BerkswichCE Primary School

Achieve, Believe and Care

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Music Glossary


acappella - music for voices only, without accompaniment

accent - stress or emphasise a note

accidental - any musical symbol that alters the pitch of a note, eg. a sharp, flat or natural

accompaniment - the music that supports the main melody

acoustic – see Playing methods – Any sound made without electronic amplification or processing

aerophone - an instrument which produces sound using air vibrations, without using strings or membranes

arpeggio - a chord where the notes are played in succession rather than at the same time

arrangement - a new version of an existing piece of music

arrhythmic - see free

articulation- the formation of clear and distinct sounds

attack- the way a sound starts, usually described in terms of hard/fast or soft/slow

articulation - symbols above or below music to tell how it is to be played, i.e., p-piano, f-loud



bar - a rhythmic grouping consisting of the number and type of beats indicated by the time signature. Notated with vertical lines on the staff

backing vocal- a second voice part that compliments but is less important than he lead vocal- the main voice part.

balance- The appropriate relative volume of vocal and or instrumental parts in a performance.

bass- The lowest part in a musical composition/ the lowest note in a chord

beat / pulse- the regular basic unit of length in musical time

binary- A form of structure in music which has two contrasting sections , A and B

block- A segment of sequenced music

blues- A style that originated in North America in the early part of the 20th century. Blues often communicate feeling down about life. A blues piece is also recognised by the chords it uses.

blue note - a particular kind of chromatic note which is characteristic of blues and jazz music

blues scale- A set of scales (related notes) used in blues music, which give the blue its distinctive sound and on which blues harmonies are built.

body percussion - using claps, stamps, slaps and tongue clicks etc. to create rhythmic patterns and sounds

break- An instrumental or percussion section or interlude in a song

bridge- A passage of music that links two sections of music together


call and echo - a question and answer pattern in which a solo voice sings a phrase, and then a group of voices copies this phrase exactly

call and response - a question and answer pattern in which a solo voice sings a phrase, and then a group of voices responds by singing something different

Calypso - a type of music which originated in Trinidad

canon - two or more parts overlapping in exact imitation (as seen in London’s burning)


Carillion- A bell mechanism comparing multiple bells, often used in Churches to play a set of chimes or a tune

cha-cha-cha - a ballroom dance which developed out of Cuban Danzon.

chant - rhythmic speech

chord - two or more notes played at the same time

chord sequence- two or more chords played one after  the other

chordophone- An instrument which produces sound using strings that vibrate

chorus- The part of a song which repeats between the verses

chromatic note - a note that is outside of the key (as seen in Mexican counting song)

crotchet- usually one beat length

chromatic (instrument)- One which is capable of playing every note of the chromatic scale, which is a scale of twelve notes, each a semitone apart, the smallest interval in most western music

Chromatic scale - A, A# (Bb), B, C, C# (D b), D, D# (E b), E, F, F# (G b), G, G# (A b)

cluster- A group of notes that are close in pitch and sounded together

composer- a person who writes music

coda- The end section of a piece of music

conductor- The person elected to lead the group

crescendo – Getting louder

cue- A musical signal used to control aspects of the piece, e.g. starting and stopping or changing speed.

cumulative- A musical structure in which individual parts join in one by one. It can apply both to the structure of the music itself (as in a cumulative song such as Th Twelve days of Christmas), or to the voices/ instruments playing (as in the gradual addition of instruments playing the music of Bolero)

Cyclic pattern- A melodic or rhythmic pattern that repeats itself over and over again.



D.C. al fine - return to the beginning and finish at ‘Fine’ (Italian - ‘end’)

Da Capo (D.C.) - (Italian – ‘to the head’) return to the beginning

Decay- the time a sound takes to die away, usually described in terms of long or short.

Delay- see echo

dimensions- The inter-related building blocks, duration, dynamics, pitch, structure, tempo, texture and tembre (see definitions)

diminuendo- getting quieter

dot notation- A simple form of western staff notation. The dots are placed in height and distance relation to each other to show pitch and duration

dotted note - where a dot is placed immediately after a note, indicating that the note’s rhythmic value is increased by half

dotted rhythms - where a dotted note precedes or is followed by a shorter note, creating a characteristic ‘tum-ti-tum-ti’ rhythm (as seen in Dr Knickerbocker ek, dho, teen!)

downbeat - the accented first beat of the bar

drone- A sound or sounds, played constantly throughout all or part of a piece of music as an accompaniment, e.g., the drone of a bagpipe

duet- A song or piece of music for two parts of equal importance

dynamics - the loudness or softness of the music. Dynamics are an important way of conveying the mood of a piece

dimensions/elements- The inter-related building blocks of music (duration, dynamics, pitch, structure, tempo, texture, and timbre (see definitions)

diminuendo- Getting quieter

dot notation- A simple form of Western staff notation. Dots are placed in height and distance relation to each other to indicate pitch and duration

duration- The word used in music to refer to the length of a sound or silence

drum machine- A piece of musical hardware or soft ware which contains drum sounds and enables sounds to be sequenced

duet- A song or piece of music with two parts of equal importance

dynamics/volume- The loudness of the music, usually described in terms of loud/quiet


echo- When one musical phrase is repeated after itself, like an echo

electronic music- music produced entirely by electronic means

elements see Dimensions

ensemble- Performance by a group

entry point  - Point in a round when the next performer may begin

Equalizer-(EQ) An electric device which can change sound quality (timbre), e.g. make a sound bright, dull, thin, boomy, etc.

expressions- The emotion in music


Fanfare- A short piece of music usually played on brass instruments to announce a special event or occasion

Flash mob- A relatively new phenomenon- a group of people who collect together in a public space and suddenly perform music or dance

flat - a musical symbol that indicates lowering the pitch of a note by a semitone

Fugue – A complex musical shape similar to a round

Free/arrhythmic- Music which has no discernible steady beat



Gamelan- The name of a group of instruments (mainly tuned percussion) as well as the music itself. Most gamelan have about 20 players but some are much larger. Gamelan is from Indonesia

glissando - a rapid slide swooping up or down (plural = glissandi)

glockenspiel- A tuned instrument with metal bars

graphic notation- A form of notation in which the composer freely invents symbols which give an impression of sound

graphic score- A score in which musical intention is recorded by means of graphic symbols

goove- A short section of two or more notes that are played at the same time

Gumboot - a percussive dance originating in South Africa where music and dance moves are performed wearing wellington boots.


harmony the relation of two or more notes that are played at the same time

hastha- A traditional Indian hand movement

hocket- One single melody shared between one or more voices or instruments


Idiophone- An instrument which produces sound using the instrument’s vibration, without using strings or membranes

Intro/outro- a portion of music at the beginning and end of a piece of music

Improvise/improvisation- Inventing music as you go along

Instrumental break- A section of music which an instrumentalist takes the lead

interval - the pitch distance between two notes

interlude- An instrumental or percussion section or break in a song

inter-related dimension of music- means the elements of practical music i.e. pulse, pitch, rhythm, notation, dynamics, tempo, texture, structure, notation

interval- The distance between two notes

intonation - the accurate pitching of musical notes (good intonation = being ‘in tune’)

introduction- The beginning section of a piece of music

improvise- To invent music as you go along

instrumental break- a section of music in which an instrumentalist takes the lead

instrumental families- a grouping of several different but related or sizes of types of instruments i.e. wind instruments

Interval- The distance in sound between two notes



A jazz style- A style of music which originated in the 19th century and which is characterised by the use of improvisation.




key - a tonal centre, based on one of the 24 major or minor scales. Some examples are C major or D minor

key change - a change from one tonal centre to another

key signature - sharps or flats, placed at the beginning of each system, to indicate the key of a piece of music


Latin music - an 'umbrella' term for music from, or inspired by, the music of French, Spanish, or Portuguese-speaking countries within Central and South  America.

Layers - Individual lines of music performed together to create texture

layering- The process of creating texture by combining layers of sound

leap- The space between two musical notes

legato - smooth melodic line

loop- A sound or pattern of sounds repeated over and over by means of sn electronic

lyrics- The words of a song


major key - a tonal centre based on one of the 12 major scales

major scale - an eight note scale with a characteristically joyful sound

melody - a series of notes creating a distinctive and memorable sequence (often referred to as ‘the tune’)

melody instrument- Usually refers to an instrument that can only play a single line of melody, e.g. clarinet, recorder, flute.

melodic ostinato- A short melodic pattern that is repeated over and over again.

melodic pattern- a musical idea used as a basis for a repetitive pattern often played at a higher or lower pitch

melodic phrase/pattern- A small unit of melody, often corresponding toa line of a song

membranophone- An instrument which produces sound using a stretched membrane that vibrates

metre- The grouping of beats into twos, threes, fours etc, for instance in waltz music the beats are grouped in threes, whereas in march music they are grouped in fours.

mickey mousing- A movie technique where music correlates with the action depicted on the screen.

middle eight- A  type of musical bridge- it is a short eight bar passage in the middle of a song that links two sections

minim- has the value of two crotchets

minimalism – a style of composition which uses short melodies and very few notes with repeated phrases that gradually change.

minor key - a tonal centre based on one of the 12 minor scales

minor scale - an eight note scale with a characteristically melancholy sonund

modulation- The changing of music into a different key

motif- A short musical idea

musical dimensions(elements)- Pitch, rhythm, dynamics, tempo, duration, texture



natural - a musical symbol that cancels out any other accidental, indicating that the pitch of a note is neither sharp nor flat 

notation- Ways of writing music down


Octave- the distance from one note with a letter name to the next occurrence of the same note i.e. A-A

Off-beat- off beat and syncopation are often used synonymously. Both refer to a rhythm that emphasises normally weak beats

Orchestration- The specific instruments chosen by a composer to perform the different parts of a piece of music

ostinato - a repeated rhythmic or melodic pattern


pedal note - a note which is sustained against changing chords (as seen in The animal fair)

pentatonic scale - a five note scale


percussion - instruments that create sound by being struck, scraped or rattled

percussion loop- A pattern of percussion sounds repeated over and over by means of an electronic device

phrase- See melodic phrase

Pictorial symbols- A simple form of notation in which a picture is used to represents sound, e.g. Car picture= motor sounds

pitch - how high or low a musical note is

Pitch movement- The steps and leaps by which a melody moves up or down in pitch

Pitched percussion- percussion instruments that can play  different pitches -xylophones, glockenspiels, chime bars, etc.

Pizzicato- The technique of playing a string instrument, e.g. violin, by plucking the strings rather than playing them with a bow

Playing methods- Acoustic (non-electronic sounds are made by shaking, scraping, tapping, or blowing a sound maker

Polyrhythm- More than one rhythm played at the same time.

Prelude- A substantial musical introduction to a piece

Processed sound- A sound that has been changed by means of electronic device



Partner songs- melodies which fit together in such a way that they sound good


Programme music- music that tells a story, paints a picture or creates a mood

Pulse/beat - the regular beat of a piece of music


Quaver- usually ½ a beat in length


range - the interval between the lowest and highest notes of a piece of music

rest- A silence

riff-Another word for an ostinato

ritornello - a structure used in concertos where the full orchestra alternates with the soloist and motive in a very short musical idea- often just a sound or rhythm

rhythm- Patterns of long and short sounds played with a steady beat

rhythmical- Music which is underpinned by a steady beat

rhythmic ostinato- A short rhythmic pattern that is repeated over and over

rhythm pattern- A short section of rhythm

rondo structure- A structure that has a recurring theme (A), alternating with contrasting sections: A B A C A D A

round - another name for a canon. A music shape with several groups performing the same music but starting at staggered intervals

rondo- piece of music which has one main theme which is heard several times

Rumba - a Cuban dance.


salsa - a style of music based on Afro-Cuban music, funk and disco, which was developed by the Spanish immigrant communities of New York.

Samba - a Brazillian dance.

sampler- An electronic device, which is capable of according sounds and altering them by making

sampler- An electronic device, which is capable of recording sounds and altering them by making them higher/ lower playing them forwards/backwards, or cutting them into sections

Sampling- The act of recording sounds, digitally encoding them and  altering them electronically

scale - a series of notes in ascending or descending order

scat singing- A style of vocal improvisation which uses nonsense sounds instead of words to imitate the sound of an instrument

score- A written representation of music designed to record a composers intention

scat - non-verbal vocal improvisation, eg. ‘doo-be-doo’ etc. Often associated with jazz music (as seen in Sunshine in my heart or I wanna sing scat)

Scottish snap - (or ‘scotch snap’) a kind of dotted rhythm where the short note comes first, followed by the longer dotted note. (As seen in Roll the old chariot along)

semibreve- has the value of 4 crotchets

semitone - the smallest interval in Western music, eg. between E and F, or A natural and A sharp

sequence - where a melody is stated and then repeated at increasing or

decreasing pitches (as seen in In the autumn)

sequencer- A piece of software that enables a composer to organise(layer and sequence) sounds in a composition. It enables a composer to record and control the information from several synthesisers, sound processors, samplers and effects units

Son Cubano - an Afro-Cuban music style

song cycle structure- A structure of music which a group of songs is performed in a definite sequence

soundmaker- Any sound source used as a musical instrument

soundscape- composition portraying sounds from the environment

soundscape- A picture in sound

sound module- A synthesizer without a keyboard

sforzando - a note or chord which is strongly accented, then fades away quickly

sharp - a musical symbol that indicates raising the pitch of a note by a semitone

slur - where a series of notes is played in succession, without separation. With singing, a slur is used when one syllable is sung to more than one note

solo-  A piece of music for one singer or instrumentalist

sound maker- Any sound source used as a musical instrument

spotting- A process which film composers go through to identify the moments in a film that can be enhanced musical

staccato - short, detached notes, indicated with a dot underneath or above the note head

staff - (plural - staves) the five horizontal lines, divided vertically into bars, on which music is notated

step movement- Notes of a melody which moves stepwise up or down

strong beat- Any accentuated beat, usually the first in the group e.g.123123

structure- Most music is underpinned by a structure which may be as simple as beginning, middle and end

symbol- Any written representation of a sound

syncopation - where rhythms fall just before or after the strong beat, creating a dance-like feel (as seen in Switching it on and Life is what you make it)

synthesiser- An electronic device, which often with a keyboard that generates and manipulates sounds (e.g. change dynamics, add delay, etc.)

system - multiple staves that are bracketed together, indicating that they are meant to be played at the same time


tacet - where the accompaniment stops playing for a prolonged period of time

Tango - an Argentinian dance

tempo the speed of the music

ternary- A form of structure of music which has three sections, in which the first is repeated: ABA

texture- layers of sound such as those created by a melody accompaniment by a drum beat

Timbre is what makes one instrument or voice sound different from another.

time signature - numbers on the staff, located at the start of a piece, that show the number and type of beats in each bar

Toccata- means to “touch” and is typically a piece with many fast notes

tremolo- The rapid repetition of notes, producing a quavering effect. It can

either be on one note or between two ones

triad- Refers to a particular type of three not chord examples of which are CEG (C major triad) or ACE IA minor triad)

trill- The rapid alternation of two adjacent notes producing a trembling effect

triplets - a group of three notes having the time value of two notes of the same kind (as seen in Wreck of the Sloop John B.)

tune - a series of notes creating a distinctive and memorable sequence (also known as a ‘melody’)

tuned instrument-An instrument capable of producing sounds of different pitches, e.g. glockenspiel, hand chime, metallaphone, tunular bell,xylophone

tuned percussion- Percussion instruments which make  sounds with a defined pitch, e.g. glockenspiel

twelve bar blues- A piece of music in blues style which is underpinned by twelve bars (the commonest sequence uses only three chords)


unison - where a group of voices are all singing together at the same pitch

untuned percussion- Percussion instruments which make sounds of indefinite pitch e.g. hand drum

upbeat - a weak beat preceding a strong downbeat (as seen in the first beat of A Keelie

unison- When two or more voices/instruments sing/play the same melody

unpitched/ untuned percussion- percussion instruments that can only make a limited number of sounds- drums, shakers, woodblocks, tambourines, etc


Verse- The section of a song which generally tells the story

vocal percussion - using the voice to imitate the sound of percussion instruments

Volume- See dynamics




Word rhythms- Rhythms created in the course of  saying a word, or by creating a pattern of words, which may be repeated, making a rhythm


Word setting- How the words relate to the music and vice versa



Xylophone- a tuned percussion with a wooden bars