Music Notation and Terminology


Miscellaneous Terms (Continued)

Lyric—a short, song-like poem of simple character. Also applied to instrumental pieces of like character.


Marcato il canto—the melody well marked; i.e., subdue the accompaniment so that the melody may stand out strongly.

Melos—melody. This word melos is also applied to the peculiar style of vocal solo found in Wagner's music dramas. See recitative (, Sec. 170).

Mellifluous—pleasing; pleasant sounding.

Menuetto, menuet—same as minuet. (See , Sec. 151.)

Mezzo soprano—a woman's voice of soprano quality, but of somewhat lower compass than the soprano voice. Range approximately b to g''.


Nocturne (sometimes spelled nocturn, notturna, nokturne, etc.)—a night piece; a quiet, melodious, somewhat sentimental composition, usually for piano solo.

Nuance—delicate shading; subtle variations in tempo and dynamics which make the rendition of music more expressive.

Obbligato (sometimes incorrectly spelled obligato)—an accessory melody accompanying harmonized music, (usually vocal music).

The word obbligato (It. bound, or obliged) refers to the fact that this is usually a melody of independent value, so important that it cannot be omitted in a complete performance.

Offertory (sometimes spelled offertoire, or offertorium)—a piece of music played or sung during the taking up of the offering in the church service. The word is often applied by composers to any short, simple piece of music (usually for organ) that is suitable for the above purpose.

Opus—work; used by composers to designate the order in which their compositions were written, as e.g., Beethoven, Op. 2, No. 1.

Orchestration—the art of writing for the orchestra, this implying an intimate knowledge of the range, quality, and possibilities of all the orchestral instruments.

Ossia—or else; used most often to call the attention of the performer to a simpler passage that may be substituted for the original one by a player whose skill is not equal to the task he is attempting to perform.

Overture—(from overt—open)—an instrumental prelude to an opera or oratorio. The older overtures were independent compositions and bore no particular relation to the work which was to follow, but in modern music (cf. Wagner, Strauss, etc.), the overture introduces the principal themes that are to occur in the work itself, and the introduction thus becomes an integral part of the work as a whole. The word overture is sometimes applied to independent orchestral compositions that have no connection with vocal works, as the Hebrides Overture by Mendelssohn.

Pizzicato—plucked. A term found in music for stringed instruments, and indicating that for the moment the bow is not to be used, the tone being secured by plucking the string.

Polacca—a Polish dance in three-quarter measure.

Polonaise—same as polacca.

Postlude—(lit. after-play)—an organ composition to be played at the close of a church service.

Prelude—(lit. before-play)—an instrumental composition to be played at the beginning of a church service, or before some larger work (opera, etc.). The term is also applied to independent piano compositions of somewhat indefinite form. (Cf. preludes by Chopin, Rachmaninoff, etc.)

Prière—a prayer; a term often applied (especially by French composers) to a quiet, devotional composition for organ.

Quintole, quintuplet—a group of five notes to be performed in the time ordinarily given to four notes of the same value. There is only one accent in the group, this occurring of course on the first of the five tones.

Religioso, religiosamente—in a devotional style.

Requiem—the mass for the dead in the Roman Catholic service. It is so called from its first word requiem which means rest. (See , Sec. 165.)

Rhapsody—an irregular instrumental composition of the nature of an improvisation. A term first applied by Liszt to a series of piano pieces based on gypsy themes.

Ribattuta—a device in instrumental music whereby a two-note phrase is gradually accelerated, even to the extent of becoming a trill. (See Appendix E, p. 150, for an example.)

Ritornello, ritornelle—a short instrumental prelude, interlude, or postlude, in a vocal composition, as e.g., in an operatic aria or chorus.

Schottische—a dance in two-quarter measure, something like the polka.

Sec, secco—dry, unornamented: applied to a style of opera recitative (see , Sec. 170), and also to some particular chord in an instrumental composition which is to be sounded and almost instantly dropped.

Score—a term used in two senses:

1. To designate some particular point to which teacher or conductor wishes to call attention; as e.g., "Begin with the lower score, third measure." The word brace is also frequently used in this sense.

2. To refer to all the parts of a composition that are to be performed simultaneously, when they have been assembled on a single page for use by a chorus or orchestral conductor. The term vocal score usually means all chorus parts together with an accompaniment arranged for piano or organ, while the terms full score and orchestral score refer to a complete assemblage of all parts, each being printed on a separate staff, but all staffs being braced and barred together.

Senza replica, senza repetizione—without repetition; a term used in connection with such indications as D.C., D.S., etc., which often call for the repetition of some large division of a composition, the term senza replica indicating that the smaller repeats included within the larger division are not to be observed the second time.

Serenade, serenata—an evening song.

Sextet—a composition for six voices or instruments.

Sextuplet—a group of six notes to be performed in the time ordinarily given to four of the same value. The sextuplet differs from a pair of triplets in having but one accent.

Simile, similiter—the same; indicating that the same general effect is to be continued.

Solfeggio, solfège—a vocal exercise sung either on simple vowels or on arbitrary syllables containing these simple vowel sounds. Its purpose is to develop tone quality and flexibility. These terms are also often applied to classes in sight-singing which use the sol-fa syllables.


Soprano—the highest female voice. Range approximately b—c'''.

Sostenuto—sustained or connected; the opposite of staccato.

Sotto—under. E.g., sotto voce—under the voice, i.e., with subdued tone.

Solmization—sight-singing by syllable.

Staccato—detached; the opposite of legato.


Tenor—the highest male voice. Range approximately d—c''.

Tenuto—(from teneo, to hold)—a direction signifying that the tones are to be prolonged to the full value indicated by the notes.

Toccata—a brilliant composition for piano or organ, usually characterized by much rapid staccato playing.

Triplet—a group of three tones, to be performed in the time ordinarily given to two of the same value. The first tone of the triplet is always slightly accented.

Tutti—(derived from totus, toti, Latin—all)—a direction signifying that all performers are to take part. Also used occasionally to refer to a passage where all performers do take part.

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