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Below is an alphabetical listing of music-related terms.

accent: emphasis given to a note, chord or rhythm.

Afro-Cuban: a term used to describe a style of music that emerged from Cuba in the early 50s that blended Western African and European music.

Arabic Numbers: the simple counting numbers (ex., 1 2  3  4  etc.) have several uses in music. 1. to identify a note’s position (scale degree) in a major scale with relationship to the starting note  2. to show a note’s intervallic relationship to the root of a chord or another note. 3. to label the primary rhythmic beats in a measure.

arpeggio: a chord whose notes are played in succession (instead of simultaneously).

artist: a person whose creative work shows sensitivity and imagination.

atonal:  having no discernable key center.

augmented chord: a chord with a raised 5 (also called #5).

backbeat or offbeat:  the 2nd and 4th quarter notes in 4/4 music.

ballad: a slow song or tempo.

bar:  a basic unit of time used to organize rhythm into regular groupings of beats; also known as a “measure.”

beat: 1. a unit of rhythm, or the pulse of music 2. an abbreviation for “beatnik” (a jazz poet of the 50s).

be-bop or bop: a musical style advanced by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, and others that was considered revolutionary in the late 1940s because of its rhythmic, harmonic and melodic advancements.

Bird: a nickname for alto saxophonist Charlie Parker (b. 1920 – d. 1955).

big band: a large ensemble traditionally consisting of a rhythm section, saxophones, trumpets, and trombones. 2. the style of music played by these groups which reached it’s height of popularity in the 30s and 40s, sometimes called the “big band era.”

bi-tonal: having two simultaneous tonalities or key centers.

blues: 1. a 12 bar song form that evolved from African American folk forms influencing many forms of popular music; including jazz, rock, R and B, hip hop.  2. various other 8, 16 and 24 bar related forms 3. a quality of sound (ex. a bluesy sound) 4. a melancholy feeling.

Bop: short for “be-bop.”

bossa nova: Literally means the “new trend” in Portuguese.  This music is a mixture of Brazilian samba and cool jazz popularized by Stan Getz and Antonio Carlos Jobim.

break: 1. a device to mark the beginning of a solo when everybody except the soloist lays out for a specific number of bars or beats 2. a percussion solo i.e., “a drum break.”

bridge: a contrasting section of the form, usually the third grouping of 8 bars in a 32 bar tune, linking the sections together harmonically (aka the “B section”, “release,” or “channel”).

brushes: 1. wire or plastic tines on the end of a stick that a drummer uses to get soft sounds from the snare and cymbals 2. a single word to say to the drummer to communicate that the next tune will be a ballad.

burn or burning: 1. when a soloist is playing a great solo they are said to be “burning.” 2. fast tempo 3. slang term coined by tenor saxophonist Lester Young for excellent cooking, as in “Can Madame burn?”

cadence: a musical point of arrival, ending or moment of harmonic resolution.

call and response: a musical interaction in which an idea is stated by one voice or instrument and responded to or echoed by others. 

changes: harmonic movement, or a succession of chords (also known as “chord progression”).

chart: a written arrangement of a song.

chops: 1. a musician’s dexterity and technical ability on their instrument 2. the embouchure of a horn player.

chord: three or more notes sounding simultaneously.

chord type or chord color: 1. the general family of chord type (i.e., major, minor, dim, augmented) that a chord is derived from 2. the characteristic quality of a chord’s voicing (ex., “dark”, “open”, “block”).

chord fragments: three or more notes sounding simultaneously that do not fit into traditional chord types or nomenclature. Ex., a voicing containing only fourth intervals.

chord progression: a series or sequence of chords. (also known as “changes”).

chorus: 1. one cycle through the form of a tune. (ex., to “take a chorus” is to improvise a solo over one compete cycle of the form. 2. in pop or folk music, a contrasting section of the form 3. a choir. 

chromatic scale: a scale containing only half steps.

clave: 1. a rhythmic pattern or unit forming the foundation to many forms of Latin and West African music.  (ex., son and rumba) 2. literally means “key” in Spanish.

claves: the two part percussion instrument traditionally used to play the clave pattern.

comp or comping: chordal accompaniment that complements a solo. “The rhythmic pattern of the pianist’s comping supported each whole-note that the soloist played.”

concept: an unexecuted thought which must be tested among potential and current users of a product.

consonant: a relative term used to describe a sound without harmonic tension. Harmonic intervals that are generally considered to be consonant are usually thirds, sixths, octave, and unison, as well as the perfect 4th and 5th.

contrafact: a new melody composed over established changes, ex., Bird’s “Ornithology” was a new melody written to the chords of the older standard tune “How High the Moon.”

cool: 1. laid-back style of playing.  Miles Davis and Gil Evans started a musical style with a series of recordings called the “Birth of the Cool” in the 50s 2. a relaxed and hip attitude or demeanor.

counterpoint: two or more different melodies played simultaneously.

Creole: New Orleans natives who are descendents of Africans, French, and sometimes Spanish heritage.

crescendo: to increasingly get louder.

crosspulse: two or more time signatures or meters going on in the same amount of time and space.

decrescendo: to increasingly get softer.

descarga: 1. a Latin jam session (literally means “unloading”) 2. an improvised tune.

diaspora: the dissemination of culture to other regions, such as the “African diaspora.”

diatonic: the notes of a major or minor key.

diminished chord: 1. a triad with a lowered 5th (i.e., b5) and also a b3. 2. a diminished 7th chord is the four note form and contains the b3, lowered 5th (i.e., b5) and lowered b7 (i.e., double flat 7th).

dirge: a slow march played for a funeral.

dissonant: a relative term used to describe a sound with harmonic tension. The harmonic intervals that most people hear as dissonant are usually half step and tri-tone relationships.

dominant chord: a four note chord consisting of a root, 3, 5, b7, although additional notes are often added to alter or “color” its sound. The dominant chord can create motion in a harmonic sequence because it contains a tri-tone tension (between its 3rd and 7th degrees) that is considered an unstable sound which wants to resolve.

double-time: increasing the tempo so that the music is twice as fast. (opposite of “half-time”).

down beat: 1. the beginning of a measure of a tune 2. the beginning of a gig  3. a well known jazz magazine.

drag: to play too far behind the beat or to drop beats, unintentionally slowing the tempo.

dynamics: the loud and soft parts in music.

embouchure: the way the lips and tongue form to contact the mouthpiece of a wind instrument.

enharmonic: a different name or spelling for the same pitch. ex., A# and Bb are the same key on a piano.

ensemble: a group of musicians.

eyes: 1. a slang term that means an attraction to or interest in, as in “I have eyes to jam with Joe.” “or “I have eyes for that new saxophone.”  2. a sign to pay attention to the leader or conductor.

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fake: to play by ear and intuition.

fake book: a book full of lead sheets; the name comes from the users’ ability to “fake” believable arrangements with a minimal amount of information.

feel: The relationship of the rhythm to the pulse. When the balance of tension between the players in the rhythm section is just right, the song is said to have a good “feel.”

fill: a brief moment of improvisation by a musician (most often the drummer) during an open moment in the music ex., a drummer playing around the kit to leading up to an important down beat.

form: the overall structure and design of a composition.  Can also refer to the sequence of its sections; ex. AABA, ABA, through-composed, etc.

flatted fifth or flat five: the interval that is one half of an octave, also known as a tri-tone, b5, #4, and #11.

front line: the melodic instruments of a traditional New Orleans’ band, usually a trumpet, trombone, and a clarinet.

fusion: 1. a mixing of other musical styles with jazz.  2. the mixing of rock rhythms into jazz.

gig: a paying job, aka casuals, club-dates, etc.

glissando: a smooth slide between pitches.

groove: 1. the music’s characteristic rhythmic style 2. a good feeling

guide tones: 1. the 3rd and the 7th of the chord 2. adjacent notes that propel the melodic line through the changes.

half-time: slowing the music’s tempo by half (the opposite of “double time.”)

hard bop: a style of jazz characterized by its driving rhythms and blues based harmonies mixed with bebop sensibilities.

harmony: 1. the relationship of simultaneous musical notes or chords 2. the musical function of a series of chords.

harmonic rhythm: the rate at which chords change.

head: the melody of the song.

heterophony: multiple interpretations of a phrase or melody, played simultaneously by several voices/instruments.

hi-hats: two cymbals mounted on the same stand which are played against each other by a foot pedal. in straight ahead jazz they are often played on the second and fourth beats.

hot: fast, exciting, intense music.

improvise: to extemporaneously make up new melodies or rhythms during a performance.

inside: a relative term for notes that fit the harmony of a song.

interval: the space or distance between two pitches as measured in half steps or identified by specific sound quality (Melodic) intervals are two notes sounding in succession; (Harmonic) intervals have two notes sounding simultaneously.

jam session: an informal gathering of musicians calling tunes that everybody on the bandstand should know.

keeping the store: an old school idea that somebody in the band needs to keep the form and tempo of the tune.

key center (tonality): usually refers to an implied major scale that forms the harmonic center of the music.

kick: 1. the biggest drum on a drum set. It is played with a foot pedal 2. the way a drummer might play to “set up” or launch an important rhythmic phrase or section of the chart.

lady: a favorite name that Lester Young used for almost everybody regardless of gender. It stuck with Billie Holiday who is widely known as “Lady Day.”

laying back: playing slightly behind the beat causing the groove to feel relaxed.

lay out: to stop playing.

lead sheet: a chart with basic musical information, i.e., melody, chords and form.

lick: an identifiable short musical phrase regularly used by a player in his/her improvisations.

lyrical: has the quality of singing.

lyrics: the words to a song.

major: an overall tonality characterized by a major third interval above the tonal center.

melody: 1. a succession of single tones in rhythm that create a musical phrase or idea 2. the part of a song that is easily recognizable and easy to sing.

meter: the number of beats per measure.

minor: an overall tonality characterized by a minor third interval above the tonal center.

mnemonic syllables: using the voice in imitation of an instrument, such as the kre kre ki te kre ki te syllables used to describe the sounds of the west African kongongue (bell).

modal: based on modes.

mode: 1. each of the seven different scales that can be played using only the white keys of the pianoex., the notes D E F G A B C D are called D Dorian mode, and the notes E F G A B C D E are called an E Phrygian mode. The remaining modes are F Lydian, G Mixolydian, A Aeolian, B Locrian. In all cases the parent scale is C major, though the relationships can transpose to any key. The modes have Greek names, were important in 16th century church music and became useful in describing some of the scales jazz players began to use in the late 1950’s. For a an explanation of modes and modal jazz, see

montuno: 1. the repetitive rhythmic part that a piano plays in Latin salsa music 2. The open vamp section of a song.

mute: a device added to a musical instrument to dampen or soften the sound.

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octave: an interval of twelve half steps.

offbeat: the un-emphasized or weak beats.

(the) one: 1. the beginning of a measure 2. the tonic or I chord.

orchestration: the art of blending and voicing different instruments together.

ostinato: a repeated melodic figure usually played in the lower register.

Outside or out: a relative term for notes that don’t fit the harmony of a song or are unusual or quite different from expectations. “As the soloist continued, his improvisation had less and less relationship to the chord changes and structure of the tune, until he was eventually playing completely outside.”

parallel chords: chords that keep the same intervallic structure but that can be moved by half steps or whole steps, or other specific intervals.

pedal point: a way of creating tension by sustaining one note below the harmony rather than following the chord changes.

pentatonic scales: five note scales based on the root, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, degree of a major scale.  Each Pentatonic scale has five possible inversions or modes.

percussion: a family of instruments usually struck with sticks, mallets or hands phasing, or canon, or round:  the same rhythm or melody is played with two or more starting points so that it overlaps with itself. Ex., the classic children’s song “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”

phrasing: how a musician “sings” or interprets a melodic idea.

polyphony: two or more discernable melodies played at the same time.
polymeters: multiple meters played simultaneously.
polyrhythms: multiple rhythms played simultaneously.

ragtime: a late 19th century style of piano music that influenced early jazz. Ragtime music usually had a specific form reminiscent of marches and polkas in 2/4 time, though its syncopated rhythms were said to be “ragged,” or that the musicians would “rag” the rhythms.

re-harmonize: to change the harmonic structure of a tune.

register: 1. a part of the total pitch range of an instrument or voice that has qualities that are distinct from other parts of this range.  2. the classification of the notes that an instrument can play based on its tone quality and range.

resolution: the moment when the harmony changes from dissonant to consonant, or a more general change from tension to release.

rhythm changes: refers to the 32 bar song form that is central to “I Got Rhythm” by George Gershwin.  Many song melodies or contrafacts have been written over this basic harmonic structure, second in quantity only to the blues form.

rhythm section: considered to be the piano, bass, and drums, but can include the guitar, vibes, and auxiliary percussion.

ride: a solo or the experience of a solo, ex., the band or soloist can take the audience for a ride.

ride cymbal: 1. a larger cymbal most often used to accompany a soloist 2. a ride pattern is a repeated pattern that is often played on this cymbal. ex.,ting tanka tang tanka tang etc.

riff: 1. a repeated rhythmic, melodic figure.  2. to ad lib or solo i.e. “to riff on a tune.”

ritard: to slow down gradually, usually at the end of a song.

Roman numerals: in jazz, roman numerals (ii, V, I) are used to denote chord function and harmonic movement.

root: the bottom of the chord, also known as the tonic.

root position chords: chords that are voiced from the root.

rubato: phrasing without strict rhythmic structure, usually an intro to a song.

rush: to speed up the tempo or to play ahead of the beat.

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salsa: 1. a general description of the Latin music of Cuba coined in NY in the 60s 2. Literally means “sauce” in Spanish.

scale: a successive pattern of pitches, usually whole or half steps spanning an octave.
samba: a style of music from Brazil.

scat singing: a style of singing where the singer uses nonsense syllables with jazz phrasing.

score: a musical “map” created by a composer that shows the relationship of all the parts of an arrangement.

second line: an upbeat band/groove following a New Orleans funeral procession.

set: 1. a segment of jazz performance usually 45 minutes to an hour and fifteen minutes in length, after which the musicians take a break. “Rather than play two 45 minute sets with an intermission in between, the band preferred to play one 90 minute set.” 2. a list or group of songs i.e., “set list.”  3. a trap drum set. ex., “Is the drummer going to bring his own set?”

sideman: a hired or supportive player who is not the leader.

shout chorus: 1. a composed section that creates excitement at the end of an arrangement or the conclusion of a solo section.

shuffle: a 12/8 groove often played by blues bands.

slash chord: 1. a chord superimposed over a bass-note. 2. a chord superimposed over a different chord.

slur: playing two or more notes in a row without attacks or breaks.

solo: 1. (verb) to improvise a new melody over the changes 2. (noun) one player’s improvisation with accompaniment 3. an unaccompanied performance.

son: a style of popular Cuban dance music that is at the root of today’s salsa music.

snare: 1. wires under a drum that change its timbre 2. a drum with a snare underneath that can be turned on and off.

stop time: a method of breaking down the time, opening up space for soloists by accenting sparse rhythms or downbeats.

stride: a two beat style played by piano players that was first frequently heard in Ragtime music.

stroll: means to “lay” out or to stop playing.

substitution: a different chord or harmonic movement instead of what is written.

suspended or sus chord: usually refers to a chord that has a 4th in the voicing that resolves to a third.

swing: 1. a satisfying sense of forward motion inherent in a repeating rhythmic feeling. 2. a style and era of music that conveys this feeling as a triplet sub rhythm of an 8th note pulse.

symmetrical scales: scales that have equal distance between intervals, i.e. chromatic, diminished, whole tone etc.

syncopation: off beat accents.

tempo: the pace of a piece of music.

theme: a recognizable melodic statement.

through-composed: a song with a melody that does not have repeating sections.

time feel: playing with an explicit and well understood pulse (see groove and feel).

thirty-two bar form: also known as AABA.

timbre:  the colors, textures, and/or overtones that give an instrument or voice its unique sound.  For example, the qualities that give the distinction between a middle c played on a trumpet and oboe.

time signature: a numerical symbol at the beginning of a chart usually consisting of two numbers. The top number stands for the number of beats in a measure and the bottom number stands for which subdivision of the beat gets one count ex., 3/4  means there will be three beats per measure and the quarter note will get one count.

Tin Pan Alley: the name given to the collection of New York City-centered music publishers and songwriters who dominated the popular music of the early to mid twentieth century. Many of the popular songs written in the 30s and 40s became vehicles for jazz improvisers.

tonic: the root, beginning, or home to a key center, chord or scale.

trade fours: to take turns soloing for four measures at a time, often between a drummer and other members of the band.

transpose: 1. to change the key of a song 2. to take a musical idea and move it up or down by an interval or to another key, ex., what an Eb saxophone (alto, baritone) player, Bb (trumpet, tenor) player or a bass player would have to do when reading a part written for a treble clef C instrument (piano, flute).

triad: the root, 3, and 5 of a chord.

trill: switching between two notes over and over very quickly.

tritone: 1. an interval consisting of 6 half steps or three whole steps. 2. a pitch that divides the twelve half-steps of an octave exactly in half. A tritone occurs naturally between the fourth and seventh degree of a major scale, aka b5, #4, or a #11

turnaround: a harmonic phrase that brings the song back to the tonic or beginning

tumbao: a rhythmic repetitive bass line in salsa music.

twelve bar form: a song form that has 12 measures can refer specifically to a blues

two beat (feel): 1. not in 4/4 time, often times a feel played during the head of a song.  2. a ballad feel that was popular in the Big Band era.

two five one (ii V7 I): a harmonic progression common in many jazz songs, usually referred to by the roman numerals which represent the component chords. Although it is formed by a sequence of three diatonic chords (ii, V7, I) from a single key, the three chords function together as a kind of harmonic phrase called a “cadential formula” in classical harmony. Experienced jazz players can recognize ii V7 I  progressions in many different songs,  and they play the way the chords move rather playing each chord individually.

understood pulse: when all the players are “soloing” together and no one instrument is marking the tempo with steady quarter notes.

unison: two different instruments playing the same pitch and rhythm simultaneously. “The trumpet and the tenor started out playing in unison then split into harmony on the last note of the phrase.”

up (tempo): a fast song ex., “let’s play something up.”

vamp: a repeated rhythmic phrase found usually at the beginning or the end of a tune or used as an interlude.

verse: Most of the Tin Pan Alley tunes have a verse at the beginning to introduce the song. Ex,. The verse to the popular song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” begins with “The loveliness of Paris…”  Some jazz players will omit the verse when using a standard song as a vehicle for improvisation.

vocalese: the art of putting lyrics to a recorded solo.

voice leading: a compositional device that creates smooth harmonic motion helping to resolve a chord, see also guide tones.

voicing: a specific arrangement of the tones that create the sound of a chord.

walking bass: refers to the rhythmic propulsion in the bass part which is a predominately a quarter note bass line which provides forward motion and is consistent with the harmony and form.

whole tone scale: a scale made up of whole steps.

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