An A, B, C of Musical Terms for Piano Students
Accent: This means exactly what the word indicates. If a note has an accent sign over it, often expressed as >, or sometimes as a v, then that note will be played with a little more force than the the rest of the melodic line.
Accidental: An accidental describes any symbol used to raise or lower a specific note. This can be a sharp #, or a flat b, or a natural sign which looks a little like the sharp sign.
A sharp raises a note by one semitone. A flat lowers a note by one semitone. And a natural sign removes the effect of any sharp or flat sign which might have gone before. A natural sign also indicates that the note will ignore the key signature, playing a ‘straight’ note which ignores any indication for that note as seen in the key signature.
Acciaccatura: This is an ornament, or embellishment on a note, which is like a grace note played immediately below the principal note. (Compare to the Appoggiatura which leads into the principal note from above)
The Acciaccatura can be played immediately before the principal note, as a light and graceful embellishment, or it can be played simultaneously with the principal note to create a dissonance. The decision on how to play the Acciaccatura is usually at the discretion of the performer, based on the context of the music.
The Acciaccatura was popular in the music of the Baroque period, the period of Johann Sebastian Bach’s time. It can be found also in the music of Mozart and other Classical composers.
Adagio: An Adagio is a slow piece of music, but it also describes a direction for the speed of a piece of music, usually given at the top of the beginning of a piece, on the left hand side of the music. (An Adagio is also a balletic term which describes part of the ‘pas de deux’, a very lyrical movement danced by two dancers, requiring great skill at ‘lifting, balancing and turning’ – see ‘Reader’s Digest Great Illustrated Dictionary’).
An ‘Adagio’ movement can describe the slow movement, in Adagio time, of a sequence of several movements, or it can describe an actual composition, for example, Samuel Barber’s beautiful ‘Adagio For Strings’. This moves slowly, in Cantato style, or ‘singing’ style, beautifully and expressively, and the title ‘Adagio’ suits it admirably. An Adagio is generally slower than ‘Andante’, but not as slow as ‘Largo’, which means very slow.
The degree of slowness would be: Largo – almost religiously slow and laborious; Adagio – moderately slow; and Andante - slowish but with more movement forward than Largo or Adagio.
Ad. lib: This is a shortened form of the Latin ad libitum, which generally means ‘let yourself go’ in the musical context. It is a chance for the performer to show off his or her skills. In theory, Ad lib indicates that the performer can perform this section entirely at his or her own discretion.
Ad. lib. means that the performer can choose the desired tempo, or time, and change the speed of the section as he or she pleases by the use of Rubato, a general giving and taking of the time – literally a ‘robbing’ of the time, Robin Hood style. The performer can also choose the sound dynamics (loud or soft) which give the feeling, or expression of the ad lib section, and he or she can decide whether or not they will allow other instrumentalists to accompany them in the Ad lib section.
Of course, you would try to play the ad lib section with style, either in keeping with the rest of the piece, or, more usually, as a contrast to what has gone before, or what will come after the ad lib. . Even a little extemporization or improvization can be used on an ad lib section if your skill has developed that far. Show off if you can, but most importantly -with style!!!!!!!
Appoggiatura: This is another type of graceful embellishment which is often used in piano music of the Baroque and Classical eras. Whrereas the Acciaccatura leads into the principal note from BELOW, the Appoggiatura leads into the note from ABOVE the principal note.
Interesting origins: The word Appoggiatura comes from the Italian ‘appoggiare’, meaning ‘to lean on’, whereas Acciaccatura comes from the word meaning ‘to support’. (see ‘Reader’s Digest Great Illustrated Dictionary’)
Aria: This means ‘air’, which is another term for song, or tune. An Aria is to be found most commonly in the Italian Operas. Sometimes the lovely Aria tunes from Italian Operas are transcribed for piano. Some Arias have been the inspiration for popular songs.
Bagatelle: A short piece of music, usually for piano. The word is French, meaning ‘trifle’, or something of little importance. However, Beethoven wrote twenty six Bagatelles for Piano. And these are by no means regarded as mere trifles in the repertoire of piano music.
Ballade: This word, spelled with an ‘e’ on the end to differentiate it from the vocal term ‘Ballad’, describes a simple piece of instrumental music which often suggests a narrative or story,. Chopin wrote four Ballades for piano which are said to have been inspired by the Polish poet Mickiewicz.
Ballade is also a term used to describe a form of medieval poetry, a form of verse which repeats the same concluding line on each of its three stanzas, or verses, the verses comprising eight or ten lines each. The term Ballade has also been applied loosely to certain polyphonic works such as some composed by Machaut.
Ballad: A Ballad in the modern musical context is a song which tells a story. The form of the libretto, or lyrics, are usually loosely based on the verse-form of Ballade, as described above, the most distinguishing factor being that the same line is repeated at the end of every verse. A pianist or guitarist might sometimes get to accompany someone singing a ‘Ballad’, such as ‘The Ballad of Bad Bad Leroy Brown’, or ‘The Green Green Grass Of Home’.
Barcarolle: This term means ‘boating song’. It is usually in 6/8 time, which has a gentle, rhythmic, rocking movement. Barcarolles became very popular in Venice, where the Venetian Gondoliers helped to create a feeling of leisure and indulgence, rowing their wealthy charges about whilst serenading them. The most well-known Barcarolle is the one from ‘The Tales Of Hoffmann’, by Offenbach.
Berceuse: This comes, again, from the French. A Berceuse is a pretty and sweet-sounding instrumental piece, like a lullaby, a cradle song.
Bolero: This term comes from the Spanish. It describes a lively and dynamic Spanish dance which is usually accompanied by castanets, guitar, and the voices of the dancers.
The Bolero has a distinctive rhythm which incorporates a triplet figure on the second half of the first beat of the bar. (A triplet figure is a group of three notes, usually played to the time of one beat, or one half beat) Ravel (1875-1937), a composer who was born in the Pyranees but brought up in Paris, wrote a famous ‘Bolero’ in 1928: This is not a true bolero in the traditional Spanish sense. Ravel used the rhythmic elements of the traditional Spanish Bolero to create very sensuous orchestral music for a ballet which he entitled “Bolero”.
Ravel’s Bolero has become hugely popularized – For example, it features in a very humorous scene in the movie ’10’, acted by Dudley Moore and Bo Derek. Ravel’s Bolero is given a very erotic take in ’10’, which is carried to an extremely absurd level. Very funny.
The Bolero theme is used again to wrap up the movie, in a much more real and satisfying sense, when Dudley Moore’s character unites with his real true love, played by Julie Andrews.
Boogie Woogie: This is not a classical term. It is a jazz style of piano music which incorporates an eight-note bass line which uses a combination of white and black notes, usually repeatedly played over a 12 or 8 bar blues chord pattern. In my opinion, it is relevant to the aspiring musician who wishes to play fun music for the delight of his/her listener. Boogie Woogie Rocks!!!!!!!
Boogie Woogie can be learnt by any musician who puts her mind to it. Boogie Woogie is a great fun way for developing the piano technique.
Winifred Atwell popularized the Boogie Woogie in the 1950’s. She revived the style which originated from the early American South, and made many records of her interpretations.
Cantata: This word comes from the Italian word ‘cantare’ – ‘to sing’. Sacred music of the Christian tradition sometimes uses the Cantata form, as in a musical setting of a religious text which includes a variety of vocal performance – arias, duets and choruses. A pianist or organist might sometimes accompany a cantata performance. Sometimes famous cantata melodies are transcribed for the piano student.
Capriccio: This is an Italian and French term. Caprice is the English term. A Caprice, or Capriccio, is a light, playful piece written in free-form, I.e, with no specific composition formula.
A Capriccio or Caprice was also a specific style of keyboard composition of the 17th Century, lively and written in Fugal style.
Chord: A group of notes played together simultaneously. The commonly played chords which you will encounter when learning the piano are the Major and Minor Chords which usually contain three notes. For example, C,E, and G are the three notes which form the C Major Chord in its root position, or close position. The Minor Chord in its root position, or close position, is formed in the same way as the Major Chord, except that it has a flattened middle note, namely the 3rd degree of the chord. For example, C Minor Chord will be C, E Flat, and G.
The other Chords you will get to learn are the Augmented and Diminished Chords. The Augmented is formed on the Major Chord, except that it raises the 5th Degree. For example, C augmented will have the notes C, E, and G sharp.
The Diminished Chord uses the Minor Chord and then LOWERS the 5th degree: eg. C Diminished will be C, E flat and G flat.
Clef: In piano music, we use the Treble Clef and the Bass Clef. The Clef indicates where exactly on the piano the notes on the Stave will be played. Treble Clef works best for the right hand, using mainly all the notes to the right of Middle C, going upwards to the highest note in the treble. The Bass Clef generally works best for the left hand on the piano, using mostly all keys to the left of Middle C, down to the very bottom bass notes.