a, à (Fr): at, to, by, for, in, in the style of
a 2: see a due in this list
a battuta: return to normal tempo after a deviation; same as ‘a tempo’
aber (Ger): but
a bene placito: up to the performer
a cappella: in the manner of singing in a chapel; i.e., without instrumental accompaniment
accarezzévole: expressive and caressing
accelerando, accel.: accelerating; gradually increasing the tempo
accent: Attack hard.
accentato/accentuato: accented; with emphasis
acceso: ignited, on fire
acciaccatura: crushing; i.e., a very fast grace note that is “crushed” against the note that follows and takes up no value in the measure
accompagnato: accompanied; i.e., with the accompaniment following the soloist, who may speed up or slow down at will
adagietto: rather slow
adagio: at ease; i.e., play slowly
adagissimo: very, very slow
ad libitum (commonly ad lib; Latin): at liberty; i.e., the speed and manner of execution are left to the performer
a due: intended as a duet; for two voices or instruments; together; two instruments are to play in unison after a solo passage for one of the instruments
affannato, affannoso: anguished
affettuoso, affettuosamente, or affectueusement (Fr): with affect (that is, with emotion); see also con affetto
affrettando: hurrying, pressing onwards
al, alla: to the, in the manner of (al before masculine nouns, alla before feminine)
alla breve: in cut-time; two beats per measure or the equivalent thereof
alla marcia: in the style of a march
allargando: broadening, becoming a little slower each time
allegretto: a little lively, moderately fast
allegretto vivace: a moderately quick tempo
allegrezza: cheerfulness, joyfulness
allegro: cheerful or brisk; but commonly interpreted as lively, fast
allegrissimo: very fast, though slower than presto
all’ ottava: “at the octave”, see ottava
als (Ger): than
alt (English) (also alt dom or altered dominant): a jazz term which instructs chord-playing musicians such as a jazz pianist or jazz guitarist to perform a dominant (V7) chord with altered upper extensions (e.g., sharp 11th, flat 13th, etc.).
altissimo: very high
alto: high; often refers to a particular range of voice, higher than a tenor but lower than a soprano
alzate sordini: lift or raise the mutes; i.e., remove mutes
am Steg (Ger): at the bridge; i.e., playing a bowed string instrument near its bridge, which produces a heavier, stronger tone (see sul ponticello in this list)
amabile: amiable, pleasant
anacrusis: a note or notes that precede the first full bar; a pickup
andamento: used to refer to a fugue subject of above-average length
andante: at a walking pace; i.e., at a moderate tempo
andantino: slightly faster than andante (but earlier it is sometimes used to mean slightly slower than andante)
ängstlich (Ger.): anxiously
a niente: to nothing; an indication to make a diminuendo which fades to pppp
a nessuna cosa: to nothing; an indication to hold a fermata until it dies away (this only works with instruments which cannot sustain a note)
animandosi: animated, lively
animato: animated, lively
antiphon: a liturgical or other composition consisting of choral responses, sometimes between two choirs; a passage of this nature forming part of another composition; a repeated passage in a psalm or other liturgical piece, similar to a refrain.
apaisé (Fr): calmed
a piacere: at pleasure; i.e., the performer need not follow the rhythm strictly, for example in a cadenza
appoggiatura also called a “leaning note”: one or more grace notes that take up some note value of the next full note.
a prima vista: Sight-read (lit. “at first sight”); i.e., (to be) played or sung from written notation but without prior review of the written material
arco: the bow used for playing some string instrument; i.e., played with the bow, as opposed to pizzicato (plucked), in music for bowed instruments; normally used to cancel a pizzicato direction
arietta: a short aria
arioso: airy, or like an air (a melody); i.e., in the manner of an aria; melodious
arpeggio: like a harp; i.e., the notes of the chords are to be played quickly one after another (usually ascending) instead of simultaneously. In music for piano, this is sometimes a solution in playing a wide-ranging chord whose notes cannot be played otherwise. Arpeggios are frequently used as an accompaniment. See also broken chord in this list.
arpeggiato: a way of playing a chord: starting with the lowest note, and with successively higher notes rapidly joining in. Sometimes the effect is reversed, so that the highest note is played first.
assez (Fr): enough, sufficiently
a tempo: in time; i.e., the performer should return to the main tempo of the piece (after an accelerando or ritardando, etc.); also may be found in combination with other terms such as a tempo giusto (in strict time) or a tempo di menuetto (at the speed of a minuet)
attacca: attack or attach; go straight on; i.e., at the end of a movement, a direction to attach the next movement to the previous one, without a gap or pause
Ausdruck (Ger): expression
ausdrucksvoll/mit Ausdruck(Ger): expressively, with expression
avec (Fr): with or with another
B: German for B flat (also in Finnish, Icelandic and Danish); H in German is B natural
barbaro: barbarous (notably used in Allegro barbaro by Béla Bartók)
Bartók pizzicato: a term which instructs string performers to play a pizzicato note to pull the string away from the fingerboard so that it snaps back percussively on the fingerboard.
bass: the lowest of the standard four voice ranges (bass, tenor, alto, soprano); the lowest melodic line in a musical composition, often thought of as defining and supporting the harmony; in an orchestral context, the term usually refers to the double bass.
basso continuo: continuous bass; i.e., a bass part played continuously throughout a piece to give harmonic structure, used especially in the Baroque period
battement (Fr.): used in the 17th-century to refer to ornaments consisting of two adjacent notes, such as trills or mordents
beat: (1) the pronounced rhythm of music; (2) one single stroke of a rhythmic accent
bellicoso: warlike, aggressive
ben or bene: well; in ben marcato (“well marked”) for example
bend: jazz term referring either to establishing a pitch, sliding down half a step and returning to the original pitch or sliding up half a step from the original note.
beschleunigte (Ger): accelerated, as in mit beschleunigter Geschwindigkeit, at an accelerated tempo
bewegt (Ger): moved, with speed
binary: a musical form in two sections: AB
bird’s eye: a slang term for fermata, which instructs the performer to hold a note or chord as long as they wish
bis (Lat): twice; i.e., repeat the relevant action or passage
bisbigliando: whispering; i.e., a special tremolo effect on the harp where a chord or note is rapidly repeated at a low volume
bocca chiusa: with closed mouth
bravura: boldness; as in con bravura, boldly
breit (Ger): broad
bridge: Transitional passage connecting two sections of a composition, also transition. Also the part of a stringed instrument that holds the strings in place and transmits their vibrations to the resonant body of the instrument.
brillante: brilliantly, with sparkle
brio: vigour; usually in con brio
brioso: vigorously (same as con brio)
broken chord: A chord in which the notes are not all played at once, but in some more or less consistent sequence. They may follow singly one after the other, or two notes may be immediately followed by another two, for example. See also arpeggio in this list, which as an accompaniment pattern may be seen as a kind of broken chord; see Alberti bass.
cadenza: a solo section, usually in a concerto or similar work, that is used to display the performer’s technique, sometimes at considerable length
calando: falling away, or lowering; i.e., getting slower and quieter; ritardando along with diminuendo
calore: warmth; so con calore, warmly
cambiare: to change; i.e., any change, such as to a new instrument
canto:chorus; choral; chant
canon or kanon (Ger): a theme that is repeated and imitated and built upon by other instruments with a time delay, creating a layered effect; see Pachelbel’s Canon.
cantabile or cantando: in a singing style
Capo: a key-changing device for guitars and banjos;
head; i.e. the beginning (of a movement, normally).
capriccioso: capriciously, unpredictable, volatile
cédez (Fr): yield, give way
cesura or caesura (Latin form): break, stop; i.e., a complete break in sound (sometimes nicknamed “railroad tracks” in reference to their appearance)
chiuso: closed; i.e., muted by hand (for a horn, or similar instrument; but see also bocca chiusa, which uses the feminine form, in this list)
coda: a tail; i.e., a closing section appended to a movement
codetta: a small coda, but usually applied to a passage appended to a section of a movement, not to a whole movement
col, colla: with the (col before a masculine noun, colla before a feminine noun); (see next for example)
colla parte: with the soloist; as an instruction in an orchestral score or part, it instructs the conductor or orchestral musician to follow the rhythm and tempo of a solo performer (usually for a short passage)
colla voce: with the voice; as an instruction in an choral music/opera score or orchestral part, it instructs the conductor or orchestral musician to follow the rhythm and tempo of a solo singer (usually for a short passage)
col legno: with the wood; i.e., the strings (for example, of a violin) are to be struck with the wood of the bow, making a percussive sound; also battuta col legno: beaten with the wood
coloratura: coloration; i.e., elaborate ornamentation of a vocal line, or (especially) a soprano voice that is well-suited to such elaboration
col pugno: with the fist; i.e., bang the piano with the fist
come prima: like the first (time); i.e., as before, typically referring to an earlier tempo
come sopra: as above; i.e., like the previous tempo (usually)
common time: the time signature 4/4: four beats per measure, each beat a quarter note (a crotchet) in length. 4/4 is often written on the musical staff as . The symbol is not a C as an abbreviation for common time, but a broken circle; the full circle at one time stood for triple time, 3/4.
comodo (or, commonly but less correctly, commodo): comfortable; i.e., at moderate speed; also, allegro comodo, tempo comodo, etc.
con: with; used in very many musical directions, for example con allegrezza (with liveliness), con amore (with tenderness); (see also col, colla, above)
con affetto: with affect (that is, with emotion)
con amore, or (in Spanish and sometimes in Italian) con amor: with love, tenderly
con anima: with feeling
con brio: with spirit, with vigour
con dolore: with sadness
con forza: with force
con (gran, molto) espressione: with (great, much) expression
con fuoco: with fire, in a fiery manner
con larghezza: with broadness; broadly
con moto: with motion
con somma passione: with great passion
con slancio: with enthusiasm
‘”con spirito”‘: with spirit; with feeling
con sordina, or con sordine (plural): with a mute, or with mutes; several orchestral instruments can have their tone muted with wood, rubber, metal, or plastic devices (for string instruments, mutes are clipped to the bridge, and for brass instruments, mutes are inserted in the bell); compare senza sordina in this list (which instructs the musicians to remove their mutes); see also Sordino. Note: sordina, with plural sordine, is strictly correct Italian, but the forms con sordino and con sordini are much more commonly used as terms in music.
con sordino, or con sordini (plural) (incorrect Italian): see con sordina, above
con variazioni: with variations/changes
conjunct: an adjective applied to a melodic line that moves by step (intervals of a 2nd) rather in disjunct motion (by leap).
contrapuntalism: see counterpoint
coperti (plural of coperto, which may also be seen): covered; i.e., on a drum, muted with a cloth
crescendo: growing; i.e., progressively louder (contrast diminuendo)
cuivré: brassy. Used almost exclusively as a French Horn technique to indicate a forced, rough tone. A note marked both stopped and loud will be cuivré automatically
cut time: Same as the meter 2/2: two half-note (minim) beats per measure. Notated and executed like common time (4/4), except with the beat lengths doubled. Indicated by . This comes from a literal cut of the symbol of common time. Thus, a quarter note in cut time is only half a beat long, and a measure has only two beats. See also alla breve.
da capo: from the head; i.e., from the beginning (see capo in this list)
D.S.: Dal Segno, from the sign ()
D.S. al fine or dal segno al fine: from the sign to the end; i.e., return to a place in the music designated by the sign and continue to the end of the piece
D.S.S. al coda or dal segno al coda: same as D.S. al coda, but with a double segno
D.S.S. al fine or dal segno al fine: from the double sign to the end; i.e., return to place in the music designated by the double sign (see D.S. al coda) and continue to the end of the piece
decrescendo or decresc.: same as diminuendo or dim. (see below)
deest: from the Latin deesse meaning absent; placed after a catalogue abbreviation to indicate that this particular work does not appear in it. The plural is desunt and used when referring to several works.
delicatamente or delicato: delicately
detaché: act of playing notes separately
diminuendo, dim.: dwindling; i.e., with gradually decreasing volume (same as decrescendo)
disjunct: an adjective applied to a melodic line which moves by leap (intervals of more than a 2nd) as opposed to conjunct motion (by step)
divisi or div.: divided; i.e., in a part in which several musicians normally play exactly the same notes they are instead to split the playing of the written simultaneous notes among themselves. It is most often used for string instruments, since with them another means of execution is often possible. (The return from divisi is marked unisono: see in this list.)
doit: jazz term referring to a note that slides to an indefinite pitch chromatically upwards.
dolcissimo: very sweetly
dolente: sorrowfully, plaintively
doloroso: sorrowfully, plaintively
doppio movimento: twice as fast
double stop: the act of playing two notes simultaneously on a melodic percussion instrument or string instrument
downtempo: a slow, moody, or decreased tempo or played or done in such a tempo. It also refers to a genre of electronic music based on this (downtempo).
drop: jazz term referring to a note that slides to an indefinite pitch chromatically downwards.
Dur (Ger): major; used in key signatures as, for example, A-Dur (A major), B-Dur (B? major), or H-Dur (B major). (See also Moll (minor) in this list.)
duolo: (Ital) grief
dynamics: the relative volume in the execution of a piece of music
e (Ital), or ed (Ital – used before vowels): and
eco: the Italian word for “echo”; an effect in which a group of notes is repeated, usually more softly, and perhaps at a different octave, to create an echo effect
ein wenig (Ger): a little
Empfindung (Ger): feeling
encore (Fr): again; i.e., perform the relevant passage once more
en dehors (Fr): prominently
energico: energetic, strong
en pressant (Fr): hurrying forward
en retenant (Fr): slowing
espirando: expiring; i.e., dying away
espressivo or espr.: expressively
estinto: extinct, extinguished; i.e., as soft as possible, lifeless, barely audible
etwas (Ger): somewhat
facile: easily, without fuss
fall: jazz term describing a note of definite pitch sliding downwards to another note of definite pitch.
falsetto: vocal register above the normal voice
fermata: finished, closed; i.e., a rest or note is to be held for a duration that is at the discretion of the performer or conductor (sometimes called bird’s eye); a fermata at the end of a first or intermediate movement or section is usually moderately prolonged, but the final fermata of a symphony may be prolonged for twice its printed length or more for dramatic effect.
feurig (Ger): fiery
festivamente: cheerfully, celebratory
fill (English): a jazz or rock term which instructs performers to improvise a scalar passage or riff to “fill in” the brief time between lyrical phrases, the lines of melody, or between two sections
fine: the end, often in phrases like al fine (to the end)
flat: a symbol (?) that lowers the pitch of a note by a semitone. The term may also be used as an adjective to describe a situation where a singer or musician is performing a note in which the intonation is an eighth or a quarter of a semitone too low.
focoso or fuocoso: fiery; i.e., passionately
forte or f (usually): strong; i.e., to be played or sung loudly
fortepiano or fp (usually): strong-gentle; i.e., 1. loud, then immediately soft (see dynamics), or 2. an early pianoforte
fortissimo or ff: very loud (see note at pianissimo in this list)
fortississimo or fff: as loud as possible
forza : musical force
forzando or fz: see sforzando in this list
freddo: cold(ly); hence depressive, unemotional
fröhlich: lively, joyfully
fugue (Fr), fuga (Latin and Italian): literally “flight”; hence a complex and highly regimented contrapuntal form in music. A short theme (the subject) is introduced in one voice (or part) alone, then in others, with imitation and characteristic development as the piece progresses.
funebre: funeral; often seen as marcia funebre (funeral march), indicating a stately and plodding tempo.
fuoco: fire; con fuoco means with fire
G.P.: Grand Pause, General Pause; indicates to the performers that the entire ensemble has a rest of indeterminate length, often as a dramatic effect during a loud section
gaudioso: with joy
geschwind (Ger): quickly
geteilt (Ger): See divisi
getragen (Ger): sustained
giocoso or gioioso: gaily
giusto: strictly, exactly, e.g. tempo giusto in strict time
glissando (simulated Italian): a continuous sliding from one pitch to another (a true glissando), or an incidental scale executed while moving from one melodic note to another (an effective glissando). See glissandofor further information; and compare portamento in this list.
grave: slowly and seriously
gustoso: with happy emphasis and forcefulness
H: German for B natural; B in German means B flat
Hauptstimme (Ger): main voice, chief part; i.e., the contrapuntal line of primary importance, in opposition to Nebenstimme
hemiola (English, from Greek): the imposition of a pattern of rhythm or articulation other than that implied by the time signature; specifically, in triple time (for example in 3/4) the imposition of a duple pattern (as if the time signature were, for example, 2/4). See Syncopation.
hervortretend (Ger): prominent, pronounced
Homophony: A musical texture with one voice (or melody line) accompanied by chords; also used as an adjective (homophonic). Compare with polyphony, in which several voices or melody lines are performed at the same time.
immer (Ger): always
improvvisando: with improvisation
improvvisato: improvised, or as if improvised
in altissimo: in the highest; i.e., play or sing an octave higher
incalzando: getting faster and louder
innig: intimately, heartfelt
insistendo: insistently, deliberate
in modo di: in the art of, in the style of
intro: opening section
-issimo: a suffix meaning ‘extremely’, e.g. fortissimo or prestissimo
Jazz standard (or simply “standard”): a well-known composition from the jazz repertoire which is widely played and recorded.
keyboardist (Eng) : a musician who plays any instrument with a keyboard. In Classical music, this may refer to instruments such as the piano, pipe organ, harpsichord, and so on. In a jazz or popular music context, this may refer to instruments such as the piano, electric piano, synthesizer, Hammond organ, and so on.
kräftig (Ger): strongly
Klangfarbenmelodie (Ger): “tone-color-melody”, distribution of pitch or melody among instruments, varying timbre
lacrimoso: tearfully; i.e., sadly
laissez vibrer, l.v. (Fr): allow the sound to continue, do not damp; used frequently in harp music, occasionally in piano or percussion. For percussion & electric guitar, “let ring” is more common.
lamentando: lamenting, mournfully
lamentoso: lamenting, mournfully
langsam (Ger): slowly
largamente: broadly; i.e., slowly (same as largo)
larghetto: somewhat slowly; not as slow as largo
larghissimo: very slowly; slower than largo
largo: broadly; i.e., slowly
leap (skip): a melodic interval greater than a major 2nd, as opposed to a step. Melodies which move by a leap are called “disjunct”. Octave leaps are not uncommon in florid vocal music.
lebhaft (Ger): briskly, lively
legato: joined; i.e., smoothly, in a connected manner (see also articulation)
leggiero, or leggiermente: lightly, delicately
leggierissimo: very lightly and delicately
lent (Fr): slowly
lentissimo: very slowly
libero: free, freely
lilt: a jaunty rhythm
l’istesso: see lo stesso, below
loco: [in] place; i.e., perform the notes at the pitch written, generally used to cancel an 8va or 8vb direction. In string music, also used to indicate return to normal playing position (see Playing the violin).
long accent Hit hard and keep full value of note (>)
lontano: from a distance; distantly
lo stesso (or commonly, but ungrammatically, l’istesso): the same; applied to the manner of articulation, tempo, etc.
lo stesso tempo (or l’istesso tempo): the same tempo, despite changes of time signature
lugubre: lugubrious, mournful
lunga: long (often applied to a fermata)
ma non troppo: but not too much
maestoso: majestically, in a stately fashion
maggiore: the major key
main droite (French): [played with the] right hand (abbreviation: MD or m.d.)
main gauche (French): [played with the] left hand (abbreviation: MG or m.g.)
mancando: dying away
mano destra: [played with the] right hand (abbreviation: MD or m.d.)
mano sinistra: [played with the] left hand (abbreviation: MS or m.s.)
marcatissimo: with much accentuation
marcato, marc.: marked; i.e., with accentuation, execute every note as if it were to be accented
marcia: a march; alla marcia means in the manner of a march
martellato: hammered out
marziale: in the march style
mässig (German): moderately (also: mäßig)
MD: see mano destra and main droite
melisma: the technique of changing the note (pitch) of a syllable of text while it is being sung
measure (US): also “bar,” the period of a musical piece that encompasses a complete cycle of the time signature, e.g., in 4/4 time, a measure has four quarter-note beats
medesimo tempo: same tempo, despite changes of time signature
medley: piece composed from parts of existing pieces, usually three, played one after another, sometimes overlapping.
meno: less; see meno mosso, for example, less mosso
messa di voce: in singing, a controlled swell, i.e. crescendo then diminuendo, on a long held note, especially in Baroque music and in the bel canto period
mesto: mournful, sad
meter (or metre): the pattern of a music piece’s rhythm of strong and weak beats
mezza voce: half voice; i.e., with subdued or moderated volume
mezzo: half; used in combinations like mezzo forte (mf), meaning moderately loud
mezzo forte: half loudly; i.e., moderately loudly. See dynamics.
mezzo piano: half softly; i.e., moderately softly. See dynamics.
mezzo-soprano: a female singer with a range usually extending from the A below middle C to the F an eleventh above middle C. Mezzo-sopranos generally have a darker vocal tone than sopranos, and their vocal range is between that of a soprano and that of an contralto.
MG: see main gauche
mobile: flexible, changeable
moderato: moderate; often combined with other terms, usually relating to tempo; for example, allegro moderato
modulation is most commonly the act or process of changing from one key (tonic, or tonal center) to another. This may or may not be accompanied by a change in key signature.
Moll (German): minor; used in key signatures as, for example, a-Moll (A minor), b-Moll (B? minor), or h-Moll (B minor) (see also Dur (major) in this list)
morendo: dying; i.e., dying away in dynamics, and perhaps also in tempo
mosso: moved, moving; used with a preceding più or meno (see in this list), for faster or slower respectively
MS: see mano sinistra
moto: motion; usually seen as con moto, meaning with motion or quickly
munter (German): lively
muta [in…]: Change: either a change of instrument, e.g. flute to piccolo, horn in F to horn in Bb; or a change of tuning, e.g. guitar muta 6 in D. Note: does not mean “mute”, for which con sordina or con sordino is used. Muta comes from the Italian verb mutare (to change into something).
natural: a symbol (?) that cancels the effect of a sharp or a flat (see in this list)
naturale or nat.: natural; i.e., discontinue a special effect, such as col legno, sul tasto, sul ponticello, or playing in harmonics
N.C.: no chord, written in the chord row of music notation to show there is no chord being played, and no implied harmony
Nebenstimme (Ger): secondary part; i.e., a secondary contrapuntal part, always occurring simultaneously with, and subsidiary to, the Hauptstimme
nicht (Ger): not
niente: “nothing”, barely audible, dying away
nobile or nobilmente: in a noble fashion
nocturne (Fr): a piece written for the night
notes inégales (Fr): unequal notes; a principally Baroque performance practice of applying long-short rhythms to pairs of notes written as equal; see also swung note
notturno: same as nocturne (see above)
number opera: an opera consisting of “numbers,” e.g. arias, intermixed with recitative
obbligato: required, indispensable
octave: interval between one musical pitch and another with half or double its frequency. 12 semitones equals an octave, so does the first and eighth (hence “oct”ave) note in a major or minor scale.
omaggio: homage, celebration
one-voice-per-part, or OVPP: the practice of using solo voices on each musical line or part in choral music.
organ trio: in jazz or rock, a group of three musicians which includes a Hammond organ player and two other instruments, often an electric guitar player and a drummer.
ossia or oppure: or instead; i.e., according to some specified alternative way of performing a passage, which is marked with a footnote, additional small notes, or an additional staff
ostinato: obstinate, persistent; i.e., a short musical pattern that is repeated throughout an entire composition or portion of a composition
ottava: octave; e.g. ottava bassa: an octave lower
parlando or parlante: like speech, enunciated
Partitur (Ger): full orchestral score
pastorale: in a pastoral style, peaceful and simple
pedale or ped: In piano scores, this instructs the player to press the damper pedal to sustain the note or chord being played. The player may be instructed to release the pedal with an asterisk marking (*). In organ scores, it tells the organist that a section is to be performed on the bass pedalboard with the feet.
penseroso: thoughtfully, meditatively
perdendosi: dying away; decrease in dynamics, perhaps also in tempo
pesante: heavy, ponderous
peu à peu (Fr): little by little
pezzo: a composition
pianissimo or pp : very gently; i.e., perform very softly, even softer than piano. This convention can be extended; the more ps that are written, the softer the composer wants the musician to play or sing, thus ppp(pianississimo) would be softer than pp. Dynamics in a piece should be interpreted relative to the other dynamics in the same piece. For example, pp should be executed as softly as possible, but if ppp is found later in the piece, pp should be markedly louder than ppp. More than three ps (ppp) or three fs (fff) are uncommon.
piano or p (usually): gently; i.e., played or sung softly (see dynamics)
piano-vocal score: the same as a vocal score, a piano arrangement along with the vocal parts of an opera, cantata, or similar
piacevole: pleasant, agreeable
pietoso: pitiful, piteous
più: more; see mosso for an example
piuttosto: rather, somewhat; e.g. allegro piuttosto presto
pizzicato: pinched, plucked; i.e., in music for bowed strings, plucked with the fingers as opposed to played with the bow; compare arco (in this list), which is inserted to cancel a pizzicato instruction
pochettino or poch.: very little
poco: a little, as in poco più allegro (a little faster)
poco a poco: little by little
poetico: poetic discourse
poi: then, indicating a subsequent instruction in a sequence; diminuendo poi subito fortissimo, for example: getting softer then suddenly very loud
pomposo: pompous, ceremonious
portamento: carrying; i.e., 1. generally, sliding in pitch from one note to another, usually pausing just above or below the final pitch, then sliding quickly to that pitch. If no pause is executed, then it is a basic glissando; or 2. in piano music, an articulation between legato and staccato, like portato, in this list
portato or loure: carried; i.e., non-legato, but not as detached as staccato (same as portamento , in this list)
potpourri or pot-pourri (Fr): potpourri (as used in other senses in English); i.e., a kind of musical form structured as ABCDEF… etc.; the same as medley or, sometimes, fantasia
prelude or prélude (Fr): a musical introduction to subsequent movements during the Baroque era (1600’s/17th century). It can also be a movement in its own right, which was more common in the Romantic era (mid 1700’s/18th century)
prestissimo: extremely quickly, as fast as possible
presto: very quickly
prima volta: the first time; for example prima volta senza accompagnamento (the first time without accompaniment)
primo or prima (the feminine form): first
quarter tone: Half of a semitone; a pitch division not used in most Western music notation, except in some contemporary art music or experimental music. Quarter tones are used in Western popular music forms such as jazz and blues and in a variety of non-Western musical cultures.
quasi (Latin and Italian): as if, almost, e.g. quasi recitativo like a recitative in an opera, or quasi una fantasia like a fantasia
rallentando or rall.: Broadening of the tempo (often not discernible from ritardando); progressively slower
rasch (Ger): fast
ravvivando: quicken pace
recitativo: recitatively; one voice without accompaniment
restez (Fr): stay; i.e., remain on a note or string
retenu (Fr): hold back; same as the Italian ritenuto (see below)
ridicolosamente: humorously, inaccurate, and loosely
rinforzando (rf, or rinf.): reinforced; i.e., emphasized; sometimes like a sudden crescendo, but often applied to a single note
rit.: an abbreviation for ritardando; also an abbreviation for ritenuto
ritardando, ritard., rit.: slowing down; decelerating; opposite of accelerando
ritenuto, riten., rit.: suddenly slower, held back (usually more so but more temporarily than a ritardando, and it may, unlike ritardando, apply to a single note)
ritmo: rhythm, e.g. ritmo di # battute meaning a rhythm of # measures
ritornello : a recurring passage for orchestra in the first or final movement of a solo concerto or aria (also in works for chorus).
rolled chord: see arpeggiato in this list
roulade (Fr): a rolling; i.e., a florid vocal phrase
rondo: a musical form in which a certain section returns repeatedly , interspersed with other sections: ABACA is a typical structure or ABACABA
rubato: robbed; i.e., flexible in tempo, applied to notes within a musical phrase for expressive effect
ruhig (Ger): peaceful
run: a rapid series of ascending or descending musical notes which are closely spaced in pitch forming a scale
saltando: bouncing the bow as in a staccato arpeggio, literally means “jumping”
sanft (Ger): gently
scatenato: unchained, wildly
scherzando, scherzoso: playfully
scherzo: a light, “joking” or playful musical form, originally and usually in fast triple metre, often replacing the minuet in the later Classical period and the Romantic period, in symphonies, sonatas, string quartets and the like; in the 19th century some scherzi were independent movements for piano, etc.
schleppen (Ger): to drag; usually nicht schleppen (“don’t drag”), paired with nicht eilen (“don’t hurry”) in Gustav Mahler’s scores
schnell (Ger): fast
schneller (Ger): faster
schwungvoll (Ger): lively, swinging, bold, spirited
scordatura: out of tune; i.e., an alternative tuning used for the strings of a string instrument
secco, or sec (Fr): dry
segno: sign, usually Dal Segno (see above) “from the sign”, indicating a return to the point marked by
segue: carry on to the next section without a pause
sehr (Ger): very
semitone: the smallest pitch difference between notes (in most Western music) (e.g., F–F#)
senza misura: without measure
senza sordina, or senza sordine (plural): without the mute; compare con sordina in this list; see also Sordino. Note: sordina, with plural sordine, is strictly correct Italian, but the forms con sordino and con sordini are much more commonly used as terms in music. In piano music (notably in Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata), senza sordini or senza sordina (or some variant) is sometimes used to mean keep the sustain pedal depressed, since the sustain pedal lifts the dampers off the strings, with the effect that all notes are sustained indefinitely.
sforzando or sfz: made loud; i.e., a sudden strong accent
shake: a jazz term describing a trill between one note and its minor third; or, with brass instruments, between a note and its next overblown harmonic.
sharp: a symbol (?) that raises the pitch of the note by a semitone. The term may also be used as an adjective to describe a situation where a singer or musician is performing a note in which the intonation is an eighth or a quarter of a semitone too high in pitch.
short accent: Hit the note hard and short . (^)
si (Fr): seventh note of the series ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si, in fixed-doh solmization.
siciliana: a Sicilian dance in 12/8 or 6/8 meter
sign: see segno
silenzio: silence; i.e., without reverberations
simile: similarly; i.e., continue applying the preceding directive, whatever it was, to the following passage
sipario: curtain (stage)
slargando or slentando: becoming broader or slower (that is, becoming more largo or more lento)
smorzando or smorz.: extinguishing or dampening; usually interpreted as a drop in dynamics, and very often in tempo as well
soave: smoothly, gently
solo break: a jazz term that instructs a lead player or rhythm section member to play an improvised solo cadenza for one or two measures (sometimes abbreviated as “break”), without any accompaniment. The solo part is often played in a rhythmically free manner, until the player performs a pickup or lead-in line, at which time the band recommences playing in the original tempo.
solo, plural soli: alone; i.e., executed by a single instrument or voice. The instruction soli requires more than one player or singer; in a jazz big band this refers to an entire section playing in harmony.
sonata: a piece played as opposed to sung.
sonatina: a little sonata
sonatine: a little sonata, used in some countries instead of sonatina
soprano: the highest of the standard four voice ranges (bass, tenor, alto, soprano)
sordina, sordine (plural): a mute, or a damper in the case of the piano. Note: sordina, with plural sordine, is strictly correct Italian, but the forms sordino and sordini are much more commonly used as terms in music. See also con sordina, senza sordina, in this list.
sordino: see sordina, above
sostenuto: sustained, lengthened
sotto voce: in an undertone i.e. quietly
spiccato: distinct, separated; i.e., a way of playing the violin and other bowed instruments by bouncing the bow on the string, giving a characteristic staccato effect
staccato: making each note brief and detached; the opposite of legato. In musical notation, a small dot under or over the head of the note indicates that it is to be articulated as staccato.
stanza: a verse of a song
stornello originally truly ‘improvised’ now taken as ‘appearing to be improvised,’ an Italian ‘folk’ song, the style of which used for example by Puccini in certain of his operas.
stretto: tight, narrow; i.e., faster or hastening ahead; also, a passage in a fugue in which the contrapuntal texture is denser, with close overlapping entries of the subject in different voices; by extension, similar closely imitative passages in other compositions
stringendo: tightening, narrowing; i.e., with a pressing forward or acceleration of the tempo (that is, becoming stretto, see preceding entry)
subito: suddenly (e.g., subito pp, which instructs the player to suddenly drop to pianissimo as an effect)
sul E: “on E”, indicating a passage is to be played on the E string of a violin. Also seen: sul A, sul D, sul G, sul C, indicating a passage to be played on one of the other strings of a string instrument.
sul ponticello: on the bridge; i.e., in string playing, an indication to bow (or sometimes to pluck) very near to the bridge, producing a characteristic glassy sound, which emphasizes the higher harmonics at the expense of the fundamental; the opposite of sul tasto
sul tasto: on the fingerboard; i.e., in string playing, an indication to bow (or sometimes to pluck) over the fingerboard; the opposite of sul ponticello. Playing over the fingerboard produces a warmer, gentler tone.
sur la touche (Fr): sul tasto
syncopation: a disturbance or interruption of the regular flow of downbeat rhythm with emphasis on the sub-division or up-beat, e.g. in Ragtime music.
tacet: silent; do not play
tasto solo: ‘single key’; used on a continuo part to indicate that the notes should be played without harmony
tempo: time; i.e., the overall speed of a piece of music
tempo di marcia: march tempo
tempo di sturb de neighbors seen in Fats Waller’s arrangement of Stardust
tempo di valse: waltz tempo
tempo giusto: in strict time
tempo primo, tempo uno, or tempo I (sometimes also written as tempo I° or tempo 1ero): resume the original speed
tempo rubato, means “robbed time”; an expressive way of performing a rhythm; see rubato
tenor: the second lowest of the standard four voice ranges (bass, tenor, alto, soprano)
tenuto: held; i.e., touch on a note slightly longer than usual, but without generally altering the note’s value
ternary: having three parts. In particular, referring to a three-part musical form with the parts represented by letters: ABA
tessitura: the ‘best’ or most comfortable pitch range, generally used to identify the most prominent / common vocal range within a piece of music
Tierce de Picardie: see Picardy third
timbre: the quality of a musical tone that distinguishes voices and instruments
time: in a jazz or rock score, after a rubato or rallentendo section, the term “time” indicates that performers should return to tempo (this is equivalent to the term “a tempo”)
tranquillo: calmly, peacefully
tremolo: shaking; i.e., a rapid repetition of the same note, or an alternation between two or more notes (often an octave on the piano). String players perform tremolo with the bow by rapidly moving the bow while the arm is tense. It can also be intended (inaccurately) to refer to vibrato, which is a slight undulation in pitch. It is notated by a strong diagonal bar across the note stem, or a detached bar for a set of notes (or stemless notes).
tre corde or tc (or sometimes inaccurately tre corda): three strings; i.e., release the soft pedal of the piano (see una corda)
triplet (shown with a horizontal bracket and a ‘3’): Three notes in the place of two, used to subdivide a beat.
troppo: too much; usually seen as non troppo, meaning moderately or, when combined with other terms, not too much, such as allegro [ma] non troppo (fast but not too fast)
tutti: all; all together, usually used in an orchestral or choral score when the orchestra or all of the voices come in at the same time, also seen in Baroque-era music where two instruments share the same copy of music, after one instrument has broken off to play a more advanced form: they both play together again at the point marked tutti. See also: ripieno.
un, uno, or una: one, as for example in the following entries
una corda: one string; i.e., in piano music, depress the soft pedal, altering, and reducing the volume of, the sound. In some pianos, this literally results in the hammer striking one string rather than two or three. (For most notes on modern instruments, in fact it results in striking two rather than three strings.) Its counterpart, tre corde (three strings; see in this list), is the opposite: the soft pedal is to be released.
un poco: a little
unisono or unis (Fr): in unison; i.e., several players in a group are to play exactly the same notes within their written part, as opposed to splitting simultaneous notes among themselves. Often used to mark the return from divisi (see in this list).
uptempo: a fast, lively, or increased tempo or played or done in such a tempo. It is also used as an umbrella term for a quick-paced electronic music style.
ut (Fr): first note of the series ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si, in fixed-doh solmization.
vamp till cue: a jazz, fusion, and musical theatre term which instructs rhythm section members to repeat and vary a short ostinato passage, riff, or “groove” until the band leader or conductor instructs them to move onto the next section
veloce: with velocity
velocissimo: as quickly as possible; usually applied to a cadenza-like passage or run
vibrato: vibrating; i.e., a more or less rapidly repeated slight alteration in the pitch of a note, used to give a richer sound and as a means of expression. Often confused with tremolo, which refers either to a similar variation in the volume of a note, or to rapid repetition of a single note.
vif (Fr): Quickly, lively
virtuoso: (noun or adjective) performing with exceptional ability, technique, or artistry
vivace: very lively, up-tempo
vivacissimo: very lively
vocal score or piano-vocal score: a music score of an opera, or a vocal or choral composition with orchestra (like oratorio or cantata) where the vocal parts are written out in full but the accompaniment is reduced to two staves and adapted for playing on piano
vivamente: quickly and lively
V.S. (volti subito): turn suddenly; i.e., turn the page quickly. While this indication is sometimes added by printers, it is more commonly indicated by orchestral members in pencil as a reminder to quickly turn to the next page.
wenig (Ger): a little, not much
wolno (Polish): loose, slowly; found as a directive in The Elephant from The Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saëns
Zählzeit (Ger): beat
zart (Ger): tender
Zartheit (Ger): tenderness
zärtlich (Ger): tenderly
Zeichen (Ger): sign
Zeitmaß, also spelled Zeitmass (Ger): time-measure, i.e., tempo
zelo, zeloso, zelosamente: zeal, zealous, zealously
ziehen (Ger): to draw out
ziemlich (Ger): fairly, quite, pretty, or rather
zitternd (Ger): trembling; i.e., tremolando
zögernd (Ger): doubtful, delaying; i.e., rallentando
zurückhalten (Ger): held back