major 7 (maj7)
A 4 part chord consisting of 1 3 5 7 of a Major Scale .
Major Chord
A triad consisting of 1 3 5 of a Major Scale .
The third note of a scale or the chord built on that note.
Melodic Contour
A graphic representation of a melody created by connecting the successive notes of a melody with a line.
Melodic Minor Scale
The melodic minor scale is the same as the natural minor with the exception that the sixth and seventh tones are raised by a semitone (half step) when the scale is ascending. While some composers, notably Mozart, have used this interval to advantage in melodic composition, other composers, having felt it to be an awkward leap, particularly in vocal music, considered a whole step between these two scale degrees more conducive to smooth melody writing, so either the sixth scale degree was raised or the seventh flattened.
Minor 6 (m6)
A 4 part chord consisting of 1 b3 5 6 of a Major Scale .
Minor 7 (m7)
A 4 part chord consisting of 1 b3 5 b7 of a Major Scale .
Minor Chord
A triad consisting of 1 b3 5 of a Major Scale .
Minor Large 7 (mL7)
A 4 part chord consisting of 1 b3 5 7 of a Major Scale . The L stands for Large or Major Seventh
Mixolydian scale
A modal scale whose step pattern is 2, 2, 1, 2, 2, 1, 2. Based on a Major Scale the scale degrees are: 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7 8.
A mode is a type of musical scale coupled with a set of characteristic melodic behaviors. Musical modes have been a part of western musical thought since the Middle Ages, and were inspired by the theory of ancient Greek music. the modern modes are: Dorian , Phrygian , Lydian , Mixolydian , Aeolian , and Ionian .
Any concept that can be broken down into small units.
A change of tonal center. A modulation can be sudden, prepared, a temporary modulation or an actual modulation.
Mono Form
A song writing form with one musical theme. It usually has multiple verses of lyrics. The 12 bar blues is the most famous mono theme form.


Neapolitan Sixth
A Neapolitan chord is a major chord built on the lowered second scale degree. Can be notated as a bII6
Non Chord Tone
A melodic note not contained within the current chord.
Any written language used to communicate musical concepts. TAB or tablature is a form of music notation typically used by guitar players.


The distance of eight consecutive diatonic scale tones. The eighth note of a scale or the chord built on that note.


Passing Tone
An unstressed note that connects two notes by a second or chromatically.
Passive Chords
Chords that resolve harmonic tension Typically, the I, II and VI chords of a diatonic key.
Phyrgian scale
A modal scale whose step pattern is 1, 2, 2, 1, 2, 2, 2. Based on a Major Scale it's the scale degrees are: 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 8.
Picardy Third
A Picardy Third (also known as Tierce de Picardie) is a harmonic device. It refers to the use of a major chord of the tonic at the end of a musical section which is either modal or in a minor key. Basically the expected minor resolution is major instead.
Pitch is the lowness or highness of a tone, for example the difference between middle C and a higher C. The frequency of the sound waves producing a pitch can be measured precisely, but the perception of pitch is more complex because single notes from natural sources are usually a complex mix of many frequencies.
Pivot Chord
A single chord which is the final chord of one tonal center and is simultaneously the first chord of another tonal center. Serves a double function connecting two tonal centers.
Power 5
A chord consisting of only roots and perfect fifths. Technically not a chord by the standard chord definition.
All related activities of coordinating the process of recording music, video or putting on a concert or show.
This pulse is typically what listeners respond to as they tap their foot or dance along with a piece of music. Even a someone nor trained in music, can generally sense the pulse and may respond by tapping a foot or clapping. The pulse may be audible or implied. The pulse is not necessarily the fastest or the slowest component of the rhythm but the one that is perceived as basic.


Needed an entry for Q - so went with the British term for a quarter note.

An eighth note (American) or a quaver (British) is a musical note played for half the value of a quarter note ( crotchet ) and twice that of the sixteenth note ( semiquaver ), which amounts to one quarter the duration of a half note ( minim ), one eighth the duration of whole note ( semibreve ), one sixteenth the duration of a double whole note ( breve ), and one thirty-second the duration of a longa, hence the name.


The high and low note of a piece of music. The high and low notes of a melody or a melodic phrase.
Reentrant tuning
A reentrant tuning is a tuning of a stringed instrument where the strings (or more properly the courses on coursed instruments) are not ordered from the lowest pitch to the highest pitch (or vice versa). A break in an otherwise ascending (or descending) order of string pitches is known as a reentry. Most common reentrant tunings have only one reentry; In the case of the soprano ukulele, for example, the reentry is between the third and fourth strings, while in the case of the Venezuelan cuatro it is between the first and second strings.
A musical effect created by retaining the original melody while rewriting the original chord progression.
Relative Minor
The minor key, chord or scale based on the sixth degree of any Major Scale .
The reuse of an identical melody, phrase, chord progression or rhythm.
Replacement Substitution
The use of a different chord instead of the original chord.
Rhythm is produced by the sequential arrangement of sounds and silences in time. Meter measures music in regular pulse groupings, called measures or bars. The time signature or meter signature specifies how many beats are in a measure, and which value of written note is counted or felt as a single beat.

By Dbolton - Own work after User:Hyacinth's w:Image:Metric levels.png, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link


As a sequence of musical notes in ascending and descending order. Most commonly, the notes of a scale will belong to a single key, used to conveniently represent part or all of a musical work including melody and/or harmony.
Second Ending transitional part of a song that typically connects the second theme to the first Theme.
A semitone, also called a half step or a half tone, is the smallest musical interval commonly used in Western tonal music, and it is considered the most dissonant when sounded harmonically. Think Jaws, Twilight Zone or any secret agent inspired theme.
A melodic device that uses parallel melodies starting on consecutive scale degrees.
Seventh (7)
A chord designation for a 4 part chord consisting of 1 3 5 b7.
Sixth (6)
A chord designation for a 4 part chord consisting of 1 3 5 6.
A system of melodic organization that uses syllables (DO RE MI FA SOL LA TI DO) to designate pitches. Two common systems are Moveable-DO Solfege and Fixed-DO Solfege.
A single melody on a chord progression with lyrics, if vocal.
The basic product of the music industry. A song consists of four elements: 1) title 2) melody 3) chords 4) lyrics (if vocal).
Staccato (Italian for detached) is a form of musical articulation. In modern notation it signifies a note of shortened duration, separated from the note that may follow by silence.
Stress Tone
A series of techniques used to bring attention to a specific. Stress can be applied to a note in the following ways: begin on it, end on it, sustain it, accent it, overplay it, place it on a down beat, embellish it.
The fourth note of a scale or the chord built on that note.
The sixth note of a scale or the chord built on that note.
The second note of a scale or the chord built on that note.
To let a note ring out.
Balance in music.


The tempo of the piece of music is the speed of the pulse. If a pulse becomes too fast it would become a drone; one that is too slow would be perceived as unconnected sounds.[
Tension is created melodically, harmonically or rhythmically. Each element seeks a resting point. That resting point is the resolution.
Tertiary Form
A song writing form using three themes.
Traditionally, a tetrachord (Greek: τετράχορδo) is a series of three smaller intervals filling in the interval of a perfect fourth, a 4:3 frequency proportion. In modern usage a tetrachord is any four-note segment of a scale or tone row. ( more info on Wikipedia )
Sometimes called "color", or "tone color," allows us to distinguish one instrument from another when both play at the same pitch and volume, a quality of a voice or instrument often described in terms like bright, dull, shrill, etc.
A central tone to which other tones relate and establish a tonality or identity. Tonality is implied through harmonic articulation, through tensions and release or a base chord.
Tonic Minor
The minor key, chord or scale based on the root of any Major scale .
A triad, 'tri' meaning three, is a three note chord. In music, a triad is traditionally a set of three notes that can be stacked in thirds.

When stacked in thirds, the triad's members, from lowest pitched tone to highest, are called: the root, the third – its interval above the root being a minor third (three semitones) or a major third (four semitones) and the fifth – its interval above the third being a minor third or a major third, hence its interval above the root being a diminished fifth (six semitones), perfect fifth (seven semitones), or augmented fifth (eight semitones).
Visit the Triads - Traditional and Contemporary Triads Series of Lessons .


Upper Partials
A term that refers to the extended / upper partial chord tones of a chord. The 9th, 11th and 13th of chords.
A harmonic principle using a temporary implied key change with an eventual return the the original key. The unresolved progression uses active chords only.


The strongest resolving progression in western, tonic-dominant music.


Whole Tone
A major second. This is a musical interval spanning two semitones, and encompassing two adjacent staff positions. For example, the interval from C to D is a major second or whole tone apart, as the note D lies two semitones above C, and the two notes are notated on adjacent staff positions.
Whole Tone Scale
A symmetrical scale with each interval a major second apart. There are only two whole tone scales. The scale step pattern is 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1


Just like Q I didn't have an entry for X - So I went with Xylophone - a musical instrument in the percussion family that consists of wooden bars struck by mallets.


You - Yes! You. You are reading this so you now have an entry in the glossary of music terms.


Just like Q and X I didn't have an entry for Z - So I went with Zither - The word Zither is a German rendering of the Greek word cithara, from which the modern word "guitar" also derives.

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