Music Glossary
Music Glossary features music terms and music definitions for musicians and
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MUSIC GLOSSARY - Musical Terms and Definitions

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a cappella
- music performed without the accompaniment of instruments.

accent - Emphasis placed on a particular note that gives it more stress than the others.

acoustics - How a room sounds based on reverberation and other acoustical qualities.

allegro - A fast tempo.

andante - A moderate tempo.

antique cymbals - hand cymbals made of brass that the player strikes together gently and allow to vibrate.

arpeggio - When the notes of a chord are played individually (or one note at a time) as opposed to simultaneously.

articulation - A sign that affects how the music is played and connected together, consisting of accents, slurs, or phrase marks.

ascend - To rise in pitch.

backbeat - a consistent rhythm that stresses beats 2 and 4 in common time. In other "common" time signatures, the backbeat will land elsewhere. For example, the backbeat lands on 4 and 10 in 12/8 time.

ballad - a slow tempo song.

Music Gifts

bar - another word for measure

baritone - male voice of moderately low range.

bass drum (kick drum) - the lowest pitched drum in a marching band or with a drumset.

bass drum pedal - pedal used to play the bass drum

bata drums - a double headed, hour glass shaped drum originating from Nigeria. It later migrated to Cuba and eventually to the US. These drums can be played in the lap or with a strap around the neck.

beat - basic time unit of music.

beat displacement - a term popularized in drumming over the last 10 years. It refers to permutation where all beats will move forward say, one eighth note. This method will create numerous variations of rhythmic possibilities on the drums.

beguine - music incorporating a bolero rhythm.

bells - an instrument that consists of tuned metal bars mounted on a rectangular frame such as the glockenspiel, xylophone or marimba.

bellows - the portion of either an accordion or bagpipe necessary for producing air currents to play the instrument.

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bodhran (bodhrán) - an Irish drum covered with goatskin. Phonetically pronounced

bo-diddley beat - this beat was popularized by Bo Diddley, the famous blues guitar player. It stems from early forms of Latin and afro-Cuban rhythms (clave) derived from their respective countries. This rhythm was also used for years as the playful music knock,"Shave and a Haircut",..."Two Bits".

bolero - a slow ballad suitable for the bolero dance or similar music.

bones - or castanets. A pair of wooden instruments that are held in the hand (between the thumb and forefinger) and are clicked together in rhythm.

bongocero - a bongo player

bongo drums or bongos - a pair of small drums that are connected in the middle and played with your hands. Very common in Afro-Cuban music and Latin percussion.

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bossa nova - the bossa nova rhythm accompanies the famous bossa nova dance. It stems from the Samba and has it's origins in Brazil.

brass - a family of instruments that includes the trumpet, French horn, trombone and tuba. Most feature a cup-shaped mouthpiece attached to metal tubing that flares into a bell at the end.

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cabasa - (or afuche) a Latin percussion instrument consisting of a round cylinder on a handle. There are metal beads (actually a chain) that surround the corrugated cylinder. It is held with one hand and rubbed with the other to create various rhythms.

cascara - a Latin percussion pattern often played with the right hand on the side of a timbale. This rhythm can also be played on drumset.

Music Terms and Definitions for Musicians.

castanets - or bones. A pair of wooden instruments that are held in the hand (between the thumb and forefinger) and are clicked together in rhythm.

cajon - a hollow wooden box that has the tone of a conga. Non-tuneable as it has no drumhead. Origin - Latin America

cha-cha - a medium tempo, Afro-Cuban rhythm, as heard in Tito Puento's "Oye Como Va" song.

chamber music - Music that is written for a small ensemble of musicians in a small room (or chamber), usually without a conductor, and each having their own part to play. Often a string quartet.

chimes - a row of small, thin tubular bells that are brushed with the hand or gently with a drumstick or mallet. Chimes are often used in a soft ballad. See also "Tubular Bells".

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china (or china cymbal / china crash) - also referred to as a "pang" cymbal.

choir - vocalists or singers that assemble to perform as a group.

chops - your technique or rhythmic vocabulary. Ex. "That kid has great chops on the guitar!"

chord - a group of individual notes or pitches played together. "Guitar Chord"

chromatic scale - A musical scale that divides an octave into semitones or half steps.

clave (clave') - A rhythm made up of a 2 bar phrase played as 2:3 clave (ex: 1 2,1 2 3) or 3:2 clave (ex: 1 2 3,1 2). Once the song starts, the clave will not change. Latin American countries often clap their hands to clave during the music.

claves - percussion instrument; a pair of cylindrical wooden sticks (usually around an inch and half thick) that are clicked together to make a high pitched sound marking clave in Latin music. Sometimes made from synthetic material.

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coda - the last section of a piece of music notated by the coda sign.

common time: 4/4 time, indicating 4 beats to the measure with the quarter note receiving the beat.

concerto - A compositional piece for a soloist (or small ensemble) and orchestra.

conductor - the person who leads the performance of orchestras, bands and/or choruses.

conga - or conga drum. A drum with African/Cuban origin that is played with the hands. Shaped like a barrel, it sits on the floor or on a stand and can be played sitting or standing. It has a head on one side only. The conga is the "middle" drum of a typical conga set of drums.

conguero - one who plays the conga drums.

- (or bell)

crescendo - gradually getting louder, notated by the < sign in a piece of music.

crash - or "crash cymbal". A cymbal used for accentuation. A drummer will use this cymbal to emphasize a certain beat or accent beat one of the new measure. They generally come in sizes 15" to 18"

crotales - a chromatic set of small cymbals mounted on a frame.

cymbal - a copper/bronze disk struck with a drumstick to ride or emphasize beats. With the hands. Two cymbals can also be played together such as in a marching band or hi-hat cymbals.

cuica - a Latin percussion instrument which sound resembles a dog barking.

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decrescendo - gradually getting softer. Notated by the > symbol.

diatonic scale - A seven note musical scale for musicians consisting of five whole steps and two half steps.

diminished - A perfect interval that's lowered one half tone.

dissonance - chords or groups of notes that don't go well together or clash in some way, creating an unstable sound and in need of resolution.

double bass - the use of two bass drums with a drum set. Double bass drumming can also be played with a twin or double bass pedal and just one bass drum.

downbeat - the "main" pulse as it relates to the rest of the measure. If you have 8 eighth notes in a bar of 4/4 time, beats 1, 2, 3 and 4 would be considered the downbeat. The "and" of 1, "and" of 2, "and" of 3, and "and" of 4 would be the upbeat. Also, the first beat of the measure.

drum - a hollow cylindrical shell of any size that has a head stretched over one or both ends and is beaten with the hands or a stick. There are also electronic drums where no shell is needed, just a triggering pad. When struck, it triggers synthesized sounds of all types.

duet - a compositional piece for two instrumentalists and/or vocalists.

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Drum Bum

drum set - consisting of generally 4 to 5 drums or more. 5 piece drumsets are most common.

drum tabs - tabs for drumming. A short hand style of writing drum music. Tablature.

duet - a musical composition designed to be played with two instrumentalists.

doumbek - a middle eastern drum commonly from countries such as India, Pakistan, Morocco and Egypt. Shaped similar to a djembe drum. Usually made of metal or ceramic. Only 1 drumhead on top.

dynamics - playing soft to loud (and visa versa) on a music instrument.

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encore - means "Again". This is when the audience requests that the performer(s) return to the stage after the conclusion of a performance for another song.

endorsement - when a company (usually a manufacturer) endorses a musician through free or discounted merchandise and/or advertising.

etude - A short song or composition intended as an exercise either just for practicing or to focus on a particular technique or problem area of a song.

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- a thick 2 and 4, slightly behind the beat backbeat with a lot of soul. Common in funk and blues drumming.

fill - short for drum fill or instrumental fill.

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foot pedal - the accessory that depresses the bass drum or hi-hat cymbals.

forte - play loud

fortissimo - play the drums "very loud"

four-four time (or 4/4 time) - time signature indicating 4 beats to the measure where the quarter note receives the beat.

frame drums - drums that consist of a head stretched over a narrow framed skeleton. Simple in design but capable of many types of sounds.

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ghost note or ghost stroke - a note that is played extremely quiet. Similar to a grace note.

glockenspiel - an instrument that contains tuned metal bars mounted on a rectangular frame. The glockenspiel is played with mallets.

guaguanco - an Afro Cuban rhythm stemming from the rhumba.

gourd - a hollowed out gourd that is corrugated and played with a stiff metal rod. It creates a "zip" type of sound often heard in Latin music.

gong - a large suspended cymbal that is struck with a large felt mallet. It has it's roots in the orient.

groove - a term used to describe the way a beat feels when it not only has a steady tempo, but "feels" incredibly good within the music.

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hand bells - tuned bells that are held in the hand and sounded by shaking them.

hi-hat - the two cymbals on a stand that open and close together. They are operated by the foot. Generally used on the left side of a drumset (right handed drummers).

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interval - the distance or space between two musical notes.

Music Terms and Definitions for Musicians.

jazz - a style of music native to America. Jazz was largely developed and popularized by African Americans in the 1900's. It comes out of New Orleans and grew from big band music to free- form improvisational jazz as it developed through the years. - Jazz Gifts

kettle drums - or tympani. A very large drum made of copper or brass. Most often used in orchestras and symphonies. This drum has a foot pedal that is attached to the head mechanism. When the foot pedal is depressed, the kettle drum makes a unique, "boing" type of sound.

key signature - sharps or flats that are placed at the beginning of a staff to indicate the key of a musical composition or a musical passage in the song.

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kick drum - another word for "bass drum". This is the largest drum on a typical drumset and it sits on the floor.


lick - drum lick or short drum fill. A lick can also be a quick "riff" or fancy beat.

log drum - slit drum.

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- a type of drumstick used to strike a percussion instrument; particularly a bell instrument such as the marimba or xylophone.

maracas - a hollowed out gourd on a stick (rattle). Usually filled with seeds or pebbles. Another simply designed instrument but capable of many different types of sounds through various skillful techniques used by the drummer.

measure - a grouping of time that contains a fixed number of beats; appears as a vertical line through the staff.

merengue - an upbeat Afro-Cuban rhythm.

metronome - a clicking electronic device that sets tempo for a rhythm or song. It measures time in BPM (beats per minute). A popular "middle of the road" metronome setting is, quarter note = 120 bpm.

mezzo forte - MF - moderately loud

mezzo piano - means "moderately soft", and is indicated by the marking "mp".

mics - short for microphone / drum mics, microphones for micing drums

marimba - an instrument that consists of a large frame holding wooden resonator bars. This musical instrument is played with mallets.

modulate - to go from one key to another key.

mozambique - a rhythm from Africa commonly used in Afro-Cuban music.

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notation - referring to music notes on sheet music

off beat - similar to "upbeat". The beats that are not stressed. This word is also used to describe a musician that may play out of time.

odd time - referring to an odd or uneven time signature (not 4/4), such as 7/4 or 5/8.

orchestra bells - bells consisting of tuned metal bars mounted on a rectangular frame and played with a mallet.

ostinato - a musical rhythm or phrase that is repeated over and over again.

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pandeiro - tambourine; a round hoop (usually wooden) with metal discs or jingles attached. Common in Afro-Cuban and Brazillian music.

pans - (steel drums) large oil drums that have had the tops cut off and hammered into a tuned percussion instrument. Common in the Caribbean Islands. Played with mallets.

pattern generator - an electronic or computerized device or program that generates a multitude of rhythms.

Music Terms and Definitions for Musicians.

pedal (or foot pedal) - used to play the bass drum or hi-hat. A pedal can also be for guitar. Guitar players use effects pedals.

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percussion clef - the staff commonly used in percussion (as opposed to bass clef) where it is not necessary to notate pitched instruments.

percussion instrument - An instrument that is struck with your hands or an object such as a drumstick or mallet. Examples include a drum, cymbal, tambourine, bell, triangle, etc.

permutation - a term popularized in drumming over the last 10 years. It refers to beat displacement where all beats will move forward say, one eighth note. This method will create numerous variations of rhythmic possibilities.

pentatonic scale - a musical scale containing 5 distinct pitches, considered more exotic in Western music.

phrasing (musical phrasing) - how musicians distribute notes and phrases around their instrument in context to the song or solo.

piano - dynamic marking meaning "soft"

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pianissimo - very soft

polyrhythm - more than one rhythm or time signature being played at the same time, such
as 3 against 2.

pulse - the consistent "heartbeat" of a rhythm.

punk - punk music

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quadruple time - 4/4 time or time signature equaling 4 beats to a measure. Quad meaning "4".

quads - consisting of 4 drums and often played in marching band or drumline.

quints - consisting of 5 drums and played in marching band or drumline.

quinta (or quinto) - The smallest conga drum.

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rain stick - a long hollowed out piece of wood that is filled with beads or pebbles. When turned upside down, it makes the sound of rain falling. This instrument is often used in band and orchestra for special percussion effects.

rhythm - the manipulation of strong and weak beats, creating a flowing and/or syncopated pulse.

ride (ride cymbal) - the primary cymbal that you "ride" much of the time while playing a standard beat. It is usually larger than the rest at around 18" to 22".

riff - a usually short run of notes on an instrument, like a guitar "riff". Sometimes referred to as a "lick" or guitar lick.

ritard - gradually slowing the tempo down, often at the end of a piece.

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rimshot - hitting the snare head and the snare drum rim at the same time. The effect is a louder, punchier sound or backbeat.

roto-toms - mounted, shell-less drums that changes pitch when rotated by hand.

roll - drum roll. Rolls (single stroke, double stroke, 5 stroke, etc.) that help make up the 40 drum rudiments.

rudiments - rudimentary beats used to create independence between the two hands (and feet) in drumming. These beats can then be manipulated around the drumset. There are currently 40 drum rudiments (or standardized drum rudiments).

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salsa - generic musical term describing a wide range of Latin American music and dancing. Salsa emerged on the New York club scene in the early 70's and revolves around a high-energy dance style of music. Salsa drumming would consist of the many Latin rhythms made up of traditional Latin clave.

scale - a series of notes that ascend or descend and provide musical measurement as well as a proven practicing exercise for guitar players, piano players and all melodic instrumentalists.

shaker - any percussion instrument that can be shaken. Usually a hollowed out container filled with beads or pebbles.

sharp - notated as #

shekere - a large hollow gourd surrounded by woven beads. Common in Afro-Cuban music.

snare drum - one of the more common drums in marching bands and drumlines and the primary drum of a drumset. The "snares" are the wires on the bottom of the drum that give it that "buzz" sound. Standard size is usually 14" diameter by 5 1/2" in depth but can vary greatly.

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snares - the long wiggly shaped wires stretched across the bottom of a snare drum. These wires create a preferred buzz sound.

solo - guitar solo

steel drum - (pans) large oil drums that have had the tops cut off and hammered into a tuned percussion instrument. Common in the Caribbean Islands. Played with mallets.

swing - in drumming it refers to the swing cymbal rhythm or what the old masters would call "spang-a-lang". This rhythm and variations of it is the driving force behind swing (jazz) music.

syncopation - when a beat or a musical phrase is syncopated.

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tabs - short for tablature (see guitar tabs)

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tempo - the speed of the rhythm or song.

tambour - French for "drum". A drum or drummer.

time signature - a fraction-like symbol at the beginning of a composition containing a number on top and a number on the bottom (like 4/4). The top number tells the number of beats or counts in each measure and the bottom note tells what note (quarter note, eighth note, etc.) gets the beat.

timpani - see tympani

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triad - a chord comprised of three musical tones.

triangle - another one of the many percussion instruments used for special effects. It is a metal bar actually bent in the shape of a triangle and struck with a small metal mallet.

triplet - a common polyrhythm that uses groups of 3 per beat. These can be subdivided many different ways. Ex. quarter note triplets, 8th note triplets, etc.

transcription - The result of transcribing a piece of music.

transpose - to adjust a musical piece from its original key to a new desired key.

tubular bells - A member of the chimes family, tubular bells are long metal tubes (around 5' or more) that are struck with a special hammer. This percussion instrument is common in school bands, marching bands (pit), and orchestras, as well as symphonies.
tumba (or tumbadora) - the largest of the typical 3 conga drums family.

tympani - (kettle drums) Kettle drums are pitched instruments that are considered a part of the melodic percussion family. They are very large drums made of copper or brass, most often used in orchestras and symphonies. These drums have a foot pedal that is attached to the head mechanism. When the foot pedal is depressed, the kettle drums make a unique, "boing" type of sound.

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udu drums - "Udu" means "pot". an oblong drum (or pot) made of clay. It has a hole on top that resonates the sound when the drum is struck with a hand. It generally makes a deep sound.

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vibes - or vibraphone. Similar to a xylophone but having metal bars and resonators that are driven by a motor. This motor helps to create vibrato sound. Played with mallets.

vibraphone (or vibes) - Similar to a xylophone but having metal bars and resonators that are driven by a motor. This motor helps to create vibrato sound. Played with mallets.

vibraslap - An instrument of percussion used for sound effect. It is held in the hand or can be mounted. When the ball of the vibraslap is struck, it vibrates the metal teeth inside and makes a long rattling sound.

virtuoso - a musician that displays exceptional technical ability often obtained through years of experience.

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waltz - a musical piece with a triple meter, often in 3/4 producing a "1,2,3... 1,2,3" feel. The songs most often accentuate the "1" and accompany the historical waltz dance.

woodwinds - one of families of instruments in music including the flute, the clarinet, the bassoon, and the saxophone. Most are (or used to be) constructed of wood and a sound is produced by the player blowing air across a reed or reeds.

world drumming - drumming that incorporates rhythms from around the world, utilizing world instruments originating from their prospective countries. Examples would be Afro-Cuban rhythms, Indian rhythms, Caribbean rhythms and so on.

x-hat - A set of hi hats positioned in a remote place on the drumset.

xylophone - or bells. A musical instrument consisting of metal or wooden bars that are tuned and played with mallets. Common in musical symphonies and orchestras.

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y are there so many musicians in the world?

zero ring (or "O" ring) - a plastic dampening device used by drummers for tone control.

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