A year ago I have started practicing piano. I attend a music school and the pieces now are becoming quite advanced. There are four terms I don't fully understand which are mentioned a lot when I read or hear about description of music pieces for piano.

Could someone please spare a few moments and provide explanation on what these four terms mean?

  1. Modulation
  2. Articulation
  3. Accidentals
  4. Phrasing
  • All of these will be relevant to all musical instruments - and the 2nd and 4th will be used by most percussion instruments.Don't just think piano !
    – Tim
    Dec 6, 2014 at 16:21

1 Answer 1



When music moves from one key to another, it 'modulates'. Modulation is that process.


The 'style' a note is played in. I'm finding this harder to define, but think short, sharp notes vs. long, smooth ones. Articulation is the style a note is played in.


Sharps, flats and naturals which pop up through the music, and are not part of the key signature. Below, the A# is an accidental. The following A natural is labelled as a 'courtesy accidental', as by the rules of music, the A# accidental is removed at the bar line, but the composer has added a 'not strictly necessary' accidental, as a reminder to the player.

enter image description here


How a passage of notes is played together. Music isn't just notes that follow each other - it's written as phrases - passages of notes which work together, and places where natural breaks in the music should come. These aren't always written in any way, and can rely on the performers interpretation of the music.

Take "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star": enter image description here

There are no actual breaks (rests) written anywhere in that music. However, from the shape of the notes (they way they go up and down), and the position of the longer notes, a player could play this piece with 3, 4-bar phrases, and control the 'flow' of the piece to accentuate this, through the use of dynamics, or following a less strict time.

  • 1
    It may be helpful also to think of phrasing in terms of speaking. Words organize themselves into groups as well, and it's not by accident that we call them phrases.
    – BobRodes
    Dec 9, 2014 at 1:08

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