Take a passage like this:

Passage with boxed notes and chords

Fill in the blank: Each of these boxes denote a ______

Is there a single general term for these that's better than note or chord? Or maybe there's a term for "anything that has a duration" that also encompasses rests? It seems like enough of a fundamental concept that it should have a name.

  • In a guitar performance context I'd call each of them (save the tied one) a "pluck" (finger style) or "strum" (pick); but I can't think of a corresponding term for a piano context. I'd want it to convey the idea of "depressing one or more keys".
    – Dave
    May 6 '14 at 19:21
  • 1
    I've never heard anything other that 'note or chord'. If there is another word, its surprisingly obscure.
    – Karen
    May 6 '14 at 20:11
  • Beat works pretty well as per the answers below, but also if you want to describe these in harmonic terms: triad, note, triad (tied), diad, diad, or for string players, triple stop, note, triple stop (tied), double stop, double stop.
    – filzilla
    May 6 '14 at 20:19
  • @Karen I was sort of hoping for a surprisingly obscure term from the literature :)
    – Trillian
    May 6 '14 at 20:54
  • 1
    Do you really want two separate boxes for the two tied eighth notes? They could just as well be notated as a single quarter note. It sounds to me like you’re interested in a term that refers to the music itself—something that isn’t tied (har!) to the notation—in which case only the first eighth note should get a box.
    – bdesham
    May 6 '14 at 21:40

"Beat" as proposed just now seems wrong since it would hardly do for off-beat notes.

"Note column" would be the technical term employed in the music typesetter LilyPond, but I don't really know whether it has some origin in actual music terminology, and it obviously refers to the visual arrangement primarily.

"Musical moment" might be another choice but strictly speaking those form a continuum.

  • "Note column" is an interesting term. I have been looking at a few open source notation software and didn't come across it. "Musical moment" seems more about a position in time than a set of notes though.
    – Trillian
    May 6 '14 at 18:54
  • 1
    Dom, your information is simply incorrect. Sep 8 '14 at 13:09


Are you sure you want to have 2 rectangles for the double stems split since it's held across a beat? I'd consider the pair to be one, ummm, "note set".

I just call them "note set"s. But that's just a term I came up with, not something standard.

  • 1
    I also thought about stem, though the stem is supposed to be the line, and would you call a whole note a stem? I'd be satisfied with a term that would merge those two rectangles too. "note set" or "note group" can work, I guess.
    – Trillian
    May 6 '14 at 19:22
  • Yep. For me (working on a piano practice midi sequencer), a note set is all the notes that start at the same time (within a given track). It's useful for syncing time to where you're currently playing if you don't want to force the player to march to a metronome (if you want them to be able to use rubato, etc). Standard notation kind of forces the durations to be the same across a stem. If you have 2 notes with different durations that start at the same time, you HAVE to split it into 2 stems that happen at the same time. May 6 '14 at 19:37

For formal, technical purposes (e.g. when discussing musical audiation and other aspects of musical cognition) the terms "acoustic event" or "notated event" or "vertical event" is pretty much standard terminology within psychology of music for referring broadly to any individual single tone or simultaneosly experienced combination of tones (i.e. an individual chord) within a passage or composition. An acoustic event can also include a silence. Really useful all-inclusive terms, (though not yet in musicians' common parlance)!

So, I'd use the term "notated event" (or the more generalized "vertical event") to fill in the blank in the OP's question.


A beat is probably the best term since you are more referring to a duration then the actual notes being used.

  • It sort of works in this example but it's a little unsatisfying. If there were two staves, you'd count a single beat for two chords that happen at the same time - on the same beat.
    – Trillian
    May 6 '14 at 18:49
  • Some of those notes don't even last a beat.Why should there be a generic term for two differing things. One's a note, one's a chord. And the two note one - the jury's probably still out.
    – Tim
    May 6 '14 at 18:54

Sound is as good as any. That's till someone writes a rest. Then I'm in trouble...

  • To quote from the Sibelius documentation for writing add-ons: "There’s no overall name for something which can be a rest, note or chord, so we’ve invented the pretty name NoteRest. A NoteRest with 0, 1 or 2 noteheads is what you normally call a rest, a note or a chord, respectively." But I don't think it that is used more widely.
    – user19146
    Aug 19 '15 at 14:19

Going with the MIDI theme, that some of the comments refer to, how about "event"?

  • an event is a notedown, noteup, or control change (like tempo, master volume, pitchbend, pedal, etc, etc) So a 3 note chord has 6 events. I kinda don't think event would work. May 6 '14 at 22:42

It depends on whether you're asking for MUSIC nomenclature, or music NOTATION nomenclature.

If it's music, I might say "sound" for each thingy.

If it's notation, I might say "event" for each thingy. i.e. a note event, a score event, etc.

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