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Discovering Music - Glossary of Musical Terms

Where a melody is taken and stretched out over longer note lengths.

Call and response
A common vocal or instrumental technique in which a solo call is followed by a choral response.

A texture featuring movement through a progression of chords.

Three-part Chordal writing
In this example, for horn.

Step changes move the music through keys other than its 'home' key.

A composition or passage for two or more parts, here - the woodwind and strings, which is suggestive of conversational interplay.

Triplet figuration
Patterns of triplets as an accompaniment to the theme. (A triplet is a sequence of three equal length notes.)

A texture in the style of a fugue. It is not strict fugue, but is fugue like with imitative entries.

Hemiola rhythms
A rhythmic device which regroups notes in simple triple time into groups of two beats rather than three.

A musical texture in which a melody and accompanying parts move together. (Homo = sameness of sounds).

A musical texture comprising a single melodic part with no accompaniment. (Mono = one).

Three note Motif
(A short melodic idea of a few notes) is passed between the wind instruments and violins.

Octaves (piano example)
A musical interval of eight notes eg: nc to c. This can also be a type of musical texture ie: playing in octaves.

Octaves - (orchestral example)
A musical interval of eight notes eg: C to C.

A sustained or repeated note appearing unchanged in the bass line of a piece of music over which other harmonies move freely. (see also Inverted Pedal).

An instruction to play from one note to another by sliding through all the different pitches in between without creating a break. From the Italian meaning "carrying", the note is to be carried onto another. Technically it differs from a glissando.
It can be used to create an orchestral effect as in this sequence of portamenti...
...or it can be used to add expression to a musical line.

Dotted and Lombardic rhythms
(Lombardic reverse dotting). Regular beat is broken into longer and shorter note lengths, signified in the music by the dot next to the note. A dot increases the note duration by half again.

Descending sequences
(a repeated pattern - can be at the same pitch or higher/lower) in the first violin part.

Tonic Pedal
A held note, usually in the bass, on the tonic - the main note of the key. (eg: in C major it would be a C). The term derives from organ music.

Tritone (piano example)
A word used to describe the interval of an Augmented Fourth or Diminished Fifth, an interval consisting of three whole tones, for example, from Eb to A.

Tritone (orchestral example)
It is a very unsettling interval and difficult to sing and for this reason it was banned in medieval times, where it was said that "Mi contra fa diabolus in musica" (Mi against fa is the devil in music). For this reason it is frequently used by composers to convey something devilish!

Discovering Music Homepage

Sheet Music

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Video Library

Video Library

Watch Discovering Music programmes and performances in the Video Library.

Listening Library

Stephen Johnson

Delve into the world of the Discovering Music
Listening Library.

Notes Archive

Stephen Johnson and Charles Hazlewood

Read more about the works in the Listening Notes Archive

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