Here are some common terms to help familiarize yourself with classical music:


Accelerando an acceleration or speeding up of the tempo of a particular section or phrase

Allegro musical term for fast and lively

Alto a singing voice that is lower than the voice of a soprano and higher than the voice of a tenor

Andante a musical term meaning in moderately slow time

Ascending a series of notes going from a low to a high pitch

Bar a division of music containing a set number of beats

Bass the lowest adult male singing voice

Beat the basic pulse of a piece of music

Chord a group of notes played at the same time in harmony

Composer the person who writes the music

Composition a work of music, literature, or art

Concertmaster the leader of the string section and is considered second-in-command of the entire orchestra, behind the conductor. He or she sits to the conductor's left, closest to the audience, in what is called the "first chair"

Concerto a musical composition for one or more solo instruments and an orchestra

Conductor the leader of the orchestra sometimes called maestro

Crescendo a build in the volume or dynamic of the music

Decrescendo gradually playing music softer

Flat a half-step lower than the corresponding note or key of natural pitch

Forte is a dynamic that means a particular part of a piece is meant to be played strongly and louder

Fortissimo is a dynamic that means a particular part of a piece is meant to be played even stronger and louder than forte

Harmony two or more notes played at the same time; in other words harmony deals with chords, simultaneous sounds, and counterpoint with melody set against melody

Interval the difference between two pitches measured by half steps. It is also defined as the distance of one note to another note

Key the fundamental note of a scale used in a piece of music. In the key of C, for example, C is the starting, or tonic, note; the music can either move away from the tonic and return, or lead to another key

Largo a musical term meaning in slow time and dignified style

Lyrics the sung words or text of a song

Natural a note that is neither flattened nor sharpened

Octave a musical interval. As in the key of C, the notes would range from C to C. The second C sounds twice as high in pitch as the fundamental note and is an octave above the pitch

Opus a musical composition numbered as one of a composer's works (usually in order of publication)

Orchestra a body of people playing various musical instruments, including stringed and wind instruments

Orchestration the art of writing for the orchestra and deciding what instruments should play which parts of the music

Overture an orchestral composition forming a prelude to an opera or ballet

Pianissimo is a dynamic that means a particular part of a piece is meant to be played softer than piano

Piano 1. a dynamic that means a particular part of a piece is meant to be played softly. 2. keyed percussion instrument

Pitch the highness/lowness of a sound or tone

Presto a musical term meaning very fast

Principal the leader of each instrumental group, such as principal trombone, is generally responsible for leading the group and playing orchestral solos

Quartet music that is written for four musicians

Rallentando a musical direction term meaning getting slower

Range how high and low an instrument can play

Rehearsal a session of practice for a performance

Reprise a return to an original theme

Rhythm the arrangement of notes according to their relative length and relative emphasis (beat)

Ritard a slowing in the tempo of a piece of music

Scale a series of notes arranged in descending or ascending order of pitch

Score the written music of an opera or other musical work

Semitone a half step or half tone, an interval midway between two whole tones

Sharp any note a semitone higher than another note. also, slightly too high in pitch

Solo playing or singing alone, as a featured performer

Sonata a musical composition for one instrument or two, usually with three or four movements

Soprano the highest female or boy's singing voice

Symphony a long elaborate musical composition (usually in several parts) for a full orchestra

Tempo the speed of the music

Tenor the highest adult male singing voice

Tone 1. an interval equal to two semitones 2. the sound quality of an instrument or voice

Trill very quick alternation of pitch between two adjacent notes

Trio an ensemble of three musicians

Tutti all, meaning that everyone should play or sing together
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