The following is a list of standard musical terms used by musicians and guitarists. Italian musical terms are often used in music reference material, and are their meanings are transcribed in this list. However, Italian words may have a different meaning when used in a musical context.

In addition, The list can never be complete. Some musicians coin their own words for some musical terms. For example, Gibson has its glossary of Les Paul guitar terms related to the Les Paul guitar.

Musical terms



An accent is an emphasis on one note. Accents come in three types: dynamic, agogic, and tonic. Furthermore, this is the accent symbol <.


Italian. (accel). In effect directs the musicians to play with a gradually increasing tempo.


Symbols are used to raise or lower the pitch of a note by one-half step. Ex: sharps, flats, and naturals.


Italian. In effect, a slow tempo.


Italian. (affret.) In effect, quickening or hurrying.


Italian. In effect, gradually slower, louder, and broader.


Italian. (alltto.) In effect, light and cheerful. Faster than moderato, also, slower than allegro.


Italian. In effect, a fast tempo. Also, in Italian, the word means lively or merry.


Italian. In effect, a moderately slow tempo. Also, in Italian, the word means walking.


Playing the notes of a chord one after the other.


Italian. In effect, very.


Bar Line

The vertical lines are drawn across the staff to indicate the measures in a musical composition.


A broad, straight line connecting two or more eighth notes.


The steady pulse of the music. In effect, beats form the basis of a sense of musical time.

Blue tone

Blue tones (‘worried’ tones) are tones that are between the diatonic and flatted thirds and sevenths. Also, they characterize the blues scales.

Blues scale

A major scale with a flat third and seventh. Furthermore, it must be remembered that the flat third and seventh were sometimes ‘worried’ notes. Thus their pitches did not always correspond to equal-tempered tuning.


A modern blues style was created for the instrumental application. Furthermore, boogie-woogie is characterized by the adaptation of the ground bass principle. Also, a repetitious bass figure suggests the blues chord progression.


Italian In effect, with vigor and spirit.



A melody that can be sung against itself in imitation. Also called around.


A combination of three or more pitches sounding at the same time.

Chordal Texture

A texture in which the musical material is concentrated into chords with relatively little melodic activity.

Circle of Fifths

A clockface arrangement of the twelve pitches in the number of accidentals in the key signature.

Common Time – C

Another name for a 4/4 meter signature. They are sometimes written as a large capital C in place of a meter signature.

Compound Division

The division of the beat into three equal parts.

Compound Meter

A meter in which the beats have a compound division.


A combination of sounds produces a feeling of stability. Or of little desire for resolution.


Italian. (cresc.) In effect, a gradual increase in loudness.

Cut Time

Another name for the 2/2 meter signature. It is written as a large capital C with a line drawn vertically through it.


Da capo

Italian. (D.C.) In effect, repeat from the beginning.

Dal segno

Italian. (D.S.) In effect, repeat from the sign.


One of the notes in a scale. In effect, degrees are usually numbered, starting with the tonic.


Italian. (decresc.) In effect, a gradual decrease in loudness.


Any standard scale consists of whole and half steps in a pattern—the white keys on a piano instrument from a diatonic scale.


Italian. (dim.) In effect, gradually softer.


A combination of sounds that produce harsh. Discordant results. Furthermore, they increase the desire for resolution.


The solfeggio syllable corresponds to the tonic.


Italian. (dol.) In effect, softly, sweetly, delicately.


The fifth scale degree of a diatonic scale. Also, the solfeggio syllable Sol corresponds to the Dominant.

Double Flat

A symbol is written to the left of the note head. Also, It lowers the pitch by a whole step. It is double the effect of a single flat. In effect, the symbol looks like two flats connected.

Double Sharp

They are written to the left of a note. In effect, the double sharp raises the pitch of a note by a whole step. It is double the effect of a single sharp. The symbol looks like an X.

Duple Meter

A meter that consists of two beats.

Dynamic Accent

It is often indicated with an accent sign. In effect, this is an accent created when one note is louder than the surrounding notes.



Two tones have the same pitch but different spelling.


Italian. (express.) In effect, with expression.



The solfeggio syllable corresponds to the subdominant.


Italian. In effect, the end.


The curved shaded line extending from the head of a stem is used to indicate an eighth or shorter note.


Italian. (f.) Loud.


Italian. (ff.) Very loud.


Grand Staff

Keyboard music is frequently rotated using this combination of the treble and bass clefs. In effect, the two staves are arranged treble over the bass. Also, a long, curved, thick bar connects the two staves.


Slow, solemn, deep.


Italian. In effect, gracefully.


Half Step

The smallest interval on the standard keyboard. The interval between two adjacent keys (incl. both black and white keys) is a half step.

Harmonic Progression

Movement from one chord to the next. A succession of chords or a chord progression.


The study of simultaneously sounding tones.



A melody or melodic group is repeated at different pitch levels.


To play on the spur of the moment. Furthermore, to perform without a prepared text or composed material.


The relationship between two tones.

Interval, Compound

Any interval is greater than one octave. Furthermore, compound intervals are usually expressed as simple equivalents. (the “extra” octave is subtracted). Ex: A major tenth interval is a simple major third.

Inversion (of a melody)

An ascending interval in a melody becomes a Descending interval (and vice versa) of the same size in the inversion of the piece.

Inversion (of intervals)

The lower tone forming the interval becomes the upper tone (or vice versa).



The blues, popular songs, and other musical genres influence a popular music style. Highly sophisticated improvised melodic lines characterize jazz over chord progressions (changes) with a steady beat and considerable syncopation.



Music based on a major or minor scale is said to be in a key. Keys are identified by their tonic.

Key Signature

In effect, the arrangement of accidentals at the beginning of a staff. Also, the key signature indicates the pitches that will be most common in a piece of music. Furthermore, key signatures are associated with particular major and minor scales.



The solfeggio symbol corresponds to the submediant.


Italian. In effect, a tempo is slightly faster than largo.


Italian. In effect, a very slow tempo. In Italian, the word means broad.

Ledger Line

A small line is written above or below the staff to extend its range.


Italian. (leggo.) In effect, light, delicate.


Major Scale

A diatonic scale with half steps between the third and fourth and the seventh and eighth scale degrees.


Italian. (marc.) In effect, maked, accented.


In effect, the one-meter unit consists of some accented and unaccented beats. Also, a measure is indicated in music notation by bar lines.


In effect, an organized succession of pitches.

Meno mosso

Italian. In effect, less quickly.


The system of regularly recurring pulses. Periodic accents most often group them.

Meter Signature

A symbol is placed at the beginning of a composition to indicate the meter of the piece. Furthermore, meter signatures usually consist of two numbers. Also, the lower means the note of the value. And the upper the number of these notes per measure.

Meter, Asymmetrical

Meters in which the pulse cannot be divided into equal groupings of two, three, or four in the measure. Furthermore, the groups, instead, are uneven. Examples include 7/4, 5/4, 11/8.

Meter, Compound

In effect, a meter in which the basic pulse may be subdivided into groups of three. Furthermore, examples include 6/8, 9/8, and 12/8.

Meter, Simple

In effect, meter signatures whose upper numbers are 1,2,3, or 4. Simple meters can be divided into multiples of two(duples).


Italian. (m.f.) In effect, moderately loud.


Italian. (m.p.) In effect, moderately soft.


Mi is the solfeggio syllable that corresponds to the mediant.

Middle C

The C is nearest to the middle of the piano keyboard. In effect, this note is an essential point of reference because it is on the ledger line between the treble and bass on the ground staff.


Italian. In effect, moderate speed.

Modes, Authentic

In effect, associated with Gregorian chants. Furthermore, the Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, and Mixolydian modes are considered authentic. Each has the final as the first note.

Modes, Plagal

They are also associated with the Gregorian chants. In effect, the Hypodorian, Hypophrygian, Hypolydian, and Hypomixolydian modes extend above and below the final.


Italian. (mor.) In effect, fading away.



A symbol is written to the left of a note head. In effect, the natural cancels a previous sharp or flat.

Natural Minor Scale

The basic form of a minor scale. The natural minor contains half steps between scale Degrees 2-3 and 5-6.

Nonharmonic Tone

In effect, a tone that does not fit into the surrounding harmony.

Notation, Tablature

Notation using letters, numbers, or a diagram. In the case of guitars, lutes, and vihuela, the diagrams frequently represent the instrument’s strings.



Italian. In effect, a short musical pattern repeats throughout a given passage. Furthermore, ostinatos are generally a part of the supporting or accompanying material in a piece of music.



Italian. (p.) In effect, soft.


Italian. (p.p.) In effect, extremely soft.

Pitch class

All notes of the same name are on the keyboard.

Poco a poco

Italian. In effect, little by little.


Italian. In effect, as fast as possible. Also, faster than presto.


Italian. In effect, a very fast tempo. Also faster than allegro.

Primary Melody

In effect, the most significant melodic idea in a given musical texture.


Quadruple Meter

In effect, a meter consists of four beats.



Italian. (rall.) In effect, gradually slower.


Re is the solfeggio syllable that corresponds to the supertonic.


In effect, the movement of the music in time—furthermore a pattern of different duration over the steady background of the beat.


Italian. (rit.) In effect, gradual lessening of tempo.


Italian. In effect, immediate reduction in tempo.


In effect, a cannon in unison. One singer begins the round. Furthermore, as the first singer reaches a specific point, a second singer starts at the beginning. Also, rounds are usually in three or four parts.



In effect, a summary of the pitches in a piece of music is arranged in order from the lowest to the highest.

Sequence, Modulating

In effect, a sequence that leads from one tonal center to the next.


Italian. (sfz.) In effect, with sudden emphasis.

Simple Division

In effect, the division of the beat into two equal parts.

Simple Meter

In effect, a meter has a simple division of the beat.


In effect, the solfeggio syllable corresponds to the dominant.


Italian. In effect, a system is used to help singers to remember the pitches of a piece or section of music.


In effect, the interval distance between voices or pitches of a chord.


In effect, a group of five horizontal lines on which music is written.


In effect, the division of the beat in simple meter (div. by two) into four equal parts or in compound meter (div. by three) into six equal parts.


In effect, the rhythmic style of most jazz. In swing music. Furthermore, the division of the beats is uneven, and there is considerable stress on the notes between beats. The feeling of swing music is compound. Also, it is usually written simply.


In effect,  a rhythm usually unaccented beats are stressed either through agogic or dynamic rhythm.



In effect, The speed of the beat in music. In summary, the tempo may be expressed in general terms (slow, fast, warp-speed) or beats per minute.


Italian. The average range of a particular voice or instrument in a composition is in effect. Furthermore, If a tessitura is “high,” the notes tend to be in the higher extreme of the entire range of that voice or instrument.


In effect, a term refers to how the melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic materials are woven together in a piece of music.


In effect, a melodic figure or phrase is the basis for a composition or a section of a composition. Furthermore, themes can and are repeated in many different formats and other voices or instruments. Also, some excellent examples of thematic presentation are the closing credits for any Star Wars movie. The ending music presents all the themes presented in the film.*


Italian. In effect, the solfeggio syllable corresponds to the leading tone.


In effect, a curved line connecting two notes. Furthermore, the tie indicates that the notes are played as a single note.


In effect, a system of tones (ex: tones of the major scale). Generally, its use is so that one tone becomes central, and the remaining tones assume a hierarchy based on this interval relationship to the main tone or tonal center.


In effect, a musical sound of definite pitch.


In effect, the keynote of a piece of music. The tone is felt to be a point of rest. Music often concludes on this note for a feeling of completeness.


In summary, it is a process of rewriting a piece of music or a scale to sound higher or lower in pitch. This involves raising or lowering each pitch by the same interval.


In effect, a triad is a three-tone chord. Also, the four types of triads are major, minor, diminished, and augmented.

Triple Meter

In effect, a meter consists of three beats.



In effect, the two pitches are the same. Also, several singers sing a melody together.



Italian. In effect, lively, quick.


Whole Step

In effect, an interval consisting of two half steps.


1. Music Theory Dictionary. Published 2017. Accessed June 2, 2020.