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


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Musical Dictionary: M



Ma: But. Used with other words, e.g. lento ma non troppo, slow but not too slowly.

Mace: Baton used by a drum major in a marching or military band. Usually large and ostentatious so as to be easily seen.

Maestoso: Majestically.

Madrigal: A Renaissance choral piece, usually unaccompanied.

Maggiore: The major mode.

Major: "Greater". A term used to describe certain intervals (seconds, thirds, sixths and sevenths), chords and the Ionian Mode. A key based on a major scale is called a major key. The pattern for the major scale is:

whole whole half whole whole whole half
step step step step step step step

Major chord: A triad composed of a root, major third, and perfect fifth.

Major Scale: A diatonic scale where the half-steps fall between the third and fourth, and the seventh and tonic. This scale is identical to the Ionian Mode.

Malinconico: Direction... perform this passage in a melancholic way.

Mancando:  (Ita) Fading away

Mandocello: Bass Mandolin

Mandola: Same as Mandora and alto Mandolin

Mandolin: Also a member of the Lute family dating back in Italy to the 17th century. It looks like a small pear half with a short stem. The fingerboard is fretted and played with a plectrum on its four courses of six strings Related to the Mandolin are the alto or tenor Mandola, the bass tuned Mendocello, the Mandolone, the Mandobass, and the Contrabass.

Mandore: Also known as mandora and Mandola in Italian. It is a stringed instrument developed from the medieval Gittern. The strings were made of gut and were played with a plectrum.

Mannheim School: A Preclassical group of German symphonic composers whose style including extended crescendos (called steamrollers) and melodies that are arpeggiated upward, (called rockets).

Maracas: Like a baby rattle: originating in Latin America, its rattling sound is made from seeds or a similar material enclosed in ball made of wood, metal, synthetic materials, or originally gourds. Usually played in pairs. Part of the percussion family .

Marcato: Emphasized, heavily accented.

March: Music for marching, such as in a parade or procession.

Marimba: Looks like the Xylophone but has resonators under each bar. It is a member of the percussion family and can be quite large. Originally from Africa and is popular in Latin America.

Mass: The musical setting of the Roman Catholic Church service, usually just the ordinary, but sometimes also the proper.

Mbira: See Kalimba.

Measure: A group of beats containing a primary accent and one or more secondary accents, indicated by the placement of bar lines on the staff. The space between two bar lines.

Medesimo:  (Ita) The same.

Mediant: The third degree of the major or minor scale. The triad built on this degree is labelled iii in the major scale, III in the natural minor scale, and III+ in the harmonic minor scale.

Medieval: The period prior to the Renaissance, c. 500-1450, marking the music of the early Christian church.

Melody: In general, a succession of musical tones. It represents the linear or horizontal aspect of music.

Meno:  (Ita) Less.

Meno mosso: Less motion.

Meter: The structure of notes in a regular pattern of accented and unaccented beats within a measure, indicated at the beginning of a composition by a meter signature. See also time signature.

Meter signature: The numbers placed at the beginning of a composition to indicate the meter of the music. The upper number indicates the beats in a measure; the lower number tells what kind of a notes will receive one beat.

Metronome: Invented by Maelzel in 1816, the instrument is used to indicate the exact tempo of a composition. An indication such as M.M. 60 indicates that the pendulum, with a weight at the bottom, makes 60 beats per minute. A slider is moved up and down the pendulum to decrease and increase the tempo. M.M. = 80 means that the time value of a quarter note is the equivalent of one pendulum beat when the slider is set at 80.

Mezzo: Half, Medium

Mezzo forte:  Medium loud. Not as loud a forte.

Mezzo piano:  Medium soft.

Mi: In solmization, the third degree of the major scale.

Middle Ages: European historical period between roughly A.D. 500 and 1450.

Middle C: The note C in the middle of the grand staff, and near the middle of the Piano.

MIDI: Musical Instrument Digital Interface  is a set of command protocols for storing, controlling  and transmitting information about music between instruments. Note events, timing events, pitch bends, pedal information, etc applied to one instrument have the same effect on others connected via MIDI cables.

Minor: The designation for certain intervals and scales. A key based on a minor scale is called a minor key. The three types of minor scales include natural, harmonic, and melodic, which is used infrequently in choral music. The patterns for natural and harmonic scales are:

  natural: whole half whole whole half whole whole  
    step step step step step step step  
  harmonic: whole half whole whole whole 1-1/2 half  
    step step step step step steps step  


  (ascending): whole half whole whole whole whole half  
    step step step step step step step  
  (descending): whole whole half whole whole half whole  
    step step step step step step step  

Misterioso:  (Ita) Mysteriously.

Mit: With.

Mixolydian Mode: A medieval mode whose scale pattern is that of playing G to G on the white keys of a Piano.

Mode: A scale pattern consisting of set intervals of whole and half steps. The primary modes are Aeolian, Dorian, Ionian, Locrian, Lydian, Mixolydian, and Phrygian. More generally, the term refers to the patterns upon which medieval music was structured, the patterns which preceded the development of major and minor scales and tonality.

Modal: Pertaining to modes.

Moderato:  (Ita) Moderate tempo.

Modern: Music written in the 20th century, or contemporary music.

Modulation: To change keys, the movement from one tonic centre to another.

Molto:  (Ita) Very. Used with other terms, e.g. molto allegro.

Monody: A solo or unison song with accompaniment.

Monothematic: Music based upon a single theme.

Monophony: Music written in a single melodic line, as opposed to polyphony.

Morceau: "Morsel". A musical work or composition.

Mordent: "Biting." An ornament consisting of an alteration (once or twice) of the written note by playing the one immediately below it (lower mordent), or above it (upper, or inverted, mordent) and then playing the note again.

Morendo:  (Ita) Gradually decreasing in volume; dying away.

Morna: Set in a minor-key with a moderate 4/4 meter this is sometimes described as the blues music of the Cape Verde Islands. Performed by a solo singer backed up by an acoustic band consisting of guitar, viola, violin and cavaquinho.

Mosso:  (Ita) Rapid. Meno mosso, less rapid. Piu mosso, more rapid.

Motet: A choral composition, usually on a religious text.

Motif: A short musical idea, or melodic theme that runs through a piece.

Motive: A short melodic or rhythmic pattern.

Moto:  (Ita) Motion. Con moto, with motion.

Mouth Organ: See Harmonica

Movable Do: The system of solmization in which Do changes to accommodate the key, e.g. in the key of C major, Do is C; in E major Do is E. In the key of A minor Do is C (relative major); in the key of C minor Do is E (relative major).

Movement: A self-contained segment of a larger work. Found in works such as sonatas, symphonies, concertos, etc.

Mradangam: These are long barrel drums found in Southern India. They are double headed and tuned an octave apart. They are held on the players lap and played with the heel of the hand alternating with the finger tips.

Musette: There are a few meanings to this word: a small French bagpipe, a small oboe or a reed stop on the organ.

Music: The organization of sounds with some degree of rhythm, melody, and harmony.

Music Drama: Opera, specifically that of Richard Wagner and his successors.

Musician: Any person with an ability to perform a musical composition either with an instrument or his or her own voice.
While on a recent train journey I noticed the person sitting opposite me appeared to be playing an imaginary musical instrument. I guessed it was the Sax but he told he was a Piper and was trying to learn a new piece. I asked that as he performed this exercise did he actually hear the notes in his head. He said he did.
It occurred to me that when you are able do this is this when you know that you truly are a musician? What do you think?

Musical Saw: A handsaw played with a Violin bow on the smooth edge. The player can strike it with a mallet while bending the blade. As the saw blade bends the pitch changes.

Musicology: The study of music and music history.

Music theory: The study of how music is put together.

Musique Concrete: Music composed by manipulating recorded sounds, specifically acoustically generated real-world sounds.

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