Music glossary


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 which 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 which 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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