"Metrical dissonance"

two or more different ways of hearing the music's metrical structure presented at once, for example with a consistent pattern of conflicting rhythms

12-bar blues progression

Typically comprises three phrases of four bars each. The first phrase is entirely tonic harmony (I). The second phrase contains two bars of subdominant (IV) and two bars of tonic (I). The final phrase begins with one bar of dominant (V) followed by one bar of subdominant (IV) and two bars of tonic (I). The third phrase may or may not end with a turnaround.

16-bar blues progression

A variation on the 12-bar blues progression. Typically composed of four four-bar phrases, usually two iterations of tonic, followed by subdominant and dominant. The final phrase may or may not end with a turnaround.

AABA form

Also called 32-bar song form. AABA consists of at least four sections. It begins by repeating two strophes, moving to a contrasting bridge section, and then repeating the primary strophe again. AABA forms typically then include another repetition of BA, making the entire form AABABA.

absent tonic

Occurs when the tonic is never actually sounded as a harmony during the song, but is still implied through the melody or through the use of conventional harmonic progressions.


Existing on its own, without reference to another system. For example, "absolute pitch" refers to the phenomenon of being able to sing a pitch without referencing an instrument or another pitch.


A gradual increase in speed (tempo).


A stress or emphasis on a note.

accent cymbals

Cymbals ranging in size (6–18” diameters are common) and thickness. Some have shapes and contours unlike other cymbals or are augmented with rivets or large holes. Depending on size, contour, and playing technique, these can produce a variety of crashing, splashing, sizzling, and barking sounds.


A symbol that alters a pitch, such as the sharp (♯), flat (♭), and natural (♮) symbols.

acoustic collection

A seven-note collection similar to the mixolydian mode but with fi (↑4̂); corresponds roughly to the lowest partials of the harmonic series.


The physical science of sound.

active note

In tonal music, a note that has a tendency to move to a specific note in the following chord, usually a step up or down. Also called a "tendency tone."

additive rhythm

A compositional device that begins with a small rhythmic unit and gradually adds length to the durations.

ADSR envelope

A profile that represents fluctuations in amplitude over time. ADSR stands for attack, decay, sustain, and release.


A diatonic mode that follows the pattern W–H–W–W–H–W–W. This is like the natural minor scale. This scale can also be found by playing the white notes of the piano starting on A.

aeolian cadence

♭VI–♭VII–i, or A♭–B♭–Cmi in C minor. This schema implies the aeolian mode. Very frequently, the i chord is altered to be major, yielding a sequence of three major chords related by steps in the same direction. This progression, especially with a major I chord, is often associated with heroic themes in video games and movies.

aeolian shuttle

i–♭VII–♭VI–♭VII. This progression can be understood as a shuttle between i and ♭VI, with the intermediate ♭VIIs acting as passing chords.

after-beat fifths or octaves

Two consecutive weak-beat fifths or octaves in fourth species counterpoint; e.g., from two successive 9–8 suspensions.

aggregate (twelve-tone)

The complete chromatic collection (i.e., all twelve pitch classes).

all-interval row

A twelve-tone row that contains all eleven ordered pitch-class intervals.

alternative path

A technique of internal phrase expansion. It occurs when new material causes a phrase to deviate from its expected trajectory toward the cadence. These deviations may be permanent ("reroutes") or temporary ("detours").


The second-highest voice part in SATB style, written in the treble clef staff with a down-stem; its generally accepted range is G₃–D₅.

alto clef

As a "C" clef, the alto clef shows that C₄ is the middle line of the staff by centering on it.

American Standard Pitch Notation (ASPN)

Designates specific musical frequencies by combining a note name (such as C) with an octave designation (such as 4), creating a bipartite label (C₄).


Music that does not have any perceivable meter


Notes on an upbeat that lead into the first downbeat of a phrase.


A repetition of the fugue's subject, transposed to another pitch level. May be a "real" answer (a literal transposition) or a "tonal" answer (an inexact transposition).


A phrase consisting of a basic idea followed by a contrasting idea that ends with a weak cadence.


A two-note embellishing tone gesture in which a chord tone is heard early as a non-chord tone.


A call-and-response texture in which musical material is passed from group to group.

applied chord

A chord from another key inserted into a new key, in order to tonicize a diatonic chord other than I.


An embellishing tone often occurring on a strong beat that is approached by leap and left by step in the opposite direction.

Arabic numerals

The numerals 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9.


Phrases that are "archetypal" or that follow an archetype are related to the sentence, the period, or one of the hybrid phrase-level forms.

arpeggiating 6/4

A 6/4 chord that results from an arpeggiated bass line (e.g., if the bass line alternates between the root and fifth of the same chord).


A melodic, "horizontal" statement of a triadic harmony; in other words, each note of a triadic harmony played in succession (rather than simultaneously). Also referred to as a "broken chord."


Refers to both a note's length and the accent level of its attack.

asymmetrical meter

A meter that divides measures into unequal groupings of beats or divisions, creating an uneven metrical pulse.


An adjective describing music that lacks any sense of tonal center.


The onset of a note (as opposed to the following sustain or decay).


To imagine hearing a sound in one's mind.

augmented intervals

Intervals that are one half step larger than a perfect or major interval.

augmented triad

A triad whose third is major and fifth is augmented.


Auditory; related to hearing.


In church modes, authentic modes are those that range from final to final.

authentic cadence

A cadence with the harmonies V–I. The harmonies are typically in root position. Authentic cadences can be further distinguished by their melody note in the I chord: an authentic cadence ending on 1̂ in the melody is a perfect authentic cadence, while one with 3̂ or 5̂ in the melody is an imperfect authentic cadence.

auxiliary percussion

Unpitched percussion instruments that are not the drum kit (in pop music) or the snare, bass drum, cymbals, or timpani (in classical music). Examples include tambourine, triangle, castanets, or claves, although there are too many auxiliary percussion instruments to list.

auxiliary section

Auxiliary sections help frame the core sections: introducing them, providing temporary relief from them, or winding down from them.


An accent on beats 2 and 4 of a quadruple meter. Backbeats are common in jazz and pop styles.

balanced binary form

A binary form (either simple or rounded) in which the tail end of the first reprise returns at the tail end of the second reprise.

bar lines

Vertical lines that create measures.

basic idea

Basic ideas are short units that are typically associated with beginnings. They don't usually end with cadences, and they often establish tonic. They are the first units we hear in a presentation, an antecedent, a consequent, and a compound basic idea.

basic rock beat

A simple drum pattern in which the kick drum is played on beats one and three, alternating with the snare on beats two and four, while eighth notes are played on a closed hi-hat. (This description presumes a 4/4 time signature.)

bass (instrument)

Any one of several bass-range string instruments, including the double bass (upright bass, string bass, contrabass, acoustic bass) or the bass guitar (electric or acoustic).

bass (voice)

The lowest voice in SATB style, written in the bass clef staff with a down-stem; its generally accepted range is F₂–D₄.

bass clef

As an "F" clef, the bass clef shows which line of the staff is F₃ by surrounding it with two dots.

bass line

The lowest part (or "voice") of a composition.


The horizontal lines that connect certain groups of notes together.


A pulse in music to which one can tap or clap along. A grouped hierarchy of beats forms a meter.

beat unit

Which note value gets the beat (e.g., the quarter note in 4/4 or the dotted quarter note in 6/8).

becoming ⇒ (the process of)

The process of becoming is an analytical phenomenon that captures an in-time, analytical reinterpretation regarding a formal/phrasal unit's function, abbreviated with a rightward double arrow symbol (⇒). Examples include primary theme ⇒ transition, continuation ⇒ cadential, or suffix ⇒ transition.


One of three formal functions (with the other two being middle and ending). Beginnings are often signaled by establishment of a new melody or repetition of the beginning of a previously heard melody, emphasis on tonic harmony (especially root position), a melody that opens up musical space by ascending, a statement of a motive that is developed through the remainder of the phrase.

binary form

A type of form that has two core sections. These sections are often called "reprises" because each is typically repeated. There are two main types of binary form: rounded and simple.

block chord

A chord in which all the notes are played simultaneously.

blue notes

Notes whose exact pitch sounds somewhere between the flat and regular versions of a scale degree, particularly 3̂ and 7̂.


Beats per minute. A standard unit of measurement for tempo.

breath mark

Indicates a breath (for wind instrumentalists and vocalists) or a pause (for percussionists and string players).


A type of contrasting section that tends to function transitionally in the formal cycle. Bridges tend to emphasize non-tonic harmonies and commonly end on dominant harmony.


A melodic and harmonic goal. In classical tonal music, cadence types include Perfect Authentic (PAC), Imperfect Authentic (IAC), and Half (HC).


One of the three common ending types. Its distinguishing characteristic is its bass line: mi–fa–sol–do (3̂–4̂–5̂–1̂), which may be elaborated with chromaticism.

cadential 6/4

A common embellishment of the cadential V chord, in which the fifth of the V chord (re, 2̂) is replaced with the sixth (mi/me, 3̂) and the third (ti, 7̂) is replaced with the fourth (do, 1̂). The sixth and fourth form a 6/4 chord, hence its label. The cadential 6/4 resembles a I6/4 in its pitch content.


Indicates a break and/or a cutoff.

caesura fill

When a single voice of the musical texture bridges what would otherwise be a gap between two sections.


A feature of musical phrasing that features a simulated dialogue between two instruments or groups of instruments.

cantus firmus

Literally meaning “fixed voice," this is a pre-existing melodic line that serves as the basis for a new counterpoint exercise or other composition.


The number of elements in a set or other grouping.


A symbol akin to an angled bracket, placed above Arabic numerals to indicate scale degrees; a circumflex symbol.

change of register

In counterpoint, a type of consonant weak beat that steps in the opposite direction following a large leap.

changing meter

A term for a meter consisting of several rapid time-signature changes.

china cymbal

A kind of crash cymbal with an especially bright, forward, and splashy sound.


Any combination of two or more pitch classes that sound simultaneously.

chord construction

The pitch content of a chord.

chord loops

Repeated chord progressions, often four bars long, that are repeated throughout a portion or all of a song.

chord substitution

Replacing a standard chord (i.e., within a harmonic schema) with a different chord. The substituted chord is typically identical in harmonic function to the standard chord, and often shares at least two notes with the standard chord.

chord symbols

A system of naming chords that specifies the note name of the root, chord quality, and any alterations.

Some basic symbols are given below as a quick reference, but for more detail, see the Chord Symbols chapter.

chord quality chord symbol (for a chord with a root of C)
major triad C
minor triad Cmi, Cm, C-
diminished triad Co, Cdim
augmented triad C+, Caug
dominant seventh chord C7
major seventh chord Cma7, C∆7, Cmaj7
minor seventh chord Cmi7, C-7, Cm7
half-diminished seventh chord Cø7, Cm7♭5, C-7♭5
diminished seventh chord Co7

chordal 7th

Refers to the 7th of a chord. For example, V7 in the key of C is spelled G-B-D-F. The note F is the chordal 7th. We say chordal 7th to distinguish it from the leading-tone (Ti, [latex]\hat{7}[/latex]).

chordal seventh

Refers to the seventh above the root of a chord. For example, V⁷ in the key of C is spelled G-B-D-F; F is the chordal seventh.


A core section of a popular song that is lyric-invariant and contains the primary lyrical material of the song. Chorus function is also typified by heightened musical intensity relative to the verse. Chorus sections are distinct from refrains, which are contained within a section.


A process where modules are stripped away from the formal cycle until only the chorus module (C) remains.


Relating in some sense to the chromatic scale. The term may be used to refer to notes that are outside the given key.

chromatic scale

A collection of notes that consists of twelve half steps.

circle of fifths

A graphic that shows the relationship between major (and/or minor) key signatures by placing the key signatures around a circle in order of number of accidentals.


In set theory, a class is a group whose members are all equivalent in some sense—transposition, inversion, octave, enharmonic, etc.

clausula vera

A contrapuntal cadence in which a perfect octave or unison is approached through contrary motion by step. One line will have re–do (2̂– 1̂) while the other has ti–do (7̂-1̂). This results in the sequence of harmonic intervals sixth–octave, tenth–octave, or third–unison.


A symbol placed on the left side of a staff that indicates which notes are assigned to different lines and spaces.

closed spacing

A chord spacing in which the chord fits within one octave.

closing rhetoric

Closing rhetoric involves common patterns and techniques that signal that the end of the song is likely coming soon.

closing section

A large suffix in sonata-form works. The closing section is usually very stable and often consists of many V–I or IV–I motions confirming the local tonic.

coda (classical)

A large suffix section occurring at the end of a work (or end of a movement within a multi-movement work), after the PAC that ends the piece’s core sections.

coda (pop)

A coda is a song-ending section that presents new material. Like outros, codas exhibit closing rhetoric.


A type of suffix (external expansion). Codettas are usually medium length (for example, between 4 and 8 measures), they often occur at the end of a section within a piece, and they often feature repeated units. They may or may not contain a full phrase.


A group of pitches being used as the basis for a composition. This term is more neutral than "key," which may imply a hierarchy.

color note

For modes in pop music, the color note is the pitch that distinguishes a mode from major (in the case of mixolydian/lydian) or from minor (in the case of dorian/phrygian).


The second (following) part in a pair of imitative voices (compare to dux).

common practice

A periodization of Western music utilized by music theorists and musicologists encompassing c. 1600–1900.

common tone

A tone that is present in more than one chord.

common-tone diminished seventh chord (CT°⁷)

A diminished seventh chord that, instead of having dominant function, is a neighbor chord that embellishes the chord that comes after it. The CT°⁷ has a common tone with the root of the following chord; all the other notes are a step away from a note in the following chord.

complement mod 12

An integer x's complement mod 12 is the number y that would sum to 12. For example, 11's complement mod 12 is 1.

complementary set

The set that, together with an original set, will make the complete twelve-tone collection. Complements are literal when referring to pitch class sets and abstract when referring to set classes.

compound basic idea

A compound basic idea (c.b.i.) is an antecedent without a cadence. It consists of a basic idea followed by a contrasting idea.

compound duple

A meter with two beats, each of which divides into three. The top number of a compound duple meter will always be "6". 6/8 is the most common compound duple meter, though 6/4 is also somewhat common.

compound form

Occurs when one form is composed of other smaller forms. For example, a period may be composed of two sentences, or one or more of a ternary form's sections may be composed of a binary form.

compound interval

An interval that is larger than an octave.

compound meter

A meter that divides the beat into three parts.

compound quadruple

A meter with four beats, each of which divides into three. A time signature for compound quadruple will always have "12" as the top number. 12/8 is the most common compound quadruple meter.

compound ternary form

A type of ternary form where at least one of the form's parts (A, B, or the second A section) is composed of its own complete form (typically a binary form). The term "compound" can also be used to clarify that a single section contains a complete form. Compare with simple ternary form.

compound triple

A meter with three beats, each of which divides into three. The top number of a compound triple meter will always be "9". 9/8 is the most common compound triple meter.


The director of an ensemble.

connective auxiliary sections

A category of formal sections that connect two core sections; for example, transitions and retransitions.


A phrase consisting of a basic idea followed by a contrasting idea that ends with a strong cadence. It usually forms the second half of a phrase-level form.


As an acoustic phenomenon, frequencies vibrating at whole-number ratios with one another; as a cultural phenomenon, perceived stability in a chord or interval.

consonant passing tone

Passing motion that does not involve dissonance.


A subphrase that features a mix of any of the following: fragmentation, increase in harmonic rhythm, increase in surface rhythm, or sequences. Continuations end with a cadence and are usually found in the second half of a theme.

contour lines

Lines that indicate whether pitch moves up, down, or stays the same.


Contraction refers to the process of making a phrase shorter than expected. It always occurs within a phrase.

contraction (motivic)

Making the durations of a motive shorter than the original.

contrary motion

When two voices move melodically in opposite directions—that is, one voice moves up and the other moves down.

contrasting beginning

The contrasting beginning is like an antecedent without a cadence. It is a beginning part of a phrase-level form that consists of a basic idea followed by a contrasting idea, and it doesn't end with a cadence.

contrasting idea

A small unit that contrasts with the material that came immediately before it, usually in terms of contour. It's featured in the antecedent and the compound basic idea.

contrasting section

A core section that provides contrast with the main section. May be stable or unstable.

core bass pattern

A core bass pattern is the basic series of notes that defines a common progression. This series of notes may be embellished with other, less important notes, but the pattern is still recognizable because the basic series is still present.

core section (classical)

A formal category including both main sections (e.g., A, primary theme, refrain) and contrasting sections (e.g., B, C, D, secondary theme, episode, contrasting middle, development, digression). In contrast to auxiliary sections, core sections present the main musical material of a work and generally represent the bulk of a composition.

core section (pop)

Core sections comprise the main musical and poetic content of a song. Core sections include strophe (AABA and strophic form only), bridge, verse, chorus, prechorus, and postchorus.


A general term for music that involves multiple simultaneous and independent melodic lines. The term comes from the idea that each note (point) has another note against (counter to) it. This term can also refer specifically to a musical line added to a cantus firmus.


A melodic line that is consistently sounded with (and complements) the subject/answer of a fugue.

crash cymbal

A mid-sized suspended cymbal. Can be various diameters (16–18” are typical) and thicknesses. Depending on size, contour, and playing technique, these can produce a variety of crashing, splashing, sizzling, and barking sounds.


Getting gradually louder; sometimes represented in notated scores with a hairpin symbol.


The moment when the tail end of the first reprise returns at the tail end of the second reprise of a binary or sonata form.


A Latin American guitar-like instrument particularly prevalent in Puerto Rican music.


A grouping that contains one or more sections, typically in the same order. Sometimes one or more sections are omitted in the repetition of a cycle, especially toward the end of a song.

dance chorus

An intensified version of the chorus that retains the same harmony and contains the hook of the song, which increases memorability for the audience and encourages dancing.


In a sound signal's envelope, the decay is the second phase, in which the loudness of the sound decreases after the initial peak (attack).

deceptive motion

A cadence-like resolution from V to a non-tonic harmony. The most common deceptive motion is V–vi; the next most common is V–IV⁶.


Getting gradually softer; sometimes represented in notated scores with a hairpin symbol.

delay of melodic progression

In counterpoint, a type of consonant weak beat that skips by third and then steps into the following downbeat.


A drumbeat in which the kick drum plays on every beat, while the snare plays the last two parts of a tresillo rhythm.

dependent transition

A sonata-form transition that reuses motivic material from the primary theme.

derived row

A 12-tone tonerow formed of the same pitch class set several time such as 3 tetrachords or 4 trichords.


A type of alternative path. A detour creates a temporary deviation from a phrase's expected trajectory toward a cadence. Detours are initiated by a diversion onto the detour and they end with a resumption of rhetoric from earlier in the phrase.


A section of a sonata form that is unstable, and that may or may not explore thematic material established in the exposition.


1. A scale, mode, or collection that follows the pattern of whole and half steps W–W–H–W–W–W–H, or any rotation of that pattern.
2. Belonging to the local key (as opposed to "chromatic").

diatonic harmony

Harmony that is based in a diatonic scale, such as the white notes of the piano. In analysis, diatonic harmonies may be labeled with with Roman numerals.

diatonic mode

A scale made up of the notes of the diatonic collection.


A type of aural skills exercise in which aural examples are written by the student in staff notation.

diminished intervals

Intervals that are one half step smaller than a perfect or minor interval.

diminished seventh chord

Another name for a fully diminished seventh chord, a seventh chord with a diminished triad and a diminished seventh.

diminished triad

A triad whose third is minor and fifth is diminished.


Getting gradually softer; decrescendo.

direct fifths or octaves

Similar motion into a fifth or octave. Also called hidden fifths or octaves.


Non-overlapping; separate.

displacement (of a motive)

Changing the metric position of the motive relative to its original statement.

displacement dissonance

A type of metrical dissonance in which two or more musical layers imply the same meter, but one is offset from the other by a consistent rhythmic value (the "displacement index").

displacement index

The rhythmic value by which two musical layers are offset from one another in a displacement dissonance.


A perceived quality of auditory roughness in an interval or chord.

division unit

The note value that divides the beat into two or three parts (in simple or compound meters, respectively); for example, the eighth note in 4/4 or 6/8.

dominant function

A category of chords that provides a sense of urgency to resolve toward the tonic chord, including V and vii° (in minor: V and vii°).

dominant lock

Extensive prolongation of the V chord. Also known as "standing on the dominant." Often involves a pedal point on sol (5̂).

dominant seventh chord

A seventh chord in which the triad quality is major and the seventh quality is minor.

doo-wop schema

𝄆I – VI – IV – V 𝄇, or C – Ami – F – G in C major.

Common alterations: substituting ii for IV; rotation.


A diatonic mode that follows the pattern W–H–W–W–W–H–W. This is like the natural minor scale, but with a raised 6̂. This scale can also be found by playing the white notes of the piano starting on D.

dorian shuttle

IV–i, or F–Cmi in C minor. This shuttle implies the dorian mode. It can sound like ii–V to someone who is not used to the dorian mode.

double flat

Lowers a note by two half steps.

double neighbor

An embellishment that surrounds a note with its upper and lower neighbor (e.g., C–B–D–C). The note being embellished may be articulated between the two neighbor tones, as in C–D–C–B–C.

double plagal schema

♭VII–IV–I, or B♭–F–C in C major. The term comes from duplicating the plagal relationship (IV–I) by applying it to IV as well (IV/IV–IV, or ♭VII–IV).

double sharp

Raises a note by two half steps.

double whole note

A note value that lasts the duration of two whole notes. Notation: 𝅜

double-time feel

A drum pattern where the backbeat is played twice as fast as usual (that is, on the second eighth of each beat, rather than on beats two and four).


Duplicating some notes of a chord in multiple parts.


Beat 1 of a measure, which is conducted with a downward motion.

duple meter

A meter with two beats per measure.


A tuplet that involves dividing a beat in compound meter into two parts.


The first part in a pair of imitative voices (compare to comes).


The musical term for loudness.

eighth note

A note value that lasts half the duration of a quarter note, or the duration of two sixteenth notes. Notation: 𝅘𝅥𝅮

eighth rest

A type of rest that lasts half the duration of a quarter rest, or the duration of two sixteenth rests. Notation: 𝄾

embellishing harmony

A harmony whose function is to prolong another harmony, rather than to advance the phrase toward its cadential goal. Embellishing harmonies are often said to be passing or neighboring.

embellishing tones

Notes that decorate other, more structurally important notes. Embellishing tones are often not part of the prevailing chord. Types of embellishing tones include passing tones, neighbor tones, appoggiaturas, escape tones, pedal tones, suspensions, and anticipations.

emergent tonic

A tonic that is initially absent for the first sections of a song, but arrives later on (often in the chorus). Often tied to lyrical themes of attained triumph, self-confidence, or clarity.

energy gain

A quality in a passage of music that heightens the perceived energy of the passage. This can be through more active rhythmic activity, faster harmony changes, thicker texture, expanded range, crescendo, or drive toward a cadence or goal.

enharmonic equivalence

A relationship between notes, intervals, or chords that sound the same but are spelled differently.


A term used when describing the sections of a rondo form that are not the main theme (a.k.a. A or refrain). Episodes provide contrast with the main theme through changes in multiple domains, primarily key and melodic/rhythmic/harmonic material.

escape tone

An embellishing tone that is approached by step and left by leap in the opposite direction.

essential expositional cadence (EEC)

The goal of the S area. The EEC is the first satisfactory PAC that is followed by new material (not based on S).

evaded cadence

Any situation where a composer sets up the expectation for a cadence, then avoids cadencing. Examples include deceptive motion, inversion of the cadential dominant or tonic, and/or omitting an essential voice (such as the bass note of the tonic chord or the soprano note of the tonic chord).


The process of making a phrase longer than expected. This lengthening might occur within the phrase (internal expansion) or outside of the phrase (external expansion).

explicit beat layer

A type of functional layer within pop music that clearly articulates the meter and pulse levels within the song. Most percussion is part of this layer.

exposition (fugue)

The first part of a fugue, in which each voice states the subject or answer.

exposition (sonata form)

The first large section in a sonata-form work. It usually establishes the main themes of a work and sets up a conflict that is later resolved in the work. This conflict often takes the form of differing key centers (such as when the primary theme of a sonata is in tonic and the secondary theme is in the dominant).

extended cadential ending

A subphrase that harmonizes the core bass pattern mi–fa–sol–do (3̂–4̂–5̂–1̂). Functions similarly to a continuation.

extension (harmony)

Adding additional thirds on top of the triad. Most commonly refers to ninths, elevenths, or thirteenths rather than sevenths, although sevenths are also extensions.

external auxiliary section

A category of auxiliary sections including prefixes (which introduce a piece/section) and suffixes (which follow the generic conclusion of a piece/section).

external expansion

Lengthening a phrase by adding extra material to it either before it begins ("prefix") or after it cadences ("suffix").

feathered beaming

A gradual change in the speed of notes within a single beam.


A symbol that indicates one should hold a note longer than its written duration. Notation: 𝄐


Musica ficta are un-notated accidentals added to Renaissance music. Competent performers know to add ficta in appropriate places. In modern editions of Renaissance music, ficta are often provided by the editor.

figured bass

Arabic numerals and symbols that indicate intervals above a bass note. These are realized into chords and non-chord tones by musicians.


In church modes, the final loosely corresponds to the modern notion of "tonic," in that it is a melodic goal. However, the final may not always be emphasized in the way a tonic is. Finals are named by the fact that the last note of a Gregorian chant will always be the final of the mode.

first inversion

A triadic harmony with the third in the bass.

fixed do

A system of solfège in which do is always the pitch class C, re the pitch class D, etc., regardless of scale.


A curved line placed at the end of a stem. Each flag added to a stemmed note represents the reduction of the note value by half. For example, the symbol for an eighth note is like a quarter note plus a flag; the eighth note is one-half the value of the quarter note.


Lowers a note by a half step.


Refers to the structure of a passage or piece. Form can be understood as a hierarchical grouping of units, and we often speak of form at one of two levels: phrase-level form (referring to motives, ideas, subphrases, or phrases) or composition-level form (referring to sections, movements, or whole pieces).



Forte number

A nomenclature for set classes developed by Allen Forte; each set class has a unique Forte number. The first number refers to the cardinality of the set, and the second number is semi-arbitrary, but generally proceeds from the most compact to the most expanded set.

four on the floor

A drumbeat in which the kick drum is sounded on every beat.

fragile tonic

The tonic chord is present, but weakened. Usually, the weakening comes from using the tonic chord in inversion, or otherwise from placing the tonic chord in a metrically unstable mid-phrase position (versus a more typical usage where the tonic is a stable point of arrival or departure).


Making unit sizes smaller than the previously established size. For example, if units had previously been two measures long, fragments might be one measure long.

free atonal music

Music that is atonal, avoiding a traditional pitch center and harmonic hierarchy, but is not serial.

free counterpoint

Contrapuntal writing without any specific thematic content.


Acoustically, how often a sound wave repeats; the pitch of a sound.

fully diminished seventh chord

A seventh chord whose triad is diminished and whose seventh is diminished.


The role that a musical element plays in the creation of a larger musical unit.

functional bass layer

A layer within a pop song texture that provides a harmonic foundation for the track. Bass-register instruments likely belong to in this layer.

functional layer

An instrument or group of instruments that perform a specific role within a pop song texture. These roles are:

• the explicit beat layer
• the functional bass layer
• the melodic layer
• the harmonic filler layer
• the novelty layer


A principle of melody writing suggesting that any large leaps that open up a new register ought to be filled in afterward with stepwise motion.

generic interval

The number of scale steps between notes of a collection or scale.

grand staff

Two staves placed one above the other, connected by a brace. The top staff has a treble clef, while the bottom staff has a bass clef.

graphic notation

A notational technique where pitch and durations are specified by nonstandard symbols.


A complex and multidimensional phenomenon of popular music that in part is made up of a song's rhythmic profile, tempo, meter, percussion, and bass line. Groove also encompasses more ineffable aspects of music, such as the performer's or listener's sense of embodying a regular musical pattern and/or their concentration.

ground bass

A repeated bass pattern that forms the foundation for a set of variations, not unlike the cyclical progressions of pop/rock songs.

grouping dissonance

A type of metrical dissonance in which two or more musical layers have a different number of beats/pulses which are not multiples/factors of one another, as in a polyrhythm.


A crescendo or decrescendo symbol.

half cadence (HC)

A kind of inconclusive cadence that occurs when a phrase ends on V. Occasionally, particularly in Romantic music, the final chord of a half cadence will be V⁷.

half note

A note value that lasts half the duration of a whole note, or the duration of two quarter notes. Notation: 𝅗𝅥

half rest

A type of rest that lasts half the duration of a whole rest, or the duration of two quarter rests. Notation: 𝄻

half step (semitone)

One-twelfth of an octave; generally considered to be the smallest interval in Western musical notation.

half-diminished seventh chord

A seventh chord in which the triad quality is diminished and the seventh quality is minor.

half-time feel

A drum pattern in which the backbeat is twice as slow as usual (that is, the snare hits occur only on beat three of each measure, instead of beats two and four).

harmonic elision

The suppression of an expected chord. Two kinds of elision are a leading-tone elision, in which the expected triad is replaced by the dominant seventh chord with the same root or by a functionally equivalent diminished seventh chord, and raised-root elision, in which the root of the expected chord is raised to become a leading tone (or applied leading tone).

harmonic filler layer

A functional layer within a pop song that thickens the texture and provides more harmonic context to the song. This layer typically comprises keyboards, synthesizers, and guitars, and varies widely depending on genre.

harmonic function

Refers to three categories of chords: tonic, predominant, and dominant. A chord's membership within a category indicates something about how that chord typically behaves in tonal harmonic progressions in Western classical music. For example, tonic function chords are stable and tend to represent points of resolution or repose.

harmonic interval

An interval whose notes sound together (simultaneously).

harmonic inversion

Changing the bass note of a harmony so that, for example, the third is in the bass instead of the root.

harmonic major

A major scale with le (↓6̂) instead of la (6̂): do–re–mi–fa–sol–le–ti–do (1̂–2̂–3̂–4̂–5̂–↓6̂–7̂–1̂).

harmonic minor

An ordered collection of half and whole steps with the ascending succession W–H–W–W–H–3Hs–H. Like natural minor, but with a raised 7̂.

harmonic rhythm

The rate at which chords change, usually expressed in chords per measure. A common rate of chord change in 18th-century classical music is one chord per measure, for example.

harmonic series

A series of notes whose frequencies are multiples of the first frequency: 1:1, 1:2, 1:3, 1:4, 1:5, etc. Starting with the pitch C₂, this would result in the series of pitches C₂, C₃, G₃, C₄, E₄, G₄, B♭₄, C₅, etc.


Notes played or sung all together at the same time.

harmonically closed

A phrase or module is harmonically closed when it ends with tonic harmony (I in root position).

harmonically open

A phrase or module is harmonically open when it ends on a harmony other than tonic.


An overtone of a complex sound that occurs at a whole-number ratio to the fundamental.


A vertical sonority.

head refrain

A refrain that is the first line or so of the section's text.


A grouping dissonance between a 2-layer and a 3-layer. Hemiolas commonly occur in triple-meter pieces by grouping six beats (e.g., two measures of 3/4) into three groups of two beats, rather than the expected two groups of three beats.


A unit of measurement for the frequency of a sound, equivalent to one cycle per second.


A musical texture with multiple simultaneous variants on a single melodic line.


A six-note collection. In serial music, "hexachord" is typically used to refer to either the first or last six notes of a twelve-tone row.

hexachordal combinatoriality

A property of a row in which combining one hexachord from a version of a row with a hexachord from another version of a row creates the chromatic collection.

hexatonic scale

A six-note collection that alternates between half steps and minor thirds, such as C–C♯–E–F–G♯–A.

Hexpole (H) transformation

A Neo-Riemannian transformation that connects a triad to its modal opposite a third away by moving each voice by a single semitone (e.g., connecting C major and A♭ minor).

Hi-hat cymbals

A pair of smaller cymbals, matched in size, typically 14” in diameter, mounted on a specially designed stand. The bottom cymbal sits upside down, unmoving, and the top cymbal is attached to the stand so that it can be controlled by a foot pedal. When struck, the hi-hats’ timbre depends on how open or closed the two cymbals are. The hi-hat is most often struck while closed, producing a characteristic, bright “tick tick tick”; the open sound has a more aggressive crashing or rattling quality; and a wide range of intermediate timbres are also available. When played with the foot pedal only, the cymbals make a splashing effect.


Arranged according to rank.

home key

A term used to describe a piece's overall tonic. If a movement is in the key of A major, then the home key is A major. The term is used to distinguish itself from local keys.


A musical texture consisting of one melodic part (usually the topmost) and other subordinate accompanying parts. This includes chorale texture and melody-and-accompaniment texture.


Rhythmic unison among multiple parts.

hopscotch schema

IV–V–vi–I. This four-chord schema has become increasingly common in pop music since 2010.

hybrid form

A phrase form that combines aspects of the sentence and the period into one phrase-level form.


Groupings of measures into different patterns of accentuation akin to meter. A hypermeasure is typically four measures long.


The smallest unit of music identified by a segmentation analysis. Ideas need not end with cadences, and they may combine to form subphrases or phrases. Examples include basic idea, contrasting idea, unit, cadential idea, and fragments.


ii⁷–V⁷–Imaj⁷ in major, or iiø⁷–V⁷–i⁷ in minor. A fundamentally important progression in traditional jazz.


Imitation sees two or more parts enter separately with (versions of) the same melody.

imperfect authentic cadence (IAC)

A V–I cadence in which V, I, or both harmonies are inverted, and/or do (1̂) is not in the soprano over the tonic triad. Additionally, IACs are often used to evade a cadence.

imperfect consonance

Thirds or sixths with major or minor quality.

incomplete neighbor

A type of embellishing tone that is approached by step and left by leap or vice-versa. The name comes from the idea that it functions as a neighbor tone on only one side of its embellishment. Incomplete neighbors may be called appoggiaturas or escape tones.

independent transition

A sonata-form transition that introduces new motivic material (as opposed to reusing material from the primary theme).

index number

In a transformation (Tₙ or Iₙ), n is the index number, representing the interval of transposition in semitones.


Chromatically altered from the typical version.

integer notation

A system of naming pitch classes that treats C as 0, C♯ as 1, D as 2, etc.

internal expansion

Making a phrase last longer than we expect by lengthening it after it begins, but before it cadences.


The distance between two notes.

interval class (IC)

Unordered pitch-class intervals; that is, the smallest possible distance in semitones between two pitch classes. Thus, mi2 and ma7 are both IC 1; ma2, mi7, +6 are IC 2; mi3, ma6, +2 are IC 3, etc. The largest interval class is six semitones, because if order is disregarded, the tritone is the largest possible interval.

interval size

The number of letters (or lines and spaces) that make up the span of an interval. Interval size is written with Arabic numbers (2, 3, 4, etc.).

interval subdivision

In counterpoint, a type of consonant weak beat that divides a larger consonant leap (from downbeat to downbeat) into two smaller leaps.

intervallic inversion 

Occurs when two notes are flipped: for instance, C below E is an inversion of E below C.

introduction (classical form)

A section of music that occurs before the start of the first core section.

introduction (song form)

Introduction sections transition from the unmetered silence that precedes the song to the musical activity of the first core section. They tend to be short and untexted (i.e., instrumental) and tend to present musical material from one or more core sections to come.


In serial music, invariance refers to keeping a property of a row the same through different transformations. For example, when a retrograde version of a row contains the same ordered pitch classes as a prime version of the row, we would call it "retrograde invariant" to mean that the order of pitch classes doesn't change when the row is reversed and transposed


A diatonic mode that follows the pattern W–W–H–W–W–W–H. This is equivalent to a major scale.


Italian suffix that means "very."

jazz blues

The jazz blues incorporates several alterations to the 12-bar blues to blend together blues harmony and jazz harmony. In the eighth bar, instead of remaining on tonic, there is an applied ii–V that leads to the ii chord in bar 9. In the third phrase, the V–IV–I of the standard blues is replaced with a ii–V–I more common to jazz.

key signature

In music notation, a collection of sharps or flats written at the beginning of each line (immediately after the clef) to signal that certain notes are always sharp/flat.

Kick drum

A large cylindrical drum, usually 18–24” in diameter, set on its side, typically with a wooden shell and two tensioned heads (the back one is sometimes removed or “ported,” meaning a circle is cut out), played with a foot pedal comprising a beater (a large mallet of felt, wood, or plastic) mounted to a cam and chain. The lowest-pitched drum in the kit, it is played with a foot pedal. It is originally based on a modified concert bass drum, and some still sound with the same booming quality. Other kick-drum sounds have a dull thud, or a sub-bass effect that (over the right speakers) is felt in the body as much as it is heard.


Relating to movement of parts of the body.

lament bass progression (classical)

A variety of harmonic progressions that harmonize a stepwise descending bass line from tonic to dominant. The simplest diatonic version uses the bass notes do–te–le–sol and is harmonized by the progression i–v⁶–iv⁶–V. Chromatic alternatives are common.

lament schema (pop)

A harmonization of a descending upper tetrachord (1̂–7̂–6̂–5̂) in the bass.

lead sheet

A type of jazz/pop score that typically notates only the melody and the chord symbols (written above the staff).

leading tone

A 7̂ that is one half step below 1̂. The leading tone is diatonic in major keys, but requires an accidental in minor keys.

leading-tone chord

The triad or seventh chord built on ti (7̂).

Leading-Tone Exchange (L)

A Neo-Riemannian transformation that preserves the minor third in the triad, and moves the remaining note by semitone (e.g., relating C major and E minor).


A melodic interval of a third or greater. Note that some refer to thirds as "skips" rather than leaps.

ledger lines

Small lines written above or below a staff to extend the staff's range of notes.


Performed smoothly or connected.


A German-language art song.

link (fugue)

A passage of a fugue that does not contain a subject statement in any voice.


A diatonic mode that follows the pattern H–W–W–H–W–W–W. This is like the natural minor scale, but with a lowered 2̂ and lowered 5̂. This scale can also be found by playing the white notes of the piano starting on B.


A perceived characteristic of music that is created by unconventional phrase structures, unstable harmonies, diverse motivic material, and so on. Loose organization is common in passages with transitional function.


A diatonic mode that follows the pattern W–W–W–H–W–W–H. This is like the major scale, but with a raised 4̂. This scale can also be found by playing the white notes of the piano starting on F.

lydian shuttle

I–II♯, or C–D in C major. This progression can easily be confused with IV–V in major or ♭VII–I in mixolydian, so one should be careful when referencing this progression. It implies the lydian mode.


A module or phrase is lyric-invariant if each time it appears it brings (mostly) the same lyrics. Lyric invariance tends to come at points of formal closure (tail refrains at the ends of strophes, choruses at the end of a verse-chorus song’s formal cycle).


A module or phrase is lyric-variant if each time it appears it brings (mostly) different lyrics.

main section

A section that presents the work's primary musical ideas. Usually, the main section is the first core section of the work. Examples include primary themes, refrains, expositions, choruses, or strophes.

major pentatonic scale

A scale that proceeds ma2–ma2–mi3–ma2–mi3. For example, starting on C, the C major pentatonic scale is C–D–E–G–A.

major scale

An ordered collection of half steps (H) and whole steps (W) as follows (ascending): W–W–H–W–W–W–H.

major seventh chord

A seventh chord with a major triad and a major seventh.

major triad

A triad whose third is major and fifth is perfect.

major-major seventh chord

A seventh chord with a major triad and a major seventh. Also known as a major seventh chord.

major-minor seventh chord

A seventh chord with a major triad and a minor seventh. Also known as a dominant seventh chord.


To play with a more forceful accent or emphasis.


Created by bar lines, a measure (or bar) is equivalent to one beat grouping.

medial caesura

In sonata form, the cadence that is the goal of the transition and marks the boundary between the transition and the secondary theme. Usually a HC, in I, V, or the secondary key; sometimes an authentic cadence in the secondary key; rarely, it could be an AC in the tonic key.


This term has multiple meanings, given here from most to least specific:

1. The third scale degree (mi, 3̂) and/or the triad built upon it (iii/III).
2. The chords a third above or below the root (iii and vi in major keys; III and VI in minor keys).
3. The relationship between two chords whose roots are related by third.

melodic interval

An interval whose notes are sounded separately (one note after another).

melodic inversion

The act of mirroring pitch content vertically, so that motion down becomes up and up becomes down. Inversion often preserves intervallic content.

melodic layer

A functional layer within a pop song texture that is typically performed by the voice and other melodic instruments. The melodic layer is notable for involving high timbral flexibility, as well as instruments that are bright relative to the surrounding texture.

melodic minor

An ordered collection of half steps (H) and whole steps (W) with the ascending succession W–H–W–W–W–W–H and the descending succession W–W–H–W–W–H–W.


A French-language art song.


A type of homophony in which one can clearly distinguish between melodic and supporting voices, usually with differing rhythms between them.


A recurring pattern of accents that occur over time. Meters are indicated in music notation with a time signature.

metric modulation

A means of smoothing out abrupt tempo changes by introducing subdivisions or groups of beats in the first tempo that match durations in the new tempo.

metronome marking

An indication of tempo in beats per minute (BPM).




A tone that exists outside of the twelve-tone equal-tempered scale (for example, quarter tones).


A band of frequencies meant to capture melodic instruments; about 500–5000 Hz.

mid-song introduction

Mid-song intros function similarly to introductions, but in the middle of the song. They usually introduce the first section in the formal cycle.

middle C

C₄; the C near the middle of the piano keyboard, written on the first ledger line below the treble clef staff or the first ledger line above the bass clef staff.


A physical and/or social setting.

minor blues

The minor blues differs from the standard 12-bar blues by having minor seventh chords on the i and iv chords, and replacing the V–IV–I cadence with a ii–V–I cadence.

minor iv schema

Use of a minor iv chord in a major key. This creates a semitone descent between scale degrees ↓6̂ and 5̂. It is common to precede iv with IV (major), creating a descent 6̂–↓6̂–5̂.

minor pentatonic scale

A pentatonic scale with the intervals mi3–ma2–ma2–mi3–ma2. For example, starting on A, the minor pentatonic would be A–C–D–E–G. The minor pentatonic is a rotation of the major pentatonic.

minor seventh chord

A seventh chord with a minor triad and a minor seventh.

minor triad

A triad whose third is minor and fifth is perfect.

minor-minor seventh chord

A seventh chord with a minor triad and a minor seventh. Also known as a minor seventh chord.


A diatonic mode that follows the pattern W–W–H–W–W–H–W. This is like the major scale, but with a lowered 7̂. This scale can also be found by playing the white notes of the piano starting on G.

mnemonic device 

A technique used to aid memorization.

mod 12

Short for modulo 12, where numbers wrap around upon reaching 12. Arithmetic in mod 12 is most commonly encountered in clock time: after 12 o’clock, the time becomes 1 o’clock again.

modal brightness

"Bright" refers to a more major sound, while "dark" refers to a more minor sound.

mode mixture

The intermixing of major and minor versions of 3̂, 6̂, and/or 7̂ within a composition.


A change of key.


A musical texture with a single, unaccompanied melodic line.


A piece that has one overarching tonic, that is, it starts and ends in the same key and contains a single tonic that gives the impression of being the primary key of the work.


A regularly recurring unit of music that's smaller than an idea, and which is typically transformed across a work. The word "motive" usually refers to pitch material, but other kinds of motives such as rhythmic or contour also exist.

motivic enlargement

Making the durations of a motive last longer than the original.

motor rhythm

Persistent rapid note values, especially sixteenth notes. Common in Baroque music.

movable do

A system of solfège in which do is the first scale degree in a scale; this is in contrast to fixed do, where do is always the pitch class C.


A module or phrase is music-invariant if each time it appears it brings (mostly) the same music.


A module or phrase is music-variant if each time it appears it brings (mostly) different music.


Music scholars.


Neither sharp nor flat.

natural minor

An ordered collection of half steps (H) and whole steps (W) with the ascending succession W–H–W–W–H–W–W.

Neapolitan sixth

A ♭II⁶ chord.

Nebenverwandt transformation (N)

A Neo-Riemannian transformation that moves both members of the minor third in a triad by semitone, and again changes the mode (e.g., relating C major and F minor).

neighbor tones (NTs)

Embellishing tones that are approached by step and left by step in the opposite direction.


A type of motion where a chord tone moves by step to another tone, then moves back to the original chord tone. For example, C–D–C above a C major chord would be an example of neighboring motion, in which D can be described as a neighbor tone. Entire harmonies may be said to be neighboring when embellishing another harmony, when the voice-leading between the two chords involves only neighboring and common-tone motion (as in the common-tone diminished seventh chord).

neighboring 6/4

A kind of 6/4 chord that embellishes a harmony with neighbor motion. This is usually labeled with figures, e.g., with 5-6-5 in one voice and 3-4-3 in another.

normal feel

In contrast to a double-time or half-time feel, a normal feel occurs when the backbeat is aligns with beats two and four of a quadruple measure (that is, the expected timing of the backbeat).

normal order

The most compressed way to write a given collection of pitch classes.

nota cambiata

A five-note species counterpoint embellishment that may occur in one of two different forms:

1) Down by step, down by third, up by step, up by step
2) Up by step, up by third, down by step, down by step


A musical sound that has both a pitch and a rhythmic component; the symbol may include a stem, beam, and/or flag.

note value

The relative duration of a note.


The elliptical part of the note. Can be either filled in (black) or outlined (white).

novelty layer

A functional layer within a pop song texture that works in opposition with the melodic layer through call-and-response gestures or interjections. This layer often uses instruments whose timbral features resist blending with the rest of the ensemble.

oblique motion

When one voice moves melodically while another voice remains on the same pitch.

octatonic collection

The octatonic collection is built with an alternation of whole steps and half steps, leading to a total of eight distinct pitches. One example is C–C♯–D♯–E–F♯–G–A–B♭. Jazz musicians refer to this as the diminished scale.


An interval of twelve half steps between two notes with the same letter name. The frequencies of two notes related by octave form a 2:1 ratio. Abbreviated “8ve.”

octave equivalence

A relationship between pitches that share a letter name but are separated by one or more octaves.


A rhythmic or note value that does not fall on a beat (1, 2, 3, etc.).


A phrase or module is off-tonic when it begins on a harmony other than tonic.


A phrase or module is on-tonic when it begins with tonic harmony (I in root position).


A technique of internal phrase expansion. Coined by Janet Schmalfeldt, the technique involves three steps: (1) the music tries to cadence, (2) the attempted cadence is evaded, and (3) the music retries the cadence.

open spacing

Notes of a chord are spaced out beyond their closest possible position.

operations (set theory)

In set theory, "operations" refers to transposition and inversion.

ordered pitch interval

The distance between two pitches measured in semitones, with a plus or minus symbol to indicate ascending or descending, respectively. For example: C₄ to E₅ would be an ordered pitch interval of +16.

ordered pitch-class interval

The distance between pitch classes from lowest to highest. In other words, pitch class intervals are measured on the clock face, always going clockwise.

ordered set

A group of things that appear in a specified sequence. An ordered pitch set, for example, appears in a consistent order within a piece of music. Compare against a pitch class set, where the pitches are unordered, meaning they can appear in any order in the piece of music.


A rhythmic/pitch motive that repeats within a context that is not similarly repeating.


Outros function as a transition from song back to silence, and thus decrease energy. Often this is accomplished in the recording studio by way of a fadeout.


Pandiatonicism uses the notes of a diatonic collection without imparting a sense of pitch center.

parallel motion

When two voices move melodically in the same direction and by the same interval—for example, both voices move upward by a melodic second. (Note: the quality of the interval may vary, and it still counts as parallel motion.) By definition, two voices moving in parallel motion will also maintain the same harmonic interval between them.

parallel relationship

When two keys/scales share the same tonic, such as C major and C minor.

Parallel transformation (P)

A Neo-Riemannian transformation that preserves the perfect fifth in the triad, and moves the remaining note by semitone (e.g., relating C major and C minor).


A component frequency within a complex tone's set of overtones.


A type of motion where a chord tone moves by step to another tone, then resolves by step in the same direction. For example, C–D–E above a C major chord would be an example of neighboring motion, in which D can be described as a passing tone. Entire harmonies may be said to be passing when embellishing another harmony, when the voice-leading between the two chords involves mainly passing tones (as in the passing 6/4 chord).

passing 6/4

A 6/4 chord built on a passing tone in the bass, most commonly found prolonging tonic or predominant harmonies. Importantly, the chords on both sides of the passing 6/4 are always the same function.

pedal tones

Pedal tones are often found in the bass. They consist of a series of static notes over top of which chord changes occur that do not include the bass.

pentatonic collection

A pitch collection built with the interval pattern ma2–ma2–mi3–ma2–mi3. This collection can also be generated by using scale degrees 1̂, 2̂, 3̂, 5̂, and 6̂ only of the major scale.



percussion clef

A clef used by non-pitched percussion instruments, where each line or space is dedicated to a different sound. Notation: 𝄥

perfect authentic cadence (PAC)

A V–I cadence that ends with do (1̂) in the melody. Both harmonies must be in root position.

perfect consonance

Perfect octaves (twelve semitones), perfect unisons (zero semitones), and perfect fifths (seven semitones). Perfect fourths (five semitones) are sometimes considered a perfect consonance, sometimes a dissonance; this depends on the context.


A phrase-level form that consists of two phrases: an antecedent and a consequent.


The rate at which something repeats.


To divide time into different periods.


A relatively complete musical thought that exhibits trajectory toward a goal (often a cadence).

phrase elision

The overlapping of two phrases, functioning as the ending of one phrase and the simultaneous beginning of the next.

phrase expansion

The lengthening of a phrase, whether internally or externally, beyond its expected duration.

phrase model

Indicates the typical order and flow of harmonic functions in a phrase: tonic–predominant–dominant(–tonic).

phrase-level form

Refers to the various ways in which a phrase may be constructed of subphrases, ideas, and motives. Examples of phrase-level forms include sentences, periods, repeated phrases, and hybrid forms.


The way a passage might be shaped in performance (where to push and pull the tempo, where and how to change dynamic levels, etc.).


A diatonic mode that follows the pattern H–W–W–W–H–W–W. This is like the natural minor scale, but with a lowered 2̂. This scale can also be found by playing the white notes of the piano starting on E.

phrygian half cadence

The phrygian half cadence (PHC) is a special kind of cadential phrase ending that occurs only in minor and involves the progression iv6–V. It's called “phrygian” because of the half step that occurs when le (↓6̂) moves to sol (5̂) in the bass, a sound that’s similar to when ra (↓2̂) moves to do (1̂) in the phrygian mode.



picardy third

Substituting a major I chord for a minor I chord (for example, using C major instead of C minor in a piece that is in C minor overall).


A discrete tone with an individual frequency.

pitch class

A group of pitches that are octave equivalent and enharmonically equivalent.

pitch interval

A type of interval that is measured in semitones. For example, the pitch interval 2 is two semitones; the pitch interval 7 is seven semitones.

pitch-class set

A group of pitch classes.

pivot chord

A chord used to modulate between two keys that is diatonic in both.


A mode with a range of a fifth above and fourth below its tonic.

plagal cadence

A plagal cadence uses the harmonies IV–I.

plagal motion

Occurs when IV (or IV⁶) moves to I (or I⁶).


When two or more meters are notated simultaneously.


A musical texture with multiple independent melodic voices, distinguished from one another through different rhythms and/or intervallic profiles. Also known as counterpoint. Polyphony may occur in many styles but is commonly associated with contrapuntal genres like fugues and canons.

post-cadential extension (p.c.e.)

A type of suffix (external expansion). Post-cadential extensions are usually short, they often occur at the ends of phrases within a section, and they typically prolong the final chord of the cadence or re-state the two chords that created the cadence.


A short section that follows a chorus and serves only to close the cycle—does not introduce or transition to the beginning of the next cycle.


Prechorus function is most significantly typified in energy gain. Prechorus sections often use motivic fragmentation, acceleration of harmonic rhythm, movement away from tonic harmony, and harmonic openness.

predominant function

Predominant function chords are those that transition away from tonic function toward dominant function.


An external expansion that occurs before the beginning of a phrase. Prefixes are usually introductions, and they may be small, as when the accompaniment for a lied begins before the singer, or they may be large, as when a symphony begins with a slow introduction.


A subphrase consisting of a basic idea and its repetition. Presentations don't usually end with cadences.

primary theme (P theme)

The main section of a sonata-form work, in the tonic key. P themes are usually stable.

prime form

A name for a set class. The prime form is the version of the set class that is most compact to the left and transposed to begin on 0.

prime symbol

A symbol (′) that is used in the analysis of phrases and forms to indicate that some repeated material has changed, in some way, from its initial statement.

progressive tonality

A piece that starts and ends with different tonics. Compare with monotonality, which is the default harmonic plan in most tonal works from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.


When a given harmony’s influence lasts longer than a single chord. Usually this is accomplished by alternating the prolonged chord with other, less important chords.


A system of musical notation stripped of complicating elements, focusing only on basic elements of meter, rhythm, and scale degree.

quadruple meter

A meter with four beats per measure.

quality (chord)

A term that summarizes the quality of the third, fifth, and seventh (if applicable) above the root of the chord. Common chord qualities are major, minor, diminished, half-diminished, dominant, and augmented.

quality (interval)

A term that indicates the exact number of semitones between two pitches in an interval (compare with interval size, which indicates only the number of letters between two pitches). Common interval qualities are major, minor, perfect, augmented, and diminished.

quarter note

A note value that lasts half the duration of a half note, or the duration of two eighth notes. Notation: 𝅘𝅥

quarter rest

A type of rest that lasts half the duration of a half rest, or the duration of two eighth rests. Notation: 𝄽


A group of lyrics that is four lines long.


The span of notes a voice or instrument can produce.

real answer

A fugue subject transposed by fourth/fifth, stated in a second voice in response to the first voice's subject statement.


The process of turning figured bass symbols into chords.


A section of a sonata-form work that brings back themes from the exposition and resolves the conflict established in the exposition.

refrain (rondo form)

The primary theme of a rondo-form work, typically stated at the beginning, after each contrasting episode, and as the last section (though a coda may follow).

refrain (song form)

A lyric-invariant passage within a section that is otherwise lyric-variant. A refrain is too short to form its own section—typically a phrase or less.


Considered in relation to some other system. For example, modes are said to be relative if their scales share all the same notes (like C major and A minor).

relative relationship

When two keys/scales share the same pitches.

Relative transformation (R)

A Neo-Riemannian transformation that preserves the major third in the triad and moves the remaining note by whole tone (e.g., relating C major and A minor).


In a sound signal's envelope, the release is the final phase, and transitions from sound to silence.

repeat signs

Symbols (𝄆 and 𝄇) indicating that a section of music is repeated.

repeated phrase

Two phrases where the second one is a repetition of the first. The repetition is always written out (repeat signs don't signify a repeated phrase), and usually the repetition is a variation on the initial statement.


A technique of internal phrase expansion. Sometimes a composer repeats material to create extra length in a phrase. Such repetitions may be exact or varied.


A section of a work that bears repeat signs, like either of the parts of a binary form.


A type of alternative path that involves a permanent change of a phrase's trajectory toward the cadence. Reroutes are initiated by a diversion.


A measured silence in a piece of music.


An embellishing tone that is approached by static note and left by step up. The retardation is on a stronger part of the beat.


A retransition is very similar to a transition, but retransitions lead to a return to the main section in the tonic key, while transitions move away from tonic. Retransitions may have a clear half-cadential ending (possibly followed by a suffix), or they may have an elided ending that coincides with the initiation of the following section.


Describes when a theme, row form, or motive is played backward in comparison to an initial (or original) statement.


The duration of musical sounds and rests in time.

rhythm dot

Increases a note or rest value by half.

rhythm section

In jazz, the piano, guitar, bass, and percussion.

rhythmic solmization

A system that pairs rhythmic values with particular syllables.

Ride cymbal

A large suspended cymbal, usually 20–24” in diameter. Depending on the thickness of the cymbal, the ride may sound like a warm wash of sound (thinner rides, common in jazz) or a sharp, high-pitched crunch (thicker rides, common in metal music). High, pure ringing sounds can be produced by playing the “bell” of the ride, located in the middle of the cymbal.


A gradual decrease in speed (tempo).

Roman numeral analysis

Labeling chords with Roman numerals (and, often, figures).

Roman numerals

Numerals I, II, III, IV, V, VI, and VII for 1–7, respectively. In the analysis of harmony, Roman numerals represent triads built on the corresponding scale degree (for example, a V chord is a triad built on 5̂).


The lowest note of a triad or seventh chord when the chord is stacked in thirds.

root motion

The distance between roots of adjacent chords. For example, "root motion by step" refers to the distance between two chords that are only one step apart, such as I and ii, IV and V, etc. Note that the root is not always in the bass, so this is a separate concept from bass motion.

root position

Ordering the notes of a chord so that it is entirely stacked in thirds. The root of the chord is on the bottom.

rotation (pop schemas)

Beginning a harmonic schema on a different chord within the schema, but proceeding through the harmonies in the same order.

rounded binary form

A type of binary form where the material at the start of reprise 1 returns somewhere near the middle of reprise 2. Both appearances of that repeated music are expected to be in the home key.


The ordered elements in a serial composition, also referred to as a series. These elements are often pitches, but could be other things such as durations or dynamics.

row class

A collection of all forms of a given row. Most row classes contain 48 versions of a row, but some contain fewer due to duplications of row forms. For example, a prime version of a row may be equivalent to a retrograde version of the row.

row form

A particular version of a row in serial music; that is, prime, transposed, inverted, or retrograded.

row matrix

A 12-by-12 grid that sets out all 48 forms of a row class.


A musical texture with soprano (S), alto (A), tenor (T), and bass (B) parts.


An ordered collection of half steps and whole steps.

scale degree

The relative position of a note within a diatonic scale. Indicated with a number, 1–7, that indicates this position relative to the tonic of that scale.

scale-degree names

A movable system of names for scale degrees based on their function within the scale, such as tonic (do, 1̂) and dominant (sol, 5̂).


A prototypical chord progression or formal structure.

second inversion

A triadic harmony with the fifth in the bass.

secondary dominant

A chromatic chord that temporarily tonicizes another key besides the tonic key, by taking on a dominant function in that new key.

secondary key

A temporary key within a piece that is overall in a different key. For example, a piece in A major may temporarily modulate to E major; E major is a secondary key within A major.

secondary leading-tone

A leading-tone chord that makes a non-tonic chord temporarily sound like tonic. Most often, secondary leading-tone chords are fully diminished, though occasionally they are half-diminished.

secondary theme (S theme)

The contrasting section of a sonata-form work. The S theme begins and ends in a contrasting key (usually V in major-mode sonatas and either III or v in minor-mode sonatas). S themes are usually stable.


The highest-level division of the overall form of the piece. Examples include the exposition in sonata form, the first part of a binary form, or the chorus of a pop song.


A portion of a larger grouping. In serial analysis, segments of a row can be any number of elements (for example, in a twelve-tone row, it's common to look at three- or four-note segments).


The process of dividing a passage or piece of music into its component parts.


A special kind of phrase consisting of a presentation and a continuation.


A phrase that differs substantially from the archetypal sentence while still exhibiting some traits of a sentence-structure phrase.


A pattern that is repeated and transposed by some consistent interval. A sequence may occur in the melody, the harmony, or both.

sequence copy

The segment of a sequence that repeats and transposes the material from the model.

sequence model

The segment of music that establishes the pattern for a sequence; in other words, the segment that gets copied in a sequence.


A strategy of putting elements of music (pitch, duration, dynamics, etc.) in a particular order.


Refers to the ordered elements in a serial composition. These elements are often pitches, but could be other things such as durations or dynamics.


In set theory, a group whose members are not necessarily related.

set class

A group of pitch-class sets related by transposition or inversion. Set classes are named by their prime forms; for example, (012) is a set class.

set theory

A methodology for analyzing pitch in atonal music. Pitch classes are given an integer name (0–11, where C is 0, C♯ is 1, etc.). Groups of pitches are considered together as "sets." Sets may be related by inversion or transposition.

seventh chord

A triad with an additional third above the fifth, creating a seventh between that top note and the bass and totaling four notes.


Raises a note by a half step.

sight counting

Counting at "sight" (that is, never having seen or heard the rhythm before).

sight singing

Singing music at "sight" (that is, never having seen or heard it before).

similar motion

When two voices move melodically in the same direction (either upward or downward).

simple binary form

A type of binary form that does not contain the thematic return of a rounded binary. Instead, the second reprise continues with A material without ever having departed from it (thus there is no “return”), or it contains relatively new material throughout.

simple duple

A meter with two beats, each of which divides into two. The top number of a simple duple meter will always be "2". 2/4 and 2/2 (cut time, 𝄵) are the most common simple duple meters.

simple intervals

An octave or smaller.

simple meter

A meter that divides the beat into two parts.

simple quadruple

A meter with four beats, each of which divides into two. The top number of a simple quadruple meter will always be "4". 4/4 (common time, 𝄴) is the most common compound quadruple meter.

simple ternary form

A ternary form whose sections are each made up of one or more phrases but not complete forms. The term "simple" can also be used to clarify that a single section does not contain a complete form. Compare with compound ternary form.

simple triple

A meter with three beats, each of which divides into two. The top number of a simple triple meter will always be "3". 3/4 is the most common compound triple meter.


A general term for two or more sound events occurring at the same time.

singer/songwriter schema

I–V–vi–IV in major, or III–VII–i–VI in minor (C–G–Ami–F, for example). This chord progression often loops throughout a pop song. Frequently, this progression begins on the vi/i chord instead of the I/III chord.

sixteenth note

A note value that lasts half the duration of an eighth note. Notation: 𝅘𝅥𝅯

sixteenth rest

A type of rest that lasts half the duration of an eighth rest. Notation: 𝄿


Melodic movement by third.

skipped passing tone

In counterpoint, a type of consonant weak-beat motion that is approached by skip (third) and left by step in the same direction.

slash notation

An abbreviated form of musical rhythmic notation, that involves dashes to indicate articulations, horizontal lines to indicate a sustained note, and circles to indicate rests.

Slide transformation (S)

A Neo-Riemannian transformation that moves the two pitches that form the perfect fifth in a triad by semitone and changes the mode of the triad (e.g., relating C major and C♯ minor).


A curved line placed over notes to indicate that they should be played or sung without separation.

snare drum

A cylindrical drum, typically 14” in diameter, made of wood or metal with tensioned heads (or skins) on the top and bottom and a set of snare wires stretched below the bottom head to create the drum’s characteristic buzzing and cracking sounds. Played with force, it sounds like wood cracking or like a thunderclap. Played softly, it offers a range of effects from clicks and taps to buzzing rolls.


The application of solmization syllables (do, re, mi, fa, sol, etc.) to scale degrees.


A system that pairs each note of a scale with a particular syllable.

sonata form

A complex large-scale musical form that can be understood as an elaborate version of rounded binary form with a balanced component. The larger level names are as follows: Exposition (≈A), Development (≈B), and Recapitulation (≈A′). In general terms, the exposition contains two main sections (primary and secondary) separated by a transition. The secondary theme is presented in a non-tonic key in the exposition, and crucially, it is restated in the recapitulation in the tonic key. The exposition and recapitulation often end with a large suffix (closing section).


The highest part in SATB style, written in the treble clef staff with an up-stem; its generally accepted range is C₄–G₅.

sound signal

A broad, generic term for any audio data. A sound signal does not need to be digital; this term can also refer to a perceived sound.

sound wave

An acoustic wave (energy vibration) that is perceived as sound.


The intervals between voices. For chords in strict SATB style, there should be no more than an octave between upper voices (soprano and alto, alto and tenor), and no more than a twelfth between the tenor and bass.

species counterpoint

A traditional approach to composition pedagogy focused on counterpoint as a way of learning to think of music horizontally (melodically) and vertically (harmonically) simultaneously. Consists of five “species,” each of which focuses on a single compositional element.


A poetic foot consisting of two stressed syllables in a row.


A four-part phrase structure in popular music: statement, restatement, departure, and conclusion. An srdc structure shares many features with the Classical sentence.


A perceived quality created in music through tonic expansions, regular hypermeter, absence of modulations, diatonic melodies, and diatonic harmonies, among other things.


Played or sung with more separation, leaving space between notes.


Five evenly spaced horizontal lines on which notes are placed.


In lyrics, a stanza is a group of lines of lyrics. In music notation, a stanza is a group of staves that are played simultaneously.


A vertical line that originates at the notehead, used to indicate rhythm and voicing.

stem (music production)

A music production term for a single instrumental track or group of tracks that are mixed together into a single digital file. A stem is an intermediate level of mixing, between each individual instrument's track and the final composite mix.

stem direction

On a grand staff in SATB style, the soprano and tenor are up-stemmed, while the alto and bass are down-stemmed.

straight eighth notes

Eighth notes that are equal, as opposed to swing eighths (which are unequal).

straight syncopation

Taking a series of notes of equal durations, cutting the duration of the first note in half, and shifting the rest early by that half duration.


A technique of internal phrase expansion. It occurs when a composer lengthens a harmony or melody by increasing its duration so that it lasts longer than expected. When that happens, we say that the unit that contains the harmony or melody has been stretched.

string instrument

An instrument that produces sound via one or more vibrating strings.


A basic multi-phrase unit. In pop music, a strophe is a focal module within strophic-form and AABA-form songs.

strophic form

A large-scale song structure, in which the same basic multi-phrase unit is repeated throughout (AAA). The basic unit that is repeated is called a strophe. Strophic form is more common in early rock-and-roll (1950s–1960s) than in the 1970s and beyond.

structural features

Musical features that pertain to section divisions and form.


A harmonic function that may either lead toward a dominant-function chord or back to a tonic-function chord. Subdominant function is most typically associated with the IV chord, otherwise known as the subdominant chord, and the II chord, otherwise known as the supertonic chord.


A short melody that forms the melodic basis of a fugue and recurs throughout.


A unit in some phrase-level forms that is one level smaller than a phrase, but one level larger than an idea.


A set that is entirely contained within another larger set.

substitution (counterpoint)

In counterpoint, a type of consonant weak beat that involves a leap of a fourth followed by a step in the opposite direction. The name implies that this motion substitutes for a more common passing-tone motion.


The unraised seventh scale degree in minor keys (te, 7̂), or the triad built upon that scale degree (VII).

subtonic shuttle

♭VII–I, or B♭–C in C major. This shuttle can imply mixolydian if the tonic chord is major, or aeolian if it is minor. In this shuttle, the ♭VII chord has dominant function.

subversion of a cadence

Occurs when a potential cadence point is declined by the material that follows it. A common strategy is for a composer to write music that proposes a cadence, but then to "back up" in the phrase and try the cadence again. See also the "one-more-time" technique in the chapter on phrase expansion.


A type of external expansion that occurs after the end of a phrase. There are three terms commonly used to describe suffixes, ranging in size from smaller to larger: post-cadential extension, codetta, and coda.


In typesetting, superscript characters appear higher on the page than the regular characters—like an exponent in math. For example, in the chord symbol C⁷, the 7 is superscript.


A larger set that contains other smaller sets. For example, a superset of (037) is the diatonic collection, (013568t).


An embellishing tone that is approached via static note and left by step down. The suspension is on a strong part of the beat.


In a sound signal's envelope, the sustain is the third phase. The sustain is a (relatively) constant loudness level that is held for some duration.

swing eighths

A performance practice in which two notated eighth notes are performed unequally, in about a 2:1 proportion.


A rhythmic phenomenon in which the hierarchy of the underlying meter is contradicted through surface rhythms. Syncopation is usually created through accents and/or longer durations.


The norms or principles according to which musical elements are combined into meaningful and stylistically appropriate successions.


The perceptual equivalent of a "beat"—the pulse that you might tap your foot or bob your head along to. A tactus is felt, not notated.

tail refrain

A refrain that is the last line or so of a section's text.


How fast or slow a work is performed; many tempo markings are in Italian or another non-English language.


Relating to time.

tenor (church modes)

Related to the word "tenuto," the tenor of a mode is the pitch frequently sustained in a chant melody using that mode.

tenor (voice)

The second lowest part in SATB style, written in the bass clef staff with up-stems; its generally accepted range is C₃–G₄.

tenor clef

As a "C" clef, the tenor clef shows that the second-highest line of the staff is C₄ by centering on that line.


A type of articulation marking used to indicate smooth, connected playing, indicated by small horizontal lines above or below the notes.

ternary form

A musical form consisting of three distinct sections, in an ABA (not ABC) formal structure. The B section typically contains contrasting material in a new key. Repeat signs around each section are common.


A four-note collection.


The density of and interaction between voices in a work.

third inversion

A triadic harmony with the chordal seventh in the bass.


An attribute of a musical form where no sections of music return. Similar motivic material may be present in different sections, but the sections would each be considered distinct.


Connects two or more notes of the same pitch; notes after the initial one are not rearticulated.


A perceived characteristic of music that is created by conventional theme types, harmonic stability, symmetrical groupings, and consistent motivic material.


The aspect of sound that distinguishes sound sources from one another; for example, what makes a flute sound different from a guitar, even if they are playing the same pitch at the same loudness. Timbre arises from acoustic aspects of a sound signal but is also strongly influenced by human perception and thus subjective.

time signature

An indication of meter in Western music notation, often made up of two numbers stacked vertically.

timeline notation

A contemporary metric technique that uses seconds as the measure of time, rather than traditional bar lines and meters.


Drums of various sizes (diameters of 10–16” are most common), similar to the snare drum but with deeper bodies and lacking the snares. They have a more focused pitch fundamental than the snare and are higher-pitched than the kick. There are often three toms on a drum kit, with pitches that are low, middle, and high. The pitch can be a more or less prominent feature of the toms’ sound.


An adjective used to describe music that adheres to the Western system of functional harmony.

tonal ambiguity

A property of certain chord progressions, where the progression does not inherently imply a single chord as the tonic chord.

tonal answer

An imitative repetition of a subject that is not an exact transposition of the subject (that is, a real answer) but modifies the intervals to fit within the same key as the original subject. A common modification is to change a perfect fifth do–sol (1̂–5̂) in the subject to a perfect fourth sol–do (5̂–1̂) in the answer. The term "tonal answer" refers to the fact that this preserves the tonal relationships (e.g., between do and sol) instead of preserving intervallic relationships.

tone cluster

A chord composed entirely of seconds (major or minor), rather than thirds or any larger interval.


The home note or home chord of a scale, or something with the function of that home note.

tonic function

A category of chords that sound stable, providing a sense of home or center. The I chord is the paradigmatic tonic-function chord, but vi and iii occasionally have tonic function.


The process by which a non-tonic triad is made to sound like a temporary tonic. It involves the use of secondary dominant or leading-tone chords.


A section of music that functions to connect two thematic sections, especially where the upcoming section is not the initiation of a large-scale return.


The act of moving pitch content by a certain interval.

treatment of the chordal seventh

In strict four-voice writing:

1) Approach the chordal seventh by step or common tone

2) Resolve the chordal seventh down by step

Reminder: the chordal seventh is different from the leading tone.

treble clef

As a "G" clef, the treble clef designates the second-lowest line of a staff as G₄ by curling around it.


A division of a rhythmic unit (one beat, two beats, one measure, etc.) into three almost-equal groups, in a 3+3+2 pattern: for example, dividing a half note into two dotted eighth notes and an eighth note.


A three-note chord whose pitch classes can be arranged as thirds.


A collection of three notes.

triple meter

A meter with three beats per measure.


A tuplet that involves dividing a beat in simple meter into three parts.


An augmented fourth or diminished fifth. The name reflects that the two notes of a tritone are three (tri-) whole steps (tones) apart.


A rhythm that involves dividing the beat into a different number of subdivisions from that usually implied by the time signature.


An embellishment that indicates to decorate a note with its upper and lower neighbor, in that order. (The opposite order would be an "inverted" turn.) For example, a turn on C would be performed C–D–C–B–C. This embellishment is a specific kind of double neighbor.


The use of a non-tonic chord (usually dominant) at the end of a harmonically closed unit to transition into the beginning of the following on-tonic unit. In jazz, the term "turnaround" often refers to the progression vi–ii–V–I. The exact qualities of these chords are highly variable, and one or more of the chords may be substituted with a different, related chord.

typical four-part writing procedure

1. Write the entire bass
2. Write the entire soprano to make a smooth melody that interacts well with the bass. Choose active notes for the soprano above dominant-function chords, and remember you do not always need to write left to right.
3. Write the inner voices by asking, "What notes do I already have? What notes do I still need? Considering spacing and resolution, what note placement would give me the smoothest motion?"


A segment of music that expresses whatever the prevailing higher-level grouping expresses. For example, if a unit is contained within a continuation, it expresses continuation function. We often apply the term "unit" to ideas that aren't easily categorized using terms such as basic idea, contrasting idea, or cadential idea.

unordered pitch intervals

The distance between two pitches, measured in semitones. For example, C₄ to E₅ would be an unordered pitch interval of 16.

unpitched percussion

Percussion instruments that do not produce a definite pitch; for example, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, maracas, and so on.

While unpitched percussion can still be "tuned" and can be described as having a higher or lower sound, unpitched percussion is acoustically noisy, and does not create discrete frequency bands that allow for easy perception of a fundamental pitch. Compare them against pitched percussion, such as timpani, xylophone, or gamelan.


Spelling chords stacked in thirds or in closed position, within a single staff, usually for abstract or theoretical purposes, rather than for performance.


The last beat of a measure which is conducted with an upward motion.


Sections that are lyric-variant and often contain lyrics that advance the narrative.

verse-chorus form

The most common form of pop songs today, consisting of lyric-variant verses and lyric- and music-invariant choruses that deliver the primary narrative material of the song.

voice (musical line)

An independent, monophonic part within a piece of music (instrumental or vocal). Each voice may be played by a different instrument, or multiple voices may be played by one instrument (especially in polyphonic instruments like keyboard or guitar).

voice crossing

When a higher voice part moves below a lower voice part. In strict SATB style, the ranges of voices should not cross; the soprano must always be higher than the alto, the alto must always be higher than the tenor, and the tenor must be higher than the bass.

voice leading

The way a specific voice within a larger texture moves when the harmonies change. For example, in a choir with four parts, soprano/alto/tenor/bass, one might discuss the voice leading in the tenor part as the entire choir moves from I to V.

voice overlap

In a multi-voice texture, when one voice leaps beyond the previous note in another voice.


Distribution of notes in a chord into idiomatic registers for performance.


The distance between two peaks of a sound wave.


Related to European or American culture.

whole note

A note value that lasts the duration of two half notes. Notation: 𝅝

whole rest

A type of rest that lasts the duration of two half rests. Notation: 𝄻

whole step

An interval equal to two half steps

whole-tone collection

A pitch collection composed entirely of whole steps. There are six whole steps in a whole tone collection, and there are only two possible whole tone scales: C–D–E–F♯–G♯–A♯, or C♯–D♯–F–G–A–B.


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OPEN MUSIC THEORY Copyright © 2023 by Mark Gotham; Kyle Gullings; Chelsey Hamm; Bryn Hughes; Brian Jarvis; Megan Lavengood; and John Peterson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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