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Glossary of music terms

Glossary of music terms

Musical terms refer to the specific words and phrases used to describe and identify various musical concepts, techniques, and elements. By understanding musical terms relating to tempo, volume, tonality, and many other topics, you will be able to properly read and perform sheet music, convey the intended emotions and moods of the music, and collaborate effectively with other musicians. Furthermore, knowledge of musical terminology is crucial for music theory, as it will enable you to analyze and interpret the structure and meaning of a piece of music. Overall, understanding and utilizing musical terms is an essential component of learning and mastering piano playing.

You will notice that several music words are Italian like sonata, crescendo, and even the word piano. This is because Italian composers were the first to adopt music notation, back in the medieval period of music history.

An accent is a music terminology that indicates to play a note with extra emphasis or force. When playing accents, pianists need to be able to balance the volume and weight of each note to create a clear and dynamic sound.
Allegro is a musical term indicating a fast and lively speed. When playing allegro, pianists need to be able to execute quick and precise movements to keep up with the speed of the music.
Andante is a term indicating a moderate speed. When playing andante, pianists need to be able to maintain a steady pace and balance between the left and right hands.
An arpeggio is the playing of the notes of a chord in quick succession. Arpeggios are a common technique used in piano playing to create a flowing and virtuosic effect.
A chord is a group of two or more notes played together. Piano players often use chords to create harmony and texture in their playing.
A crescendo is a gradual increase in volume. Piano players need to be able to execute crescendos smoothly and gradually to create the desired effect in the music.
A decrescendo is a gradual decrease in volume. Just like crescendos, pianists need to be able to execute decrescendos smoothly and gradually in order to create the desired effect.
The dominant is the fifth note of a scale or key and is considered the second most important pitch in the scale after the tonic. We recommend you know the dominant of the scale.Understanding the dominant of a scale or key will help you understand the harmonic structure of the music.
Dynamics refers to how loud or soft a piece of music is. Piano players need to be able to vary the dynamics of their playing to create different moods and emotions in the music.
Ensemble refers to a group of musicians playing together. As a pianist, playing in an ensemble requires the ability to listen to and play with other musicians to create a cohesive, balanced sound.
A fermata (or pause) is a music term that tells the performer to hold a note or rest for longer than its usual duration. When playing with fermatas, pianists need to be able to sustain the note or rest for the appropriate amount of time while maintaining the overall rhythm and tempo of the music.
Forte is a term indicating to play a section of music loudly. As a pianist, it’s important to be able to play with a full range of dynamics, including playing forte when the sheet music asks you to. To play even louder than forte, this is called fortissimo.
A glissando is a sliding effect between two notes. In piano playing, glissandos are often executed by running the fingers or hand up or down the keyboard to create a smooth, sweeping, and flowing sound.
Harmony refers to the combination of different notes played simultaneously. In piano playing, you’ll need to be able to create harmonies by playing multiple notes at the same time, sometimes with both hands and sometimes with just one hand.
Key Signature
A key signature is a notation at the beginning of a piece of music that indicates the key in which the music is written. Understanding key signatures is important for pianists in order to play the correct notes and maintain the tonality of the music.
Largo is a musical term that indicates a very slow speed. When playing at a largo tempo, pianists need to be able to execute slow and deliberate movements to create a sense of gravity and seriousness in the music.
Legato is a smooth and connected style of playing notes. Legato is achieved on the piano by holding down the keys and connecting the notes together smoothly and seamlessly.
Major is a term indicating a musical scale that has a bright and happy sound. When playing music in a major key, you should aim to convey the upbeat and joyful character of the music.
Melody refers to the sequence of notes that make up a musical phrase. As you work through the lessons on Skoove, you should aim to play melodies with clarity and expressiveness; it is more common to play the melody in the right hand but sometimes it can be heard in the left hand.
Mezzo Forte
Mezzo forte is a term indicating to play a section of music at a moderate volume. When playing mezzo forte, you’ll need to balance the volume of each note and play them with clarity and precision.
Minor is a term indicating a musical mode that has a dark and melancholic sound. When playing music in a minor key, pianists need to be able to convey both the sadness and seriousness of the music.
As well as referring to the instrument, the word piano also means play a section of music softly. Just as it’s important to be able to play forte, it’s also important to be able to play quietly in order to create contrast and dynamics in the music. And if you need to play very quietly, this is called pianissimo.
Pitch refers to how high or low a sound is. On a piano, each key produces a different pitch, and you’ll need to be able to recognize and reproduce these pitches accurately. On a piano, the notes to the left of middle C are low in pitch and the notes to the right of middle C are high in pitch.
Rhythm refers to the pattern of beats in a piece of music. As a pianist, it’s important to have a strong sense of rhythm in order to keep time and maintain the pulse of the music.
Solo refers to a piece of music played by a single performer. A lot of piano music is written only for one performer. Great piano soloists have the ability to convey the emotion and message of the music through their playing.
Staccato is a short and detached style of playing notes. In piano playing, staccato is achieved by releasing the keys quickly and cleanly to create a crisp and percussive sound.
Tempo refers to the speed or pace of a piece of music. Understanding tempo is crucial in order to play the music at the correct speed and maintain a consistent rhythm throughout the piece. Tempo is indicated by Italian words such as largo (very slow), andante (moderate), allegro (fast), and presto (very fast), among others. Pianists need to be able to adjust their playing style and movements depending on the tempo of the music they are playing.
Time signature
A time signature is a symbol at the beginning of a piece of music that indicates the number of beats in each measure and the type of note that receives one beat. Understanding time signatures is crucial as it enables you to maintain a steady rhythm throughout the music.
Tonality refers to the overall character or sound of a piece of music; this depends on the key the melody is written in (for example, is it major or minor?). Knowing about tonality will help you convey the correct emotions and moods in the music you’re playing.
The tonic is the first note of a scale or key and is considered the central pitch around which the music revolves. Knowing about the tonic of a piano melody is essential in terms of your understanding of the overall structure and tonality of the music.

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