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A Guide to Understanding Musical Terms, Definitions and Meanings Pt 2

Updated on April 4, 2018
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Audrey's love for piano began at age six. She's is a professional pianist for cruises, hotels and community events. Teaching is her passion.


The Purpose of Musical Terms

Hello, my friends. Welcome to part 2 of "A Guide to Musical Terms and Definitions". I suggest reading my prior article on this same subject before beginning this one. It contains a complete introduction to this subject which may be helpful to you.

Music is the voice of God.

Music is a revelation;

a revelation loftier than all wisdom and all philosophy... Ludwig Van Beethoven

Good music evokes a strong emotional response within the listener and is one reason we prefer one symphony, composer, song, instrument and performer over another.

Musical terms are a way of providing an emotional blueprint for the musician. The composer demands consistency in defining the exact path of his emotions during composition. By providing musical terms, the musician is directed (and challenged) to accomplish this task.

Musical Terms, Definitions and Meanings

 Rubato - literally, "robbed."  A style in which the strict tempo is temporarily loosened by either speeding up or slowing down.

Transposition  - changing the pitch of a piece of music up or down a given interval, so that the internal relationships remain precisly the same.

Upbeat - the beat before a strong beat; also, the conductor's signal immediately before the first entry.

Key - in tonal music, the concept of interrelated chords, based on the notes of the major and minor scales, and centered on the tonic (the first note of the scale, also called the fundamental).  A key is indicated at the beginning of each piece by means of a key signature.  Other notes, foreign to the key, may be used in a piece, but the domination of all else by the basic key - exerted by the gravitational pull of the tonic-is virtually constant.  Most tonal works, even a very substantial piece such as a symphony or, on occasion, an entire opera, are written in a single key.  Although the piece may in its course move far away from the fundamental key for the sake of variety, the unity imposed by the fundamental key is always felt.  (Whew ! :)

March - music for marching to, in quadruple time, originally for military use.

Glissando - sliding between two notes.

Half note - a note equal in time balue to two quarter notes or four eighth notes; in Britain it is called a minim.

Cadence - a sequence of two chords that brings a phrase to an end, with an air of either finality or partial completion.

Tempo - speed, or time

Vivace - a tempo marking meaning "lively." 

All musicians including the vocalist must understand and use musical definitions.

Thank you, Italy

We can thank Italy for giving us most of the terminology used to describe musical components.

European music was first written down in Italy. However, Italians certainly didn’t invent music. Italians used their own words to describe music. It caught on from there, and pretty soon composers all over Europe were using Italian words and symbols to write their music.

"You will ask me where my ideas come from. I cannot say for certain. They come uncalled, sometimes independently, sometimes in association with other things. It seems to me that I could wrest (ger. spelling)them from Nature herself with my own hands, as I go walking in the woods. They come to me in the silence of the night or in the early morning, stirred into being by moods which the poet would translate into words, but which I put into sounds; and these go through my head ringing and singing and storming until at last I have them before me as notes. - Ludwig Van Beethoven, (Letter to Louis Schlosser, 1823)

Where Music Began

The Waltz

Waltz - a dance in triple time of Austrian and Bavarian origin, popular throughout Europe in the 19th century and afterwards, especially the Viennese waltzes of Johann Strauss, Sr. and Jr. The waltz was often incorporated into symphonic works in the placeof a scherzo, and independent concert waltzes were written by such composers as Schubert, Chopin, Brahms, Richard Strauss and Ravel.

Sit Back, relax and Enjoy!

Common Musical Terms And Definitions

I love all of the above waltzes, my personal favorite being Strauss's "Emperor's Waltz." I seem to be transformed as I listen to his music.

"We shall never become musicians unless we understand the ideals of temperance, fortitude, liberality and magnificence." - Plato

Vibrato - a rapid undulation in the pitch of a note, or of two contiguous notes, made by an instrumentalist or a singer to increase expressiveness of a passage.

Sharp - a sign indicating that the pitch of a note should be raised by a semitone.

Sforzando - a strong accent; written sf.

Nonet - a work for nine instruments.

Grandioso - grandly.

Fundamental - the root of a chord, or its bass note.

Root- the principal note of a triad or triad-derived chord.

Legato - to play or sing, smoothly and connected.

Rallentando - getting slower.

Obligato - an occasional but extended instrumental solo, often to accompany the vocal part in an aria. Indispensable.

"Music is everybody's possession. It's only publishers who think that people own it."

John Lennon

"I understand the inventor of the bagpipes was inspired when he saw a man carrying an indignant, asthmatic pig under his arm. Unfortunately, the manmade sound never equaled the purity of the sound achieved by the pig."

Alfred Hitchcock

Wagner's music is better than it sounds - Mark Twain

You have Van Gogh's ear for music. - Artemus Ward

"Music wraps its arms around us, taking us on a timeless journey"  Audrey Hunt
"Music wraps its arms around us, taking us on a timeless journey" Audrey Hunt | Source

© 2011 Audrey Hunt


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    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      9 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      police - Thanks for stopping by. Appreciate the comment and the rating!

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      9 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      What a marvelous way for me to begin my day...reading your beautiful words. And you...being a world class musicologist and all. Wow! I am so very flattered. My heart is full for being called a "beautiful song". That is a first for me (and there aren't that many firsts left) :) I wish you a day of joy, love and song. You give so much...

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      9 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Prasetio - It is an honor to be referred to as "your teacher". I am always here for you. I know how much you love music. You, too are a musician, prasetio. You play music with your beautiful heart. Thank you my very dear friend for all that you add to my life. Stay close and live in light and love.

    • epigramman profile image


      9 years ago

      ...well this is one of my favorite hubs because I really do fancy myself - lol lol - as a world class musicologist- so this is right up my alley - and it's so well done and researched as I would say - a true labor of love - because the lady in question is just simply a beautiful song in herself!!!!!

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      9 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      So happy to oblige you Tony. I will begin working on pt 3

      It is also a good review for me. Now you behave and take good care of yourself and sophie! Peace and joy to you!

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      Another really awesome and useful Hub, thank you. Some of the quotes are simply wonderful! Twain's on Wagner really says a lot - about Twain as well as Wagner!

      Great stuff, Audrey. Keep them coming! I love learning more and more about music.

      Love and peace


    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      9 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Rebecca - I have a huge smile on my face. :) Gee, but I feel so great knowing that this hub was written for you!

      Love and joy...

    • Rebecca E. profile image

      Rebecca E. 

      9 years ago from Canada

      did I mention you are a saint? Thank you for this hub, I needed the terms like right now! =))))

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      9 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Dear hello hello - My desire is to awaken others to the appreciation and benefits of music. You have been one, among others to inspire me to do this. Thank you for following me on my journey. Blessings to you, dear friend.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      9 years ago from London, UK

      Music is something so pure and beautiful. I don't know al the terms but I just love listne to it. Thank you for yet another wonerful hub.

    • prasetio30 profile image


      9 years ago from malang-indonesia

      This is so beautiful. Music is part of my live. It gave me a new spirit and motivation after listening music. Music give me a great energy and pumping my adrenaline to make a beautiful creation. The world so empty without music. Thanks my friend for writing this. You still my teacher. I always learn and learn from you. At this time, you open my eyes once more about music term. Ludwig Van Beethoven was a great classical musician. Vote up as always. Cheers...

      Love and peace, prasetio

    • pol1ce profile image

      Paulo Pta 

      9 years ago from the Right Place

      Very good.

      I Voted Useful.

      See you in my latest Hubs, thz

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      9 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Good Morning Micky - I like learning about the different uses of words. Thanks for teaching me that the words "cadence" and "tempo" are part of the cyclist vocabulary. So great to read your comments and thanks so much for all of your support! Sending you a big, warm, hug! :)

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      9 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Mentalist acer - I would love to know more about your musical background. A hub, perhaps? As I sit here sipping my cup of hot green tea, I am filled with thoughts of how grateful I am for your support. Thank you so much.

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 

      9 years ago

      Awesomely useful! We use "tempo" and "cadence" describing cycling too. Thank you for these terms. I love knowing what they mean - plus - they are often crossword answers! Thank you dear vocalcoach! I love all you do!

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      9 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      drbj - It feels good to be appreciated and I thank you for that. Glad you enjoyed the video. Hope your day is as fantastic as you are! :)

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      9 years ago from south Florida

      Thanks for reminding me about those vocal terms, Audrey, some of which I had forgotten, and thank you also for that charming video of waltz music. Appreciate both you and the video.

    • Mentalist acer profile image

      Mentalist acer 

      9 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

      Glissando,a nicer sound than to simply slur as it was taught to me as there are several elegant words that were neglectivly left out in my musical training,thanks for the extention of my vocabulary,vocalcoach.;)


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