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Glossary of musical terminology

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Glossary of musical terminology

This is a list of musical terms that are likely to be encountered in printed scores, music reviews, and program notes. Most of the terms are Italian (see also Italian musical terms used in English), in accordance with the Italian origins of many European musical conventions. Sometimes, the special musical meanings of these phrases differ from the original or current Italian meanings. Most of the other terms are taken from French and German, indicated by "(Fr)" and "(Ger)", respectively. Others are from languages such as Portuguese, Latin, and Spanish.

Unless specified, the terms are Italian or English. The list can never be complete: some terms are common, and others are used only occasionally, and new ones are coined from time to time. Some composers prefer terms from their own language rather than the standard terms listed here.

A

a or à (Fr)
at, to, by, for, in, in the style of...
a 2
see a due
a battuta
Return to normal tempo after a deviation. Not recommended in string parts, due to possible confusion with battuto (qv.); use a tempo, which means the same thing.
ab (Ger)
off, organ stops or mutes
abafando (Port)
muffled, muted
abandon or avec (Fr)
free, unrestrained, passionate
abbandonatamente, con abbandono
free, relaxed
aber (Ger)
but
a bene placito
Up to the performer
a cappella
In the manner of singing in a chapel (i.e. without instrumental accompaniment)
a capriccio
A free and capricious approach to tempo
accarezzévole
Expressive and caressing
accelerando (accel.)
Accelerating; gradually increasing the tempo
accelerato
suddenly increasing the tempo
accent
Emphasize, make a particular part more important
accentato/accentuato
Accented; with emphasis
acceso
Ignited, on fire
acciaccato
Broken down, crushed; the sounding of the notes of a chord not quite simultaneously, but from bottom to top.
acciaccatura
Crushing (i.e. a very fast grace note that is "crushed" against the note that follows and takes up no value in the measure)
accompagnato
Accompanied (i.e. with the accompaniment following the soloist, who may speed up or slow down at will)
accuratezza
Precision; accuracy con accuratezza: with precision
acoustic
Relating to music produced by instruments, as opposed to electric or electronic means
adagietto
Rather slow (but faster than adagio)
adagio
At ease (i.e. play slowly)
adagissimo
Very, very slow
ad libitum (commonly ad lib; Latin)
At liberty (i.e. the speed and manner of execution are left to the performer)
a due
intended as a duet; for two voices or instruments; together; two instruments are to play in unison after a solo passage for one of the instruments
affannato, affannoso
Anguished
affetto or con affetto
with affect (that is, with emotion)
affettuoso, affettuosamente, or affectueusement (Fr)
With affect (that is, with emotion); see also con affetto
affrettando
Hurrying, pressing onwards
agile
Swiftly
agitato
Agitated
al or alla
To the, in the manner of (al before masculine nouns, alla before feminine)
alla breve
In cut-time; two beats per measure or the equivalent thereof
alla marcia
In the style of a march
alla polacca
In the style of a Polonaise
allargando
Broadening, becoming a little slower each time
allegretto
A little lively, moderately fast
allegretto vivace
A moderately quick tempo
allegrezza
Cheerfulness, joyfulness
allegro
Cheerful or brisk; but commonly interpreted as lively, fast
allegrissimo
Very fast, though slower than presto
all' ottava
"at the octave", see ottava
als (Ger)
Than
alt (English), alt dom, or altered dominant
A jazz term which instructs chord-playing musicians such as a jazz pianist or jazz guitarist to perform a dominant (V7) chord with altered upper extensions (e.g. sharp 11th, flat 13th, etc.).
altissimo
Very high
alto
High; often refers to a particular range of voice, higher than a tenor but lower than a soprano
alzate sordini
Lift or raise the mutes (i.e. remove mutes)
am Steg (Ger)
At the bridge (i.e. playing a bowed string instrument near its bridge, which produces a heavier, stronger tone). See sul ponticello.
amabile
Amiable, pleasant
amore or amor (in Spanish/Portuguese and sometimes in Italian)
Love, con amore: with love, tenderly
amoroso
Loving
anacrusis
A note or notes that precede the first full bar; a pickup
andamento
Used to refer to a fugue subject of above-average length
andante
At a walking pace (i.e. at a moderate tempo)
andantino
Slightly faster than andante (but earlier it is sometimes used to mean slightly slower than andante)
anima
Life; feeling con anima : With feeling
ängstlich (Ger.)
Anxiously
a niente
To nothing; an indication to make a diminuendo which fades to pppp
a nessuna cosa
To nothing; an indication to hold a fermata until it dies away (this only works with instruments which cannot sustain a note)
anima
Feeling
animandosi
Animated, lively
animato
Animated, lively
antiphon
A liturgical or other composition consisting of choral responses, sometimes between two choirs; a passage of this nature forming part of another composition; a repeated passage in a psalm or other liturgical piece, similar to a refrain.[1]
apaisé (Fr)
Calmed
a piacere
At pleasure (i.e. the performer need not follow the rhythm strictly, for example in a cadenza)
appassionato
Passionately
appoggiatura or leaning note
One or more grace notes that take up some note value of the next full note.
a prima vista
Sight-read (lit. "at first sight") (i.e. played or sung from written notation but without prior review of the written material)
arco
The bow used for playing some string instrument (i.e. played with the bow, as opposed to pizzicato, in music for bowed instruments); normally used to cancel a pizzicato direction
aria
Self-contained piece for one voice usually with orchestral accompaniment
arietta
A short aria
arioso
Airy, or like an air (a melody) (i.e. in the manner of an aria); melodious
armonioso
Harmoniously
arpeggio
like a harp (i.e. the notes of the chords are to be played quickly one after another instead of simultaneously). In music for piano, this is sometimes a solution in playing a wide-ranging chord whose notes cannot be played otherwise. Arpeggios are frequently used as an accompaniment. See also broken chord.
arpeggiato
A way of playing a chord: starting with the lowest note, and with successively higher notes rapidly joining in. Sometimes the effect is reversed, so that the highest note is played first.
articulato
Articulately
assai
Much, Very much
assez (Fr)
Enough, sufficiently
a tempo
In time (i.e. the performer should return to the main tempo of the piece, such as after an accelerando or ritardando); also may be found in combination with other terms such as a tempo giusto (in strict time) or a tempo di menuetto (at the speed of a minuet)
attacca
Attack or attach; go straight on (i.e. at the end of a movement, a direction to attach the next movement to the previous one, without a gap or pause)
Ausdruck (Ger)
Expression
ausdrucksvoll or mit Ausdruck (Ger)
Expressively, with expression
avec (Fr)
With or with another

B

B
German for B flat (also in Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Icelandic, Danish, Croatian, Estonian and Hungarian); H in German is B natural
ballabile
(from the Italian Ballabile meaning "danceable") In ballet the term refers to a dance performed by the corps de ballet. The term Grand ballabile is used if nearly all participants (including principal characters) of a particular scene in a full-length work perform a large-scale dance.
barbaro
Barbarous (notably used in Allegro barbaro by Béla Bartók)
Bartók pizzicato
A term that instructs string performers to play a pizzicato note to pull the string away from the fingerboard so that it snaps back percussively on the fingerboard.
bass
The lowest of the standard four voice ranges (bass, tenor, alto, soprano); the lowest melodic line in a musical composition, often thought of as defining and supporting the harmony; in an orchestral context, the term usually refers to the double bass.
basso continuo
Continuous bass (i.e. a bass part played continuously throughout a piece to give harmonic structure), used especially in the Baroque period
battement (Fr.)
Used in the 17th-century to refer to ornaments consisting of two adjacent notes, such as trills or mordents
battuto (It.)
To strike the strings with the bow (on a bowed stringed instrument)
beat
1. The pronounced rhythm of music
2. One single stroke of a rhythmic accent
belebt or belebter (Ger)
Spirited, vivacious, lively
bellicoso
Warlike, aggressive
ben or bene
Well; in ben marcato ("well marked") for example
bend
Jazz term referring either to establishing a pitch, sliding down half a step and returning to the original pitch or sliding up half a step from the original note.
beschleunigte (Ger)
Accelerated, as in mit beschleunigter Geschwindigkeit, at an accelerated tempo
bewegt (Ger)
Moved, with speed
binary
A musical form in two sections: AB
bird's eye
A slang term for fermata, which instructs the performer to hold a note or chord as long as they wish
bis (Lat)
Twice (i.e. repeat the relevant action or passage)
bisbigliando
Whispering (i.e. a special tremolo effect on the harp where a chord or note is rapidly repeated at a low volume)
bocca chiusa
with closed mouth
bravura
Boldness; as in con bravura, boldly
breit (Ger)
Broad
bridge
Transitional passage connecting two sections of a composition, also transition. Also the part of a stringed instrument that holds the strings in place and transmits their vibrations to the resonant body of the instrument.
brillante
Brilliantly, with sparkle
brio, brioso
Vigour; usually in con brio: with spirit or vigour
broken chord
A chord in which the notes are not all played at once, but in some more or less consistent sequence. They may follow singly one after the other, or two notes may be immediately followed by another two, for example. See also arpeggio, which as an accompaniment pattern may be seen as a kind of broken chord; see Alberti bass.
bruscamente
Brusquely

C

cadenza
A solo section, usually in a concerto or similar work, that is used to display the performer's technique, sometimes at considerable length
calando
Falling away, or lowering (i.e. getting slower and quieter; ritardando along with diminuendo)
calma
Calm; so con calma, calmly. Also calmato meaning calmed, relaxed
calore
Warmth; so con calore, warmly
cambiare
To change (i.e. any change, such as to a new instrument)
canto
Chorus; choral; chant
canon or kanon (Ger)
A theme that is repeated and imitated and built upon by other instruments with a time delay, creating a layered effect; see Pachelbel's Canon.
cantabile or cantando
In a singing style. In instrumental music, a style of playing that imitates the way the human voice might express the music, with a measured tempo and flexible, legato.
Capo
1. (short for capotasto: "nut") : A key-changing device for stringed instruments (e.g. guitars and banjos)
2. head (i.e. the beginning)
capriccio
"A humorous, fanciful, or bizarre, composition, often characterized by an idiosyncratic departure from current stylistic norms."[2] See also: Capriccio
capriccioso
Capriciously, unpredictable, volatile
cédez (Fr)
Yield, give way
cesura or caesura (Latin)
Break, stop; (i.e. a complete break in sound) (sometimes nicknamed "railroad tracks" in reference to their appearance)
chiuso
Closed (i.e. muted by hand) (for a horn, or similar instrument; but see also bocca chiusa, which uses the feminine form)
coda
A tail (i.e. a closing section appended to a movement)
codetta
A small coda, but usually applied to a passage appended to a section of a movement, not to a whole movement
col or colla
with the (col before a masculine noun, colla before a feminine noun); (see next for example)
colla parte
With the soloist; as an instruction in an orchestral score or part, it instructs the conductor or orchestral musician to follow the rhythm and tempo of a solo performer (usually for a short passage)
colla voce
With the voice; as an instruction in a choral music/opera score or orchestral part, it instructs the conductor or orchestral musician to follow the rhythm and tempo of a solo singer (usually for a short passage)
coll'ottava
With the addition of the octave note above or below the written note; abbreviated as col 8, coll' 8, and c. 8va
col legno
With the wood (i.e. the strings) (for example, of a violin) are to be struck with the wood of the bow, making a percussive sound; also battuta col legno: beaten with the wood
coloratura
Coloration (i.e. elaborate ornamentation of a vocal line, or a soprano voice that is well-suited to such elaboration)
colossale
Tremendously
col pugno
With the fist (i.e. bang the piano with the fist)
come prima
Like the first (time) (i.e. as before, typically referring to an earlier tempo)
come sopra
As above (i.e. like the previous tempo)
common time
The time signature 4/4: four beats per measure, each beat a quarter note (a crotchet) in length. 4/4 is often written on the musical staff as common time. The symbol is not a C as an abbreviation for common time, but a broken circle; the full circle at one time stood for triple time, 3/4.
comodo
Comfortable (i.e. at moderate speed); also, allegro comodo, tempo comodo, etc.
con
With; used in very many musical directions, for example con allegrezza (with liveliness), con amore (with tenderness); (see also col and colla)
con sordina or con sordine (plural)
With a mute, or with mutes, See Sordina. Frequently seen in music as (incorrect Italian) con sordino, or con sordini (plural).
conjunct
An adjective applied to a melodic line that moves by step (intervals of a 2nd) rather in disjunct motion (by leap).
contralto
Lowest female singing voice type
contrapuntalism
See counterpoint
corda
String. On piano refers to use of the soft pedal which controls whether the hammer strikes one or three strings; see una corda, tre corde below.
coperti
(plural of coperto) covered (i.e. on a drum, muted with a cloth)
crescendo
Growing; (i.e. progressively louder) (contrast diminuendo)
cuivré
Brassy. Used almost exclusively as a French Horn technique to indicate a forced, rough tone. A note marked both stopped and loud will be cuivré automatically[1]
custos
Symbol at the very end of a staff of music which indicates the pitch for the first note of the next line as a warning of what is to come. The custos was commonly used in handwritten Renaissance and typeset Baroque music.
cut time
Same as the meter 2/2: two half-note (minim) beats per measure. Notated and executed like common time (4/4), except with the beat lengths doubled. Indicated by cut time. This comes from a literal cut of the common time symbol of common time. Thus, a quarter note in cut time is only half a beat long, and a measure has only two beats. See also alla breve.

D

da capo
From the head (i.e. from the beginning) (see capo)
Dal Segno (D.S.)
, from the sign ()
dal segno al coda (D.S. al coda)
Repeat back to the sign
dal segno al fine (D.S. al fine)
From the sign to the end (i.e. return to a place in the music designated by the sign Segno and continue to the end of the piece)
dal segno segno al coda (D.S.S. al coda)
Same as D.S. al coda, but with a double segno
dal segno segno al fine (D.S.S. al fine)
From the double sign to the end (i.e. return to place in the music designated by the double sign (see D.S. al coda) and continue to the end of the piece)
deciso
Decisively
decelerando
Slowing down; decelerating; opposite of accelerando (same as ritardando or rallentando)
declamando
Solemn, expressive, impassioned
decrescendo (decresc.)
Same as diminuendo
deest
From the Latin deesse meaning to be missing; placed after a catalogue abbreviation to indicate that this particular work does not appear in it.[3] The plural, desunt, is used when referring to several works.
delicatamente or delicato
Delicately
détaché
(French) act of playing notes separately
devoto
Religiously
diminuendo, dim.
Dwindling (i.e. with gradually decreasing volume) (same as decrescendo)
disjunct
An adjective applied to a melodic line which moves by leap (intervals of more than a 2nd) as opposed to conjunct motion (by step)
dissonante
Dissonant
divisi (div.)
Divided (i.e. in a part in which several musicians normally play exactly the same notes they are instead to split the playing of the written simultaneous notes among themselves). It is most often used for string instruments, since with them another means of execution is often possible. (The return from divisi is marked unisono: see unison.)
doit
Jazz term referring to a note that slides to an indefinite pitch chromatically upwards.
dolce
Sweetly
dolcissimo
Very sweetly
dolente
Sorrowfully, plaintively
dolore
Pain, distress, sorrow, grief con dolore: with sadness
doloroso
Sorrowfully, plaintively
doppio movimento
Twice as fast
double stop
The technique of playing two notes simultaneously on a bowed string instrument
double dot
Two dots placed side by side after a note to indicate that it is to be lengthened by three quarters of its value.
downtempo
A slow, moody, or decreased tempo or played or done in such a tempo. It also refers to a genre of electronic music based on this (downtempo).
drammatico
Dramatically
drone
Bass note or chord performed continuously throughout a composition
drop
Jazz term referring to a note that slides to an indefinite pitch chromatically downwards
Dur (Ger)
major; used in key signatures as, for example, A-Dur (A major), B-Dur (B major), or H-Dur (B major). (see also Moll (minor).)
duolo
(Ital) grief
dumpf (Ger)
Dull
dynamics
The relative volume in the execution of a piece of music

E

e (Ital) or ed (Ital – used before vowels)
And
eco
The Italian word for "echo"; an effect in which a group of notes is repeated, usually more softly, and perhaps at a different octave, to create an echo effect
ein wenig (Ger)
A little
Empfindung (Ger)
Feeling
encore (Fr)
Again (i.e. perform the relevant passage once more)
en dehors (Fr)
Prominently
energico
Energetic, strong
enfatico
Emphatically
en pressant (Fr)
Hurrying forward
en retenant (Fr)
Slowing
eroico
Heroically
espansivo
Effusive; excessive in emotional expression; gushy.
espirando
Expiring (i.e. dying away)
espressione
Expression; expressively (e.g. con (gran, molta) espressione: with (great, much) expression)
espressivo or espr.
Expressively
estinto
Extinct, extinguished (i.e. as soft as possible, lifeless, barely audible)
etwas (Ger)
Somewhat

F

facile
Easily, without fuss
fall
Jazz term describing a note of definite pitch sliding downwards to another note of definite pitch.
falsetto
vocal register above the normal voice
feierlich (Ger)
Solemn, solemnly
fermata
Finished, closed (i.e. a rest or note is to be held for a duration that is at the discretion of the performer or conductor) (sometimes called bird's eye); a fermata at the end of a first or intermediate movement or section is usually moderately prolonged, but the final fermata of a symphony may be prolonged for longer than the note's value, typically twice its printed length or more for dramatic effect.
feroce
Ferociously
feurig (Ger)
Fiery
festivamente
Cheerfully, celebratory
fieramente
Proudly
fil di voce
"thread of voice", very quiet, pianissimo
fill (English)
A jazz or rock term which instructs performers to improvise a scalar passage or riff to "fill in" the brief time between lyrical phrases, the lines of melody, or between two sections
fine
The end, often in phrases like al fine (to the end)
flat
A symbol () that lowers the pitch of a note by a semitone. The term may also be used as an adjective to describe a situation where a singer or musician is performing a note in which the intonation is an eighth or a quarter of a semitone too low.
flautando or flautendo
Flutelike; used especially for string instruments to indicate a light, rapid bowing over the fingerboard
flebile
Mournfully
focoso or fuocoso
Fiery (i.e. passionately)
forte (f)
Strong (i.e. to be played or sung loudly)
forte piano (fp)
Strong-gentle (i.e. loud, then immediately soft (see dynamics), or an early pianoforte)
fortissimo (ff)
Very loud (see note at pianissimo)
fortississimo (fff)
As loud as possible
forza
Musical force con forza: with force
forzando (fz)
See sforzando
freddo
Cold(ly); hence depressive, unemotional
fresco
Freshly
fröhlich
Lively, joyfully
fugue (Fr), fuga (Latin and Italian)
Literally "flight"; hence a complex and highly regimented contrapuntal form in music. A short theme (the subject) is introduced in one voice (or part) alone, then in others, with imitation and characteristic development as the piece progresses.
funebre
Funeral; often seen as marcia funebre (funeral march), indicating a stately and plodding tempo.
fuoco
Fire; con fuoco: with fire, in a fiery manner
furia
Fury
furioso
Furiously

G

G.P.
Grand Pause, General Pause; indicates to the performers that the entire ensemble has a rest of indeterminate length, often as a dramatic effect during a loud section
gaudioso
With joy
gemächlich (Ger)
Unhurried, at a leisurely pace
gemendo
Groaningly
gentile
Gently
geschwind (Ger)
Quickly
geteilt (Ger)
See divisi
getragen (Ger)
Solemnly, in a stately tempo
giocoso or gioioso
Gaily
giusto
Strictly, exactly (e.g. tempo giusto in strict time)
glissando
A continuous sliding from one pitch to another (a true glissando), or an incidental scale executed while moving from one melodic note to another (an effective glissando). See glissando for further information; and compare portamento.
grace note
An extra note added as an embellishment and not essential to the harmony or melody.
grandioso
Grandly
grave
Slowly and seriously
grazioso
Gracefully
gustoso
With happy emphasis and forcefulness

H

H
German for B natural; B in German means B flat
Hauptstimme (Ger)
Main voice, chief part (i.e. the contrapuntal line of primary importance, in opposition to Nebenstimme)
hemiola (English, from Greek)
The imposition of a pattern of rhythm or articulation other than that implied by the time signature; specifically, in triple time (for example in 3/4) the imposition of a duple pattern (as if the time signature were, for example, 2/4). See Syncopation.
hervortretend (Ger)
Prominent, pronounced
Hold, see Fermata
Homophony
A musical texture with one voice (or melody line) accompanied by chords; also used as an adjective (homophonic). Compare with polyphony, in which several voices or melody lines are performed at the same time.

I

immer (Ger)
Always
imperioso
Imperiously
impetuoso
Impetuously
improvvisando
With improvisation
improvvisato
Improvised, or as if improvised
in alt
octave above the treble staff, G5 to F6[4]
in altissimo
Octave above the in alt octave, G6 to F7
incalzando
Getting faster and louder
innig
Intimately, heartfelt
insistendo
Insistently, deliberate
in modo di
In the art of, in the style of
intimo
Intimately
intro
Opening section
irato
Angrily
in stand
A term for brass players that requires them to direct the bell of their instrument into the music stand, instead of up and toward the audience, thus muting the sound but without changing the timbre as a mute would[5]
-issimo
A suffix meaning extremely (e.g. fortissimo or prestissimo)
-issimamente
A suffix meaning as ... as can be (e.g. leggerissimamente, meaning as light as can be)

J

Jazz standard (or simply "standard")
A well-known composition from the jazz repertoire which is widely played and recorded.
jete (French
jeté) : Jump; a bowing technique in which the player is instructed to let the bow bounce or jump off the strings.

K

keyboardist (Eng)
A musician who plays any instrument with a keyboard. In Classical music, this may refer to instruments such as the piano, pipe organ, harpsichord, and so on. In a jazz or popular music context, this may refer to instruments such as the piano, electric piano, synthesizer, Hammond organ, and so on.
kräftig (Ger)
Strongly
Klangfarbenmelodie (Ger)
"tone-color-melody", distribution of pitch or melody among instruments, varying timbre

L

lacrimoso or lagrimoso
Tearfully (i.e. sadly)
laissez vibrer, l.v. (Fr)
French for lasciare suonare ("let vibrate").
lamentando
Lamenting, mournfully
lamentoso
Lamenting, mournfully
langsam (Ger)
Slowly
largamente
Broadly (i.e. slowly) (same as largo)
larghetto
Somewhat slowly; not as slow as largo
larghezza
Broadness; con larghezza: with broadness; broadly
larghissimo
Very slowly; slower than largo
largo
Broadly (i.e. slowly)
leap or skip
A melodic interval greater than a major 2nd, as opposed to a step. Melodies which move by a leap are called "disjunct". Octave leaps are not uncommon in florid vocal music.
lasciare suonare
"Let ring", meaning allow the sound to continue, do not damp; used frequently in harp or guitar music, occasionally in piano or percussion. Abbreviated "lasc. suon."
lebhaft (Ger)
Briskly, lively
legato
Joined (i.e. smoothly, in a connected manner) (see also articulation)
leggiero, leggiermente or leggiadro
Lightly, delicately (The different forms of this word, including leggierezza, "lightness", are properly spelled in Italian as legger, without the i.)
leggierissimo
Very lightly and delicately
leidenschaftlich(er) (Ger)
Passionately
lent (Fr)
Slowly
lentando
Gradual slowing and softer
lentissimo
Very slowly
lento
Slowly
liberamente
Freely
libero
Free, freely
lilt
A jaunty rhythm
loco
[in] place (i.e. perform the notes at the pitch written, generally used to cancel an 8va or 8vb direction). In string music, also used to indicate return to normal playing position (see Playing the violin).[1]
long accent
Hit hard and keep full value of note (>)
lontano
From a distance; distantly
lo stesso
The same; applied to the manner of articulation, tempo, etc.
lo stesso tempo (or l'istesso tempo)
The same tempo, despite changes of time signature, see metric modulation
lugubre
Lugubrious, mournful
luminoso
Luminously
lunga
Long (often applied to a fermata)
lusingando
Coaxingly

M

ma
But
ma non troppo, ma non tanto
But not too much
maestoso
Majestically, in a stately fashion
magico
Magically
maggiore
The major key
magnifico
Magnificent
main droite (French)
[played with the] right hand (abbreviation: MD or m.d.)
main gauche (French)
[played with the] left hand (abbreviation: MG or m.g.)
malinconico
Melancholic
mancando
Dying away
mano destra
[played with the] right hand (abbreviation: MD or m.d.)
mano sinistra
[played with the] left hand (abbreviation: MS or m.s.)
marcatissimo
With much accentuation
marcato, marc.
Marked (i.e. with accentuation, execute every note as if it were to be accented)
marcia
A march; alla marcia means in the manner of a march
martellato
Hammered out
marziale
Martial, solemn and fierce
mässig (German)
Moderately (also: mäßig)
MD
See mano destra or main droite
melancolico
Melancholic
melisma
The technique of changing the note (pitch) of a syllable of text while it is being sung
measure (US)
Also "bar" the period of a musical piece that encompasses a complete cycle of the time signature (e.g. in 4/4 time, a measure has four quarter note beats)
medesimo tempo
Same tempo, despite changes of time signature
medley
Piece composed from parts of existing pieces, usually three, played one after another, sometimes overlapping.
meno
Less; see meno mosso, for example, less mosso
messa di voce
In singing, a controlled swell (i.e. crescendo then diminuendo, on a long held note, especially in Baroque music and in the bel canto period)[1]
mesto
Mournful, sad
meter or metre
The pattern of a music piece's rhythm of strong and weak beats
mezza voce
Half voice (i.e. with subdued or moderated volume)
mezzo
Half; used in combinations like mezzo forte (mf), meaning moderately loud
mezzo forte
Half loudly (i.e. moderately loudly). See dynamics.
mezzo piano
Half softly (i.e. moderately softly). See dynamics.
mezzo-soprano
A female singer with a range usually extending from the A below middle C to the F an eleventh above middle C. Mezzo-sopranos generally have a darker vocal tone than sopranos, and their vocal range is between that of a soprano and that of an contralto.
MG
See main gauche
misterioso
Mysteriously
mit Dämpfer (Ger)
With a mute
M.M.
Metronome Marking. Formerly "Mälzel Metronome." [6]
mobile
Flexible, changeable
moderato
Moderate; often combined with other terms, usually relating to tempo; for example, allegro moderato
modere (Fr)
Moderately
modesto
Modest
modulation
The act or process of changing from one key (tonic, or tonal center) to another. This may or may not be accompanied by a change in key signature.
Moll (German)
minor; used in key signatures as, for example, a-Moll (A minor), b-Moll (B minor), or h-Moll (B minor) (see also Dur (major))
molto
Very
mordent
Rapid alternation of a note with the note immediately below or above it in the scale, sometimes further distinguished as lower mordent and upper mordent. The term "inverted mordent" usually refers to the upper mordent.
morendo
Dying (i.e. dying away in dynamics, and perhaps also in tempo)
mosso
Moved, moving; used with a preceding più or meno, for faster or slower respectively
MS
See mano sinistra
moto
Motion; usually seen as con moto, meaning with motion or quickly
movement
A section of a musical composition (such as a sonata or concerto)
munter (German)
Lively
Musette (Fr)
A dance or tune of a drone-bass character, originally played by a musette
muta [in...]
Change: either a change of instrument (e.g. flute to piccolo, horn in F to horn in Bb); or a change of tuning (e.g. guitar muta 6 in D). Note: does not mean "mute", for which con sordina or con sordino is used.[1] Muta comes from the Italian verb mutare (to change into something).

N

nach und nach (Ger)
Literally "more and more" with an increasing feeling. Ex. "nach und nach belebter und leidenschaftlicher" (with increasing animation and passion)
narrante
Narratingly
natural
A symbol () that cancels the effect of a sharp or a flat
naturale (nat.)
Natural (i.e. discontinue a special effect, such as col legno, sul tasto, sul ponticello, or playing in harmonics)
N.C.
No chord, written in the chord row of music notation to show there is no chord being played, and no implied harmony
Nebenstimme (Ger)
Secondary part (i.e. a secondary contrapuntal part, always occurring simultaneously with, and subsidiary to, the Hauptstimme)
nicht (Ger)
Not
niente
"nothing", barely audible, dying away
nobile or nobilmente
In a noble fashion
nocturne (Fr)
A piece written for the night
notes inégales (Fr)
Unequal notes; a principally Baroque performance practice of applying long-short rhythms to pairs of notes written as equal; see also swung note
notturno
See nocturne.
number opera
An opera consisting of "numbers" (e.g. arias, intermixed with recitative)

O

obbligato
Required, indispensable
octave
Interval between one musical pitch and another with half or double its frequency. Twelve semitones equals an octave, so does the first and eighth (hence "oct"ave) note in a major or minor scale.
ohne Dämpfer (Ger)
Without a mute
omaggio
Homage, celebration
one-voice-per-part (OVPP)
The practice of using solo voices on each musical line or part in choral music.
ordinario (ord.) (It.)
In bowed string music, an indication to discontinue extended techniques such as sul ponticello, sul tasto or col legno, and return to normal playing. The same as "naturale".
organ trio
In jazz or rock, a group of three musicians which includes a electric guitar player and a drummer.
ossia or oppure
Or instead (i.e. according to some specified alternative way of performing a passage, which is marked with a footnote, additional small notes, or an additional staff)
ostinato
Obstinate, persistent (i.e. a short musical pattern that is repeated throughout an entire composition or portion of a composition)
ottava
Octave (e.g. ottava bassa: an octave lower)

P

parlando or parlante
Like speech, enunciated
Partitur (Ger)
Full orchestral score
passionato
Passionately
pastorale
In a pastoral style, peaceful and simple
pausa
rest
pedale or ped
In piano scores, this instructs the player to press the damper pedal to sustain the note or chord being played. The player may be instructed to release the pedal with an asterisk marking (*). In organ scores, it tells the organist that a section is to be performed on the bass pedalboard with the feet.
penseroso
Thoughtfully, meditatively
perdendosi
Dying away; decrease in dynamics, perhaps also in tempo
pesante
Heavy, ponderous
peu à peu (Fr)
Little by little
pezzo
A composition
pianissimo (pp)
very gently (i.e. perform very softly, even softer than piano). This convention can be extended; the more ps that are written, the softer the composer wants the musician to play or sing, thus ppp (pianississimo) would be softer than pp. Dynamics in a piece should be interpreted relative to the other dynamics in the same piece. For example, pp should be executed as softly as possible, but if ppp is found later in the piece, pp should be markedly louder than ppp. More than three ps (ppp) or three fs (fff) are uncommon.
piano (p)
Gently (i.e. played or sung softly) (see dynamics)
piano-vocal score
The same as a vocal score, a piano arrangement along with the vocal parts of an opera, cantata, or similar
piangendo
Literally 'crying' (used in Liszt's La Lugubre Gondola no. 2).
piacevole
Pleasant, agreeable
piangevole
Plaintive:
Picardy third
A Picardy third, Picardy cadence (ˈpɪkərdi ) or, in French, tierce picarde is a harmonic device used in Western classical music.It refers to the use of a major chord of the tonic at the end of a musical section that is either modal or in a minor key.
pienna (It.)
Full, as, for example, a voce pienna = "in full voice"
pietoso
Pitiful, piteous
più
More; see mosso
piuttosto
Rather, somewhat (e.g. allegro piuttosto presto)
pizzicato
Pinched, plucked (i.e. in music for bowed strings, plucked with the fingers as opposed to played with the bow; compare arco, which is inserted to cancel a pizzicato instruction; in music for guitar, to mute the strings by resting the palm on the bridge, simlulating the sound of pizz. of the bowed string instruments)
plop
Jazz term referring to a note that slides to an indefinite pitch chromatically downwards.
pochettino or poch.
Very little
poco
A little, as in poco più allegro (a little faster)
poco a poco
Little by little
poetico
Poetic discourse
poi
Then, indicating a subsequent instruction in a sequence; diminuendo poi subito fortissimo, for example: getting softer then suddenly very loud
pomposo
Pompous, ceremonious
ponticello (pont.)
On the bridge (i.e. in string playing, an indication to bow or to pluck very near to the bridge, producing a characteristic glassy sound, which emphasizes the higher harmonics at the expense of the fundamental); the opposite of sul tasto
portamento
Carrying (i.e. 1. generally, sliding in pitch from one note to another, usually pausing just above or below the final pitch, then sliding quickly to that pitch. If no pause is executed, then it is a basic glissando; or 2. in piano music, an articulation between legato and staccato, like portato)
portato or loure
Carried (i.e. non-legato, but not as detached as staccato) (same as portamento)
posato
Settled
potpourri or pot-pourri (Fr)
Potpourri (as used in other senses in English) (i.e. a kind of musical form structured as ABCDEF... etc.; the same as medley or, sometimes, fantasia)
precipitato
Precipitately
prelude, prélude (Fr), preludio (It), praeludium (Lat), präludium (Ger)
A musical introduction to subsequent movements during the Baroque era (1600's/17th century). It can also be a movement in its own right, which was more common in the Romantic era (mid-1700s/18th century)
prestissimo
Extremely quickly, as fast as possible
presto
Very quickly
prima donna
Leading female singer in an opera company
prima volta
The first time; for example prima volta senza accompagnamento (the first time without accompaniment)
primo or prima (the feminine form)
First

Q

quartal
Composed of the musical interval of the fourth; as in quartal harmony
quarter tone
Half of a semitone; a pitch division not used in most Western music notation, except in some contemporary art music or experimental music. Quarter tones are used in Western popular music forms such as jazz and blues and in a variety of non-Western musical cultures.
quasi (Latin and Italian)
As if, almost (e.g. quasi recitativo like a recitative in an opera, or quasi una fantasia like a fantasia)
quintal
Composed of the musical interval of the fifth; as in quintal harrmony

R

rallentando or rall.
Broadening of the tempo (often not discernible from ritardando); progressively slower
rapido
Fast
rapide (Fr)
Fast
rasch (Ger)
Fast
rasguedo (Sp.)
(on the guitar) to play strings with the back of the fingernail; esp. to fan the strings rapidly with the nails of multiple fingers
ravvivando (Ital "reviving")
Quicken pace (as "ravvivando il tempo", returning to a faster tempo that occurred earlier in the piece)[7]
recitativo
Recitatively; one voice without accompaniment
religioso
Religiously
repente
Suddenly
reprise
Repeat a phrase or verse; return to the original theme
restez (Fr)
Stay (i.e. remain on a note or string)
retenu (Fr)
Hold back; same as the Italian ritenuto (see below)
ridicolosamente
Humorously, inaccurate, and loosely
rilassato
Relaxed
rinforzando (rf or rinf.)
Reinforced (i.e. emphasized); sometimes like a sudden crescendo, but often applied to a single note
risoluto
Resolutely
rit.
An abbreviation for ritardando;[8] also an abbreviation for ritenuto[9]
ritardando, ritard., rit.
Slowing down; decelerating; opposite of accelerando
ritenuto, riten., rit.
Suddenly slower, held back (usually more so but more temporarily than a ritardando, and it may, unlike ritardando, apply to a single note); opposite of accelerato
ritmico
Rhythmical
ritmo
Rhythm (e.g. ritmo di # battute meaning a rhythm of # measures)
ritornello
A recurring passage for orchestra in the first or final movement of a solo concerto or aria (also in works for chorus).
rolled chord
See arpeggiato
roulade (Fr)
A rolling (i.e. a florid vocal phrase)
rondo
A musical form in which a certain section returns repeatedly, interspersed with other sections: ABACA is a typical structure or ABACABA
rubato
Robbed (i.e. flexible in tempo), applied to notes within a musical phrase for expressive effect
ruhig (Ger)
Calm, peaceful
run
A rapid series of ascending or descending musical notes which are closely spaced in pitch forming a scale
ruvido
Roughly

S

saltando
Bouncing the bow as in a staccato arpeggio, literally means "jumping"
sanft (Ger)
Gently
scatenato
Unchained, wildly[10]
scherzando, scherzoso
Playfully
scherzo
A light, "joking" or playful musical form, originally and usually in fast triple metre, often replacing the minuet in the later Classical period and the Romantic period, in symphonies, sonatas, string quartets and the like; in the 19th century some scherzi were independent movements for piano, etc.
schleppen (Ger)
To drag; usually nicht schleppen ("don't drag"), paired with nicht eilen ("don't hurry") in Gustav Mahler's scores
schnell (Ger)
Fast
schneller (Ger)
Faster
schwungvoll (Ger)
Lively, swinging, bold, spirited
schwer (Ger)
Heavy
scordatura
Out of tune (i.e. an alternative tuning used for the strings of a string instrument)
scorrendo, scorrevole
Gliding from note to note
secco (sec) (Fr)
Dry (sparse accompaniment, staccato, without resonance)
segno
sign, usually Dal Segno (see above) "from the sign", indicating a return to the point marked by Segno
segue
Carry on to the next section without a pause
sehr (Ger)
Very
semitone
The smallest pitch difference between notes (in most Western music) (e.g. F–F)
semplice
Simply
sempre
Always
sentito
Expressively
senza
Without
senza misura
Without measure
senza sordina or senza sordine (plural)
Without the mute. See sordina.
serioso
Seriously
sforzando (sfz)
Made loud (i.e. a sudden strong accent)
shake
A jazz term describing a trill between one note and its minor third; or, with brass instruments, between a note and its next overblown harmonic.
sharp
A symbol () that raises the pitch of the note by a semitone. The term may also be used as an adjective to describe a situation where a singer or musician is performing a note in which the intonation is somewhat too high in pitch.
short accent
Hit the note hard and short (^)
si (Fr)
Seventh note of the series ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si, in fixed-doh solmization.
siciliana
A Sicilian dance in 12/8 or 6/8 meter[11]
sign
See segno
silenzio
Silence (i.e. without reverberations)
simile
Similarly (i.e. continue applying the preceding directive, whatever it was, to the following passage)
sipario
Curtain (stage)
slancio
Momentum, con slancio: with momentum; with enthusiasm
slargando or slentando
Becoming broader or slower (that is, becoming more largo or more lento)
smorzando or smorz.
Extinguishing or dampening; usually interpreted as a drop in dynamics, and very often in tempo as well
soave
Smoothly, gently
somma (It.)
Sum; total, con somma passione: with great passion
sopra
Above
sopra una corda or sull'istessa corda
To be played on one string
sognando
Dreamily
solo break
A jazz term that instructs a lead player or rhythm section member to play an improvised solo cadenza for one or two measures (sometimes abbreviated as "break"), without any accompaniment. The solo part is often played in a rhythmically free manner, until the player performs a pickup or lead-in line, at which time the band recommences playing in the original tempo.
solenne
Solemn
solo or soli (plural)
Alone (i.e. executed by a single instrument or voice). The instruction soli requires more than one player or singer; in a jazz big band this refers to an entire section playing in harmony. In orchestral works, soli refers to a divided string section with only one player to a line.
sonata
A piece played as opposed to sung.
sonatina
A little sonata
sonatine
A little sonata, used in some countries instead of sonatina
sonore
Sonorous
sonoro
Ringing
soprano
The highest of the standard four voice ranges (bass, tenor, alto, soprano)
sordina, sordine (plural)
A mute, Note: sordina, with plural sordine, is strictly correct Italian, but the forms sordino and sordini are much more commonly used as terms in music. Instruments can have their tone muted with wood, rubber, metal, or plastic devices, (for string instruments, mutes are clipped to the bridge; for brass instruments, mutes are inserted in the bell), or parts of the body (guitar; French Horn), or fabric (clarinet; timpani), among other means. In piano music (notably in Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata), senza sordini or senza sordina (or some variant) is sometimes used to mean keep the sustain pedal depressed, since the sustain pedal lifts the dampers off the strings, with the effect that all notes are sustained indefinitely.
sordino
See sordina.
sortita
A principal singer's first entrance in an opera
sospirando
Sighing
sostenuto
Sustained, lengthened
sotto voce
In an undertone (i.e. quietly)
spianato
Smooth, even
spiccato
Distinct, separated (i.e. a way of playing the violin and other bowed instruments by bouncing the bow on the string, giving a characteristic staccato effect)
spinto
Literally "pushed"
spirito
Spirit, con spirito: with spirit; with feeling
spiritoso
Spiritedly
staccato
Making each note brief and detached; the opposite of legato. In musical notation, a small dot under or over the head of the note indicates that it is to be articulated as staccato.
stanza
A verse of a song
stentando
Labored, heavy, in a dragging manner, holding back each note
stornello
Originally truly 'improvised' now taken as 'appearing to be improvised,' an Italian 'folk' song, the style of which used for example by Puccini in certain of his operas.
strascinando or strascicante
Indicating a passage should be played in a heavily slurred manner
strepitoso
Noisy, forceful
stretto
Tight, narrow (i.e. faster or hastening ahead); also, a passage in a fugue in which the contrapuntal texture is denser, with close overlapping entries of the subject in different voices; by extension, similar closely imitative passages in other compositions
stringendo
Gradually getting faster (literally, tightening, narrowing) (i.e. with a pressing forward or acceleration of the tempo, that is, becoming stretto)
strisciando
To be played with a smooth slur, a glissando
subito
Suddenly (e.g. subito pp, which instructs the player to suddenly drop to pianissimo as an effect)
sul E
"on E", indicating a passage is to be played on the E string of a violin. Also seen: sul A, sul D, sul G, sul C, indicating a passage to be played on one of the other strings of a string instrument.
sul (It.)
Literally, "on", as in sul ponticello (on the bridge); sul tasto (on the fingerboard); sul E (on the E string), etc.
sur la touche (Fr)
Sul tasto
syncopation
A disturbance or interruption of the regular flow of downbeat rhythm with emphasis on the sub-division or up-beat (e.g. in Ragtime music).

T

tacet
Silent; do not play
tasto or tastierra (tast.)
On the fingerboard (i.e. in string playing, an indication to bow or to pluck over the fingerboard); playing over the fingerboard produces a duller, less harmonically rich, gentler tone. The opposite of sul ponticello.
tasto solo
'single key'; used on a continuo part to indicate that the notes should be played without harmony
tempo
Time (i.e. the overall speed of a piece of music)
tempo di marcia
March tempo
tempo di mezzo
The middle section of an double aria, commonly found in bel canto era Italian operas, especially those of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, and their contemporaries as well in many early operas by Verdi. When present, the tempo di mezzo generally signals a shift in the drama from the slow cantabile of the first part to the cabaletta of the second, and this can take the form of some dramatic announcement or action to which the character(s) react in the cabaletta finale.[12]
tempo di valse
Waltz tempo
tempo giusto
In strict time
tempo primo, tempo uno, or tempo I (sometimes tempo I° or tempo 1ero)
Resume the original speed
tempo rubato
"Robbed time"; an expressive way of performing a rhythm; see rubato
teneramente
Tenderly
tenerezza
Tenderness
tenor
The second lowest of the standard four voice ranges (bass, tenor, alto, soprano)
tenuto
Held (i.e. touch on a note slightly longer than usual, but without generally altering the note's value)
ternary
Having three parts. In particular, referring to a three-part musical form with the parts represented by letters: ABA
tessitura
The 'best' or most comfortable pitch range, generally used to identify the most prominent / common vocal range within a piece of music
Tierce de Picardie
See Picardy third
timbre
The quality of a musical tone that distinguishes voices and instruments
time
In a jazz or rock score, after a rubato or rallentendo section, the term "time" indicates that performers should return to tempo (this is equivalent to the term "a tempo")
tosto
Rapidly
tranquillo
Calmly, peacefully
tremolo
Shaking. As used in 1) and 2) below, it is notated by a strong diagonal bar (or bars) across the note stem, or a detached bar (or bars) for a set of notes.
  1. A rapid, measured or unmeasured repetition of the same note. String players perform this tremolo with the bow by rapidly moving the bow while the arm is tense;
  2. A rapid, measured or unmeasured alternation between two or more notes, usually more than a whole step apart. In older theory texts this form is sometimes referred to as a "trill-tremolo" (see trill).
  3. A rapid, repeated alteration of volume (as on an electronic instrument);
  4. vibrato: an inaccurate usage, since vibrato is actually a slight undulation in a sustained pitch, rather than a repetition of the pitch, or variation in volume (see vibrato).
tre corde (tc)
Three strings (i.e. release the soft pedal of the piano) (see una corda)
trill
A rapid, usually unmeasured alternation between two harmonically adjacent notes (e.g. a interval of a semitone or a whole tone). A similar alternation using a wider interval is called a tremolo.
triplet (shown with a horizontal bracket and a '3')
Three notes in the place of two, used to subdivide a beat.
triste
Sad, wistful
tronco, tronca
Broken off, truncated
troppo
Too much; usually seen as non troppo, meaning moderately or, when combined with other terms, not too much, such as allegro [ma] non troppo (fast but not too fast)
turn
Multi-note ornament above and below the main note; it may also be inverted
tutti
All; all together, usually used in an orchestral or choral score when the orchestra or all of the voices come in at the same time, also seen in Baroque-era music where two instruments share the same copy of music, after one instrument has broken off to play a more advanced form: they both play together again at the point marked tutti. See also ripieno.

U

un, uno, or una
One, as for example in the following entries
una corda
One string (i.e. in piano music, depress the soft pedal, altering, and reducing the volume of, the sound). For most notes in modern pianos, this results in the hammer striking two strings rather than three. Its counterpart, tre corde (three strings), is the opposite: the soft pedal is to be released.
un poco or un peu (Fr)
A little
unisono (unis) (Fr)
In unison (i.e. several players in a group are to play exactly the same notes within their written part, as opposed to splitting simultaneous notes among themselves). Often used to mark the return from divisi.
uptempo
A fast, lively, or increased tempo or played or done in such a tempo.[13] It is also used as an umbrella term for a quick-paced electronic music style.
ut (Fr)
First note of the series ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si, in fixed-do solmization.

V

vagans (Latin, "wandering"[14])
The fifth part in a motet, named so most probably because it had no specific range
vamp till cue
A jazz, fusion, and musical theatre term which instructs rhythm section members to repeat and vary a short ostinato passage, riff, or "groove" until the band leader or conductor instructs them to move onto the next section
variazioni
Variations, con variazioni: with variations/changes
veloce
Velocity, con veloce: with velocity
velocissimo
As quickly as possible; usually applied to a cadenza-like passage or run
via
Away, out, off; as in via sordina or sordina via: 'mute off'
vibrato
Vibrating (i.e. a more or less rapidly repeated slight variation in the pitch of a note, used as a means of expression). Often confused with tremolo, which refers either to a similar variation in the volume of a note, or to rapid repetition of a single note.
vif (Fr)
Quickly, lively
violoncello
cello
virtuoso
(noun or adjective) performing with exceptional ability, technique, or artistry
vite (Fr)
Fast
vittorioso
Victoriously
vivace
Very lively, up-tempo
vivacissimo
Very lively
vivamente
Quickly and lively
vivo
Lively
vocal score or piano-vocal score
A music score of an opera, or a vocal or choral composition with orchestra (like oratorio or cantata) where the vocal parts are written out in full but the accompaniment is reduced to two staves and adapted for playing on piano
voce
Voice
volante
Flying
volti subito (V.S.)
Turn suddenly (i.e. turn the page quickly). While this indication is sometimes added by printers, it is more commonly indicated by orchestral members in pencil as a reminder to quickly turn to the next page.

W

wenig (Ger)
A little, not much
wolno (Polish)
Loose, slowly

Z

Zählzeit (Ger)
Beat
zart (Ger)
Tender
Zartheit (Ger)
Tenderness
zärtlich (Ger)
Tenderly
Zeichen (Ger)
Sign, mark
Zeitmaß or Zeitmass (Ger)
Time-measure (i.e. tempo)
zelo, zeloso, zelosamente
Zeal, zealous, zealously
ziehen (Ger)
To draw out
ziemlich (Ger)
Fairly, quite, rather
zitternd (Ger)
Trembling (i.e. tremolando)
zögernd (Ger)
Hesitantly, delaying (i.e. rallentando)
zurückhalten (Ger)
Hold back

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c d e Collins Music Encyclopedia, 1959.
  2. ^ "Capriccio" in The Harvard Dictionary of Music, ed. Don Michael Randel, Belknap Press
  3. ^ About the word deest
  4. ^ Italian for Opera Lovers by Sasha Newborn, August 1994, at Academia.edu
  5. ^ Sussman, Richard;  
  6. ^ "Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary". http://www.music.vt.edu/. 
  7. ^ Eric Blom. "Ravvivando". In Macy, Laura.   (subscription required)
  8. ^ musicdictionary; Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary; American Heritage Dictionary, 4th edition; Gardner Read, Music Notation, 2nd edition, p. 282.
  9. ^ , "Tempo"Dolmetsch Online; Oxford American Dictionary; Collins English Dictionary.
  10. ^ Carl Orff, Carmina Burana
  11. ^ Definition of Siciliano at Dictionary.com
  12. ^ Gossett, Philip, Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera Chicago: University of Chicago, 2006 ISBN 978-0-226-30482-3, p. 618
  13. ^ "uptempo" at Oxford Dictionaries Online
  14. ^ Page's Dictionary of Music and Musicians

External links

  • Classical musical terms
  • Musical Terms Dictionary Definitions
  • Music Dictionary, Dolmetsch Online
  • Multimedia Music Dictionary, Virginia Tech
  • iMusicDictionary, also suitable for mobile devices
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