Musical terms are words mostly in a language other than English (Let’s face it, the Europeans got there first). The majority are Italian. Some are in German or French.
We have put together a list of musical terms that you will encounter in your music lessons:
Adagio [It.] Slow tempo.
Allegretto [It.] Slightly slower than allegro.
Allegro [It.] (allo) Merry, lively; fast.
Andante [It.] Walking pace
Largo [It.] long and broad; slow.
Lento [It.] Slow.
Moderato [It.] Moderate tempo.
Presto [It.] Very fast.
Change of Tempo Markings
Accelerando [It.] (accel.) Becoming faster and faster.
Generalpause [Ger.] (G.P.) General pause, a rest for all musicians, usually unexpected.
Lʹistesso tempo [It.] The same tempo.
Rallentando [It.] (rall.) Slowing down.
Ritardando [It.] (ritard., rit.) Slowing down gradually.
Ritenuto [It.] (riten.) Held back; generally more sudden than ritardando or rallentando.
Mosso [It.] Moved, agitated.
Stringendo [It.] Pressing forward.
Tempo Primo [It.] (Tempo I) Return to original tempo after deviating from it
Rubato[It.] This actually means ‘Steal’ in Italian; in this case, playing rubato means you will be ‘stealing time’; in execution, you would be speeding up and slowing down for expressive purposes.
Vivo [It.] Lively, brisk.
Forte [It.] (f) Loud. (actually means ‘strong’ in Italian)
Forte‐piano [It.] (fp) Loud followed immediately by soft.
Mezzo [It.] (m) Half, medium, middle.
Piano [It.] (p) Soft.
Change of Dynamic Markings
Crescendo [It.] (cresc.) increasing in volume.
Decrescendo [It.] (decresc.) Decreasing in volume.
Diminuendo [It.] (dim.) Decreasing in volume.
Articulation & Expression Markings
Brio [It.] Vivacious, spirited.
Cantabile [It.] (cant.) play in a singing manner
Dolce [It.] Sweet. Espressivo [It.] With expression.
Legato [It.] Fastened, bound, tied; played smoothly without separation.
Leggiero [It.] Light, lightly.
Marcato [It.] Marked, stressed, emphasized.
Morendo [It.] Dying or fading away.
Semplice [It.] Simple, plain.
Sforzando [It.] (sf) Forcing, forced, accented, loud.
Staccato [It.] (stacc.) Separated, detached.
Tenuto [It.] (ten.)Keep, hold, grip; sustain without detachment.
Modifiers and Others
Alla [It.] To the, at the; in the manner of.
Coda [It.] Tail; concluding section.
Con [It.] With.
Da Capo [It.] (D.C.) The head; the beginning .
Dal Segno [It.] (D.S.) From the sign.
Divisi [It.] Part, divide.
Etto [It.] Suffix meaning “less” (allegretto is less fast, adagietto is less slow).
Fine [It.] End.
Issimo [It.] Suffix meaning “very” (pianissimo is very soft, legatissimo is very smooth).
Ma [It.] But.
Ma non troppo [It.] But not too much.
Meno [It.] Less.
Molto [It.] Very.
Non [It.] Not.
Più [It.] More.
Poco [It.] Little in amount.
Poco a poco [It.] Little by Little.
Sempre [It.] Always.
Senza [It.] Without.
Simile [It.] In a similar fashion.
Soli [It.] Within an ensemble, this refers to a passage to be played by a small group or section.
Solo [It.] Alone; a passage or entire piece to be played by one player only.
Subito [It.] Immediately, suddenly.
Un [It.] One, a, an.
Unison [En.] Same pitch.
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