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Classical musical terms




m abbreviation for mezzo, manual, metronome, main, and mano, depending on context
m.d. right hand
m.m. metronome marking
machete ukulele
machicotage practice of ornamenting solo plainsong with improvised grace notes or melismatic passages between official tones
macumba one of several regional religious ceremonies practiced by Brazilian Negroes, valued for its magical powers
madrasha Syrian chant
madrigal originally a form of vocal composition of 14th century Italy, the madrigal became, in the 16th and 17th centuries, a favorite form of part-song, stemming first from Italy. In England the madrigal became popular in the last two decades of the 16th century in adaptations of Italian compositions and in new works by English composers.
maestoso  majestic or dignified
maestro a title for a conductor, composer, teacher or performer
magadis ancient Greek harp with doubled strings tuned in octaves
maggiolata  song for may
maggiore the major mode
magnificat  the canticle drawn from the biblical words attributed to the mother of Christ, my soul doth magnify the Lord. It forms part of the evening service of vespers, in the divine office of the catholic liturgy, and thus appears in composed settings. As part of the evening service of the church of England it has similarly been subjected to musical treatment
magrepha organ of ancient Hebrews
main hand
maitres choir school of church
majeur major
major "greater". a term used to describe certain intervals (seconds, thirds, sixths and sevenths), chords and the Ionian mode
major chord a triad composed of a root, a third, and a fifth.
major scale a diatonic scale where the half-steps fall between the third and fourth, and the seventh and tonic. this scale is identical to the Ionian mode
malaguena a Spanish dance from the region of Malaga. the word is later used to indicate a form of Spanish gypsy song
malincolico melancholy
mallet instruments tuned percussion instruments with a piano-like layout of sound bars that are struck by mallets. Examples include the xylophone, vibraphone, glockenspiel and marimba
mambo Afro-Cuban dance played in 4/4 time; became internationally popular in the 1940's
man abbrev. for manual
manche neck (of violin)
mandola type of lute
mandolin stringed instrument similar to, but smaller than, the lute. it evolved in 18th-century Italy. It has four pairs of strings, which are plucked with a plectrum.
mangulina traditional dance of Dominican republic, in 5
manica a hand position shift (in violin technique)
manico violin fingerboard
manicordion clavichord
mannheim school a pre-classical group of German symphonic composers whose style including extended crescendos (called steamrollers) and melodies that arpeggiated upward, (called rockets).
mano destra right hand; often abbreviated m.d.
mano sinistra left hand; often abbreviated m.s.
manual the manual is a keyboard for the hands, the word used for instruments such as the organ or harpsichord that often have more than one keyboard. It is opposed to the pedal-board found generally on the organ and much more rarely on the harpsichord or fortepiano.
manualiter use of the manuals alone (no pedals) in organ
manualkoppel manual coupler
manubrio parts of the organ console other than the keyboard; e.g. stop knobs
maqam a type of Arabic melody
maraca percussion instrument made of a gourd with dry seeds in it
maracas percussion instrument of Latin American origin. A maraca is a gourd filled with seeds or beads that rattles when shaken. Maracas are usually played in pairs
marcando stressing, stressed
marcato marked, accented
march a piece of music written for marching soldiers or military bands. It is generally characterized by a strong two-step rhythm
marcia, alla march like
mariachi Mexican ensemble
marian of or pertaining to the virgin Mary
marimba instrument of African origin, similar to the xylophone, but with wooden bars. It is often used in the percussion section of the symphony orchestra
marinera dance form adapted from the Chilean cueca, renamed to honor the marines. Also known as tondero
mariz├ípalos  Spanish 17th century popular song
markiert  marked
markig vigorous
marque marked
marsch march
martele instruction to a player that notes be sharply accented. applies particularly to bowed instruments and the piano
martelatto hammered
masculine cadence cadence in which the final chord occurs on a strong beat
masque a courtly entertainment involving acting, singing, and dancing, with music and elaborate scenery and costumes. masques reached their peak in 17th-century England, when written by Ben Jonson and designed by Innigo Jones.
mass the solemn celebration of the roman catholic church, of the commemoration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
matasin dance of 16th century, performed by costumed dancers.
matins the first of the canonical hours
mattinata a song intended for performance in the morning
maultrommel Jew or jaw harp
maxixe Brazilian urban couple dance
mazurka Polish country dance in triple time. It first became popular outside Poland in the 18th-century. The mazurka was brought into the concert repertoire by Chopin, who wrote 50 or so
me mi
meane the middle part
measure bar, meaning the metrical unit; "twelve-bar blues" is always "twelve-bar blues," however
mechanical instruments devices designed to produce music without a performer; e.g., music boxes, player piano's
mechanik action, as of a piano
medesimo same
media cana dance of Argentine cities
mediant the third degree of a scale
medio registro divided stop
medley series of well-known tunes played in succession, possibly connected by a musical bridge
mehr more than one
meistersinger middle class continuation of the earlier minnesingers
mejorana song of Spanish origin seen in panama
mejoranera Panamanian five-stringed guitar
melidoca a wind instrument with a keyboard
melisma multi note sometimes improvised vocal passage sung on a single syllable
mellophone circular brass instrument resembling the French horn
melodic chromatic scale chromatic scale written American-style, with sharps on the way up and flats on the way down (see harmonic chromatic scale).
melodie the French art-songs of the 19th and 20th centuries are known as melodies, the counterpart of the German lieder
melodrama a dramatic work with a musical setting where the dialogue is spoken-for the duration of the work or for certain scenes only. Many operas have melodramatic scenes of this kind.
melody a succession of notes of varying pitch, which form a recognizable musical shape
membranophone any instrument in which the sound is produced by a stretched membrane
memby native instruments of the Guarani, still used widely in Paraguay and parts of Brazil
meme the same
meno less
meno mosso less motion; slower
mensur meter, mensuration
mensural music polyphonic music wherein each note has a rigidly determined value
mente the mind. alla mente means "what comes to mind," i.e. improvised
menuet minuet
merengue popular dance of Santo Domingo
mescolanza  medley
messa di voce technique of voice control consisting of a crescendo and decrescendo
messe mass
messel corruption of mathal, an Arabic term used to denote mathematical relationships of intervals that were deemed to be consonant.
mesto sad or mournful
mesure measure, meter
metamorphosis change of shape, is used particularly to describe the process of thematic metamorphosis, the transformation of thematic elements used by composers such as Liszt, a procedure unkindly satirized by one contemporary critic as the life and adventures of a theme.
meter the pattern of regular pulses defining a composition. the meter is indicated by the two numbers at the beginning, and the patterns are marked by bar lines
metric notation notation where horizontal space corresponds to time. used to assist the performer in reading. metric notation is often compromised to conserve space and printing costs
metronome apparatus which sounds an adjustable number of beats per minute. particularly useful for setting speed when practicing. metronomes are traditionally mechanical but may now be electronic
metronome marks tempo marks consisting of a reference note equated to a metronome speed. for example, quarter note = 92 means 92 quarter notes per minute
mette matins
meza voce an instruction to sing in a quiet, retrained manner
mezza 'half', middle
mezzo medium, part, half
mezzo forte medium loud
mezzo piano abbr. mp moderately soft
mezzo soprano the female vocal register between soprano and alto
mezzo voce soft, half voice
mi the third degree of the major scale
microtone an interval smaller than a half step
middle c the c key in approximately the middle of the keyboard
military band a regimental band made up woodwind, brass, and percussion instruments. The term is also used to describe civilian bands of similar constitution
mineur minor
miniature score pocket-sized score, designed for reading along with performances.
minim a note with half the time value of a semibreve, or whole note
minim rest half rest
minimalism music that uses short melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic patterns that are repeated again and again. These patterns often create a hypnotic effect.
minnesinger German musicians of noble birth
minor lesser, smaller. When referring to keys, refers to one of a group of scales in which the third is flatted
minor scale a diatonic scale made up of eight notes, from the key note to its octave. In ascending order, the sequence of intervals between the notes is as follows. tone-semitone-tone-tone-semitone-tone-tone. The name of the scale is taken from the key note.
minstrel the word minstrel has been used loosely to indicate a musical entertainer, providing his own accompaniment to his singing. The medieval minstrel, a secular musician, flourished between the 13th and 15th century, generally as an itinerant singer
minuet a triple metre French dance popular from the second half of the 17th until at least the end of the 18th century. It appears as an occasional element of the baroque instrumental suite and later as a movement in the pre-classical and classical symphony and allied forms, gradually replaced by the scherzo. The minuet usually has a complementary trio, a contrasting section in similar metre
mirliton a group of devices that uses a vibrating membrane to distort sound. The mirliton is a type of membranophone. the best-known mirliton is the kazoo
mirror composition composition in retrograde or inverted intervals
miserere the first word of psalms 50, 54 and 55, and the word appears on numerous occasions in Latin liturgical texts. there is a famous setting of psalm 50 (= 51 in the Hebrew and English Psalter) by the early 17th century Italian composer Gregorio Allegri, the property of the papal chapel, written down from memory by Mozart at the age of fourteen, during his visit to Rome in 1770.
misterioso mysterious
misura measure or beat
mit with
mixed voices combination of men's and women's voices
mixolydian the modal scale where the half steps occur between degrees 3 & 4, and 6 & 7. Major with a flatted 7, often used in jazz and Celtic music
mixolydian mode a medieval mode whose scale pattern is that of playing g to g on the white keys of a piano
mobile changeable, flexible
modal pertaining to modes
modal rhythm see rhythmic mode
modality the use of modes, usually other than major or minor
mode an order or scale of notes producing an alternative to the major or minor scales
moderato moderate speed
modern music written in the 20th century, or contemporary music
moderno modern
modinha sentimental song deriving from Italian opera
modo used as the prefix to a direction to a musician or singer, as in in modo di, meaning 'in the manner of'
modulate to change to a different key or tonal center
modulation change of key within a piece
modus mode
modus lascivus medieval name for the mode corresponding to c-major, which was avoided in church music, but widely used in secular music of the time
moll minor
molto very or much, as in molto allegro, meaning 'very quickly'
monacordo clavichord
monochord instrument of one string
monodrama a melodrama for one character, with sung or spoken text accompanied by music
monody a song performed by solo voice accompanied by music
monophonic describes music with a single line of melody, without accompaniment, as opposed to homophonic, when one line leads, but with an accompaniment. See also polyphonic, when there are two or more lines of equal importance
monophony music in only one part, and without accompaniment. plainsong is the classic example
monothematic based on a single theme
monotone a single unvaried tone, as produced by a drone
montonero Spanish counterpart of the minuet
morbido soft or gentle. not to be confused with morbid
morceau "morsel". a musical work or composition
mordent an ornament consisting of a single alternation between a given pitch, and the one immediately below or above it-- called an inverted mordent
morendo instruction that the music should fade gently away
moresca pantomimic dance performed in Moorish costumes
morris dance English folk dance which dates back to the 17th-century, traditionally (but not always) performed by men
mosso is generally found in the phrases piu mosso, faster, and meno mosso, slower
motet a choral composition, usually on a religious text
motif a short musical idea, or melodic theme that runs through a piece
motion pattern of changing pitches, as opposed to rhythm
moto motion
mouth organ harmonica
mouthpiece the part of a wind instrument that the performer puts to his mouth
mouvement movement
movable do system in which "do" is the keynote, and may be transposed to any key, as opposed to fixed do, wherein all syllables associate with absolute pitches
movement a section of a more extended work that is more or less complete in itself, although occasionally movements are linked together, either through the choice of a final inconclusive chord or by a linking note, as in the first and second movement of Mendelssohn's violin concerto.
movimiento movement, motion
mozarabic chant medieval church chant style of Spain
muance mutation
muffle to reduce the sound produced by a drum, by placing a cloth over the drumhead
multimetric meter pattern in which the meter changes frequently. see hemiola
mundharmonika mouth organ
munter merry
murciana  localized fandango, named after murcia
murky bass accompaniment in broken octaves
musette a bagpipe popular in France during the late 17th-century. Also a musical piece similar to the gavotte, with a bass part having bagpipe-like drone
music from the Greek muse. the art and science of combining timbres, pitches, and rhythms in a way that satisfies and stirs the emotions of the listener
music appreciation musical training in which listening intelligently to, rather than producing music is stressed
music box a clockwork mechanism invented at the end of the 18th-century. rotating pins sound notes by plucking the teeth of a special 'comb'
music drama opera, specifically that of Richard Wagner and his successors
musica music
musical the successor to musical comedy. showboat has been hailed as the first great musical
musical bow a bow where the string is plucked or scraped and the sound is intensified with a resonating chamber, or the mouth is used as such
musical comedy a type of play with music, similar to operetta, with catchy tunes and a comic and romantic storyline, popular in Britain and the U.S. in the late 19th-and early 20th-centuries. Chu Chin Chow was one of the most successful
musical glasses an instrument made up of various sizes of drinking glasses, filled with liquid or sand to produce different pitches when rubbed with a damp finger
musical saw a saw played as a musical instrument with either a bow or a stick
musicology the academic study of music
musique concrete music composed by manipulating recorded sounds, specifically acoustically generated real-world sounds
muta instruction to a musician to change, in mid-performance, either from one tuning to another, or from one instrument to another
mutation voice change. violin shift
mute a device that is fitted to an instrument to soften or otherwise alter its tone. this may be an object placed inside the bell of a brass instrument, or on the bridge of a stringed instrument.



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