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Common Musical Terms, Definitions and Meanings

Updated on May 30, 2016
vocalcoach profile image

Respected vocal coach and professional singer, Audrey Hunt lays it on the line when it comes to the responsibility of singing.

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Music Speaks to us Through Expression

Music has a language of its own. It is through interpretation of notes and phrasing that music speaks to us. It is not enough for musicians to merely play the correct notes and adhere to proper rhythm and meter. Without expression, music can be monotonous, boring and even tiring. We are captivated by how the music makes us feel. Expressive music connects with our own emotions. It can also touch our souls. Through interpretation of musical notes and patterns, we are moved to tears, chills, and sometimes we feel the innermost and deepest feelings surfacing to a complete understanding and pronouncement of peace.

"Music wraps it's weaving arms around us and takes us on a timeless journey." ~ Audrey Hunt

It is through the knowledge of musical terms that the musician expresses himself and touches the listener.
It is through the knowledge of musical terms that the musician expresses himself and touches the listener. | Source

Musical Terms - The Musical Map

How does a complete symphony orchestra of mixed instruments which can also include a full choir or soloist join together to create emotion? How does the horn or string section know when to play the written notes soft, loud or not at all.? They follow the conductor, you say? While this is true, how does the conductor know when to direct a particular section of the orchestra in such a way that the musicians respond to his every move and direction?

The answer is really quite simple and clear. Each page of music give directions on how to play the notes. I teach my students to always follow the music map by looking first for directions on how the music should sound. This map provides specific words, musical terms, which guide each musician dynamically and technically. The conductor makes sure each and every instrument is following directions. A good music teacher makes sure that all are taught to understand and apply these key music words to the song or musical score.

While there are hundreds of these key words found in music, I am presenting a list of the most used terms. I am presenting this in six parts. You will find in this list, the musical term, followed by a definition and with some of the terms, my own explanation to help musicians understand more completely thereby making it easier to apply these directions in their music.

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For Musicians, Teachers, Students And Music Lovers

Learning the following musical terms will leave you with a better understanding of how dynamics influence music.

While there are hundreds of these key words found in music, I am presenting a list of the most used terms in 6 parts. You will find in this list, the musical term, followed by a definition and with some of the terms my own explanation to help musicians understand more completely, thereby making it easier to apply in the music.

Performing music on a grand piano and cello.
Performing music on a grand piano and cello. | Source
Inspired within the pages of music
Inspired within the pages of music | Source
The treble clef also known as the G clef.  Notes written here indicate they are to be played with the right hand on the piano.
The treble clef also known as the G clef. Notes written here indicate they are to be played with the right hand on the piano. | Source

Commonly Used Musical Terms And Meanings

· Legato – smoothly play or sing each note connected one to the other

· Slur – a curved line over a group of notes, indicating to play legato

· Rhythm – the element of music pertaining to time, expressed as grouping of notes into accented and unaccented beats, of beats into measures.

· Opus – literally a work; shortened to Op., a convenient method of numberings a composer’s works. Thus, Beethoven’s Op.111 is his last piano sonata.

· Ostinato – a melody or pattern that is constantly repeated.

· Finale – the last movement of a sonata-form work; also, a sequence of numbers at the end of an act in an opera.

· Flat – a sign showing that a note should be lowered by one –semitone (half step).

· Cantabile – in a singing style (legato).

· Carol – originally a round dance with singing; later a popular song or hymn celebrating Christmas.

· Blues – melancholic, usually guitar-based, modern folk music, originating in the work songs of the black American plantation workers. Typically constructed around a simple twelve-bar, three chord progression pattern on which a vast amount of popular music has been based ever since.

· Chest voice – the lower part of the singing voice, as opposed to the head voice.

· Conductor – the director of a group of performers, indicating tempo by beating and communicating phrasing, dynamics, and style by facial and gesture expression.

· Forte – an Italian word meaning to play or sing loud, indicated by the letter f. May be strengthened to fortissimo (ff).

A Painter paints pictures on canvass.

But musicians paint their pictures on silence

Leopold Stokowski

Beautiful Music to Inspire You

Which of the below best describes you ~

See results

© 2010 Audrey Hunt

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    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      4 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      teaches12345 I would have absolutely loved to have worked with you. What a treat for me that would have been. We would be playing your favorite songs and loving every minute. Thanks and Happy Days to you! ~ Audrey

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      4 years ago

      Where were you, my dear, when I was taking my piano lessons? I learned something new from your post, but then I usually do from any of them. Hope your day is going well.

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      ahmiz - Great to see you here! Hope your piano playing is coming right along. Very glad this hub has helped...I also have 2 more hubs on this same topic which may be of use to you. Let me know if I can help you with your music. I also am available for keyboard lessons on Skype.com.

    • ahmiz profile image

      ahmiz 

      7 years ago

      Thanks for the useful info. I started playing keyboard for fun about 5 months ago and never went through any formal music classes, so your hubs are pretty helpful to me.

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      sergs_pogi - Thank you for considering a link to my hub. I am looking forward to reading your new article on love songs. I am filled with gratitude because you like my opening paragraph. I make expressiveness of music a first lesson with my students. I want them to "feel" emotions right from the very first lesson. Thank you for your support, my friend.

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      William F. Torpey - The role of a conductor is a huge commitment and immense talent. I'm pleased that you found this hub informative. I, too favor music prior to 1960. I love Glenn Miller, even today. Thanks for reading my hub and for the great comments.

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 

      7 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      I am not a musician, vocalcoach, but I love music, especially popular and western music prior to 1960. I've always been curious about the language of music so I was delighted to come across this hub. I could never understand why an orchestra needed a leader when each member has the music written out for him. I've seen orchestras play without a leader and I never detected a problem. It puzzles me. Thumbs up!

    • sergs_pogi profile image

      sergs_pogi 

      7 years ago

      Wow. very awesome hub again. I liked the first paragraph the most. Perhaps I'm going to link to this page my upcoming hub on mellow love songs. Thanks very much, vocalcoah. You are really a master in your field.

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      James! All this time I did not know that you are a singer. I would LOVE to hear you. Perhaps at some point I can. Do you have a CD...youtube...skype? Thank you for such a nice comment. Blessings to you James. :)

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      7 years ago from Chicago

      This is an excellent Hub. As a long time musician and singer, I appreciate what you've done here. It is very good! Thank you.

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      prasetio30 - You are a part of my family. I have such joy because we are friends. I am honored to know you and appreciate every hub you write. How talented you are. I am so happy to be your best teacher in learning music. I have learned so much from you prasetio - I am a better person for knowing you, my blessed friend. Stay close always.

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 

      7 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Very inspiring hub. I love this lesson. You explained this very well and your method was easy to understood. Even for a new comers. Thanks for writing this. You are my best teacher in learning music. Good work, my friend. I give my vote to you. Have a great day. Cheers....

      Your lovely friend, Prasetio:)

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Micky Dee - How blessed I am to have found a friend such as you. I am always inspired by your intelligence, wisdom and the love and support you give to all of us here on HP. P.S. I am asking for a bike for my birthday in February. Will you teach me how to ride? :-)

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      You have hit on a sore spot of mine. I really try to see the beauty in all music - the catch word being music. I just can't believe my ears when I come across some of this junk they refer to as music. It just about puts me over the edge. Where will it all end? I don't dare think about it. And I do hope, Tony that she will hear some of your collection and be attracted to it. Thanks Tony.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      7 years ago from South Africa

      Great informative Hub and I really, as a music lover, enjoyed this read.

      I think that music is in fact the highest art form humankind has ever created - though when I hear some of the crap (excusez mois!) that is called "music" these days I have to wonder. Listening to something on one of my daughter's CDs the other day the thought that came to me was of perplexity - 2000 years of western civilisation and that is all we can produce? I have to work on being tolerant! And hope that she catches on to some of the other real music that I have in my collection!

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      W.K. Hayes - Having the talent and ability to write as well as play your own music is a huge gift and talent. I am honored to know that my article may have played a small part in inspiring you to begin a new song. Having read your poetry, I can see that your songs must be exceptional. Mahalo (thankyou).

    • W. K. Hayes profile image

      Warren Keith Hayes 

      7 years ago from Bryson City, North Carolina

      Great article...I love writing my own music and playing. Unfortunately, I don't have as much time to dedicate to it as I would love. Having read your article, I feel inspired to write a new song. Thank you so much.

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Dear Denise - With your talent and expertise, no doubt you would experience fulfillment and even need. I am so touched that you are thinking about me and my situation during the holidays. What a loving and giving person you are. Thank you!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      What a wonderful image. I truly miss dance, choreographing, and teaching. I often wonder what it would be like for me to return to this joyous work. Hope you are doing well over the holidays.

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 

      7 years ago

      Another great write and I'll need so much more! Encore! Thank you dear vocalcoach. ho ho ho

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Denise, my beautiful friend - I should have guessed that you are also a music instructor. Dance is the heartbeat of music. The entire body and soul as it moves and absorbs each musical phrase is music at its finest. I always wanted to take dancing lessons. How exciting it would have been for you and I to work together. I love imagining that and visualizing us together, teaching and performing. Thank you for making my heart beat with joy!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      What a marvelous music coach you must be. It would be a pleasure to be your student. I love music, once owned an operated a dance studio, taught dance for many years, since age 16 through community education, so music is an integral part of dance. I loved choreographing and could not sit and listen to music without those imaginary dancing feet doing leaps and twirls in my head.

      Thank you for bringing this to the Christmas Table this season and sharing something that is so YOU. I loved it.

      Merry Christmas, the memories brought a smile to my face.

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      hello, hello - It's a shame that musical concerts have gotten so expensive. I know how much you love music. Last year for my birthday, my son, Randy, took me to the Nashville Symphony to hear my favorite Beethoven Symphony - the 9th with full chorus. It was riveting! The conductor works harder than anyone. He has to know how to play every instrument! Thank you, my dear friend.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      7 years ago from London, UK

      You always do a good thing or better a perfect job of your hubs. Even I can't play a note or sing but I love music. I used to go to concerts and operas and thoroughly enjoyed it. Nowadays it is gone to o expensive but I listen to recordings. I never had it explained so well. I was always intrigued how the musician were able to read their music sheets and watch the conductor at the same time.

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Katie, my beautiful one - You have made my day! I wasn't sure if anyone would even read my hub and I have promised 6 parts in order to cover everything. (sigh). But now, after reading your response I am overjoyed. If these informational hubs help e ven one person, then I have succeeded. So, thank you for this, my Christmas Gift. I did a good thing...yes, I did.! :-)

    • katiem2 profile image

      katiem2 

      7 years ago from I'm outta here

      Oh my thank you thank you thank you. As my daughters grow in their musical talents and the many concerts they participate in I'm thrilled to have this wealth of information to better help me understand the language of music terms definitons and meanings. Thank you! Love, Peace and JOY! :) Katie

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      dallas93444 - How right you are. I have experienced first hand time and time again how music lessons and influence of music create better and smarter students. I appreciate your comments and for rating up. Thank you!

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 

      7 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Music creates better, smarter students... Thanks for sharing. Flag up and aaaahsome.

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      wilbury steve - You are kind to comment. I, too, like the quote by stokowski. Thank you very much!

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      H P Roychoudhury - I certainly do appreciate your stopping by. Have a wonderful day!

    • H P Roychoudhury profile image

      H P Roychoudhury 

      7 years ago from Guwahati, India

      Interesting.

    • wilbury steve profile image

      Steve Webb 

      7 years ago from Great Wakering, England

      very helpful & interesting. Love the Leopold stokowski quote!! :>)

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Mentalist acer - To clarify the meaning of Ostinato -A short melody or pattern that is constantly repeated, usually in the same part at the same pitch. Thank you for your comment.

    • Mentalist acer profile image

      Mentalist acer 

      7 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

      I've never heard the term repeat as Ostinato,thanks for the info.,vocalcoach.;)

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