Sometimes musicians can be confusing. We tend to talk in “code” so to speak. We say things like “arpeggio” and “sostenuto” In fact, it can even seem like we are speaking in a different language. Sheet music is particularly hard to understand. What is being said? In this post I would like to give you a few musical terms that you should know if you want to be (or, at least, seem to be) knowledgeable in this area.

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Arpeggio – (pronounced with a soft G sound) This is a word you may find popping up a lot in musical conversation. It is quite difficult word for a rather simple concept. It simply means broken up. A chord can be played to ways. Either all the notes can be played at once, or they can be played one after another. A chord where the notes are not played at the same time is said to be c.

Falsetto – This term applies exclusively to vocal music. It means, essentially, to higher then one’s range normally permits. Singers that use this technique sing using different parts of there throat and mouth then they normally would. Perhaps the most well-know falsetto performance is in the song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” which is sung exclusively using this technique.

Crescendo  – I have touched on this in an earlier post, but felt it would be good to recount it here. This word applies to sheet music for all different types of music. In fact. It means to just get louder. Quite often, this will be accompanied by dynamic markings that let you know how loud you should get. The opposite of this, the decrescendo, means exactly the opposite, to get softer.

Range – Although this one is rather self-explanatory, it is a good one to know. Range defines how high and how low a particular instrument or singer can play or sing. An alto clarinet, for example, has a range of approximately G♭2 to B♭5 (for more info on this type of notation, go to this post), a span of a little over three octaves.

Legato – Literally meaning “tied-together” in Italian. This word means to play notes in a smooth, graceful manner, with no pause in between.

Staccato – This is almost the exact opposite of legato, but not quite. Staccato means to play the notes in a bouncy manner. This generally means to play the notes somewhat shorter then they are actually written in the music. For how this, and some of the other terms are marked in music, go read my Sheet Music 101 series.

Naturally there are many other musical terms out there, many of them far more complex. But this can get you started and give you some basic knowledge in how to understand the “lingo.” Hopefully you now can seem intelligent amongst a group of musicians.

Are there any musical terms that you are just dying to know the meaning of? Or is is there a word from this list that you still need help understanding? Leave a comment below and I will do my best to help you out!

Categories: Music Basics
  • marchingbandplayer101

    I have no idea what it is called but it is a sign that kind of looks like a slanted ribbon and is either in front of or behind of a note. I want to know what that does.