Glossary of Musical Terms

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AABA song form
Form consisting of four eight-bar phrases that are built on two melodic ideas. Can also be called a 32-bar song form
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Add Chord
abbr. of 'added note chord'. An extra note is added to a basic chord
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North Indian classical music, is the introduction section and helps to set the mood of the piece. Consists of a free rhythm and is unaccompanied apart from a drone. It contrasts with high pitches and low pitches
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A dissonant note approachd by a leap that usually resolves by step onto a harmony note. They can be written as a grace note or a full-sized note
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A type of lute, most commonly used as a continuo instrument from the end of the 16th century to the early 18th century. It has an extended neck with long bass strings running beside the normal strings
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A solo song with accompaniment usually found in an opera or oratorio
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Where the notes of a chord are spread out, they are played separately usually from bottom upwards.
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Form of verse, often narrative, set to music. In late 19th century it was used to describe a slow popular love song
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An Indian bamboo flute with no keys and six or seven finger holes
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Baroque period
Music in the Western Classical tradition from about 1600 to about 1750
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Virtuosic style of jazz which developed in the 1940s in the US. Characterised by fast tempos, intricate melodies, and the use of complex chords and chord progressions
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Where the pitch of a note is changed slightly
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Block chords
Chords built in rhythmic unison with the melody
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A slow, sentimental Cuban song in duple time, often with chromatic harmonies
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The name given to the Hindi film industry based in Mumbai, combining the words Bombay and Hollywood. The music integrates the Indian and Western instruments and musical styles
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A pair of small Afro-Cuban single-headed drums with conical or cylindrical hardwood shells, often fixed together by a bar of mtal. Bogos are usually played with the bare hands and have a loud penetrating sound
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In popular music
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Bridge passage
In classical music, a transition section leading from one theme to another
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The chords that conclude a musical phras. Cadences are used to punctuate music, either bringing a melody to a point of repose before going on, or bringing it to a close
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An extended unaccompanied solo passage based on a cadence and featuring brilliant passage work
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Call and Response
A solo that is heard and then immediately responded to by another group with an answering phrase
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A type of music that originated in Trinidad and Tobago fusing European and West African influences. It is characterised by improvised lyrics on topical or broadly humorous subjects
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Two or more parts engage in imitation for some time, perhaps even throughout a complete section or piece
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Literally means 'sung'. An extended piece of music for voices and accompaniment, particulary associated with the Baroque period
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A small keyboard instrument with an ehteral, bell-like sound
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Chromatic notes are those outside a particular major or minor key. Notes belonging to the scale of the key are 'diatonic'. Chromatic harmony uses notes from outside the key to colour the chords
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Chromatic scale
A scale made up of all the 12 notes in an octave and formed entirely of semitones
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Classical period
Music in the Western Classical tradition from about 170 to about 1820
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A repeated interlocking rhythmic pattern used in Cuban music. It is made up of several one- or two-bar patterns, each played by a different instrument
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A concluding section
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Very showy and elaborate vocal writing, especially in opera
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Concept Album
A studio album where the different tracks are linked together through the lyrics and/or musical ideas contributing to a single unified theme or story
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Concert Pitch
Sounding pitch, as opposed to the written pitch for transposing instruments
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The group of soloists in a concerto grosso
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Concerto Grosso
A work in several movements written for a group of soloists and orchestra. Generally associated with Baroque music
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Afro-Cuban drums with a tall, narrow, barrel-shaped body, played with the fingers and palms. The pitch an be raised by applying pressure to the drumhead with the heel of the hand. They are usally played in pairs
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Consonant chords and intervals sound stable
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A term meaning either the group of instruments used to provide the bass, or the notated bass line from which those instruments play. he continuo part was usually played by a kyboard instrument such as a harpsichord or organ plus a bassline/
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A texture where two or more melodic lines are combined
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A structure found in many Cuban genres based on cll and response between the lead singer and the 'coro'. Melody and lyrcs called 'guia'/'pregon' are improvised by soloist. The 'coro' is sung by a group and has fixed melody and lyrics, unchanged
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Counter melody
A melodic lines played in counterpoint with a more prominent lead melody
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Cross Rhythm
The effect produced when two conflicting rhythms are heard together
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A smal plucked instrument silimar to the guitar and popular in South America. There are several different sizes and tunings. The Cuban cuatro is a small eight-string guitar where the strings are tuned in pairs in octaves
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Each piece of music in a film score
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In Cuban music, a jam session featuring improvisation, sometimes used to create songs
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Development 1
1. The central section of a movement in sonata form where material from the exposition is transformed. The music usually includes several modulations
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Development 2
2. The process of modifying musical materials, generally melodic themes, which are changed, transposed or extended, motivically, harmonically or contrapuntally.
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Notes belonging to the scale of a key are 'diatonic'
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Shortening of the note lengths of a melody, usually proportionate
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Chords and intervals feel somewhat unstable, as though one of the notes needs to move up or down to resolve into a consonance. Perceptions of what constitutes consonance and dissonance have changed over time
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Dorian mode
The mode following the pattern of intervalsformed by D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D. Note that semitones between the second and third, and sixth and seventh degrees
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Especially in non-classical genres, the extended sustaining or repetition of a note or harmonic intervals
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Enharmonic notes sound the same but are written (spelt) differently
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A group of singers and/or players, usually used when referring to groups smaller than a chorus or an orchestra
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The first section of a sonata form where the musical material is 'exposed'. The first subject is in the main key. The second subject is in a different key and has different character.
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Extended chords
Further notes added to seventh chords, e.g. 9th, 11th and 13th chords where further thirds are added
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Extended techniques
Unconventional or non-tradtion methods of singing or of playing musical instruments emploed to obtain unusual sounds or timbres
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Figured bass
Used in the Baroque period as a way of denoting chords and their inversions where numbers, or figures, indicate the required harmonies
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Free jazz
A term applied to avant-garde jazz of the 1950s and 1960s and experimental jazz performance in general. Free-jazz musicians explore new sonic possiblilities and innovative approaches to composition and improvisation
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Adjective from fugue, usually referring to contrapuntal textures which share the characteristics of a fugue but are not continued to make a complete fugue
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A contrapuntal piece for two or more insturmental or vocal parts, based on theme which is imitated at different pitches and in different keys.
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Functional harmony
Harmony that establishes a clear tonality
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Term applied to Indonesian orchestras and to the music composed for them
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A slide from one pitch to another
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A South American percussion instrument usually made from a gourd with a series of grooves cut in one side which are scraped with a wooden or wire rod
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A Cuban dance, popular in Spain. It is in a slow tempo and duple metre with a lilting rhythmic ostinato and features stately steps accompanied by sensual movements of the arms, hips, head and eyes
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Hammering (for sitar)
A playing techniques on the sitar similar to the guitar technique of hammer on/pull offs. On the sitar this is often combined with sliding a left-hand finger across one or more frets
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An artistic event that combines elements of theatre, performance art, music, and the visual arts, often within a loose structure and without a plot. Happenings often take place in unconventional performance spaces
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Harmonic rhythm
The rate at which chords change. Sometimes referred to as harmonic movement
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Harmonic series
In math the series 1, 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, and so on is known as the harmonic series. It is musically represented in the divisions of the length of a string or, in wind instruments, of an air column.
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Any musical notes is accompanied by overtones at fixed intervals above it. These can be prouced seperately on string instruments by touching the string lightly at various points along its length. The fundamental tone will not vibrate;
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An electronic device which alters the frequency of an incoming audio signal, shifting the pitch by a pre-determined value, and recombining it with the original signal to produce a sound that is a combination of the pitches
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US black urban culture originating in the Bronx area of New York in the 1970s. Hip-Hop music focuses on rhythm rather than melody and harmony. It is characterised by Dj-ing, rapping, graffiti art, use of samples and programmed beats
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Literally meaning 'sounding together'. Homophonic music is played in block chords with one part having the melodic interest
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Horn sections
The wind and brass section in popular and jazz, most often saxophones and trumpets, also sometimes trombones
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Idee fixe
A recurring motif which appears in different guises and acts as a unifying thread
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Where two or more parts share the smae melodic idea. Each new part enters separately, the preceding one continuing with shared or new material
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In music, late 19th/ early 20th century movement of French origin. It is sometimes compared with the Impressionist movement in painting where works suggested the atmosphere of a subject, rather than attempting to be fully descriptive.
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A piece composed as it is performed, although frequently based on a pre-conceived stimulus such as a melody or chord scheme
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Music that cannot be predicted before performance. This includes music which was composed through chance procedures and.or where a decision by the performer replaces a decision by the composer. Sometimes known as aleatoric music or chance music
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An abbr. for 'introduction', often used to describe the opening section of a popular song
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A recurring musical idea which is associated with a particular theme, character or place
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Leslie cabinet
A large wooden box containing an amplifier and two sets of revolving speakers - one with high frequencies and one with low frequencies
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The text of an opera or other extended vocal work
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Art songs with German text, chiefly from the Romantic period. Singular 'Lied'
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A small plucked wire-strung instrument usually played with a plectrum
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North Indian finger cymbals
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A group of notes sung to one syllable. The adjective is 'melismatic'
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A percussion instrument consisting of a series of tuned metal bars, arranged in a single or double row, that are played by striking with mallets
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The organisation of regular pulses into patterns of strong and weak beats
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Metric modulations
A technique for changing the metre from one section to another; the time signature changes and a note value from the first time signature is made equivalent to a note value in the second
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Intervals smaller than a semitone
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Middle eight
A contrasting section in a popular song, often with a different arrangement of instruments, and/or different chords. Sometimes the middle eight is referred to as the bridge
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Mixolydian mode
The mode following the pattern of intervals formed by G - A - B - C - D - E - F -G. Note the semitones between the third and fourth, and sixth and seventh degrees
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Music based on a mode rather than a key. Of several types, each mode has a different series of tones and semitones
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Mode are scales, each with a unique pattern of intervals. They were in use before diatonic major and minor scaes and are still used in some popular music, folk songs, world music and other styles
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Change of key
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Motifs or motives
Short distinctive melodic or rhythmic ideas which are usually transformed and developed
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Motivic development
Where motives are manipulated to help create longer passages of music
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An extended technique which produces chords on a musical instrument which usually produces only one note at a time; ie clarinet
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Musique concrete
A term coined by the composer Pierre Schaeffer to describr a collage technique where sounds are recorded on tape and then processed in different ways: at different speeds; backwards; spliced; looped; and superimposed
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Oboe d'amore
A type of alto oboe in A which was popular in the Baroque period. The sound is gentler than that of the ordinary oboe
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A large-scale dramatic form for solo voices, chorus and orchestra performed on the stage with costues and sets.
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A multi-movement work for solo voices, choir and orchestra, usually on a religious text
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A term often used to mean the craft of writing idiomatically for instruments used in an arrangement
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The process of elaborating or decorating musical material. It sometimes involves conventional ornaments, such as trills and turns, which are shown by small notes or special symbols
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A short musical pattern repeated throughout a section or complete piece
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Closing section of a popular song
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Overtone singing
Where a singer produces more than one clearly audible note at a time by manipulating the vocal resonances to emphasise upper harmonics or overtones
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Parallel movement
Parallel movement occurs when two or more parts move in the same direction, keeping the same numerical interval between them. There are parallel thirds for example, where C and E both move up second to D and F
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A work deliberately written partly in the style of another period or genre
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Pedal note
A note which is sustained or repeated while chords change, often resulting in dissonance
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Pentatonic scale
Five-note scale commonly found in folk music from around the world
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Pitch shifting
The original pitch of a sound is raised or lowered electronically
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Technique where the strings of an instrument are plucked with the fingers
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Simultaneous use of two different metres
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The use of several keys at once
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A movement or section of a movement concluding a composition; the equivalent of a coda or epilogue and the opposite of a prelude
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Prepared piano
A piano which has been prepared by altering the pitches, timbres and dynamic responses of individual notes by means of bolts, screws, mutes and/or other objects inserted at particular points between or next to the strings
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Programme music
A type of of art music characteristic principally of the Romantic period, and generally for orchestra, in which the composer depicts a pre-conceived series of extra-musical events or ideas. The opposite of absolute music, which is non-representationa
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An abbr. for rhythm and blues that was originally used in the 1940s to describe a style of black American music combining jazz and blues. From the late 1980s it became associated with American artists such as Janet Jackson and Whitney Housten.
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A melodic mode used in Indian classical music
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The section in sonata form that follows the development. The msucial material from the exposition returns but usually all now in the tonic key
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A form of declamatory somewaht speech-like singing used mainly in opera or oratorio. It is used as a means of advancing the plot through dialogue or narrative, whereas the subsequent aria is usually more reflective
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A style of music which originated in Jamaica in the 1960s. It is characterised by emphasis on the backbeats
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In music the word reverb refers to either a sound processing device that simulates natural acoustic reverberation or to the effect itself
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Rhythmic cell
A small rhythmic unit. It may be entirely percussive or applied to different melodic segments. Unlike a motif, it is not divisable into more than one cell
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Similar to ostinato, but applied to popular styles of music
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The orchestra in a concerto grosso
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Romantic period
Music in the Western Classical tradition from about 1820 to about 1910
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An early brass instrument operated using a telescopic slide in the same way as the trombone
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A digitally recorded fragment of sound, newly recorded or from a pre-existing source
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An Indian fretless bowed instrument which is held in the lap and has three tick strings and as many as 36 sympathetic strings
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The more-or-less exact repetition of a melody at a different pitch, either higher or lower
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Seventh chords
Seventh chords are made by adding a seventh above the root to a triad
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A form of opera in the German language which includes arias, ensembles, and spoken dialogue
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A long-necked plucked string instrument with movable frets and a gourd resonator. It is played by plucking the strings with a metal plectrum. The instrument has six or seven main strings and twelve or more sympathetic strings
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A style of music which first became popular in Jamaica in the 1960s. Ska uses electric guitars and a jazzy horn section. The music is fast with characteristic off-beat jumpy rhythms and jerky off-beat quavers
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Slash chords
In popular music, when a chord inversion is used, the chord symbol indicates this by stating the bass notes after the chord name
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A style of music originating in Cuba with Afro-Cuban rhythms, repeated chorus, clave patterns and Latin American percussion
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Sonata form
A large-scale form which evolved in the Classical period. Sonata form has three main sections: exposition, development and recapitulation. Most of the muscial ideas come from two contrasting themes heard in the exposition
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Song cycle
A gou of songs designed to be performaed together as one unit
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Sotto voce
In an undertone, literally under the voice
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An atmospheric msaic of sounds
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A style of music based on the computer analysis of the sound-spectrum. It focuses on the manipulation of the spectral features of sound and the harmonic potential of the overtone series
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A bowing technique in which the bow appears ti bounce lightly upon the string. The term comes from the Italian verb 'spiccare' meaning 'to separate'.
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A single accented chord
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A stophic song has the same music for each stanza of the poem being set. A song in which some or all stanzas are set differently is 'through-composed'.
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A phrase or melody which forms an important elements in the structure of a piece of music. In sonata form there are usually two subjects. These are typically contrasted in key and character.
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Sus chord
In sus chords the third of a chord i replaced by another note. In the sus 4 chord, the third from the root is missed out and is replaced by a fourth above the root The sound is neither major nor minor
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A form of discord created when one note of a chord is held over as a momentary part of the chord which follows. It then resolves by falling to a note which forms a real part of the second chord
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Sympathetic strings
In string instruments, strings that sound 'in sympathy' with the same note emanating from another sounding string and creating a silvery resonance
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Sympathetic poem
A long single movement programmatic piece for orchestra. Symohonic poems often use a large orchestra and are quite free in their structure
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A strong or stressed note occurs on a part of a bar or beat that would normally be 'weak' or unstressed. The effect created when off-beat notes are accented
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Synth pad
A sustained chord or tone generated by a synthesiser, often used to provide atmospheric background harony
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A pair of small Indian drums placed on the floor in front of the player. The main drum is called a tabla or dayan. Its shell is made out of wood, and it produces a distinct pitch when struck. The larger, low pictch drum, the bayam, has a metal shelle
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Tack piano
Tacks or nails are placed on the felt-padded hammers of the piano giving the instrument a tinny, more percussive sound
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A tenor oboe in F used in the late 17th century and early 18th century
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A stringed Indian instrument similar to the sitar but with fewer strings and no frets. It is used to play a drone accompaniment
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Tape looping
Where a short section or sample is repeated over and over again
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The prevailing range of a vocal or instrumental part where most of the notes lie
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The number o fparts in a piece of music and how they relate to one another. The texture of a piece refers to the verall picture of the sound
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Where the music does not fall into repeated sections but changes throughout
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Tone colour. The characteristic quallity of a musical sound
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The relationship of notes within a scale or mode to a principal note. A wider term than key but often used synonymously with it.
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Tone colour
Timbre. The characteristic quality of a musical sound
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Very fast continuous repetitions of individual or alternating notes
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A type of chord which, in its basic form, has a root note, a third above the root, and a fifth above the root
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Three notes played in the time of two
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The interval of an augmented fourth or diminished fifth made up of three tones
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In film music, background music is often referred to as underscoring. It emphasises the mood of the scene and enhances the atmosphere
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Verse and chorus
A common form where the verse and chorus are the most important sections of a song and usuallly alternate. The verses have the same or similar music but different text. The choruses usually repeat the same words and music
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The regular, rapid fluctuation of pitch that can be used to add warmth to a note
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The viol is a bowed string instrument which was popular during the Renaissance and Baroque periods. All viols are played held downwards, the larger sizes between the legs, and the smaller sizes resting on the kneews
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Histoircall, the term has had a variety of meanings. During the Baroque period it usually referred to a low-pitched viol with a similar range to the double bass
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Whole tone scale
A scale made up of six consecutive whole tones
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A word or phrase from the text of a song that is reflected in the musict
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9th, 11th, 13th chords
Extended chords add further notes to 7th chords. 9th, 11th and 13th chords can be made by adding more thirds above the 7th chord.
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Card 2


abbr. of 'added note chord'. An extra note is added to a basic chord


Add Chord

Card 3


North Indian classical music, is the introduction section and helps to set the mood of the piece. Consists of a free rhythm and is unaccompanied apart from a drone. It contrasts with high pitches and low pitches


Preview of the back of card 3

Card 4


A dissonant note approachd by a leap that usually resolves by step onto a harmony note. They can be written as a grace note or a full-sized note


Preview of the back of card 4

Card 5


A type of lute, most commonly used as a continuo instrument from the end of the 16th century to the early 18th century. It has an extended neck with long bass strings running beside the normal strings


Preview of the back of card 5
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