Questions tagged [terminology]

For questions about musical terms. Questions about symbols should use the "notation" tag.

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70
votes
6answers
205k views

What is the relationship between "do re mi" and note letter names?

When people sing the song, they use do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, (si), etc, but sometimes I hear that the music people say A, B, C, D flat, etc. Is there a relationship or are they two different ...
66
votes
22answers
136k views

What is the difference between a mode and a scale?

I can't seem to find a straight definition for both.
59
votes
4answers
14k views

(1/√π)/√⅔ as a time signature?

I recently found this article on wikipedia about lists of musical works in unusual time signatures and the first unusual time signature is (1/√π)/√⅔. I looked up the piece that was listed as having ...
51
votes
3answers
185k views

What are the differences between tone, note, and pitch?

I was wondering what the differences are between "tone", "note", and "pitch"?
47
votes
9answers
77k views

Why is a C7 chord named a dominant seventh chord?

I understand that a C7 chord contains a flattened 7th note in the C major scale, but what specifically makes this a dominant 7th chord? To me there is nothing 'dominant' about taking a note out of ...
43
votes
5answers
125k views

What's the difference between "modal music" and "tonal music"?

As the title says, what's the difference between "modal music" and "tonal music"? Is there also any other classification besides "modal music" and "tonal music"?
40
votes
5answers
122k views

What is the difference between a riff and a lick?

That's it. I was wondering what is the difference between a riff and a lick. The Wikipedia page for lick is somewhat confusing-- what do you think?
37
votes
15answers
31k views

What makes an interval "Perfect"?

I've been trying to find an answer, but to no avail. Is what we call a perfect interval somewhat arbitrary? It seems as if the modern definition is "perfect under inversion". I know the other thing ...
36
votes
12answers
26k views

How can I learn to compose?

I am aware that Stack Exchange questions should be on-point, and not too broad, but I really would appreciate a response from people who know what they are talking about: I recently saw Boublil and ...
36
votes
8answers
4k views

Is there a broader term for instruments, like the gong, whose volume briefly increases after being sounded instead of immediately decaying?

For most instruments, their sound immediately begins to decay after they first sound. When you strike a piano key, for instance, the loudest sound is at the very beginning, after which the sound ...
35
votes
6answers
62k views

Polymeter vs Polyrhythm

What is the difference between a polymeter and a polyrhythm? Do these words mean anything different for different instruments? PS: I'm a drummer.
34
votes
7answers
52k views

What is the difference between a "band" and an "orchestra"

Growing up, my father listened to big band music. These bands are usually referred to as "Glenn Miller and his orchestra" Or "Paul Schaeffer and the CBS Orchestra". Is it that an orchestra has ...
34
votes
4answers
23k views

What is the difference between 'chorus' and 'refrain'?

I'm trying to learn something about song structure. Reading the Wikipedia article about the subject I came across two terms that looked somewhat similar: chorus and refrain. There seemed to be a ...
33
votes
11answers
95k views

What is the definition of 'playing in the pocket'?

The phrase 'playing in the pocket' is used sometimes, in jazz, hip hop, funk etc. It sometimes refers to the way a drummer plays, sometimes to how an ensemble works together. I've Googled the term, ...
33
votes
11answers
22k views

What is the difference between a "riff" and a "melody"?

How do I tell when a riff becomes a melody, or is it even important to know? Can you construct a song around a riff - what are some suggestions on how to construct a song in that manner?
28
votes
14answers
5k views

To what extent is music theory just giving us a language to describe/break down music, or does it really have significant "scientific content"?

For instance, you can always chop up notes into chord tones vs non-chord tones; and then separate non-chord tones into passing tones and neighbor tones. These are very much just classifications. Thus, ...
26
votes
1answer
54k views

What does "NC" mean?

On some tabs, I sometimes see a "NC" text on top of the tab. What does it mean ? How should it be played or interpreted ?
25
votes
4answers
7k views

What's the short and accented note at the very end of a song called?

In some songs, there is a short and accented note at the very end, usually as the last note. Is there a special term for this note besides calling it the "last note"? Examples: "Hamilton" from ...
25
votes
6answers
57k views

Difference between "Bar" and "Measure"

I was taught musical theory in the UK where I grew up. I was taught what a bar is. In my experience, the terminology "measure" is not used in a musical sense in the UK. Since living in the US, I ...
24
votes
6answers
8k views

Why do some pianists occasionally play their hands at different times?

Piano is not my main instrument, but I have always been taught that the same rhythms should always sound together. In other words, if both hands play on the downbeat of the measure, both hands should ...
24
votes
5answers
5k views

Why is a doubling of frequency called an octave?

I understand that when two frequencies have a ratio of 2^n:1 for any natural number n, they are said to be n octaves apart. Moreover, they sound "essentially the same" to our ear. However, why do we ...
24
votes
6answers
70k views

What is a secondary dominant chord?

What is a secondary dominant chord? What's the theory behind them? How are they used in composition?
24
votes
3answers
214k views

What exactly does "feat." mean?

Does anyone know what does the "feat." mean exactly? Some song titles have the word "feat" in it, for example "I wanna love you clean Akon feat. Snoop dog". What does "feat." mean?
24
votes
1answer
4k views

"inuendo" in a piano score

I have a question about music notation: - - - in - - - u - - - - en - - - - - do - - It appears in a music book edited by Willard A. Palmer, Bach, Prelude in C Minor, BWV 999, measure 26 to 29. Can ...
23
votes
4answers
11k views

What does it mean for a sound to be "dirty"?

An effect that many electronic music creators go for is a "dirty bass synth" or something similar. What exactly does this term mean, if it has a precise definition at all? What qualities of a synth ...
22
votes
11answers
5k views

Collective word for sharps and flats in the key signature

On a mailing list I'm subscribed to, someone recently asked what the collective name was in English for the sharps and flats you find in the key signature. Apparently, the closest translation from ...
21
votes
5answers
7k views

What is the term for a song without a tempo?

I have a song that is just acoustic guitar/vocals/and cello and I don't want to give it a tempo because I enjoy the way it sounds just played at the tempo of whatever emotion I have or venue I'm ...
20
votes
9answers
15k views

Able to recall music in its correct key, but don't have perfect pitch -- what is it called?

I don't have perfect pitch, but there are certain things I can do that I've been wondering if there's a name for. Given the name of a piece I've heard reasonably recently, I can sing it in my head in ...
20
votes
6answers
44k views

What is the difference between swing and shuffle?

I am learning piano from a book and I can't understand the difference between swing and shuffle. I have searched, but I still can't understand the difference. Could someone please iterate the ...
20
votes
6answers
5k views

Why is it called the chromatic scale?

The definition of chromatic as given by Google: adjective: chromatic MUSIC: relating to or using notes not belonging to the diatonic scale of the key in which a passage is written. (of a scale) ...
20
votes
2answers
13k views

Is there any real difference between Counterpoint and Polyphony?

From what I understand, they both kind of refer to the same thing. Why the need for 2 terms?
20
votes
7answers
37k views

Difference between keys and scales?

I am a Tabla (a North Indian percussion instrument) player and I am trying to learn the western music theory. My study was going well until I stumbled upon keys and scales. Now though I know what ...
19
votes
9answers
8k views

Exactly what does "diatonic" mean?

Is the meaning very context dependent, or can it be defined in general terms? Does the meaning change by author or period? Sometimes it's used to refer to anything that stays within a specific tonal ...
19
votes
2answers
6k views

What is double about the double bass?

One of the most common (English) names for the contrabass, is 'Double Bass'. I can understand the other names for it, like 'Upright bass', 'Acoustic String Bass' etc, but what is double about it and ...
19
votes
3answers
2k views

Where did the British names for different note lengths come from?

I was always taught to use a certain set of names for the length of a note, such as crotchet, minim, quaver, and so on. I'm aware though that those terms aren't used as much outside the UK, and that ...
18
votes
4answers
6k views

How should I play two notes together on lines below the staff?

How should I play two notes together on lines below the staff?
18
votes
3answers
10k views

What is "Tempo 1"?

I've seen adagio, and other names, but I see in classical score that indicates "Tempo 1" in section C. What does it mean?
18
votes
4answers
10k views

How do you refer to a note that is more than one octave above or below middle C?

I know you say the A above Middle C when refering to the A that is in the same Octave as Middle C in the Treble Staff, or you say the A below Middle C when referring to the A in the previous Octave on ...
18
votes
4answers
10k views

Why are notes named the way they are?

In 12 tone equal temperament, why are the notes named: C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B instead of, for example, A, A#, B, B#, C, C#, D, D#, E, E#, F, F# or any other thing?
18
votes
3answers
2k views

What is a session musician?

I've heard the term "session musician" in a few books I've read or videos I've seen, in context like, "You probably wouldn't need to really learn B major deeply unless you're a session musician." It ...
18
votes
4answers
5k views

Why was Brahms's music considered 'too academic'?

I posted on here before about learning to compose, after hearing some classical music that moved me enormously. I have been researching many of the famous composers from all over the world; Brahms ...
18
votes
2answers
3k views

What is a Neapolitan 6th?

In studying music theory I have heard the term Neapolitan 6th quite a few times, but I'm not quite sure what it is. What is a Neapolitan 6th and how is it used in a composition?
17
votes
4answers
4k views

Is it spelled "violincello" or "violoncello"?

I’m trying to understand the proper spelling of the full name of the cello. I’ve seen it both of these ways, violincello and violoncello. I thought since the cello is part of the violin family it ...
17
votes
3answers
5k views

Name for descending semitones under a repeating musical phrase?

In much contemporary music, especially instrumental guitar music, there is a particular device employed. It involves a musical phrase in which usually one note, often a bass note, descends in one ...
17
votes
2answers
22k views

What is an "open tuning"?

I know that Keith Richards has been known to use open tunings on some songs, but what is an open tuning exactly and when/why would you use it?
17
votes
8answers
60k views

What's the difference between genre and style?

Is there anybody in the world who knows what's the difference between genre and style in music? In wikipedia there are articles: list of music genres and list of music styles, but when we go to a ...
17
votes
9answers
39k views

What is it called when a song starts with few instruments, and gradually adds one at a time?

Many songs will start with only a few number of instruments, and after a specified amount of time has passed a new instrument is added, and this is repeated until all instruments for the song are ...
17
votes
4answers
28k views

What tempo is Agitato?

I'm looking at Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C# minor and notice that the tempo changes from Lento to Agitato. I'm familiar with the former tempo marking, but not the latter. At what tempo should Agitato ...
17
votes
1answer
7k views

What does it mean to play in an 'arpeggiated' style on the guitar?

I sometimes hear a guitar player described as having an 'arpeggiated' style, such as Peter Buck of R.E.M. I know that an arpeggio is the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 8th of a scale, but exactly what does it ...
16
votes
3answers
5k views

What does Grt. and Sw. mean in this organ score?

I've come across a piece of sheet music for an organ and I was just curious what the Grt. marking above measure 1 and 17 means and what the Sw. marking above measure 9 means. I've seen it before in a ...

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