Glossary of key words

Glossary of terms used on this website and in resources.


Accent - emphasis on individual sounds

Accompaniment - a part that supports, backs or complements a musical melody

Anacrusis - an unstressed note at the beginning of a phrase


Bar - the divisions of beats in music

Beatboxing - using the mouth and voice to make sounds that imitate a drum kit or drum machine

Body percussion - using the body as a percussion instrument such as clapping or clicking

Bourdon - a drone bass on two notes, a fifth apart

Bridge - a short section of music that links two important sections of a piece of music


Call and response - when a phrase sung by one musician is answered by another musician or by a group

Chant - reciting in a musical way

Chord - a group of three or more notes played together that make a harmony

Chorus - the part of a song often repeated after a verse

Chromatic - one or more notes which do not belong to a diatonic scale or mode

Coda - a section that rounds off or ends a piece

Contour - see melodic contour below

Crescendo - getting gradually louder


Diminuendo - getting gradually softer

Downbeat - the first beat of the bar

Drone - a repeated note that doesn?t change. Usually it is used to accompany a melody

Duration - the beat, rhythm, tempo and metre of a piece of music

Dynamics - the volume of the sound and changes thereof


Echo - imitate


Garage Band - a computer music program that makes it easy to play, create and record musical instruments and sound effects

Glissando - sliding between notes

Graphic notation - symbols that are not traditional music notation, used to record sounds


Harmony - two or more pitches sounded together


Improvisation - creating the music as it is being performed

Interlude - an instrumental section within a composition

Instrumentation - the varying tone colours produced by different combinations of instruments

Interval - the "distance" between two notes; the difference in pitch


Legato - played smoothly, with each sound connected


Melodic contour - the shape of the pitches within a melody

Melody - a series of notes that create a tune

Metre - the division or grouping of beats, indicated by the time signature

Metronome marking - indicates the tempo of the music

Minor pentatonic scale - based around the minor scale, this features the five notes of 1 3 4 5 and 7 (not 2 and 6). For example, in E minor pentatonic, this features the notes E G A B and D (not F and C)


N.C. - no chord. Don't play until the next chord symbol occurs.


Octave - the space of eight notes between two notes of the same name

Ostinato - a repeated musical part such as a rhythm or melody that continues much like a riff

Offbeat - when the rhythm is not on the main beat of the bar


Patsching - slapping own thighs to make a body percussion sound

Pause - also called a fermata and indicated by a pause sign. It indicates the note is to be held for longer than its value

Pentatonic scale - a scale made of five notes. Commonly this use notes 1 2 3 5 and 6 of the major scale and excludes notes 4 and 7. For example in C major the pentatonic scale is C D E G A (not F or B)

Phrase - a short segment of a melody

Phrasing - a musical sentence usually in between breaths

Pitch - the highs and lows of a musical composition or the melodic contour


Rap - rhythmical speaking

Rhythm - a part of the musical concept of duration. The rhythm, unlike the beat, usually changes and forms patterns. In a song, the rhythm is the words

Riff - a repeated musical pattern (also called an ostinato)

Rondo - a structure in which section A recurs between alternating sections

Round - a part song in which the voices enter one after the other, singing the same melody


Scat - improvised singing which uses nonsense syllables

Score - musical notation

Soundscape - a sound or combination of sounds that create an atmospheric musical composition

Staccato -detached sounds

Structure - the way a piece of music is put together

Syncopation - when the rhythm is off the beat


Tempo - the speed of the beat

Timbre (tone colour) - the description of the way an instrument or style sounds and how the sound is created

Time signature - two figures written at the beginning of bars showing how many beats in a bar and how much the beat is worth

Triad - a chord, made up of three notes, 1st, 3rd and 5th degrees of a scale

Twelve bar blues - is one of the most used chord progressions in popular music. In its basic form, it is based on chords I, IV, and V of a key


Upbeat - an unstressed note at the beginning of a phrase (also referred to as an anacrusis)

Unison - all parts playing or singing the same melody


Verse - a section of a song usually alternating with the chorus.

Vocalising - singing without words.


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