This is the letter page A of the Musical Dictionary from Classical and Jazz


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Musical Dictionary: A



A: 1. The musical pitch relating to 440 oscillations per second of vibration, or any octave transposition of that pitch. 2. The key of A.

Absolute Music: Music without associations outside of itself, in contrast to program music. e.g., Bach's fugues.

Absolute Pitch: see perfect pitch.

A Cappella: "In the manner of the chapel". Sung music without instrumental accompaniment.

A Capriecio: in a capricious style

Accelerando, accel: Gradually faster.

Accent: placed above a note to indicate stress or emphasis.

Accidentals: Sharps, flats, or natural signs that raise or lower a given diatonic pitch to deviate from its key signature.

Accompaniment: A vocal or instrumental part that supports the primary part, or provides background for a soloist.

Accordion: Cyrillus Demion of Vienna patented this instrument in 1829. The accordion is a small and portable instrument that, with pleated bellows, forces air through metal reeds. The accordion has keyboards at either end to produce harmony.

Achromatic: See diatonic.

Acoustic: Any instrument that can provide sound without the use of electronic amplification.

Acoustics: 1. The science relating to the creation and dissipation of sound waves. 2. The way in which sound production is affected by the physical properties of the room or chamber in which they are produced.

Adagio: Slow; slower than andante, faster than largo.

Addolorato: Sorrowfully.

Ad libitum, ad lib: A term which permits the performer to vary the tempo and/or to include or omit a vocal or instrumental part. Synonymous with a piacere.

A due: Return to unison after divisi.

Advent: Christian religious observance which takes place in the four weeks immediately preceding Christmas.

Aeolian Mode: A medieval mode whose scale pattern is that of playing A to A on the white keys of a Piano. This scale is also called the natural minor scale.

Affrettando: Hurrying.

Agilmente: Lively.

Agitato: Agitated; with excitement.

Agnus Dei: "Lamb of God". In the Mass, the fifth part of the ordinary.

Air: A song or melody.

Al, all', alla, alle: To; used with other words, e.g. al Fine (to the end).

Alberti Bass: A pattern of bass notes that outlines the chord being sounded in the pattern low-high-middle-high.

Album: A full length recording. In pop music, it contains a number of songs.

Albumblatt: (Ger.) A page or leaf from a book, or a short, easy piece.

Al coda: "To the coda."

Aleatory, or aleatoric music: Chance music in which the performers are free to perform their own material and/or their own manner of presentation.

Al fine: To the end.

Alla breve Cut time; meter in which there are two beats in each measure and a half note receives one beat.

Alla breve Cut time; meter in which there are two beats in each measure and a half note receives one beat.

Allargando, allarg: Slowing of tempo, usually with increasing volume; most frequently occurs toward the end of a piece


Allegretto: (Ita) A rather fast tempo, somewhat slower than allegro but faster than moderato.Allegro: Quick cheerful tempo between allegretto and vivace. Between 120 and 168 beats per minute.

Allemande: (Fr.) "German." A stately 16th-century German dance, initially in a duple meter. During the 17th and 18th centuries, it was used as the first movement of the suite.

Alphorn: The alphorn was originally used by shepherds in the Alps to bring home the flock. It is a long wooden Natural Horn. Sinfonia Pastorella for alphorn and string orchestra - Leopold MozartMusic

Al segno: Return to the sign, Dal segno.

Alteration: The use of a sharp or flat to raise or lower a pitch from its natural state.

Altered Chord: A chord in which a note has been changed from its normal position, usually chromatically.

Alto: The Alto's range is between soprano and tenor. It is the lower singing voice of the two main divisions for female and young male voices. It is also called contralto or countertenor.1. In most choirs, the lowest female vocal part. Occasionally, extremely high tenors may be said to sing this part. 2. An instrument in the alto range. 3. A Viola.

Alto Clarinet: The alto clarinet is similar to the soprano clarinet except it is longer and with an upward metallic bell. The alto clarinet in F is made a fourth below the ordinary B-flat clarinet. The Saxophone has now replaced the latter.

Alto Clef: The C clef falling on third line of the staff, in modern practice, is usually only used by the Viola.

Alto Crumhorn: Also spelled Krummhorn, this double reed wind instrument had its flowering in the Renaissance. The alto crumhorn is an octave higher than the crumhorn.

Alto Flute: Built like the concert Flute, the alto flute's lowest note is a fourth step in tone below. It is also called the Flute in G, and holds an important part in Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe ballet composition.

Alto Recorder: The Recorder is a member of the Flute family. It is held vertically and was created before the transverse Flute. It is equipped with finger holes, no keys and a tapered mouthpiece. It is widely used for teaching music in schools.

Alto Sackbut: Also known as alto trombone.

Alto Saxophone: from the metal wind instrument family, it remains popular in jazz ensemble. The E flat sax.

Alto Shawm: Shawms are made in different sizes and was a precursor to the oboe family. Its simple construction consists of two layers of thin cane or wood bored to a hollow cylinder with finger holes and is play with a double reed. Later made of wood with a wide conical bore. With refinement, the oboe was born in the second half of the seventeenth century.

Alto Trombone: The Trombone has a rich history in the brass family. Its lower pitched notes use a slide rather than finger holes. In the early Renaissance, it was known as a Sackbut and has a reputation for ominous. The alto trombone is tuned a perfect fifth step above its partner, the tenor trombone.

Alto Viola: Its Italian origin means Viola for the leg. This meaning may stem from the position the instrument is held. It is held vertically, supported on the lap and/or between the players legs. It was popular in the Baroque and Renaissance periods. The alto is one of six Viola sizes, having a slightly nasal tone. The alto Viola Da Gamba lost favour in the mid 1800's.

Ametric: Without meter. Gregorian chant is an example of music without a meter. Metrical music became the norm after the Middle ages,

Anacrusis: An upbeat or a pickup note(s); a term used for unstressed notes at the beginning of a phrase of music.

Analysis: The study of the form and structure of music.

Ancora:  (Ita) Repeat.

Andante:  (Ita) Moderate tempo. Between 76 and 108 beats per minute. Can quite often the second movement of a large composition.

Andantino:  (Ita) Slightly faster than andante.

A niente:  (Ita) To nothing, e.g. to ppp.

Animato:  (Ita) Animated; lively.

Anklung: An Indonesian instrument, the Anklung is made of bamboo tubes of different length. The bamboo tubes may be hit with a mallet or shaken like a Tambourine.

Answer: In a fugue, the second entry of the subject.

Antescedent: The first phrase of a musical period. In a fugue, the subject.

Anthem:  A choral or vocal composition, often with a religious or political lyric, with or without accompaniment, written either for performance in a church, or another place with significance to the song itself.

Antithesis: In the fugue, the answer.

A piacere: Freedom in performance. Synonymous with ad libitum.

Appassionato:  (Ita)  Impassioned.

Appoggiatura: a nonharmonic-tone that is approached by leap and resolved by step, normally in the opposite direction.

Arabesque: A fanciful Piano piece. Ornate passage varying or accompanying a theme.

Archittern: The Archittern was made in the Baroque period following the original Chittern of the 17th century. It was originally made in the 18th century and produced in France and Italy. The new Archittern was made with gut strings instead of metal.

Archlute: The Archlute was the larger of the lute family designs. It was often used as continuo accompaniment. They took on different configurations and looked much like the bass Cittern.

Aria: A musical work usually found in an opera or oratorio, which generally dwells on a single emotional theme of one of the characters.

Arietta: A short aria.

Armonica: Also known as glass armonica, glass harmonica, hydrocrystalophone. Using a series of graduated in size glass bowls this instrument produces musical tones by means of friction.

Arpeggio:  (Ita) A term used to describe the pitches of a chord as they are sung or played one after the other, rather than simultaneously.

Arrache: Strong pizzicato.

Arrangement: An adaptation of a given composition into a form other than as originally composed.

Ars Antiqua: "Old Art". Refers to the old musical practices of Europe during the 12th and 13th centuries.

Ars Nova: "New Art". A term invented by Philippe De Vitry to describe the music of his era, the 14th century, as opposed to the music of earlier generations.

Articulation: The degree to which notes are separated or connected, such as staccato or legato.

Art Song: A serious vocal composition, generally for voice and Piano. Denotes a self-contained work, as opposed to an aria.

A tempo: Return to the previous tempo.

Atonal: Music that lacks a tonal centre, or in which all pitches carry equal importance.

Augmentation: Compositional technique in which a melodic line is repeated in longer note values. The lengthening of note values used in a theme to alter the melody without changing the pitches. The opposite of diminution.

Augmented:  The term for a major or perfect interval which has been enlarged by one half-step, e.g. c-g, (an augmented fifth,) or c-d, (an augmented second). Also used for a triad with an augmented fifth, e.g. the augmented tonic triad in C major, C+, c-. Or in other words the raising of a pitch chromatically by one half-step.

Augmented Chord: A chord which contains a root, a major third, and an augmented fifth.

Augmented Sixth Chord: A chord which contains an augmented sixth above the bass, in addition to various other tones, which determine whether the chord is a German Sixth Chord, French Sixth Chord, Italian Sixth Chord, Neopolitan Sixth, or Doubly Augmented Sixth Chord

Aulos: The ancient Greeks adopted this oboe like instruments made of bone, ivory, reed or wood. Its shape resembled a "V" and was connected with a double or single reed. It took considerable lungpower to play and both hands were used to cover symmetrical finger holes, but not simultaneously. It has a shrill and penetrating sound.

Authentic Cadence: A cadence that starts of the fifth of the key, and resolves to the tonic.

Avant-garde: A style or music considered to be experimental or advanced.

Please send me any additional words together with the definition.

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