Glossary of music terminology

This is a list of musical terms that are likely to be encountered in printed scores, music reviews, and program notes. Most of the terms are Italian, in accordance with the Italian origins of many European musical conventions. Sometimes, the special musical meanings of these phrases differ from the original or current Italian meanings. Most of the other terms are taken from French and German, indicated by "Fr." and "Ger.", respectively.
Unless specified, the terms are Italian or English. The list can never be complete: some terms are common, and others are used only occasionally, and new ones are coined from time to time. Some composers prefer terms from their own language rather than the standard terms listed here.


; I : in violin family instrument music, used to indicate that the player should play the passage on the highest-pitched, thinnest string
; 1′ : "sifflet" or one foot organ stop
; ′ : Tierce organ stop
; 2′ : two feet – pipe organ indication; see
; II : in violin family instrument music, used to indicate that the player should play the passage on the string adjacent to the highest-pitched, thinnest string
; ′ : pipe organ stop for the twelfth interval
; IV–VI : mixture stop on pipe organ
; II : cymbal stop on pipe organ
; III : in violin family instrument music, used to indicate that the player should play the passage on string adjacent to than the lowest-pitched, thickest string
; IV : in violin family instrument music, used to indicate that the player should play the passage on the lowest-pitched, thickest string
; 4′: four feet – pipe organ rank that speaks one octave higher than 8′
; 8′ : eight-foot pipe – pipe organ indication
; 16′ : sixteen-foot pipe – pipe organ indication calling for one octave below 8′
; 32′ : thirty-two-foot pipe – pipe organ indication calling for two octaves below 8′ also called sub-bass
; 64′ : sixty-four-foot pipe – pipe organ indication


; a or à : at, to, by, for, in
; à la : in the style of...
; a battuta : Return to normal tempo after a deviation. Not recommended in string parts, due to possible confusion with battuto ; use a tempo, which means the same thing
; a bene placito : Up to the performer
; a cappella : lit. "as in a chapel"; vocal parts only, without instrumental accompaniment
; a capriccio : A free and capricious approach to tempo
; a due : intended as a duet; for two voices or instruments; together; two instruments are to play in unison after a solo passage for one of the instruments
; a niente: To nothing; indicating a diminuendo which fades completely away
; a piacere : At pleasure
; a prima vista : lit. "at first sight". Sight-reading
; a tempo : In time ; also may be found in combination with other terms such as a tempo giusto or a tempo di menuetto
; ab : off, organ stops or mutes
; abafando : muffled, muted
; abandon or avec : free, unrestrained, passionate
; abbandonatamente, con abbandono : freely, in relaxed mode
; aber : but
; accarezzevole : Expressive and caressing
; : Accelerating; gradually increasing the tempo
; accelerato : with increased tempo
; accent : Accent, emphasis
; accentato/accentuato : Accented; with emphasis
; acceso : Ignited, on fire
; accessible : Music that is easy to listen to/understand
; acciaccato : Broken down, crushed; the sounding of the notes of a chord not quite simultaneously, but from bottom to top
; acciaccatura : Crushing
; : Accompanied
; accuratezza : Precision; accuracy. con accuratezza: with precision
; acoustic : Relating to music produced by instruments, as opposed to electric or electronic means
; ad libitum : At liberty
; adagietto : Fairly slowly
; adagio : Slowly
; adagissimo : Very, very slowly
; affannato, affannoso : Anguished
; affetto or : with affect
; affettuoso, affettuosamente, or affectueusement : With affect ; see also con affetto
; : Hurrying, pressing onwards
; agile : Agile, nimble
; agitato : Agitated
; al or alla : To the, in the manner of
; alcuna licenza : Used in con alcuna licenza, meaning with some freedom in the time, see rubato
; alla breve : In cut-time; two beats per measure or the equivalent thereof
; alla marcia : In the style of a march
; alla polacca : In the style of a Polonaise, a 3/4 dance
; allargando : Broadening, becoming progressively slower
; allegretto : A little lively, moderately fast
; allegretto vivace : A moderately quick tempo
; allegrezza : Cheerfulness, joyfulness
; allegrissimo : Very fast, though slower than presto
; allegro : Cheerful or brisk; but commonly interpreted as lively, fast
; all'ottava : "at the octave", see [|ottava]
; alt, alt dom, or altered dominant : A jazz term which instructs chord-playing musicians such as a jazz pianist or jazz guitarist to perform a dominant chord with at least one altered 5th or 9th
; altissimo : Very high; see also in altissimo
; alto : High; often refers to a particular range of voice, higher than a tenor but lower than a soprano
; alzate sordini : Lift or raise the mutes
; am Steg : At the bridge ; see sul ponticello
; amabile : Amiable, pleasant
; ambitus : Range between highest and lowest note
; amore or amor : Love; con amore: with love, tenderly
; amoroso : Loving
; anacrusis : A note or notes that precede the first full bar; a pickup
; andamento : Used to refer to a fugue subject of above-average length
; andante : At a walking pace
; andantino : Slightly faster than andante
; ängstlich : Anxiously
; anima : Soul; con anima: with feeling
; animandosi : Progressively more animated
; animato : Animated, lively
; antiphon : A liturgical or other composition consisting of choral responses, sometimes between two choirs; a passage of this nature forming part of another composition; a repeated passage in a psalm or other liturgical piece, similar to a refrain.
; antiphonal: A style of composition in which two sections of singers or instrumentalists exchange sections or music one after the other; typically the performers are on different sides of a hall or venue
; apaisé : Calmed
; appassionato : Passionate
; appoggiatura or leaning note : One or more grace notes that take up some note value of the next full note.
; : The bow used for playing some string instrument ; normally used to cancel a pizzicato direction
; aria : Self-contained piece for one voice usually with orchestral accompaniment
; arietta : A short aria
; arioso : Airy, or like an air ; melodious
; armonioso : Harmonious
; [|arpeggio], arpeggiato: played like a harp ; in music for piano, this is sometimes a solution in playing a wide-ranging chord whose notes cannot be played otherwise; arpeggios are frequently used as an accompaniment; see also [|broken chord]
; articulato : Articulate
; assai : Much, Very much
; assez : Enough, sufficiently
; attacca : Attack or attach; go straight on
; Ausdruck : Expression
; ausdrucksvoll or mit Ausdruck : Expressively, with expression
; avec : With


; B : German for B flat ; H in German is B natural
; ballabile : In ballet the term refers to a dance performed by the corps de ballet. The term Grand ballabile is used if nearly all participants of a particular scene in a full-length work perform a large-scale dance.
; bar, or measure : unit of music containing a number of beats as indicated by a time signature; also the vertical bar enclosing it.
; barbaro : Barbarous
; Bartók pizzicato : A term that instructs string performers to play a pizzicato note to pull the string away from the fingerboard so that it snaps back percussively on the fingerboard.
; bass : The lowest of the standard four voice ranges ; the lowest melodic line in a musical composition, often thought of as defining and supporting the harmony; in an orchestral context, the term usually refers to the double bass.
; basso continuo : Continuous bass, i.e. a bass accompaniment part played continuously throughout a piece by a chordal instrument, often with a bass instrument, to give harmonic structure; used especially in the Baroque period
; battement : Used in the 17th-century to refer to ornaments consisting of two adjacent notes, such as trills or mordents
; battuto : To strike the strings with the bow
;beam : Horizontal or diagonal line used to connect multiple consecutive notes.
;beat : 1. The pronounced rhythm of music
; belebt or belebter : Spirited, vivacious, lively
; bellicoso : Warlike, aggressive
; ben or bene : Well; in ben marcato for example
; bend : Jazz term referring either to establishing a pitch, sliding down half a step and returning to the original pitch or sliding up half a step from the original note.
; beschleunigt : Accelerated, as in mit beschleunigter Geschwindigkeit, at an accelerated tempo
; bewegt : Moved, with speed
; binary : A musical form in two sections: AB
; bird's eye : A slang term for fermata, which instructs the performer to hold a note or chord as long as they wish of following cues from a conductor
; bis : Twice
; bisbigliando : Whispering
; : with closed mouth
; bravura : Boldness; as in con bravura, boldly, flaunting technical skill
; breit : Broad
; bridge : 1. Transitional passage connecting two sections of a composition, or between two A sections.
; brillante : Brilliantly, with sparkle. Play in a showy and spirited style.
; brio or brioso : Vigour; usually in con brio: with spirit or vigour
; : A chord in which the notes are not all played at once, but in some more or less consistent sequence. They may follow singly one after the other, or two notes may be immediately followed by another two, for example. See also arpeggio, which as an accompaniment pattern may be seen as a kind of broken chord; see Alberti bass.
; bruscamente : Brusquely, suddenly


; cabaletta: The concluding, rapid, audience-rousing section of an aria
; cadence : A melodic or harmonic configuration that creates a sense of resolution
; cadenza : A solo section, usually in a concerto or similar work, that is used to display the performer's technique, sometimes at considerable length
; calando : Falling away, or lowering
; calma : Calm; so con calma, calmly. Also calmato meaning calmed, relaxed
; calore : Warmth; so con calore, warmly
; cambiare : To change
; canon or kanon : A theme that is repeated and imitated and built upon by other instruments with a time delay, creating a layered effect; see Pachelbel's Canon.
; cantabile or cantando : In a singing style. In instrumental music, a style of playing that imitates the way the human voice might express the music, with a measured tempo and flexible legato.
; canto : Chorus; choral; chant
; cantus mensuratus or cantus figuratus
; capo : 1. capo : A key-changing device for stringed instruments
; capriccio : "A humorous, fanciful, or bizarre, composition, often characterized by an idiosyncratic departure from current stylistic norms." See also: Capriccio
; capriccioso : Capricious, unpredictable, volatile
; cavalleresco : Chivalrous
; cédez : Yield, give way
; cesura or caesura : Break, stop;
; chiuso : Closed
; coda : A tail
; codetta : A small coda, but usually applied to a passage appended to a section of a movement, not to a whole movement
; or : with the ;
; col legno : With the wood are to be struck with the wood of the bow, making a percussive sound; also battuta [|col] legno: beaten with the wood
; col pugno : With the fist
; coll'ottava : With the addition of the octave note above or below the written note; abbreviated as col 8, coll' 8, and c. 8va
; : With the soloist; as an instruction in an orchestral score or part, it instructs the conductor or orchestral musician to follow the rhythm and tempo of a solo performer
; [|colla] voce : With the voice; as an instruction in a choral music/opera score or orchestral part, it instructs the conductor or orchestral musician to follow the rhythm and tempo of a solo singer
; coloratura : Coloration
; colossale : Enormous
; come prima : As before, typically referring to an earlier tempo
; come sopra : As above
; common time : The time signature : four beats per measure, each beat a quarter note in length. is often written on the musical staff as. The symbol is not a C as an abbreviation for common time, but a broken circle; the full circle at one time stood for triple time,.
; comodo : Comfortable ; also, allegro comodo, tempo comodo, etc.
; comp : 1. abbreviation of accompanying, accompanying music, accompaniment
; comping : 1. to comp ; action of accompanying.
; con : With; used in very many musical directions, for example con allegrezza, con amore ;
; : See [|dolce]
; or con sordine : With a mute, or with mutes. Frequently seen in music as con sordino, or con sordini.
; concerto : Composition for solo instrument and orchestra
; conjunct : An adjective applied to a melodic line that moves by step rather in disjunct motion.
; contralto : Lowest female singing voice type
; contrapuntalism : See counterpoint
; coperti : covered
; corda : String. On the piano it refers to use of the soft pedal which controls whether the hammer strikes one or three strings; see [|una corda], tre corde below.
; count : Series of regularly occurring sounds to assist with ready identification of beat
; crescendo : Growing;
; cuivré : Brassy. Used almost exclusively as a French Horn technique to indicate a forced, rough tone. A note marked both stopped and loud will be cuivré automatically
; custos : Symbol at the very end of a staff of music which indicates the pitch for the first note of the next line as a warning of what is to come. The custos was commonly used in handwritten Renaissance and typeset Baroque music.
; cut time : Same as the meter : two half-note beats per measure. Notated and executed like common time, except with the beat lengths doubled. Indicated by. This comes from a literal cut of the symbol of common time. Thus, a quarter note in cut time is only half a beat long, and a measure has only two beats. See also alla breve.


; da capo : From the head
; dal segno : From the sign
; dal [|segno] alla coda : Repeat to the sign and continue to the coda sign, then play coda
; dal segno al fine : From the sign to the end
; dal segno segno alla coda : Same as D.S. alla coda, but with a double segno
; dal segno segno al fine : From the double sign to the end
; decelerando : Slowing down; decelerating; opposite of accelerando
; deciso : Firm
; declamando : Solemn, expressive, impassioned
; : Gradually decreasing volume
; : From the Latin :la:wikt:desum|deesse meaning to be missing; placed after a catalogue abbreviation to indicate that this particular work does not appear in it; the plural, desunt, is used when referring to several works
; delicatamente : Delicately
; delicato : Delicate
; détaché : Act of playing notes separately
; devoto : Pious, religious
; diminuendo, dim. : Dwindling
; disjunct : An adjective applied to a melodic line which moves by leap as opposed to conjunct motion
; di : Of
; dissonante : Dissonant
; [|divisi] : Divided ; it is most often used for string instruments, since with them another means of execution is often possible
; doit : Jazz term referring to a note that slides to an indefinite pitch chromatically upwards
; : Sweet; con dolcezza: with sweetness
; dolcemente: Sweetly
; dolcissimo : Very sweet
; dolente : Sorrowful, plaintive
; dolore : Pain, distress, sorrow, grief; con dolore: with sadness
; doloroso : Sorrowful, plaintive
; doppio movimento : lit. Double movement, i.e. twice as fast
; double dot : Two dots placed side by side after a note to indicate that it is to be lengthened by three quarters of its value
; double stop : The technique of playing two notes simultaneously on a bowed string instrument
; downtempo : A slow, moody, or decreased tempo or played or done in such a tempo. It also refers to a genre of electronic music based on this
; drammatico : Dramatic
; drone : Bass note or chord performed continuously throughout a composition
; drop : Jazz term referring to a note that slides to an indefinite pitch chromatically downwards
; duolo : grief
; dumpf : Dull
; [|Dur] : major; used in key signatures as, for example, A-Dur, B-Dur, or H-Dur
; dynamics : The relative volume in the execution of a piece of music


; e or ed : And
; eco : The Italian word for "echo"; an effect in which a group of notes is repeated, usually more softly, and perhaps at a different octave, to create an echo effect
; égal : Equal
; eilend : Hurrying
; ein wenig : A little
; einfach : Simple
; emporté : Fiery, impetuous
; en animent : Becoming very lively
; en cédant : Yielding
; en dehors : Prominently, a directive to make the melody stand out
; en mesure : In time
; en pressant : Hurrying forward, hurrying forward
; en retenant : Slowing, holding back
; en serrant : Becoming quicker
; encore : Again ; a performer returning to the stage to perform an unlisted piece
; energico : Energetic, strong
; enfatico : Emphatic
; eroico : Heroic
; espansivo : Effusive; excessive in emotional expression; gushy
; espirando : Expiring
; espressione : Expression; e.g. con espressione: with expression
; espressivo, espress. or espr. : Expressive
; estinto : Extinct, extinguished
; esultazione : Exultation
; et : And
; etwas : As an adverb, little, somewhat, slightly
; etwas bewegter : Moving forward a little


; facile : Easy
; fall : Jazz term describing a note of definite pitch sliding downwards to another note of definite pitch
; falsetto : vocal register above the normal voice
; fantasia : A piece not adhering to any strict musical form; can also be used in con fantasia: with imagination
; feierlich : Solemn, solemnly
; fermata : Stop ; a fermata at the end of a first or intermediate movement or section is usually moderately prolonged, but the final fermata of a symphony may be prolonged for longer than the note's value, typically twice its printed length or more for dramatic effect
; feroce : Ferocious
; festivamente : Cheerfully, in a celebratory mode
; feurig : Fiery
; fieramente : Proudly
; fil di voce : "thread of voice", very quiet, [|pianissimo]
; fill : A jazz or rock term which instructs performers to improvise a scalar passage or riff to "fill in" the brief time between lyrical phrases, the lines of melody, or between two sections
; fine : The end, often in phrases like al fine
; flat : A symbol that lowers the pitch of a note by a semitone. The term may also be used as an adjective to describe a situation where a singer or musician is performing a note in which the intonation is an eighth or a quarter of a semitone too low.
; flautando : Flutelike mode; used especially for string instruments to indicate a light, rapid bowing over the fingerboard
; flebile : Feeble, low volume
; flessibile : flexible
; focoso or fuocoso : Fiery
; forte : Strong
; forte-piano : Strong-gentle
; fortepiano: An early pianoforte
; : Very loud
; fortissimissimo : As loud as possible
; forza : Musical force; con forza: with force
; forzando : See sforzando
; freddo : Cold; hence depressive, unemotional
; fresco : Fresh
; fröhlich : Lively, joyfully
; fugue, fuga : Literally "flight"; hence a complex and highly regimented contrapuntal form in music; a short theme is introduced in one voice alone, then in others, with imitation and characteristic development as the piece progresses
; funebre : Funeral; often seen as marcia funebre, indicating a stately and plodding tempo
; fuoco : Fire; con fuoco: with fire, in a fiery manner
; furia : Fury
; furioso : Furious


; G.P. : Grand Pause, General Pause; indicates to the performers that the entire ensemble has a rest of indeterminate length, often as a dramatic effect during a loud section
; gaudioso : With joy
; gemächlich : Unhurried, at a leisurely pace
; gemendo : Groaningly
; gentile : Gentle
; geschwind : Quickly
; geteilt : See divisi
; getragen : Solemnly, in a stately tempo
; giocoso : Playful
; gioioso : With joy
; giusto : Strict, exact, right
; glissando : A continuous sliding from one pitch to another, or an incidental scale executed while moving from one melodic note to another. See glissando for further information; and compare [|portamento].
; grace note : An extra note added as an embellishment and not essential to the harmony or melody.
; grandioso : Grand, solemn
; grave : Slow and serious
; grazioso : Graceful
; guerriero : Warlike, martial
; gustoso : With happy emphasis and forcefulness; in an agreeable manner


; H : German for B natural; B in German means B flat
; Hauptstimme : Main voice, chief part
; hemiola : The imposition of a pattern of rhythm or articulation other than that implied by the time signature; specifically, in triple time the imposition of a duple pattern. See Syncopation.
; hervortretend : Prominent, pronounced
; hold, see fermata
; homophony : A musical texture with one voice accompanied by subordinate chords; also used as an adjective. Compare with polyphony, in which several independent voices or melody lines are performed at the same time.
; hook : A musical idea, often a short riff, passage or phrase, that is used in popular music to make a song appealing and to "catch the ear of the listener".


; immer : Always
; imperioso : Imperious, overbearing
; impetuoso : Impetuous
; improvvisando : With improvisation
; improvvisato : Improvised, or as if improvised
; improvise : To create music at the spur of the moment, spontaneously, and without preparation
; : octave above the treble staff, G5 to F6
; : Octave above the in alt octave, G6 to F7
; in modo di : In the art of, in the style of
; in stand : A term for brass players that requires them to direct the bell of their instrument into the music stand, instead of up and toward the audience, thus muting the sound but without changing the timbre as a mute would
; incalzando : Getting faster and louder
; innig : Intimate, heartfelt
; insistendo : Insistently, deliberately
; intimo : Intimate
; intro : Opening section of a piece
; irato : Angry
; -issimamente : A suffix meaning as... as can be
; -issimo : A suffix meaning extremely
; izq. or iz. : Left ; abbreviation of izquierda


; Jazz standard : A well-known composition from the jazz repertoire which is widely played and recorded.
; : Jump; a bowing technique in which the player is instructed to let the bow bounce or jump off the strings.


; keyboardist : A musician who plays any instrument with a keyboard. In Classical music, this may refer to instruments such as the piano, pipe organ, harpsichord, and so on. In a jazz or popular music context, this may refer to instruments such as the piano, electric piano, synthesizer, Hammond organ, and so on.
; Klangfarbenmelodie : "Tone-color melody", distribution of pitch or melody among instruments, varying timbre
; kräftig : Strong


; lacrimoso or lagrimoso : Tearful
; laissez vibrer, l.v. : French for lasciare vibrare.
; lamentando : Lamenting, mournfully
; lamentoso : Lamenting, mournfully
; langsam : Slowly
; largamente : Broadly
; larghetto : Somewhat slow; not as slow as largo
; larghezza : Broadness; con larghezza: with broadness; broadly
; larghissimo : Very slow; slower than largo
; largo : Broad
; lasciare suonare : "Let ring", meaning allow the sound to continue, do not damp; used frequently in harp or guitar music, occasionally in piano or percussion. Abbreviated "lasc. suon."
; leap or skip : A melodic interval greater than a major 2nd, as opposed to a step. Melodies which move by a leap are called "disjunct". Octave leaps are not uncommon in florid vocal music.
; lebhaft : Briskly, lively
; legato : Joined
; leggiadro : Pretty, graceful
; leggierissimo : Very light and delicate
; leggiero or leggiermente : Light or lightly
; leidenschaftlich : Passionately
; lent : Slow
; lentando : Gradual slowing and softer
; lentissimo : Very slow
; lento : Slow
; liberamente : Freely
; libero : Free
; lilt : A jaunty rhythm
; l'istesso, l'istesso tempo, or lo stesso tempo : The same tempo, despite changes of time signature, see metric modulation
; lo stesso : The same; applied to the manner of articulation, tempo, etc.
; loco : place, i.e. perform the notes at the pitch written, generally used to cancel an 8va or 8vb direction; in string music, also used to indicate return to normal playing position
; long accent : Hit hard and keep full value of note
; lontano : Distant, far away
; lugubre : Lugubrious, mournful
; luminoso : Luminous
; lunga : Long
; lusingando, lusinghiero : Coaxingly, flatteringly, caressingly


; ma : But
; ma non tanto : But not much
; ma non troppo : But not too much
; maestoso : Majestic, stately
; maggiore : The major key
; magico : Magical
; magnifico : Magnificent
; main droite : right hand
; [|main gauche] : left hand
; malinconico : Melancholic
; mancando : Dying away
; mano destra : right hand
; mano sinistra : left hand
; marcatissimo : With much accentuation
; marcato, marc. : Marked
; marcia : A march; alla marcia means in the manner of a march
; martellato : Hammered out
; marziale : Martial, solemn and fierce
; mäßig : Moderately
; MD : See mano destra or main droite
; measure : Also "bar": the period of a musical piece that encompasses a complete cycle of the time signature
; medesimo tempo : Same tempo, despite changes of time signature
; medley : Piece composed from parts of existing pieces, usually three, played one after another, sometimes overlapping.
; melancolico : Melancholic
; melisma : The technique of changing the note of a syllable of text while it is being sung
; [|meno] : Less; see [|meno mosso], for example, less [|mosso]
; messa di voce : In singing, a controlled swell
; mesto : Mournful, sad
; meter or metre : The pattern of a music piece's rhythm of strong and weak beats
; : Half voice
; mezzo : Half; used in combinations like mezzo forte, meaning moderately loud
; mezzo forte : Half loudly. See dynamics.
; mezzo piano : Half softly. See dynamics.
; mezzo-soprano : A female singer with a range usually extending from the A below middle C to the F an eleventh above middle C. Mezzo-sopranos generally have a darker vocal tone than sopranos, and their vocal range is between that of a soprano and that of a contralto.
; MG : See main gauche
; minore : Minor key
; misterioso : Mysterious
; mit Dämpfer : With a mute
; M.M. : Metronome Marking. Formerly "Mälzel Metronome."
; mobile : Mobile, changeable
; moderato : Moderate; often combined with other terms, usually relating to tempo; for example, allegro moderato
; modéré : Moderate
; modesto : Modest
; modulation : The act or process of changing from one key to another. This may or may not be accompanied by a change in key signature.
; : minor; used in key signatures as, for example, a-Moll, b-Moll, or h-Moll ; see also Dur
; molto : Very
; mordent : Rapid alternation of a note with the note immediately below or above it in the scale, sometimes further distinguished as lower mordent and upper mordent. The term "inverted mordent" usually refers to the upper mordent.
; morendo : Dying
; mosso : Moved, moving; used with a preceding più or meno, for faster or slower respectively
; moto : Motion; usually seen as con moto, meaning with motion or quickly
; movement : A section of a musical composition
; MS : See mano sinistra
; munter : Lively
; Musette : A dance or tune of a drone-bass character, originally played by a musette
; muta : Change : an instruction either to change instrument or to change tuning. Note: muta comes from the Italian verb mutare ; therefore it does not mean "mute", for which con [|sordina] or con sordino is used.


; nach und nach : Literally "more and more" with an increasing feeling. Ex. "nach und nach belebter und leidenschaftlicher"
; narrante : Narratingly
; natural : A symbol that cancels the effect of a sharp or a flat
; naturale : Natural
; N.C. : No chord, written in the chord row of music notation to show there is no chord being played, and no implied harmony
; Nebenstimme : Secondary part
; nicht : Not
; niente : "nothing", barely audible, dying away, sometimes indicated with a dynamic
; nobile or nobilmente or Noblement : In a noble fashion
; noblezza : Nobility
; [|nocturne] : A piece written for the night
; notes inégales : Unequal notes; a principally Baroque performance practice of applying long-short rhythms to pairs of notes written as equal; see also swung note
; notturno : See nocturne.
; number opera : An opera consisting of "numbers"


; obbligato : Bound, constrained
; octave : Interval between one musical pitch and another with half or double its frequency. Twelve semitones equal an octave, so do the first and the eighth note in a major or minor scale.
; ohne Dämpfer : Without a mute
; omaggio : Homage, celebration
; one-voice-per-part : The practice of using solo voices on each musical line or part in choral music.
; ordinario or position ordinaire : In bowed string music, an indication to discontinue extended techniques such as sul ponticello, sul tasto or col legno, and return to normal playing. The same as "naturale".
; organ trio : In jazz or rock, a group of three musicians which includes a Hammond organ player and two other instruments, often an electric guitar player and a drummer.
; oppure or ossia : Or
; ostinato : Obstinate, persistent
; ottava : Octave
; ouverture : see Overture
; oversinging: a term used to describe vocal styles that dominate the music they are performed in
; overture : An orchestral composition forming the prelude or introduction to an opera, oratorio, etc.


; parlando or parlante : Lit. speaking; like speech, enunciated
; Partitur : Full orchestral score
; passionato : Passionate
; pastorale : In a pastoral style, peaceful and simple
; patetico : Passionate, emotional. A related term is Pathetique: a name attributed to certain works with an emotional focus such as Tchaikovsky's 6th symphony.
; pausa : rest
; pedale or ped : In piano scores, this instructs the player to press the damper pedal to sustain the note or chord being played. The player may be instructed to release the pedal with an asterisk marking. In organ scores, it tells the organist that a section is to be performed on the bass pedalboard with the feet.
; pensieroso : Thoughtfully, meditatively
; perdendosi : Dying away; decrease in dynamics, perhaps also in tempo
; pesante : Heavy, ponderous
; peu à peu : Little by little
; pezzo : A composition
; piacevole : Pleasant, agreeable
; piangendo : Literally 'crying'.
; piangevole : Plaintive
; : very gently. This convention can be extended; the more s that are written, the softer the composer wants the musician to play or sing, thus would be softer than. Dynamics in a piece should be interpreted relative to the other dynamics in the same piece. For example, should be executed as softly as possible, but if is found later in the piece, should be markedly louder than. More than three s or three s are uncommon.
; piano : Gently
; piano-vocal score : The same as a vocal score, a piano arrangement along with the vocal parts of an opera, cantata, or similar
; Picardy third : A Picardy third, Picardy cadence or, in French, tierce picarde is a harmonic device used in Western classical music.It refers to the use of a major chord of the tonic at the end of a musical section that is either modal or in a minor key.
; piena : Full, as, for example, a voce piena = "in full voice"
; pietoso : Pitiful, piteous
; più : More; see mosso
; piuttosto : Rather, somewhat
; pizzicato : Pinched, plucked
; plop : Jazz term referring to a note that slides to an indefinite pitch chromatically downwards.
; pochettino or poch. : Very little; diminutive of poco
; pochissimo or pochiss.: Very little; superlative of poco
; poco : A little, as in poco più allegro
; poco rall: a gradual decrease in speed
; poco a poco : Little by little
; poetico : Poetic discourse
; poi : Then, indicating a subsequent instruction in a sequence; diminuendo poi subito fortissimo, for example: getting softer then suddenly very loud
; pomposo : Pompous, ceremonious
; or : On the bridge ; the opposite of sul tasto
; portamento : Carrying
; portato or louré : Carried
; posato : Settled
; potpourri or pot-pourri : Potpourri
; precipitato : Precipitately
; prelude, prélude, preludio, praeludium, präludium : A musical introduction to subsequent movements during the Baroque era. It can also be a movement in its own right, which was more common in the Romantic era
; prestissimo : Extremely quickly, as fast as possible
; presto : Very quickly
; prima or primo : First
; prima donna : Leading female singer in an opera company
; prima volta : The first time; for example prima volta senza accompagnamento


; quartal : Composed of the musical interval of the fourth; as in quartal harmony
; quarter tone : Half of a semitone; a pitch division not used in most Western music notation, except in some contemporary art music or experimental music. Quarter tones are used in Western popular music forms such as jazz and blues and in a variety of non-Western musical cultures.
; quasi : Almost
; quintal : Composed of the musical interval of the fifth; as in quintal harmony


; rallentando or rall. : Broadening of the tempo ; progressively slower
; rapide : Fast
; rapido : Fast
; rasch : Fast
; rasguedo : to play strings with the back of the fingernail; esp. to fan the strings rapidly with the nails of multiple fingers
; ravvivando : Quickening, as in "ravvivando il tempo", returning to a faster tempo that occurred earlier in the piece
; recitativo : Recitative
; religioso : Religious
; repente : Suddenly
; reprise : Repetition of a phrase or verse; return to the original theme
; restez : Stay in position, i.e., do not shift
; retenu : Hold back; same as the Italian ritenuto
; : Ridiculous, comical
; riff: a repeated chord progression or refrain
; rilassato : Relaxed
; rinforzando : Reinforcing ; sometimes like a sudden crescendo, but often applied to a single note
; risoluto : Resolute
; rit. : An abbreviation for ritardando; also an abbreviation for ritenuto
; ritardando, ritard., rit. : Slowing down; decelerating; opposite of accelerando
; ritenuto, riten., rit. : Suddenly slower, held back ; opposite of accelerato
; ritmico : Rhythmical
; ritmo : Rhythm
; ritornello : A recurring passage
; rolled chord : See Arpeggio
; rondo : A musical form in which a certain section returns repeatedly, interspersed with other sections: ABACA is a typical structure or ABACABA
; roulade : A rolling
; rubato : Stolen, robbed, applied to notes within a musical phrase for expressive effect
; ruhig : Calm, peaceful
; : A rapid series of ascending or descending musical notes which are closely spaced in pitch forming a scale, arpeggio, or other such pattern. See: Fill and Melisma.
; ruvido : Rough


; saltando : Lit. "jumping": bouncing the bow as in a staccato arpeggio
; sanft : Gently
; sans nuances : Without shades, with no subtle variations
; sans presser : Without rushing
; sans rigueur : Without strictness, freely
; scatenato : Unchained, wild
; scherzando, scherzoso : Playfully
; scherzo : A light, "joking" or playful musical form, originally and usually in fast triple metre, often replacing the minuet in the later Classical period and the Romantic period, in symphonies, sonatas, string quartets and the like; in the 19th century some scherzi were independent movements for piano, etc.
; schleppend, schleppen : In a dragging manner, to drag; usually nicht schleppen, paired with nicht eilen in Gustav Mahler's scores
; schlicht : Plain, simple
; schnell : Fast
; schneller : Faster
; schmerzlich : Sorrowful
; schwer : Heavy
; schwungvoll : Lively, swinging, bold, spirited
; scioltezza : Fluency, agility
; sciolto: Fluent, agile
; scordatura : Altered or alternative tuning used for the strings of a string instrument
; scorrendo, scorrevole : Gliding from note to note
; : Dry ; with basso continuo accompaniment, this often means that only the chordal instrument will play, with the sustained bass instrument not playing
; : sign, usually Dal segno "from the sign", indicating a return to the point marked by
; segue : Lit. "it follows"; to be carried on to the next section without a pause
; sehr : Very
; sehr ausdrucksvoll : Very expressive
; sehr getragen : Very sustained
;semitone : The smallest pitch difference between notes
; semplice : Simple
; sempre : Always
; sentimento : Feeling, emotion
; sentito : lit. "felt", with expression
; senza : Without
; senza misura : Without measure
; senza replica: Without repetition: "when a movement, repeated in the first instance, must, on the Da Capo, be played throughout without repetition."
; or senza sordine : Without the mute. See sordina.
; serioso : Seriously
; serrez : Getting faster
; sforzando : Getting louder with a sudden strong accent
; shake : A jazz term describing a trill between one note and its minor third; or, with brass instruments, between a note and its next overblown harmonic
; sharp : A symbol that raises the pitch of the note by a semitone;the term may also be used as an adjective to describe a situation where a singer or musician is performing a note in which the intonation is somewhat too high in pitch
; short accent : Hit the note hard and short
; si : Seventh note of the series ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si, in fixed-doh solmization.
; siciliana : A Sicilian dance in or meter
; sign : See segno
; silenzio : Silence
; simile : Similar
; sipario : Curtain
; slancio : Momentum, con slancio: with momentum; with enthusiasm
; slargando or slentando : Becoming broader or slower
; slur : A symbol in Western musical notation indicating that the notes it embraces are to be played without separation
; smorzando : Extinguishing or dampening; usually interpreted as a drop in dynamics, and very often in tempo as well
; soave : Smooth, gentle
; sognando : Dreaming
; solenne : Solemn
; solo or soli : Alone. The instruction soli requires more than one player or singer; in a jazz big band this refers to an entire section playing in harmony. In orchestral works, soli refers to a divided string section with only one player to a line.
; solo break : A jazz term that instructs a lead player or rhythm section member to play an improvised solo cadenza for one or two measures, without any accompaniment. The solo part is often played in a rhythmically free manner, until the player performs a pickup or lead-in line, at which time the band recommences playing in the original tempo.
; sommo, somma : Highest, maximum; con somma passione: with the greatest passion
; sonata : A piece played as opposed to sung
; sonatina : A little sonata
; sonatine : A little sonata, used in some countries instead of sonatina
; sonore : Sonorous
; sonoro : With full sound
; : Above; directive to cross hands in a composition for piano, e.g. m.s. sopra: left hand over; opposite:
; sopra una corda or sull'istessa corda : To be played on one string
; soprano : The highest of the standard four voice ranges
; sordina, sordine : A mute, Note: sordina, with plural sordine, is strictly correct Italian, but the forms sordino and sordini are much more commonly used as terms in music. Instruments can have their tone muted with wood, rubber, metal, or plastic devices,, or parts of the body, or fabric, among other means. In piano music, senza sordini or senza sordina is sometimes used to mean keep the sustain pedal depressed, since the sustain pedal lifts the dampers off the strings, with the effect that all notes are sustained indefinitely.
; sordino : See sordina.
; sortita : A principal singer's first entrance in an opera
; sospirando : Sighing
; sostendo : holding back,
; sostenuto : Sustained, lengthened
; sotto voce : In an undertone
; soutenu : sustained
; spianato : Smooth, even
; spiccato : Distinct, separated
; spinto : Lit. "pushed"
; spirito : Spirit, con spirito: with spirit, with feeling
; spiritoso : Spirited
; staccato : Making each note brief and detached; the opposite of legato. In musical notation, a small dot under or over the head of the note indicates that it is to be articulated as staccato.
; stanza : A verse of a song
; stem : Vertical line that is directly connected to the head.
; stentando or stentato : Labored, heavy, in a dragging manner, holding back each note
; stornello : Originally truly 'improvised' now taken as 'appearing to be improvised,' an Italian 'folk' song, the style of which used for example by Puccini in certain of his operas
; strascinando or strascicante : Indicating a passage should be played in a heavily slurred manner; in some contexts it indicates a rhythmic motion resembling shuffling
; strepitoso : Noisy, forceful
; stretto : Tight, narrow ; also, a passage in a fugue in which the contrapuntal texture is denser, with close overlapping entries of the subject in different voices; by extension, similar closely imitative passages in other compositions
; stringendo : Gradually getting faster
; strisciando : To be played with a smooth slur, a glissando
; suave : Soft
; subito : Immediately ; often abbreviated as sub.
; sul : Lit. "on the", as in sul ponticello ; sul tasto ; sul E, etc.
; sul E : "on the E", indicating a passage is to be played on the E string of a violin. Also seen: sul A, sul D, sul G, sul C, indicating a passage to be played on one of the other strings of a string instrument.
; suono reale : Actual sound; primarily used with notated harmonics where the written pitch is also the sounding pitch
; sur la touche : Sul tasto
; syncopation : A disturbance or interruption of the regular flow of downbeat rhythm with emphasis on the sub-division or up-beat.


; tacet : Lit. "he/she keeps silent": do not play
;, or tastiera : On the fingerboard ; playing over the fingerboard produces a duller, less harmonically rich, gentler tone. The opposite of sul ponticello.
; tasto solo : 'single key'; used on a basso continuo part to indicate that the notes should be played only by the bass instrument, without harmony/chords played by the harpsichordist/organist
; tempo : Time
; tempo di marcia : March tempo
; tempo di mezzo : The middle section of a double aria, commonly found in bel canto era Italian operas, especially those of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, and their contemporaries as well in many early operas by Verdi. When present, the tempo di mezzo generally signals a shift in the drama from the slow cantabile of the first part to the cabaletta of the second, and this can take the form of some dramatic announcement or action to which the character react in the cabaletta finale.
; tempo di valzer : Waltz tempo
; tempo giusto : In strict time
; tempo primo, tempo uno, or tempo I : Resume the original speed
; tempo rubato : "Stolen time"; an expressive way of performing a rhythm; see rubato
; ten. : See [|tenuto]
; teneramente; tendre or tendrement : Tenderly
; tenerezza : Tenderness
; tenor : The second lowest of the standard four voice ranges
; tenuto : Held
; ternary : Having three parts. In particular, referring to a three-part musical form with the parts represented by letters: ABA
; tessitura : The 'best' or most comfortable pitch range, generally used to identify the most prominent / common vocal range within a piece of music
; tierce de Picardie : See Picardy third
; timbre : The quality of a musical tone that distinguishes voices and instruments
; time : In a jazz or rock score, after a rubato or rallentendo section, the term "time" indicates that performers should return to tempo
; tosto : Immediately
; tranquillo : Calm, peaceful
; trattenuto : Held back with a sustained tone, similar to ritardando
; : Three strings
; tremolo : Shaking. As used in 1) and 2) below, it is notated by a strong diagonal bar across the note stem, or a detached bar for a set of notes.
; tresillo : A duple-pulse rhythmic cell in Cuban and other Latin American music
; trill : A rapid, usually unmeasured alternation between two harmonically adjacent notes. A similar alternation using a wider interval is called a tremolo.
; triplet : Three notes in the place of two, used to subdivide a beat.
; triste : Sad, wistful
; tronco, tronca : Broken off, truncated
; troppo : Too much; usually seen as non troppo, meaning moderately or, when combined with other terms, not too much, such as allegro non troppo
; turn : Multi-note ornament above and below the main note; it may also be inverted. Also called gruppetto.
; tutti : All; all together, usually used in an orchestral or choral score when the orchestra or all of the voices come in at the same time, also seen in Baroque-era music where two instruments share the same copy of music, after one instrument has broken off to play a more advanced form: they both play together again at the point marked tutti. See also ripieno.


; un, una, or uno : One or "a", as exemplified in the following entries
; un poco or un peu : A little
; : One string. For most notes in modern pianos, this results in the hammer striking two strings rather than three. Its counterpart, tre corde, is the opposite: the soft pedal is to be released.
; unisono : In unison ; often used to mark the return from divisi
; uptempo : A fast, lively, or increased tempo, or played or done in such a tempo; it is also used as an umbrella term for a quick-paced electronic music style
; ut : First note of the series ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si, in fixed-do solmization


; vagans : Lit. "wandering": the fifth part in a motet, named so most probably because it had no specific range
; vamp : Improvised accompaniment, usually a repeating pattern played before next musical passage. See vamp till cue. See comp and comping.
; vamp till cue : A jazz, fusion, and musical theatre term which instructs rhythm section members to repeat and vary a short ostinato passage, riff, or "groove" until the band leader or conductor instructs them to move onto the next section
; variazioni : Variations, con variazioni: with variations/changes
; veloce : Fast
; velocità: Speed; con velocità: with speed
; velocissimo : As fast as possible; usually applied to a cadenza-like passage or run
; via : Away, out, off; as in via sordina or sordina via: 'mute off'
; vibrato : Vibrating. Often confused with tremolo, which refers either to a similar variation in the volume of a note, or to rapid repetition of a single note.
; vif : Lively
; violoncello : cello
; virtuoso : performing with exceptional ability, technique, or artistry
; vite : Fast
; vittorioso : Victorious
; vivace : Lively, up-tempo
; vivacissimo : Very lively
; vivamente : With liveliness
; vivezza : Liveliness, vivacity
; vivo : Lively, intense
; vocal score or piano-vocal score : A music score of an opera, or a vocal or choral composition with orchestra where the vocal parts are written out in full but the accompaniment is reduced to two staves and adapted for playing on piano
; voce : Voice
; volante : Flying
; volti subito : Turn immediately. While this indication is sometimes added by printers, it is more commonly indicated by orchestral members in pencil as a reminder to quickly turn to the next page.


; weich : Gentle, gently
; wenig : A little, not much
; wolno : Loose, slowly


; Zählzeit : Beat
; zart : Tender
; Zartheit : Tenderness
; zärtlich : Tenderly
; Zeichen : Sign, mark
; Zeitmaß or Zeitmass : Time-measure
; zelo, zeloso, zelosamente : Zeal, zealous, zealously
; ziehen : To draw out
; ziemlich : Fairly, quite, rather
; zitternd : Trembling
; zögernd : Hesitantly, delaying
; zurückhalten : Hold back