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Classical musical terms



s abbr. for segno, senza, sinistra, solo, soprano, sordini, subito
saccade abrupt, shook
sackbut early form of trombone. some sackbuts had a sliding bell
sackgeige kit
sackpfeife bagpipe
saeta Andalusia song used for outdoor processionals during lent or advent
sainete Spanish type of comic opera, often approaching low comedy
saite string
salmo psalm
saltando, saltato leaping, bouncing
saltarello a rapid Italian dance in triple metre, examples of which survive from the middle ages. The rhythm and energy of the dance are similar to those of the tarantella. a well known example appears in the final movement of Mendelssohn's 'Italian' symphony
saltbox noisemaker in the form of a cylinder with a crank. Used by clowns
salterio psaltery, or dulcimer
samba an Afro-Brazilian dance in double time, with a strongly syncopated rhythm, which became popular in ballrooms across Europe and the U.S. the music for the dance is also known as samba
sampler used in electronic music that allows digital reproduction of sounds
sampogna zampogna
sanctus "holy." in the mass, the fourth part of the ordinary
sanft soft, gentle
sans without
saquebout sackbut
sarabande a slow, genteel dance in triple time, thought to have its origins in the orient. It came to Europe via Spain during the 16th-century, and became popular in 18th-century England. It often appears as a slow movement in a classical suite
sarambo Dominican dance form, which evolved from the Spanish Zapateado
sarangi an ancient stringed instrument from India, which is played with a curved bow
sardana  a national dance from Catalonia in Spain
sarod a traditional Indian plucked string instrument.
sarrusophone a double-reed instrument of the oboe family, classed as woodwind, even though it is made of brass. named after Sarrus, its 19th-century French inventor
sassofone saxophone
satire poking fun at a musical style by imitation, violation, or carrying to extreme
satz movement, or style
sautille violin technique of giving a short fast stroke in mid bow, such that the bow bounces off the string
saxophone a family of wind instruments, developed in about 1840 by the Belgian instrument maker, Adolphe Sax. The saxophone has a single reed similar to the clarinet, and is classified as woodwind, even though it has a metal body. The most important use of the instrument in classical music today is in saxophone quartets
scale a collection of pitches arranged from lowest to highest or highest to lowest
scampata chirivari
scat singing the insertion of nonsense syllables into a jazz song
scena also describes an episode in opera that has no formal construction, and is usually made up of arias, recitative and other elements. It may be an extended dramatic passage-often involving a single character-such as the sleepwalking scene in Verdi's Macbeth
scenario the outline of an opera or play drawn up before work is started on the actual words to be sung, or libretto. It describes the number of characters and scenes, and sketches the plot of each scene. it also indicates how the music develops, situating the climaxes and the linking passages
schalkhaft sporting
schall sound
schellen tambourine
scherzando literally-joking or jesting. Played in a light-hearted manner
scherzo a light-hearted movement found from the early 17th century in various forms, but used by Beethoven as an alternative to the minuet in symphonies, sonatas and other instrumental forms. Chopin expanded the form very considerably. the diminutive scherzino or scherzetto is occasionally found, while scherzando occurs as a direction to performers. the scherzo, like the minuet, is generally used to frame a trio section of contrasted material.
scherzoso in a light-hearted manner
schiettamente openly
schlag  beat, stroke
schlagzither plucked zither
schlegel drumstick
schleppend  dragging
schlummerlied lullaby
schluss end, ending cadence
schlussel clef
schnabel  clarinet or recorder mouthpiece
schnarre rattle
schnell a direction to play music fast
schola papal choir and singing school, designed for training in chant
schottische round dance
schrittmassig measured
schusterfleck see rosalia
schwegel, schwegelpfeife flute
schweller swell
schwingung  vibration
schwungvoll animated
sciolto freely
scivolando a direction to a pianist to draw the finger rapidly up or down the keys. Also known as glissando
scoop approaching a sung note from below, rather than attacking it
scordatura unconventional tuning in order to make certain parts easier to play, or to alter the tone color
score a musical score is written music that shows all parts. A conductor's score, for example, may have as many as thirty different simultaneous instrumental parts on one page, normally having the woodwind at the top, followed below by the brass, the percussion and the strings. A distinction is made between a vocal score, which gives voice parts with a simplified two-stave version of any instrumental parts, and a full score, which includes all vocal and instrumental parts generally on separate staves. To score a work is to write it out in score. A symphony, for example, might be sketched in short score, on two staves, and later orchestrated or scored for the required instruments
scorrendo gliding
scrittura commission to write an opera
scucito non-legato
second the smallest conventional musical interval in melody or harmony, formed by two adjacent notes
secondary triads II, III, and VI - the relative minors of the primary triads
secondo second part
seelemant requiem mass
seenenvoll soulful
segno sign used to indicate the beginning of a section to be repeated
segue perform the next section immediately without a pause
seguidilla southern Spanish dance form, based on a text that is freely broken and phrases repeated
sehr very
seis literally, six, a dance song, often employing the Phrygian cadence
semi half
semibreve a whole note with the time value of two half notes or four quarter notes. The British equivalent is a half a breve
semi-cadence imperfect cadence
semi-opera has been coined to describe the English dramatic works of the later 17th century that combined spoken drama with a significant element of music, as in Purcell's king Arthur, with a text by Dryden, or in the same composer's the fairy queen, an adaptation of Shakespeare's a midsummer night's dream.
semiquaver a sixteenth note with the time value of 1/16 of a whole note. the British equivalent is half a quaver
semiseria serious opera that contained a significant number of comic scenes
semitone half step
semplice simply, unaffected
sempre always
senhal in which a name is hidden in the letters of a song's text
sentimento with sentiment
sentito expressive
senza without, is found in directions to performers, particularly in phrases such as senza sordino, without mute
septet a performing group of seven musicians. a septet also refers to a piece of music written for seven performers
septuplet grouping of seven notes played in the time of four or six
sequence repetition of a melody at a different pitch
serenade is often similar in form to the divertimento. Etymologically a piece for evening performance, usually outdoors, the counterpart of the morning aubade, the title came to have a much more general meaning, although it often suggests a piece of music in honor of someone or something, an extension of the traditional performance of a lover beneath the window of his mistress.
serenata serenade
sereno serene
serial music music in which classical rules do not apply, and which uses tone rows
serialism a form of music writing based on twelve-tone technique, in which pitch classes, rhythms, and often dynamics are determined systematically
serialism is the important 20th century compositional technique that uses, as a basis of unity, a series of the twelve semitones of the octave in a certain order, which may then be taken in retrograde form, in inversion and in retrograde inversion, and also in transposition. the technique, an extension of late romantic chromatics, was formulated by Arnold Schoenberg in the 1920s followed by his pupils Alban Berg and Anton Webern, and thereafter by many other composers. problems arise for the listener in the difficulty of hearing the series, however visually apparent from the written score.
serinette miniature barrel organ
serioso serious
serpent a large, ancient, s-shaped wind instrument, usually made of wood. It was replaced by the ophicleide in concert use
sesqui- prefix referring to fractions whose numerator is larger than the denominator
sestetto sextet
seventh the interval of seven diatonic degrees
seventh chord chord consisting of the root, third, fifth, and 7th degrees of a scale
sext the fifth canonical hour
sextet a composition for six parts
sextole sextuplet
sextuplet a group of six notes played in the time of four ordinary ones
sforzando sudden strong accent on a single note
shake trill
shakuhachi Japanese flute
shamisen a Japanese string instrument, similar to a lute
shanty a working song sung by seamen on sailing ships, to coordinate the rhythmic movements of a team effort-such as heaving on a rope
sharp represented by the sign #, added before a note, raises its pitch by a semitone. in general terms music that is sharp may be simply out of tune, at too high a pitch.
shawm a double-reed woodwind instrument of the 16th-and 17th-centuries; forerunner of the oboe
sheng Chinese type of mouth organ, or harmonica
shift a change of left hand position on the neck of a stringed instrument
shimmy American dance form, like fast fox-trot combined with shaking the entire body
shivaree charivari
sho sheng
shofar ancient Jewish instrument made of ram's horn
short appogiatura one grace note before the melody note
short octave result of omitting certain low tones from the ranks of organs resulted in this special arrangement of the lowest keys, which enabled playing big intervals
si the seventh tone of a scale
siciliana had it's probable origin in a Sicilian shepherd dance or song. It came to be associated in the later 17th century with the pastoral, particularly in the Christmas concerto of the period. The Sicilian is normally in compound dotted rhythm and is slow and sometimes melancholy in mood.
side drum a small drum, also sometimes referred to as a snare drum, which has a skin at both ends of a shallow cylinder. the upper skin is struck with a pair of wooden sticks, while the lower one is in contact with strings-called snares-which produce a rattling effect
sight read to play or sing a piece of music at first sight
sight reading reading and performing music without preparation
signal fanfare
signature sign placed at the beginning of every staff of a composition, indicating what key it is in. a time signature is placed at the beginning of a composition indicating the mete
similar motion two or more parts either descending or ascending at the same time
simile to continue to do something in the same way it was formerly notated such as pedaling or staccatos
simple interval an interval between two notes of an eighth-or octave-or less. an interval of more than an octave is known as a compound interval
simple time any music that has a beat that is divisible by two
simplice simply
sin al fine to the end
sinfonia in earlier usage indicated a passage or piece of instrumental music, sometimes an introductory piece, leading later to the Italian overture, known as the sinfonia before the opera 
sinfonia concertante is a concerto that uses two or more solo instruments. the title was used in the later 18th century by Mozart, Haydn and their contemporaries, and has occasionally been used by composers since then.
Sinfonietta small symphony orchestra
singing voice, as in "voice lessons"
singing saw musical saw
singspiel a singspiel is a German form of play with music. The word is used to indicate a stage work that makes some use of spoken dialogue, even in a context of primarily musical interest. Examples are found in Mozart's the magic flute and in Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio
sinistra left
sino to, until.
sirvente troubadour poetry treating politics, philosophy etc.
sistrum a percussion instrument, rather like a rattle, with rings attached, that jangle against a metal frame when it is shaken. It became obsolete, but has found popularity with contemporary composers.
sitar a long-necked string instrument from India, similar to a lute. it is played with a plectrum worn on the right forefinger
six-four chord the second inversion of a triad
sixteenth note semi quaver
sixth the interval of six diatonic degrees
sixth tone one third of a half step
sixty-fourth note hemi demisemiquaver (note: instead of actually pronouncing such a long name for such a short note, people sometimes just say "quick note")
skala scale
skip melodic interval larger than a major second
skolie drinking song
slancio impetuousness
slargando slowing down
slentando becoming slower. See rallentando
slide the movable part of the trombone. an ornament of two or three scale tones. A portamento in violin when going quickly from one note to the next. An Irish peasant dance similar to a polka.
slur a direction, written as a curved line over two or more notes, indicating that they are joined smoothly as one unbroken phrase. In music for strings, slurs are played with one bow stroke. in vocal music, they are sung in one breath
sminuendo diminuendo
smorzando a direction to fade the volume of the music to silence
snare drum a small drum, also sometimes referred to as a side drum, which has a skin at both ends of a shallow cylinder. the upper skin is struck with a pair of wooden sticks, while the lower one is in contact with strings-called snares-which produce a rattling effect
snello nimble
soave smooth, sweet
soave a direction to play a piece of music tenderly or gently
soft pedal the left pedal on the piano, which alters the position of the keys, so that only one of the two or three strings of each note is struck. This has the effect of lessening the volume
soggetto subject
sogitha Syrian chant
sognando dreaming
sol fifth syllable in sol-fa
solea plaintive Andalusia folksong
sol-fa English solemnization for sight singing
solfege  vocalizes sung to vowels, or the syllables. Basic music instruction
solfegietto little study
soli the whole section plays
solmization system of naming the degrees of the scales via syllables
solo a piece, or section of music performed by one player, either alone or with an accompaniment.
soloist the person who sings or plays a solo piece or instrument
son tone, sound
son chapin the national dance of Guatemala
sonare to sound
sonata a composition in three sections. exposition, development and recapitulation. the exposition uses two themes or subjects, and usually concludes with a coda, or short tail-piece.
sonata form exposition, followed by development, and recapitulation
sonatina a shorter, structurally simpler version of a sonata, usually with a briefer development section
song a vocal composition with words. it can be sung with or without accompaniment
song cycle a set of related songs, arranged in a particular order for performance
song form the arrangement of sections in a song to contrast similar and different sections. often, letters are used to represent different parts of a given selection. aba, aaba, abaca, etc
sonneries signals performed by trumpets or bells
sonore sonorous
sonus offertory, in some rites
sopra above
sopranino the term for musical instruments pitched higher than the soprano range, such as the sopranino recorder or saxophone
soprano the highest female voice-extending at lease two octaves from the b below middle c. A boy's voice in that range is referred to as treble. An adult male soprano is falsetto or castrato. Also refers to musical instruments, such as the recorder and saxophone, pitched in the soprano range. Abbreviated as S.
sordino the direction 'con sordino' instructs the player to put on the mute. 'senza sordino', meaning 'without mute', reverses the direction.
sortisatio improvised counterpoint
sospirando sighing
sostenente piano stringed keyboard instrument that produces a non-percussive tone
sostenuto a direction to hold a note for its full time value
sostenuto pedal third pedal on a piano. A real sostenuto pedal lifts the dampers that are already off due to their keys being held down. Some pianos have a third pedal that lifts the dampers off the bass strings, while maintaining clarity in the upper registers.
sotto under, below
sotto voce a direction to instruments and voices to play or sing at a scarcely audible level
soubrette often refers to a coquettish female character, typically a maid, sung in comic opera or operetta by a light soprano voice. Typical soubrettes are Despina in cosi fan tutte and Susanna in the marriage of Figaro.
sound board a wooden board in keyboard instruments that enhances its resonation
sound holes openings cut in the top of a stringed instrument
sound post in the violin family, a small wooden piece wedged between the front and the back
soupirant sighing
sourd, sourde muffled
sousaphone a type of tuba, which encircles the player's body and ends in a large bell facing forward. Designed by the famous composer John Philip Sousa for playing while marching.
sp abbrev. for spitze (tip), either of bow, or in pedal board, the toe of the foot
space the blank area between two staff lines or leger lines
spacing the distance between voices, classified as either close or open
spaltklang sonority resulting from the blend of timbres
spatium space
speaker key a key that opens a small hole that aids a wind player in over blowing
speaking stop a stop that enables sounds (as opposed to a coupler)
sperdendosi fading
spezzato divided
spiccato a direction to play notes on string instruments in a rapid, detached manner, bouncing the bow on the strings
spiegelfuge mirror fugue
spieldose music box.
spinato even
spinet early form of harpsichord, on a smaller scale, that was popular between the 16th and 18th-centuries
spirito a direction to play in a lively, spirited manner
spiritoso with animation, spirited
spiritual religious song of African-Americans
spitze point (of bow, in violin), (of toe, in organ)
sprechstimme, sprechgesang vocal coloration halfway between singing and speech
square neumes 12th century neumatic script characterized by squares to represent notes
stabreim alliteration
staccatissimo an extreme form of staccato
staccato a direction, marked by a dot over the note, that it should be held for less than its full length. the opposite of legato
staff indicates the set of lines used for the notation of notes of different pitches. the five-line stave is in general use, with a four-line stave used for plainchant. Staves of other numbers of lines were once used. the system, with colored lines for c and for f, followed principles suggested first by Guido of Arezzo in the 11th century. Staff notation is the system of notation that uses the stave.
staffless notation any notation method wherein pitches are indicated by some means other than a staff
standchen serenade
stave the five-line framework, on which musical notation is written
steel band a band, originally from the west Indies, that plays pans-drums made from the hammered-out tops of oil drums
steel drum percussion instrument made of an oil drum whose heads are indented in such a way that striking different areas of the head produces different pitches
steg bridge (of violin)
stegreif  improvisation
stendando slowing, expanding
step interval of a second
steso slow, same
stil style
stimm having to do with voice, part, or tone
stimme the voice, or part written for voice
stimmung tuning
stinguendo extinguishing, dying away
stirato drawing out
stop a lever on a harpsichord or organ that controls the use of pipes or strings. To 'stop' a string on a string instrument is to place a fingertip on it, which causes it to vibrate more quickly, and raises its pitch. To stop a horn is to place a hand firmly inside the bell to give a different sound quality.
stopped pipe pipe closed at one end
storta cromorne
strad., stradivarius a very famous violin maker, or any violin of that vintage
straff rigid, firm
strathspey slow Scottish dance in 4 containing multiple dotted notes
straziante anguished
street organ barrel organ, often erroneously called a hurdy gurdy
streich- bow
strepitoso boisterous, clacking
stretta finishing up at a faster tempo than the preceding section
stretto in a fugue stretto is the device by which a second voice enters with the subject overlapping a first voice, rather than starting after the completion of the subject by the first voice. The word is sometimes used to indicate a faster speed, particularly at the climax of a movement.
string string instruments are chordophones, instruments that sound by the vibration of a string of a certain tension. The string section of the modern orchestra uses first and second violins, violas, cellos and double basses. A string trio consists of violin, viola and cello; a string quartet consists of two violins, viola and cello and a string quintet either of two violins, two violas and cello, as in the case of Mozart's work in this form, or of two violins, viola and two cellos, as in the case of Schubert's famous c major string quintet and the quintets of Boccheri. other numbers and combinations of string instruments are possible in other ensembles
string quartet music for, or ensemble consisting of two violins, a viola, and a violincello
string quintet music for, or ensemble of five stringed instruments
string trio music for, or ensemble of three stringed instruments
stringed instruments any instruments which sound by means of vibrating strings, set in motion by plucking, striking, or bowing
stringendo pressing or accelerating
strings stringed instruments
strisciando very specific type of glissando
stroboconn instrument used to measure frequencies
stroh violin instrument in which the usual body is replaced by an aluminum plate connected to an amplifying horn
stromentato  played by instruments, instrumental
stromento instrument
strophenbass using the same bass line for each stanza, but varying the melody
strophic style in which the same music is used for each verse, the opposite of through composed, which is used when subtle musical differences are desired
study is a piece of music originally designed primarily for the technical development of the player. Studies came, however, to be compositions of considerable musical distinction, as in the case of the etudes of Chopin or of Debussy
stufe degree of the scale
stutzflugel  baby grand piano
stuck composition
sturze bell, as of a horn
style type of expression, patterns in treatment of melody, form, orchestration, etc.
sub- below
subdominant the fourth note of a scale; chord built on the fourth note of a scale
subito suddenly
subject a subject is a theme or group of themes
submediant the sixth degree of the scale
suboctave the octave below
subtonic the seventh, usually the minor
suite a set of instrumental pieces, originally based on dance forms and styles, grouped together as one work. Also a collection of pieces taken from a longer work, such as an opera or ballet
sul, sulla on
sumponyah biblical reference to an instrument, thought to be a bagpipe or sackbut
superdominant the sixth degree of the scale
supertonic the second degree of the scale
suspension sustainment of a consonant note while a different consonant note moves to a dissonance. the suspension is then usually resolved. a chord with a suspension in it
sussurando whispering, murmuring
sustaining pedal the middle pedal of the piano, also sometimes used for the damper pedal
svelto quick
svolgimento development
swell gradual increase in intensity
swell organ the upper manual of an organ and all its stops. The swell organ pipes are in a case with shutters that may be opened and closed via the swell pedal, thus giving the swell organ some dynamic range.
sympathetic string set in motion by the vibration of another string or pulse source but not played directly.
sympathetic vibration occurs when the vibration of one drumhead, cymbal, etc. Causes another drumhead, or cymbal to vibrate. for example, when the top head a snare drum is struck the vibrations from the top head cause the bottom head to vibrate
symphony the word literally means 'sounding together'. In the early 18th-century, it meant an instrumental section of a choral work. today, it describes a large-scale orchestral work usually in four movements
symphony orchestra an extended ensemble laid out in sections of strings, woodwind, brass, harp, timpani and percussion. Orchestras in the 18th-century had as few as 20 instruments, but today more than 100 is not uncommon. Usually, a conductor directs and coordinates the tempo, dynamics and musical interpretation
syncopation the deliberate upsetting of the rhythm in a piece of music to make the accent fall on the weaker beat in the bar, which is not normally accented. syncopation has been used in the music of all periods, and is one of the foremost features of jazz
synemmenon additional tetra chord in which a b-flat was introduced
synthesizer an instrument that uses electronic means to re-create an almost infinite variety of sounds. modern synthesizers usually have pre-set instrumental and vocal notes, which are operated by means of a keyboard. they have come to prominence mostly in the field of popular music, but also have a place in certain modern orchestral works
syrinx panpipes
system collection of staves occurring together on a page



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