This is a list of musical terms that are likely to be encountered in printed scores, music reviews, and program notes. Most of the terms are Italian (see also Italian musical terms used in English), in accordance with the Italian origins of many European musical conventions. Sometimes, the special musical meanings of these phrases differ from the original or current Italian meanings. Most of the other terms are taken from French and German, indicated by "(Fr)" and "(Ger)", respectively. Others are from languages such as Portuguese, Latin, and Spanish.
Unless specified, the terms are Italian or English. The list can never be complete: some terms are common, and others are used only occasionally, and new ones are coined from time to time. Some composers prefer terms from their own language rather than the standard terms here.
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
amore, or (in Spanish and sometimes in Italian) amor: love, con amore : with love, tenderly
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)
anima: life; feeling con anima : with feeling
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
aria: self-contained piece for one voice usually with orchestral accompaniment
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.
assai: much, Very much
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 Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Icelandic, Danish, Croatian, Estonian and Hungarian); H in German is B natural
ballabile: (from the Italian Ballabile meaning "danceable") In ballet the term refers to a dance performed by the corps de ballet. The term Grand ballabile is used if nearly all participants (including principal characters) of a particular scene in a full-length work perform a large-scale dance.
Bartók pizzicato: a term that 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
battuto(It.): to strike the strings with the bow (on a bowed stringed instrument)
beat: (1) the pronounced rhythm of music; (2) one single stroke of a rhythmic accent
belebt(er) (Ger) spirited, vivacious, lively
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
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: with spirit, with vigour
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
calma: calm; so con calma, calmly. Also calmato meaning calmed, relaxed
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. In instrumental music, a style of playing that imitates the way the human voice might express the music, with a measured tempo and flexible, legato.
Capo (short for capotasto: "nut"): a key-changing device for stringed instruments (e.g., guitars and banjos)
head; i.e. the beginning (of a movement, normally)
capriccio: "A humorous, fanciful, or bizarre, composition, often characterized by an idiosyncratic departure from current stylistic norms."See also: Capriccio (disambiguation)
cesura or caesura (Latin): 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 a 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)
coll'ottava: with the addition of the octave note above or below the written note; abbreviated as col 8, coll' 8, and c. 8va
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)
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
custos: Symbol at the very end of a staff of music which indicates the pitch for the first note of the next line as a warning of what is to come. The custos was commonly used in handwritten Renaissance and typeset Baroque music.
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. 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
decelerando: slowing down; decelerating; opposite of accelerando (same as ritardando or rallentando)
decrescendo or decresc.: same as diminuendo or dim. (see below)
deest: from the Latindeesse meaning to be missing; placed after a catalogue abbreviation to indicate that this particular work does not appear in it. The plural, desunt, is used when referring to several works.
delicatamente or delicato: delicately
détaché: (French) 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
dolore: pain, distress, sorow, grief con dolore: with sadness
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 longer than the note's value, typically twice its printed length or more for dramatic effect.
feurig (Ger): fiery
festivamente: cheerfully, celebratory
fil di voce: "thread of voice", very quiet, pianissimo
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.
flautando (may also appear as flautendo): flutelike; used especially for string instruments to indicate a light, rapid bowing over the fingerboard
focoso or fuocoso: fiery; i.e., passionately
forte or f (usually): strong; i.e., to be played or sung loudly
forte piano 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 con forza: with 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: with fire, in a fiery manner
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
giusto: strictly, exactly, e.g. tempo giusto in strict time
glissando: 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 glissando for further information; and compare portamento in this list.
grace note: an extra note added as an embellishment and not essential to the harmony or melody.
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.
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.
in altissimo: octave above the in alt octave, G6 to F7
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
in stand: a term for brass players that requires them to direct the bell of their instrument into the music stand, instead of up and toward the audience, thus muting the sound but without changing the timbre as a mute would
-issimo: a suffix meaning extremely, e.g. fortissimo or prestissimo
-issimamente: a suffix meaning as ... as can be, e.g. leggerissimamente, meaning as light as can be
Jazz standard (or simply "standard"): a well-known composition from the jazz repertoire which is widely played and recorded.
jete (French: jeté): jump; a bowing technique in which the player is instructed to let the bow bounce or jump off the strings.
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 or lagrimoso: tearfully; i.e., sadly
laissez vibrer, l.v. (Fr): French for lasciare suonare ("let vibrate").
lamentando: lamenting, mournfully
lamentoso: lamenting, mournfully
langsam (Ger): slowly
languendo: A directive to perform the indicated passage of a composition in a languid, feeble, dramatic style.
largamente: broadly; i.e., slowly (same as largo)
larghetto: somewhat slowly; not as slow as largo
larghezza: broadness; con larghezza: with broadness; broadly
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.
lasciare suonare: allow the sound to continue, do not damp; used frequently in harp or guitar music, occasionally in piano or percussion. Abbreviated "lasc. suon."
leggiero, leggiermente or leggiadro: lightly, delicately (The different forms of this word, including leggierezza, "lightness", are properly spelled in Italian as legger, without the i.)
leggierissimo: very lightly and delicately
leidenschaftlich(er) (Ger): passionately
lent (Fr): slowly
lentando: gradual slowing and softer
lentissimo: very slowly
let ring: English for lasciare suonare
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, see metric modulation
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.
mordent: rapid alternation of a note with the note immediately below or above it in the scale, sometimes further distinguished as lower mordent and upper mordent. The term "inverted mordent" usually refers to the upper mordent.
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
Musette (Fr) a dance or tune of a drone-bass character, originally played by a musette
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).
nach und nach (Ger) lit. "more and more" with an increasing feeling. Ex. "nach und nach belebter und leidenschaftlicher" (with increasing animation and passion)
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
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)
piangendo: literally 'crying' (used in Liszt's La Lugubre Gondola no. 2).
piacevole: pleasant, agreeable
pienna(It.): full, as, for example, a voce pienna = "in full voice"
pietoso: pitiful, piteous
più: more; see mosso for an example
piuttosto: rather, somewhat; e.g. allegro piuttosto presto
pizzicato: pinched, plucked; 1) 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; 2) in music for guitar, to mute the strings by resting the plam on the bridge, simlulating the sound of pizz. of the bowed string instruments.
plop: jazz term referring to a note that slides to an indefinite pitch chromatically downwards.
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
ponticello, pont.: on the bridge; i.e., in string playing, an indication to bow or 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
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, prélude (Fr), preludio (It), praeludium (Lat), präludium (Ger): 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-1700s/18th century)
prestissimo: extremely quickly, as fast as possible
prima volta: the first time; for example prima volta senza accompagnamento (the first time without accompaniment)
primo or prima (the feminine form): first
quartal: composed of the musical interval of the fourth; as in quartal harmony
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
quintal: composed of the musical interval of the fifth; as in quintal harrmony
rallentando or rall.: Broadening of the tempo (often not discernible from ritardando); progressively slower
rapide (Fr): fast
rasch (Ger): fast
rasguedo(Sp.): (on the guitar) to play strings with the back of the fingernail; esp. to fan the strings rapidly with the nails of multiple fingers
ravvivando (Ital "reviving"): quicken pace (as "ravvivando il tempo", returning to a faster tempo that occurred earlier in the piece)
recitativo: recitatively; one voice without accompaniment
reprise: repeat a phrase or verse; return to the original theme
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); opposite of accelerato
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).
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
senza sordina, or senza sordine (plural): without the mute. See sordina.
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 somewhat too high in pitch.
sopra una corda or sull'istessa corda: to be played on one string
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 jazzbig band this refers to an entire section playing in harmony.
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, Note:sordina, with plural sordine, is strictly correct Italian, but the forms sordino and sordini are much more commonly used as terms in music. Instruments can have their tone muted with wood, rubber, metal, or plastic devices, (for string instruments, mutes are clipped to the bridge; for brass instruments, mutes are inserted in the bell), or parts of the body (guitar; French Horn), or fabric (clarinet; timpani), among other means. 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.
sordino: see sordina, above
sortita: a principal singer's first entrance in an opera
spirito: spirit, con spirito: with spirit; with feeling
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
stentando: labored, heavy, in a dragging manner, holding back each note
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.
strascinando or strascicante: indicating a passage should be played in a heavily slurred manner
strepitoso: noisy, forceful
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: gradually getting faster (literally, tightening, narrowing); i.e., with a pressing forward or acceleration of the tempo (that is, becoming stretto, see preceding entry)
strisciando : to be played with a smooth slur, a glissando
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(It.): literally, "on", as in sul ponticello (on the bridge); sul tasto (on the fingerboard); sul E (on the E string), etc.
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.
tasto, tast., (also tastierra): on the fingerboard; i.e., in string playing, an indication to bow or to pluck over the fingerboard; Playing over the fingerboard produces a duller, less harmonically rich, gentler tone. The opposite of sul ponticello.
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 mezzo: the middle section of an double aria, commonly found in bel canto era Italian operas, especially those of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, and their contemporaries as well in many early operas by Verdi. When present, the tempo di mezzo generally signals a shift in the drama from the slow cantabile of the first part to the cabaletta of the second, and this can take the form of some dramatic announcement or action to which the character(s) react in the cabaletta finale.
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
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. As used in 1) and 2) below, it is notated by a strong diagonal bar (or bars) across the note stem, or a detached bar (or bars) for a set of notes.
a rapid, measured or unmeasured repetition of the same note. String players perform this tremolo with the bow by rapidly moving the bow while the arm is tense;
a rapid, measured or unmeasured alternation between two or more notes, usually more than a whole step apart. In older theory texts this form is sometimes referred to as a "trill-tremolo" (see trill).
a rapid, repeated alteration of volume (as on an electronic instrument);
vibrato: an inaccurate usage, since vibrato is actually a slight undulation in a sustained pitch, rather than a reprtition of the pitch, or variation in volume (see vibrato).
tre corde or tc (or sometimes inaccurately tre corda): three strings; i.e., release the soft pedal of the piano (see una corda)
trill: a rapid, usually unmeasured alternation between two harmonically adjacent notes (e.g., a interval of a semitone or a whole tone). A similar alternation using a wider interval is called a tremolo.
triplet (shown with a horizontal bracket and a '3'): Three notes in the place of two, used to subdivide a beat.
triste: sad, wistful
tronco, tronca: broken off, truncated
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)
turn: multi-note ornament above and below the main note; it may also be inverted
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 or un peu (Fr): 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.
vagans (Latin, "wandering"): the fifth part in a motet, named so most probably because it had no specific range
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
variazioni: variations, con variazioni: with variations/changes
veloce: velocity, con veloce : with speed/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 variation in the pitch of a note, used 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.
via: away, out, off; as in via sordina or sordina via: 'mute off'
vif (Fr): quickly, lively
vite (Fr): fast
virtuoso: (noun or adjective) performing with exceptional ability, technique, or artistry
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
Zählzeit (Ger): beat
zart (Ger): tender
Zartheit (Ger): tenderness
zärtlich (Ger): tenderly
Zeichen (Ger): sign, mark
Zeitmaß, also spelled Zeitmass (Ger): time-measure, i.e., tempo