Comprehensive guide to music terms


Music is a universal language, but often the deeper you get into it, the more the terminology can feel like a secret code. Our guide will help you navigate through the vast sea of musical terms, whether you're new to music or have been playing for years. We'll cover everything from the basics of music theory to advanced concepts, as well as instrument-specific jargon, vocal techniques, music production lingo, and genre-specific terminology.

  • General Music Terms
  • Piano / Keyboard Terms
  • Guitar Terminology
  • Bass Guitar Terminology
  • Singing and Vocal Techniques
  • Music Production, Recording and Mixing
  • Advanced Musical Concepts
  • Genre-Specific Music Terms
  • Get Full Access to All Our Courses

General Music Terms

_DSC0235.webpTo begin our extensive look at musical terms, let's start with the basics. This section covers the fundamental music concepts everyone should know.

Basic Musical Concepts

  • Note: A single pitch in music. Think of it as the building block of melodies and harmonies.

  • Chord: Multiple notes played together to create harmony.

  • Scale: A sequence of notes in a specific order, , forming the basis for melodies.

  • Melody: A sequence of notes that are musically satisfying and memorable.

  • Harmony: Different notes played together, enriching the sound. Harmony adds colour and texture to your music.

  • Rhythm: The pattern of sounds and silences in music, the heartbeat of a piece.

  • Tempo: The speed of the music, how fast or slow it is played.

  • Dynamics: The volume of the music, ranging from soft (piano) to loud (forte).

  • Interval: The distance in pitch between two notes.

  • Octave: An interval spanning eight notes, such as from one C to the next higher C.

  • Tonic: The first note of a scale, acting as the home base.

  • Cadence: A sequence of chords that concludes a phrase or piece. Cadences provide musical punctuation, giving your pieces a sense of closure.

Understanding Notation

  • Staff: The five lines on which music is written.

  • Clef: Symbols that indicate the pitch of written notes (e.g., treble clef, bass clef).

  • Key Signature: Indicates the key of the music by showing which notes are sharp or flat.

  • Time Signature: Shows the number of beats in each measure and which note value equals one beat.

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Piano / Keyboard Terms


Anatomy of a Piano

  • Keyboard: The layout of keys on a piano or other keyboard instruments.

  • Pedal: Foot-operated levers that sustain or dampen sound.

Piano Techniques and Concepts

  • Arpeggio: A broken chord where the notes are played in succession rather than simultaneously.

  • Fermata: A symbol indicating that a note or rest should be held longer than its usual duration.

  • Trill: A rapid alternation between two adjacent notes.

  • Sustain Pedal: A pedal that prolongs the sound of the notes.

  • Inversions: Different positions of a chord where the root note is not the lowest note.

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Guitar Terminology

_DSC7968 (1).webpAnatomy of a Guitar

  • Headstock: The top part of the guitar where the tuning pegs are located.

  • Tuning Pegs: Devices on the headstock used to adjust the tension of the strings.

  • Fretboard: The front of the guitar neck where the frets are located.

  • Frets: Metal strips embedded along the fretboard that divide it into fixed segments.

  • Bridge: The part of the guitar that supports the strings and transmits their vibrations to the body.

  • Pickups: Devices on electric guitars that convert string vibrations into electrical signals.

  • Body: The main part of the guitar, which can be hollow (acoustic) or solid (electric).

Guitar Techniques and Concepts

  • Riff: A repeated chord progression or melody, often forming the basis of a song.

  • Bend: Changing the pitch by pushing or pulling the string.

  • Slide: Moving smoothly between notes by sliding the finger along the string.

  • Harmonics: Notes produced by lightly touching the string at specific points.

  • Palm Muting: Damping the strings with the palm to create a muted sound.

  • Open Chords: Chords that include open, unfretted strings.

  • Power Chords: Two-note chords often used in rock music, usually consisting of the root and fifth notes.

  • Capo: A device used on the neck of a guitar to change the key by clamping down all the strings.

  • Fingerstyle: A technique where fingers pluck the strings directly, rather than using a pick.

  • Barre Chords: Chords where one finger presses down multiple strings across the fretboard.

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Bass Guitar Terminology

L1040983.webpIn technical terms, the anatomy of a bass is similar to the guitar (see above).

Bass Techniques

  • Fingerstyle: A technique of playing the bass guitar using the fingers instead of a pick.

  • Slap and Pop: A percussive playing technique where the thumb slaps the strings and the fingers pop them.

  • Walking Bass: A smooth, continuous bass line that walks through the notes of the scale.

  • Ghost Note: A note that is muted, producing a percussive sound.

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Singing and Vocal Techniques

DSC00118 (2).webpUnderstanding the physical parts involved in singing is really handy for mastering vocal techniques. Each part plays a unique role in sound production, breath control, and vocal quality.

Anatomy of Singing

  • Vocal Cords: Folds of tissue in the throat that vibrate to produce sound.

  • Diaphragm: A muscle located below the lungs that helps control breathing.

  • Larynx: The voice box that houses the vocal cords.

  • Pharynx: The part of the throat behind the mouth and nasal cavity.

Vocal Techniques

  • Breath Control: Managing breath to maintain vocal quality and endurance.

  • Vibrato: A slight, regular variation in pitch that adds warmth and richness to the voice.

  • Falsetto: A higher register of the voice, typically airy and light.

  • Chest Voice: The lower, fuller part of the vocal range.

  • Head Voice: The higher, lighter part of the vocal range.

  • Belting: Singing with full volume and power in the higher part of the vocal range.

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Music Production, Recording and Mixing

file_8000x5320_000599 (2).webpElectronic Music Production

  • Synthesizer: An electronic instrument that generates a variety of sounds.

  • MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface): A digital protocol that allows electronic musical instruments and computers to communicate.

  • MIDI Controller: A device that sends MIDI signals to other instruments or software, controlling their sounds.

  • Audio Interface: Converts analogue signals (like vocals or instruments) into digital audio and vice versa.

  • Sequencer: A device or software used to arrange and play back music by controlling sequences of notes and sounds.

  • Sample: A portion of sound recorded and reused in music production.

  • Loop: A repeating section of sound material.

  • Monitor Speakers: High-fidelity speakers used in studios for accurate sound reproduction.

Recording and Mixing

  • DAW (Digital Audio Workstation): Software used for recording, editing, and producing audio.

  • EQ (Equalization): Adjusting the balance of frequency components to shape the sound.

  • Compression: Reducing the dynamic range of an audio signal to make it more consistent.

  • Reverb: An effect that simulates the sound of a space, adding depth to audio.

  • Mixing: Combining multiple audio tracks into a final stereo or surround sound track.

  • Microphone Placement: Positioning microphones to capture the best sound quality.

  • Automation: Programming changes in volume, panning, and effects over time within a track.


  • Orchestral Sample Libraries: Collections of recorded instrument sounds used in music production.

  • Strings, Brass, Woodwind, Percussion: The main sections of an orchestra.

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Advanced Musical Concepts

  • Modulation: Changing from one key to another within a piece of music. (Example: Transitioning from C major to G major).

  • Counterpoint: Combining different melodic lines in a musical composition. (Example: Bach's fugues).

  • Polyrhythm: Simultaneous use of two or more conflicting rhythms. (Example: 3/4 rhythm over a 4/4 beat).

  • Atonality: Music that lacks a key center. (Example: Some works by Arnold Schoenberg).

  • Ostinato: A repeated musical phrase or rhythm. (Example: The bass line in Pachelbel’s Canon).

  • Syncopation: Emphasizing weak beats or off-beats. (Example: Ragtime music).

  • Twelve-Tone Technique: A method of composition using a series of all twelve notes in the chromatic scale. (Example: Schoenberg’s twelve-tone compositions).

Genre-Specific Music Terms


Blues Terminology

  • Blues Scale: A scale used in blues music, typically with flattened third, fifth, and seventh notes.

  • 12-Bar Blues: A common chord progression in blues music.

  • Blue Note: A note played at a slightly lower pitch for expressive purposes.

  • Shuffle Rhythm: A rhythm with a swing feel, often used in blues music.

  • Slide Guitar: A guitar technique using a slide to glide smoothly between notes.

Jazz Music Terms and Definitions

  • Swing: Emphasis on the off-beat.

  • Improvisation: Creating music spontaneously.

  • Blue Note: A note played at a slightly different pitch.

  • Chord Voicing: The arrangement of notes in a chord. (Example: Different ways to play a C7 chord).


  • Hook: A catchy musical phrase that grabs attention.

  • Bridge: A contrasting section that prepares for the return of the original material.

  • Riff: A repeated musical phrase, often forming the basis of a song.

  • Power Chords: Simple two-note chords, often used in rock music.

  • Breakdown: A section where various instruments play solo or reduce intensity.

  • Chorus: The repeating, main part of a song that contains the central message.

  • Verse: The storytelling part of a song leading to the chorus.

  • Outro: The concluding section of a song.

  • Solo: An instrumental section featuring a single performer.

Classical Music Terminology

  • Sonata: A composition for an instrumental soloist, often with multiple movements.

  • Symphony: A lengthy composition for orchestra, typically with multiple movements.

  • Concerto: A composition for a solo instrument and orchestra.

  • Fugue: A composition where a single theme is introduced by multiple voices and developed in a complex, interwoven structure.

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