The basics in music terminology that you need to know

By | Posted on 24-Apr-2020

The basics in music terminology that you need to know

While you’re staying indoors, you may be taking up a brand new musical instrument as a hobby. But, whether you’re a musical master or you’re just getting started, there’s always more to learn in order to make you a proficient performer. There’s lots of music terminology to get your head around, but we’ve listed just a few of the basics you’ll be able to pick up easily, so you’ll be on your way to becoming a professional composer like Andrew Lloyd Webber or Stephen Sondheim in no time.

If you’re wanting to learn more about singing voices, then why not check out our complete guide to the different types of voices. From soprano to bass, we’ve listed examples and definitions for each type.

Music terminology to learn

WordDefinition
AdagioThe Italian word for ‘slow’, if music is instructed to be played “adagio” then it should be played slowly. If you’re wanting to listen to slow music, then why not play songs from a ballet. They’re often slower in order for the dancers to elongate and extend their controlled movements.
AllegroTranslating as ‘lively’ in Italian, if music is instructed to be played “allegro”, then it should be an upbeat, energetic number. Often, the first song in a musical is cheerful, welcoming audiences to the rose-tinted world that characters live in. Did you know that Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote a musical called Allegro?
AriaIn Italian, aria means ‘air’. But, when speaking about an aria in music terminology, they tend to describe set-pieces song in opera, showcasing a soloist. If you’ve never been to an opera before, why not book tickets for a London opera at the London Coliseum?
BalladAlthough the word translates from the Latin word ‘ballare’ meaning to dance, a musical theatre ballad typically deviates from this. It’s usually an emotional piece of music, with lyrics typically sung by a soloist or as a duet to convey a crucial part of the story’s narrative structure. Why not listen to some of the best musical theatre ballads of all time?
CrescendoHave you ever listened to the musicians play a note that gradually grows? This is the perfect example of a crescendo, a dynamic instruction that means to play louder.
DiminuendoThe exact opposite of a crescendo, a diminuendo is a dynamic instruction that means to play a note quieter, so you’ll be able to hear the note diminish to nothing, sometimes ending in silence.
ForteIf you see the word ‘forte’, you need to remember one thing; be loud. From the Italian word for ‘strong’, forte is a dynamic instruction meaning music should be played as loud as possible. The instruction appears as either: ‘f’ for loud; ‘ff’ fortissimo, meaning very loud; or ‘fff’ meaning very loud.
LeitmotifThere’s many shows that repeat musical phrases, in order for the audiences to relate music to particular characters. A leitmotif brands a character or scene with a section of music. Examples can be heard in Hamilton, Les Miserables and Wicked.
TempoEvery song has a starting tempo, as it’s the indicated speed in which a piece of music should be played. However, a song may not stay at the same tempo for its entirety, with music flexibly changing in pace, tone or dynamics.
VibratoWhen you listen to a musical theatre performer, it may sound as if the note is shaking. But, this is an example of a vibrato. It’s controlled by the singer balancing the varying pitches and the speed they’re controlling their voice. Vibratos are often expressive, adding a flourish to a note.
Photo by Marius Masalar on Unsplash