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Classical musical terms




p abbr. for pedal
pacato calm
padiglione the bell of a wind instrument
padovana literally, a dance from Padua
paean song to praise Apollo
paired imitation special class of imitation wherein the first pair of the four statements of the theme appear in close succession, then three and four come later, also paired
palestrina style polyphonic a capella style based on counterpoint
pan a tuned percussion instrument made out of an oil drum. pans are played in Caribbean steel bands
panconsonant style in which triads predominate, and dissonances occur as ornamentation
pan pipes a set of graduated flutes or reeds bound together and blown across
pandean pipes a set of graduated flutes or reeds bound together and blown across.
pandiatonicism the use of the diatonic scale as a base, but without conventional harmonic rules
pandoura, pandura a long-necked lute of ancient Rome and Greece
panduri small fiddle from Caucasus
panpipes a musical instrument dating from at least the 6th-century B.C. It consists of a series of pipes of graduated length joined together, and is played by blowing across the pipe ends
pantaleon large instrument of the hammered dulcimer family
pantomime although a pantomime in Britain has come to indicate a children's Christmas entertainment, making use of traditional and topical elements in a mixture of fairy-story, comic routine and popular song, the word originally indicated a performance entirely in mime, in this sense having a long history. In this second and original sense pantomime is sometimes found as part of a descriptive title of a musical work or part of a work originally so intended
pantonality, pantonal including all tonalities
parallel chords the movement of fixed chords
parallel fifths, octaves the doubling of the melody in fifths or octaves
parallel intervals the movement in two or more parts of the same intervals in the same direction
parallel keys different keys based on the same keynote
parallel minor tonic minor (but relative minor = relative minor)
parallel motion two or more parts moving the same direction and staying the same distance from each other in terms of interval
paralleltonart relative key
parameter used to denote acoustic variables such as pitch, rhythm, volume, and harmonics
paraphonia Greek terminology for fourths and fifths, as opposed to symphony (unison), and antiphonia (octaves)
paraphrase to arrange with variations
parlando speaking. the use of the speaking timbre in singing
parlante spoken
parody satire, send up
part a part may indicate the line or music intended for a particular performer. Earlier choral music, for example, was written in separate part-books, one for each part, as is the modern practice with orchestral parts, rather than in the full vocal score now usual. The art of part-writing or, in American, voice-leading, is the art of writing simultaneous parts according to the established rules of harmony. A part-song is a vocal work in which different voices are used, as distinct from a song in which all sing the same melody
part song an unaccompanied homophonic song for three or more voices
part writing voice leading
parte part
partial either the fundamental or an overtone in the harmonic series
partial signature the use of a key signature in some, but not all voices of a polyphonic composition
partimento improvisation above a pre-agreed bass
partita variation
partita partita is another word for suite, used, for example, by Johann Sebastian Bach in the title of a set of keyboard suites or in the three partitas for unaccompanied violin.
partsong a song written for two or more (generally four) voice parts, usually with no musical accompaniment, sometimes with one or more instruments
pas dance step. Used often in ballet, as in pas de deux, meaning dance for two
paso doble a Spanish dance genre, popular since the 1920's
passacaglia an instrumental piece, commonly written in triple time, originally a dance, in which a theme is continually repeated above a ground bass. similar to, and often confused with the chaconne
passacaille  passacaglia
passage a section of a musical composition
passaggio bridge, transition, or modulation
passepied dance in fast 3/8 or 6/8
passing note a note in a musical composition which might create a dissonance with the prevailing harmony, but is justified by its leading into the next chord, which is usually consonant
passing tones notes that do not pertain to chords, but are used to form a melodic passage from one chord to the next
passion the four accounts of the suffering and death of Christ, as given in the first four books of the new testament, were customarily sung during the catholic rites of holy week to plainchant, with a division of parts where direct speech is involved. it became customary in the 15th century to allow the singing of the parts of the crowd in the biblical narrative in polyphonic settings, with a gradual extension of the polyphonic element in the next century. The best known settings of the passion are the surviving Lutheran settings by Johann Sebastian Bach of the accounts of the passion in the gospels of St. Matthew and of St. John.
passionato passionately
pasticcio a piece of music written in the style of another composer. also carries the same meaning as pastiche.
pastiche a piece of music written in the style of another composer. also carries the same meaning as pasticcio
pastoral piece evocative of, or written in the style of rural idyllic scenes
patetico with much feeling
pathetisch patetico
patter song a style of comic song, found particularly in opera, operetta and musicals, which for effect depends on being sung at a lively speed.
pauke kettledrum
pausa rest, breath
pause a sign used in musical notation meaning that the note or rest so marked must be held longer than normal-how long is usually decided by the performer
pavan a stately duple metre dance of the 16th and early 17th centuries, appears in various English spellings, paven, pavin and other forms. Coupled with the quicker triple metre galliard, it was among the most popular dances of the time. the origin of the word is attributed either to the Italian town of Padua or to the peacock. Well known examples include the English composer John Dowland's lachrimae, or seaven teares figured in seaven passionate pavans or Ravel's nostalgic pavane pour une infante defunte, (pavan for a dead infanta).
pavane slow procession
pavillon the bell of a wind instrument, from which the air-and the sound-escapes
peal set of bells in tune with each other; a succession of bell tones that repeats
pedal a lever operated by the feet, found principally on pianos and other keyboard instruments. The abbreviation ped. is an instruction in piano music that the sustaining pedal should be depressed.
pedal board a keyboard that is played by the feet, found on the organ and, occasionally, other keyboard instruments
pedal harp modern chromatic harp
pedal harpsichord equipped with a pedal board similar to that of an organ
pedal piano piano fixed with pedal board like that of an organ
pedale abbreviated ped. (pedal)
pedalier pedal board of organ or piano
pedalklavier pedal piano
pedalkoppel pedal coupler (of an organ)
pedalpauke timpani tuned by means of pedals
peine entendu, a barely audible
penillion a form of welsh musical competition between a singer and a harper. The harper plays a well-known melody, and the latter improvises words to an extemporized countermelody. the harper is allowed to change either tune or tonality as often as he wishes, and the singer is expected to accommodate as rapidly as possible
penny whistle a wind instrument with six holes. originally made from tin, and now mostly from steel
pentachord the first five notes of a scale, by extension, any five note segment
pentatonic or five-note scale is formed by the black notes of the keyboard, or the white notes c, d, e, g and a-two whole tones, a minor third and a whole tone. This form of scale is the basis of folk melodies in many countries, from China to Scotland, and occasionally occurs, in passing at least, in the work of 20th century composers. It is an important element in the educational music of Carl Orff and in the choral method of the Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly.
pentatonic scale major scale minus the fourth and seventh; pentatonic music may be played on the black keys only. many oriental forms employ this scale
per for, by, through, in, from
percussion overall term for those instruments in which the sound is created by a resonating surface being struck generally by a hand or stick. some percussion instruments may be tuned to a particular pitch, such as the kettledrum; others, such as the bass drum, cannot be tuned
perdendosi  losing itself; dying away
perendosi dying away (in intensity and tempo)
perfect term applied to intervals that cannot be major or minor, unisons, fourths, fifths, and octaves
perfect cadence that is, what British call perfect and Americans call authentic - in which top voice is on root of final (tonic) chord, and both dominant and tonic chords are in root position so that the bass moves from the fifth to the first scale degree.
perfect pitch the ability to distinguish and identify any given note without any musical or tonal support
performance practice indicates the attempt to perform music in the way envisaged originally by the composer. the second half of the 20th century has brought a significant interest in musicology and the technology and scholarship necessary to the construction of copies of earlier instruments and to the study of methods of performance on these instruments. The study of performing practice extends from the study of music of the earliest periods to that of relatively recent periods of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
period a musical sentence usually ending with a cadence. the time it takes to complete one waveform
periodicity pitch a perceived low pitch formed by the interference pattern of two waveforms
perpetuum mobile a piece that moves rapidly from beginning to end
pes same as podatus; also a name for the tenor
pesante heavy, instruction that a passage should be played with great emphasis
petit small
peu little bit
pezzo piece
pf abbr. for piano in orchestral score. Also abbr. for soft immediately followed by loud
pfeife fife, organ pipe
pfundnoten long notes
phagotus a bizarre type of bagpipe, wrongfully believed to be the precursor of the bassoon
phantasie fantasy, fanciful piece
philharmonic the adjective philharmonic and noun philharmonia are generally used as adopted titles by orchestras or by music-loving societies of one sort or another. The words have no other technical meaning
phonetic vocal
phormix kithara, lyra.
phrase a phrase in music, on the analogy of syntactical use, is a recognizable musical unit, generally ending in a cadence of some kind, and forming part of a period or sentence. Phrasing in performance has a less precise use, indicating the correct grouping of notes, whether as phrases in the technical sense or in smaller distinct units, corresponding to the various possible syntactical uses of punctuation.
phrasing, articulation the placement of phrases
phrygian the modal scale in which the half steps occur between degrees 1 & 2 and 5 & 6
phrygian mode a medieval mode whose scale pattern is that of playing e to e on the white keys of a piano
piacare the instruction a piacere 'at the performer's discretion', is mostly used to indicate that strict time need not be observed
piacevole instruction to play in a pleasant, agreeable manner
piangendo instruction to a player that a piece should be played mournfully, in a plaintive tone
pianino small upright piano
pianissimo an instruction to play very gently. often abbreviated as pp
piano soft
piano a stringed percussion instrument. the sound is produced by hammers striking the strings. The hammer, in turn is activated by levers controlled by keys. The pianoforte is so named because volume can be controlled by the force with which the performer strikes the keys, and has been a mainstay instrument in Europe and northern north America since the 18th century.
piano duet composition for two pianists playing either one or two pianos
piano trio piano trio, piano quartet and piano quintet indicate works for the piano with varying numbers of string instruments. The piano trio is scored for piano, violin and cello, the piano quartet for piano, violin, viola and cello, and the piano quintet for piano, two violins, viola and cello
pianoforte instrument invented by Bartolomeo Cristofor in the early 18th-century. It's name refers to its ability to grade volume-much greater than with the harpsichord. keys control hammers that strike strings, making the pianoforte a keyboard instrument, a stringed instrument and a member of the percussion family. The grand piano has horizontal strings and the upright piano has vertical strings.
pianola a player piano made by the American Aeolian corporation
piatti cymbals
picardy third changing minor to major on the concluding note of a piece by raising the third one half step
piccolo is the small flute, pitched an octave higher than the ordinary flute. Adjectivally the word may be applied to other instruments or groups, as in coro piccolo, small chorus. The violino piccolo, a smaller violin, is used by Johann Sebastian Bach in the first Brandenburg concerto, where it is to be tuned a third higher
pick plectrum
pickelflote piccolo
pick-up notes note or notes that come before the first full measure
pien in Chinese music, the two tones that are a half tone below the fifth and the octave
pieno full
piffero old term for the shawm, fife and bagpipe, which were all played by shepherds
pince pinched
piobaireachd, pibroch a type of Scottish bagpipe music, including its system of notation
pipe generic term for hollow tube or cylinder that forms part of a wind instrument. sound is produced when air vibrates within the pipe. more specifically, a small, simple fipple flute is often called a pipe
piston a valve on a brass instrument, which opens up an extra section of tubing when it is depressed. the effect of this is to alter the harmonic series by lowering its fundamental note
pistons devices on organs facilitating quick changes in registration
pitch he pitch of a note is the frequency of its vibrations. the exact pitch of notes has varied over the years and nowadays differs to some extent between continent and continent or even between orchestra and orchestra. Earlier pitches were generally lower, but not necessarily standardized. perfect pitch is the ability to distinguish the pitch of a note, according to generally accepted nomenclature. Relative pitch is the ability to distinguish the pitch of one note with relation to another, given note
pitch aggregate a cluster of pitches that are usually close together
pitch pipe a small reed instrument used to tune instruments or a choir
piu more. as in the following instruction. piu allegro, 'more quickly' etc
piu-piu is found in directions to performers, as in piu forte, louder, or piu lento, slower
piva bagpipe, or, a type of fast dance
pivot chord a chord that is common to the current key, and the one being modulated into
pizzicato a direction to performers on string instruments to pluck the strings. A return to the use of the bow is indicated by the word 'arco', bow. Pizzicato notes on the violin, viola and cello are normally plucked with the index finger of the right hand. the great violinist Paganini, however, introduced the technique of left-hand pizzicato for occasional use, notably in one of the variations of his 24th caprice, where it produces a very special effect.
placido placid
plagal cadence cadence from IV to I
plainchant type of medieval church music consisting of a single line of unaccompanied vocal melody in free rhythm, with no regular bar lengths. As Gregorian chant, plainsong became the standard way of singing texts from roman catholic liturgy
plainsong a monophonic chant which is unmeasured, and unaccompanied; such as Gregorian chant.
plainte baroque ornament
plaisanterie pleasantry, joke
plaque play notes of a chord together
plate numbers numbers employed by publishers to keep inventory of the metal engravings, and which appeared on the published music
platerspiel bladder pipe
player piano a piano that plays without a performer touching the keys. a device may be attached to a standard piano, or incorporated within the instrument itself. The player piano is operated by pedals forcing air through holes punched in a rotating paper roll. player pianos were popular in the 1920's
plectrum a small device often used to pluck the strings on instruments such as the lute, mandolin, banjo and guitar. it has a rounded end and can be made of wood, metal, horn, ivory, plastic or tortoiseshell. The word is also used to describe the quills which pluck the strings in a harpsichord.
plein full
plein-jeu full organ
plena Dominican or Puerto Rican work song consisting of short lines followed by a meaningless refrain.
plica indication for an ornamental note to follow
pochissimo very little
poco is found in directions to performers, as in poco allegro, although un poco allegro, a little fast, would be more accurate. Poco, in fact, is commonly used meaning un poco, a little
poco a poco little by little
poi thereafter
point upper end of bow
point d'orgue pedal point, pause, or cadenza
polacca polonaise
polka a Bohemian dance, became one of the most popular ball-room dances of the 19th century, it's title a possible reference to Poland. It is used by Smetana in his Czech opera the bartered bride and elsewhere and in William Walton's jeu d'esprit facade
polo Andalusia dance in 3/8 with frequent hemiola, and rapid coloratura, sung to a syllable such as "ay."
polonaise the polonaise is a Polish dance in triple metre. Although the title is found in French suite no. 6 of Johann Sebastian Bach and elsewhere in the earlier 18th century, the form is best known from the piano pieces written by Chopin a hundred years later, works that elevated the original dance to a higher level, while capturing the current spirit of Polish nationalism.
polska Swedish dance possibly of Polish roots
poly more than one
polychoral a style in which an ensemble is divided into groups that may perform individually, alternately, or together
polymetric having more than one rhythm at the same time
polyphonic describes works in which different lines of music are played or sung together, creating harmony.
polyphony the writing of music in many parts or in more than one part, with reference in particular to contrapuntal practices. monody or monophony are possible opposites
polyrhythm music that uses several different rhythms at the same time. This has long been a common practice in the ethnic music of many cultures, particularly in African music
polyphony having more than one voice part at the same time
polytextuality superimposition of different texts at the same time
polytonal describes music written in more than one key. See polytonality
polytonality the simultaneous use of several keys. The technique was used extensively by 20th-century composers such as Ives and Holst
pomposo pompous
ponticello the bridge of a stringed instrument, such as a violin. Sul ponticello, for example, means 'on the bridge', and is an instruction to the musician to play with the bow as close as possible to the bridge. This makes a sound with a special nasal or metallic quality.
pop music 'pop', an abbreviation of 'popular', was originally used to refer to music which appealed to a wide audience. since the 1950's, it has been closely associated with rock 'n' roll
port instrumental piece
portamento smooth gliding from one note to the next, such that the intermediate pitches are distinguishable
portative organ portable organ
portato between legato and staccato
portee staff
pos abbr. for position
posaune trombone
positif choir organ
position the pivot point of the left hand on a stringed instrument. the placement of the trombone slide. the spacing of a chord
positive organ a single manual organ with no pedals
post horn is a relatively simple kind of horn once played by postilions as a signal of the departure, arrival or approach of a coach. Mozart made brief use of the instrument in his post horn serenade, and its sound was imitated by various composers, including Johann Sebastian Bach in his harpsichord capriccio on the departure of his beloved brother, which includes a postilion aria and a fugue on the sound of the post horn
posthumous published after author's death
postlude is played at the end of a piece and indicates, in particular, the additional piano phrases that may appear at the end of a song, after the singer has stopped. the word is more widely used to describe the closing section of a work or to indicate a piece of music to be played as the conclusion of some ceremony, the opposite of a prelude
potpourri medley of many types of tune, played in succession, with or without bridges or modulations
potpourri a medley of tunes
pour for
pousse, poussez upbow
practical music applied music
praeambulum preamble, prelude
precentor choir director
precipitando pushing
precipitato impetuously
preciso precisely
pre-classical describes music predating the classical period established by Haydn and Mozart
preface introduction to the canon of the mass
prelude a movement or section of a work that comes before another movement or section of a work, although the word also has been used for short independent pieces that may stand alone, or even for more extended works, such as Debussy's prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune
preparation the sounding of a dissonant note preceded by sounding the same note in a consonant context
prepared piano a piano whose timbre is altered by a row of tacks, bolts, felt or any foreign objects on the strings, or by detuning the unison strings
presa the sign in a canon that indicates the entry of the next voice
pressante urgent
pressez increase speed
prestissimo very fast
presto is used frequently as a direction to performers. an even faster speed is indicated by the superlative prestissimo or even il piu presto possible, as fast as possible
prim prime
prima first, principal
prima donna principal female singer. this term is used in a derogatory sense to mean a self-centered high strung performer of any type.
prima vista sight reading
prima volta first ending
primary accent downbeat
primary chords important, often used chords of a key
primary triads I, IV, and V - the triads that are major in a major key (some Americans also use this term)
prime unison interval
primgeiger principal violinist, concertmaster
primo first part
principal the leading player of a particular orchestral section, as in principal trumpet. also used to describe a singer who takes the main part in an opera, as in principal tenor or soprano
processional music played during a formal entrance
produce an opera direct an opera
program symphony symphonic composition based on programmatic idea
programme music is music that has a narrative or descriptive extra-musical content. music of this kind has a long history, but the term programme music was coined by Liszt, whose symphonic poems principally attempt to translate into musical terms works of literature, such as Goethe's Faust or Dante's Divina Commedia. It seems preferable that the term should be limited to instrumental music for concert use and should not include either incidental music or ballet music.
progression the succession of notes or chords which lead to a new one
prologue introduction to ballet or opera
prolongement sostenuto pedal
pronto quick
pronunziato marked, emphasized, pronounced
proper the parts of the mass whose parts change daily, as distinct from the ordinary. The proper consists of the introit, gradual, alleluia or tract, offertory and communion
proportional notation use of note values in the proportion of 2.1 or 3.1
proportions in mensural notation, diminution of note values in arithmetic ratios
proposta  subject (of fugue)
prosa sequence (of mass)
psalm psalms are the texts included in the biblical book of psalms and retaining an important place in the services of the catholic divine office, sung to plainchant. The biblical texts are not metrical and therefore use a relatively simple form of chant that can be expanded by the use of a longer reciting note, the final syllables sung to a short syllabic formula. After the reformation of the early 16th century metrical versions of the psalms became current, with texts that could be sung to hymn-tunes. Harmonized settings of the biblical and metrical psalms have been current in protestant churches and chapels since the 16th century.
psalmody the study of, or an arrangement of, psalms for singing
psalter an edition of the book of psalms, translated into the vernacular, often including music and sometimes presented in a rhymed version
psaltery ancient stringed instrument
pulse beat
pumhart bombarde
punctus in mensural notation, sign similar to a dot in modern notation, and having the same meaning.
punta point (of bow), thrust
punteado a style of guitar playing which involves plucking the strings, as opposed to the rasgueado, a style of classical playing where the strings are strummed
punto rural Cuban folksong in alternating 3/4 and 6/8, characteristically with predominantly seventh chords and vocal portamento
purajhei Paraguayan song that shows clear European influences but sung in guarani
purfling inlaid border of violins. helps prevent the corners from chips
puy, pui French societies that held music festivals
puzzle canon riddle canon
pyiba, pyipar Chinese lute
pyknon lower segment of enharmonic and chromatic tetra chords
pythagorean scale scale deriving entirely from the absolute fifth


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