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


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Musical Dictionary: P



Pacato:  (Ita) Calm, quiet.

Pan Flutes: Panpipes, a type of Flute, have been around for 2000 years. They are made of pottery, wood or bamboo, cut at graduated lengths and fastened together. The player blows over the end of each length of tube which corresponds to a different pitch.

Pandero: A Tambourine.

Parallel Chords: The movement of specific chords or chord combinations up and down a scale.

Parallel Intervals: The movement in two or more parts of the same intervals in the same direction.

Parallel Keys: Major and Minor keys having the same tonic note.

Parallel Motion: The movement in two or more parts of the same intervals in the same direction.

Partial: Either the fundamental or an overtone in the harmonic series.

Partita: 1. A set of variations. 2. A suite.

Part Song: An unaccompanied homophonic song for three or more voices.

Passage: A phrase within a composition.

Passing tones: Unaccented notes which move conjunctly between two chords to which they do not belong harmonically.

Pausa:  (Ita) A rest.

Penny Whistle: Made of metal with six finger holes. Also called a tin whistle.

Pensieroso:  (Ita) Contemplative, thoughtful.

Percussion: Rhythmic sounds performed by striking or beating one element against another.

Percussion family: instruments made of sonorous material that produce sounds of definite or indefinite pitch when shaken or struck, including Drums, rattles, Bells, Gongs, and Xylophones.

Perfect: A term used to label fourth, fifth, and octave intervals. It corresponds to the major, as given to seconds, thirds, sixths, and sevenths.

Perfect cadence: The chordal progression of dominant to tonic, in a major key V-I, in minor V-i.

Perfect Pitch: The ability to distinguish and identify any given note without any musical or tonal support.

Perform: To "play" a musical composition with one or more musicians.

Period: A musical statement, made up of two or more phrases, and a cadence.

Pesante:  (Ita) Heavy.

Petite: Little.

Peu a peu: Little by little.

Phrase: A single musical idea, or element. Usually very short, often consisting of only one or two measures. Comparable to a line or sentence in poetry

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

Pianissimo:   (Ita) Very soft.

Pianississimo:   (Ita) Very, very soft; the softest common dynamic marking.

Piano: A large keyboard instrument invented in the early 1700s by Bartolomeo Cristofori, with five principal components:
  1) the frame:
  2) the sound board
  3) tuned strings
  4) action
  5) pedals.
The keys act like levers that operate a hammer system. This is what differentiates the piano from the Harpsichord and Clavichord. When the player depresses the key, the inner end causes the hammer to strike vibrating strings of varied length attached to the soundboard. The famous and leading makers of the piano in Beethoven's day were Viennese  Steins Streicher, Graf, Schantz and Walter.

Pianoforte: "Soft-loud." A keyboard instrument, the full name for the Piano, on which sound is produced by hammers striking strings when keys are pressed. It has 88 keys.

Pianola: A trade name for player Piano: played mechanically

Picardy third: The term for the raising of the third, making a major triad, in the final chord of a composition which is in a minor key. The practice originated in c. 1500 and extended through the Baroque period.

Piccolo: A small transverse Flute that plays an octave higher than the orchestral flute. It may be made of wood or metal.

Piccolo Trumpet: The smallest member of the trumpet family.

Pick: The device used to strum or pluck stringed instruments of the guitar family or the action of doing so.

Pickup: The note(s) proceeding the first strong metrical beat, most often first beat of the measure.
  A device commonly used on string instruments, such as an electric guitar, to convert the vibrations of a pitch into an electrical impulse for recording or amplification.

Pipa: A type of lute from China having a short neck and pear shape. It may have 16 to 24 frets in its modern version. The player uses his fingernails to pluck it four silk strings.

Pipe: A Flageolet or wind instrument in the form of a tube.

Piper: A person who plays the bagpipes.

Pipe & Tabor: This instrument is a combination of a small three hole flute and a small snare drum. One player handles both instruments. It dates back to at least the 13th century. The pipe held in the left hand and the right hand beats the tabor with a stick.

Pitch: The highness or lowness of a tone, as determined by the number of vibrations in the sound.

Pitch Pipes: The small wind instrument used to tune another instrument or provide to singer or a choir.

Piu: More. Used with other terms, e.g. piu mosso, more motion.

Pizzicato: "Pinched." On string instruments, plucking the string.

Plagal cadence: Sometimes called the "amen" cadence. The chordal progression of subdominant to tonic, in a major key IV-I, in minor iv-i.

Plainsong: A monophonic chant which is unmeasured, and unaccompanied; such as Gregorian chant.

Plectrum: Made of ivory, wood or more commonly today plastic. Used to pluck the strings of guitars, mandolins etc.

Pluck: The action of using your fingers, plectrum or a pick to pull or pick the strings on stringed instruments. Most commonly associated with the guitar family but also applies to the violin family. See pizzicato.

Poco: Little. Used with other terms, e.g. poco accel., also, poco a poco, little by little.

Poco ced., Cedere: A little slower.

Poco piu mosso: A little more motion.

Poi: Then or afterwards, e.g. poi No. 3, then No. 3.

Polonaise: A stately Polish dance in moderate triple time, often with a repeated rhythmic pattern.

Polychoral: A style in which an ensemble is divided into groups that may perform individually, alternately, or together.

Polyphony: "Many sounds". Music that has many notes sounding together, either in a chordal, or countrapuntal setting.

Pop Music: As in "popular music". Most commonly associated today with rock or country but could also include folk.

Portative Organ: see also organetto. An organ small enough to be portable. The player carries it and works the bellows, usually with one set of pipes and covering three to four octaves.

Positive Organ: Handel received lessons on a Baroque positive organ and it is reportedly on display in Halle, Germany. This is a smaller domestic organ and not easily transported. Some church musicians may have owned these types of organs. The positive organ contains a full flue chows and typically has no pedal board.

Post Horn: A small horn used in the 16th century to signal the arrival of the mail wagon. Usually small, without valves and coiled.

Postlude: "Play after." The final piece in a multi-movement work. Organ piece played at the end of a church service.

Prelude: "Play-before". An introductory movement or work.

Premiere: First performance.

Prepared Piano: The composer will prescribe exactly how he/she wants the Piano prepared for individual works. It may include specific placement of such items as paper, bolts, coins or rubber wedges between the strings. It alters the sound of the Piano by producing buzzing or tinkling sounds. John Cage produced a composition for prepared Piano that was performed in 1949.

Prestissimo:  (Ita) Very, very fast. The fastest tempo.

Presto:  (Ita) Very quick.

Primo:  (Ita) First.

Principal: Instrumental section leader.

Program Music: A piece that conveys a picture or story, in contrast to absolute music.

Prologue: An introductory piece that presents the background for an opera.

Proper: The parts of the Mass whose parts change daily, as distinct from the ordinary. The proper consists of the introit, Gradual, Alleluia or Tract, Offertory, and Communion.

Psaltery: A medieval Zither like instrument with a trapezoid shape, flat box design, and plucked strings. In 11th century Europe it was played with quills. The role of this instrument may have been to accompany the psalms.

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