Glossary of Musical Terms
Used in the Crash Course in Exciting Piano Playing
accent - a musical notation sign indicating that the note located above or below it should be played sharply (Book 2 - Page 41).
accompaniment - the part of a piece of music that accompanies the melody. The accompaniment is usually found in the bass clef, though it's entirely possible to place it in the treble (1-24).
allegretto - tempo marking indicating that a piece of music should be played quickly, but not as quickly as allegro.
allegro - tempo marking indicating that a piece of music should be played quickly and with excitement.
allegro con brio - tempo marking indicating that a piece of music should be played quickly, with vigor or spirit.
andante - tempo marking indicating that a piece of music should be played somewhat slowly or at a walking pace.
andante con brio - tempo marking indicating that a piece of music should be played at a walking pace with vigor or spirit.
andantino - tempo marking indicating that a piece of music should be played at a slightly faster pace than andante.
andantino con expressione - tempo marking indicating that a piece of music should be played slightly faster than andante and with expression.
arpeggio - a chord played by striking each note individually but closely enough to still be perceived as a whole entity; arpeggios are also referred to as broken chords (1-42).
arrangement - a re-worked version of a written piece of music (see Arrangement Guide).
augmented chord - a chord altered by raising one of the tones by a half-step (2-40).
bar line - vertical lines on a musical staff that divide a piece of music into individual measures (1-8).
bass clef - part of the musical staff on which the bass notes are located. The bass clef encompasses all the notes below middle C (1-24).
block chord - a chord played by striking all three notes simultaneously; block chords are often referred to simply as chords (1-5).
broken chord - a chord played by striking each note individually but closely enough to still be perceived as a whole entity; broken chords are also referred to as arpeggios (1-42).
chord - a series of three separate notes, or tones, played simultaneously. Chords are named by their root note's letter (i.e. G, F, D or E) and any special qualities they may possess, including their intervals. For example, a G chord lowered by a half-step would be G diminished, or G dim. Adding a seventh to the same G chord would make it Gdim7 (1-5).
chord symbol - musical notation, usually found above the staff, indicating which chord is to be played. Chord symbols appear as either letter names (i.e. C7 or Fdim) or Roman numerals (i.e. I, III or V7) (1-5).
chord progression - a series of chords played one after another; to truly be viewed as a chord progression, this series of chords must feel like a whole (4-14).
chromatic scale - a scale consisting of 12 notes separated by a half-step; the chromatic scale is useful in a number of improvising and arranging techniques.
color tone - a non-chord tone at a set interval that adds an interesting element to the chord. Color tones are often at sixth or ninth intervals and frequently used in arrangements and improvisations.
common tone - a tone found in more than one chord within a chord progression that makes the transition between the chords easier or more smooth (1-31).
crescendo - musical notation indicating that the song's dynamic is to gradually become louder (2-8).
damper pedal - the pedal on a piano that, when depressed, allows a tone or tones to sustain well after the key or keys have been struck; the damper pedal is located on the right of the piano's pedal board (1-48).
decrescendo - musical notation indicating that the song's dynamic is to gradually become softer (2-8).
diminished chord - a chord altered by lowering one of the tones by a half-step (4-8).
direct pedaling - pedaling form achieved by depressing the damper pedal at the start of a every measure (1-48).
dotted note - a written note with a dot after it, indicating that the note's value is lengthened by a half (1-44).
double sharp - musical notation indicating that a note is to be raised by a whole step; double sharps often represent the same pitch as the next highest note ( 4-13).
downbeat - a measure's stressed beat; when tapping your foot to a piece of music, the downbeat occurs when your foot hits the floor (1-44).
dynamics - the loudness or softness of a piece of music; most songs encompass a number of different dynamics to achieve an interesting, contrasting sound (2-8).
figured bass - type of musical notation that uses numbers (often Roman numerals) to denote certain intervals or chords. Figured bass is an integral part to improvising and arranging.
finger dexterity - the flexibility, quickness and strength of your fingers. Finger dexterity is achieved by regular practice and finger exercise (1-51).
fingering - the way in which you place your fingers on the keyboard to play notes, scales and chords (1-17).
flat - musical notation indicating that a note is to be lowered by a half-step (2-2).
form - the way in which a piece of music is structured or organized. A song's form is often labeled by giving each part a letter name such as A, B or C.
forte - dynamic marking indicating that a piece of music is to be played loudly; forte is notated by a lowercase f (2-8).
fortissimo - dynamic marking indicating that a piece of music to be played very loudly; fortissimo is notated by two lowercase f's (2-8).
grand staff - the entire staff of a piece of music, including both clefs.
hands alone - the act of playing both the treble and bass parts of a piece of music before combining the two.
hands together - the act of playing a piece of music's treble and bass parts simultaneously.
harmonizing chords - the most pleasant-sounding, or harmonious, chords in a given key; harmonizing chords are generally represented by the first, fourth and fifth scale degrees (3-4).
inversion - the distance between two notes, comprised of a set number of steps: C is three steps away from E and therefore represents a third interval. Intervals can be identified by either number (i.e. third, fifth, ninth) or property (i.e. melodic, harmonic) (2-19).
inversion - chord position that places the tones in a different order, or inverts them. Inversions are named based on where the root note is placed; a chord's first inversion puts the root note at the top of the chord, its second inversion places the root in the middle, and so on (1-29).
key - the scale set of sharps, flats and naturals that determine the nature of the pitches used in a piece of music (3-3).
key signature - musical notation that indicates in which key a piece of music is to be played. A song's key signature is located just after the clef and just before the time signature (3-3).
ledger lines - additional lines above or below the staff that accommodate notes higher or lower than the staff's space (1-8).
legato - a note or set of notes played in a smooth, flowing style; legato playing is notated on a piece of music by a curved line (2-33).
legato pedaling - pedaling form achieved by depressing the damper pedal after the beat (1-48).
lento - tempo marking indicating that a piece of music is to be played very slowly.
maestoso - tempo/style marking indicating that a piece of music is to be played majestically.
major scale - diatonic scale consisting of two tetrachords (or eight notes) divided by this pattern: whole step, whole step, half step. A major scale is generally perceived as the brightest of scale types (2-28).
measure - unit of musical measurement; every piece of music is divided into a series of measures set off by bar lines, the rhythm of which is determined by the time signature (1-8).
melody - a song's tune and often the most identifiable element. A melody is frequently found in the treble clef, though it can certainly be played in the bass (1-8).
mezzo-forte - dynamic marking indicating that a piece of music is to be played medium loud; mezzo-forte is indicated by the lowercase mf.
mezzo-piano - dynamic marking indicating that a piece of music is to be played medium soft; mezzo-piano is indicated by the lowercase mp.
middle C - note located at the piano keyboard's approximate center; middle C represents the division between the bass and treble clefs (1-1).
minor scale - diatonic scale with the third degree of a minor third above the scale's root; minor scales are usually considered to be dark or moody. A harmonic minor scale, the most commonly used type, follows the same pattern as a major scale but with an augmented second interval between the sixth and seventh notes (4-10).
moderato - tempo marking indicating that a piece of music is to be played at a moderate pace.
moderato con expressione - tempo marking indicating that a piece of music is to be played at a moderate pace and with expression.
monophony - single notes or notes struck independent of each other.
natural - musical notation indicating that a note is to be played as is, without a sharp or flat (2-2).
note - the written notation of a tone, or pitch. Strictly speaking, the term note refers only to the written form, but most musicians use the term to refer to the actual tone, as well (1-8).
note value - the length of time for which a note is to be held. For instance, in 4/4 time, the note value of a quarter note is one beat, a half note two beats (1-8).
octave - a range of eight whole steps (3-10).
pentatonic scale - a scale consisting of only five notes, such as a scale encompassing only black keys.
pianissimo - dynamic marking indicating that a piece of music is to be played very softly; pianissimo is indicated by two lowercase p's.
piano - dynamic marking indicating that a piece of music is to be played softly; piano is indicated by a lowercase p.
polyphony - combined notes or notes struck simultaneously.
relative major - a major chord that shares the same key signature as a minor scale but with a lowered seventh scale degree. Every minor scale has a relative major, i.e. C major and A minor.
relative minor - a minor chord that shares the same key signature as a major scale but with a raised seventh scale degree. Every major chord has a relative major, i.e. C major and A minor.
rest - musical notation indicating a set amount of silence (1-14).
rhythm - the beat of a song; how sounds vary over time and their duration throughout it. Rhythm is complemented by time signature and can be named based on property, i.e. metric, intrametric, contrametric (1-8).
root note - a scale's first degree; chords, scales and keys are named after the root note (3-4).
scale degree - the placement of a note in a scale; the first note of a scale (or root note) is the first scale degree, the second note the second scale degree, the third the third, and so on. Scale degrees are an integral part of figured bass.
sempre staccato - musical notation indicating that a set of notes (or entire song) is to be played staccato (4-29).
sharp - musical notation indicating that a note is to be raised by a half-step (2-2).
sight reading - the act of reading and playing a piece of music in its entirety the first time you see it.
soft pedal - the pedal on a piano that, when depressed, muffles the sound; the soft pedal is located on the left of a piano's pedal board (1-48).
sostenuto pedal - the pedal on a piano that, when depressed, sustains the keyboard's lower notes; the sostenuto pedal is located in the middle of a piano's pedal board (1-48).
staccato - a note or set of notes played in a short, disconnected style; staccato is notated by a dot (2-33).
staff - the series of lines and spaces on which written notes are placed (1-8).
syncopation - a type of rhythmic playing that places notes slightly off the beat.
tempo - the aspect of music that dictates at what speed a piece of music is to be played (2-16).
tempo di marcia - tempo/style marking indicating that a piece of music is to be played at the tempo of the march.
tempo di valse - tempo/style marking indicating that a piece of music is to be played at the tempo of the waltz.
tie - musical notation (represented by a curved line connecting two notes) indicating that the notes are to be played as a whole, without any space in between them (1-11).
time signature - musical notation that gives the specifics of time and how it will function within a song. A song's time signature is located just after the key signature (or clef, if there is no key signature), consists of two numbers and can be either simple or complex (1-13).
treble clef - part of the musical staff on which higher notes are located; the treble clef encompasses everything above middle C (1-24).
tone - the actual sound produced when a piano key is struck.
upbeat - a measure's unstressed beat; when tapping your foot to a piece of music, the upbeat occurs when your foot isn't on the ground (1-44).
vivace - tempo marking indicating that a song is to be playing quickly, faster than allegro.