Below is a list of terms used in musical terminology which are likely to occur on printed or sheet music. Many of these terms have a Italian etymology, reinforcing the heritage of much music originating from Italy. In different countries, the terms you see below may be written in the language of that country.
Ad libitium the speed and manner are left to the performer, ad lib.
Affrettando - hurrying, pressing onwards.
Agitato - agitated.
Alla Breve - indicates two minims in a bar, formerly four.
The term appassionato (from Italian) tells the performer to play (or sing) passionately.
In Italian, arpeggio literally means like a harp. It is used to indicate that the consecutive notes of a certain chord are to be played quickly one after another, instead of at the same moment. In pianomusic this is sometimes a solution used to play a wide-ranged chord which, technically speaking, cannot be played simultaneously with one hand. Music played on the limited hardware of video game computers uses a similar technique to create a chord from one tone generator.
Common time is the time signature 4/4: four beats per measure, each beat a quarter note. 4/4 is often written on the musical staff as C. 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.
The directive crescendo is for the musician to play gradually louder than previously. Cf. diminuendo, dynamics (music).
Cut time is synonymous to the meter 2/2: two half-note beats per measure. This is notated and played like common time (4/4), except with the note lengths halved. Cut time is denoted by 3/4 a circle with a vertical line through it, which resembles the cent symbol ¢. This comes from a literal "cut" of the C symbol of common time. Thus, a quarter note in cut time is only half a beat long. A measure has only two beats. The other common meter with two-beat measures is fast 6/8, in which note lengths are 2/3 their normal values.
The term diminuendo (or dim.), is an indication for the musician to play with gradually decreasing volume. It is the opposite of crescendo.
Dolce is Italian for "sweet", and tells the performer to sing (or play) sweetly.
Dynamics refers to the relative volume of the musician playing the work. See dynamics (music).
The term forte, or just the notation f, is a directive for the musician to play loudly. The term fortissimo, ff, is similar - the musician is to play very loudly. See dynamics (music).
Glissando is a continuous sliding from one pitch to another (a "true" glissando), or an incidental scale played while moving from one melodic note to another (an "effective" glissando). See glissando for further information.
The term morendo denotes dying away in tone or tempo.
A mezzo-soprano is 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 daker vocal tone than sopranos, and their vocal range is between that of a soprano and that of an alto. See mezzo-soprano for further information.
The indication piano, or the notation p, is an directive for the musician to play softly. The related term pianissimo, pp, directs the musician to play very softly.
Rubato is a fluctuating tempo against a steady one in a musical phrase.
The indication or term staccato means to play with a sharp attack, and briefly. In music notation a small dot under the note indicates that the note is to be sounded staccato. See staccato.
The directive smorzando (or smorz.) is a directive for the musician to smother the notes.
The indication or term tenuto (Italian held), is to touch on a note slightly longer than usual, but without generally altering the note's value.
Tremolo can mean a rapid repetition of the same note, or an alternation between two or more notes. It can also mean a rapid and repetitive variation in pitch for the duration of a note. See tremolo for further information. It is notated by a diagonal bar across the note stem or a detached bar for a set of notes.
The directive una corda (Italian one cord), is a directive in piano music for the musician to depress the soft pedal, reducing the volume of the sound. Its counterpart, tre corda is the opposite - the soft pedal is to be released.
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