Music Terminology for Beginners
There is so much music terminology for piano players that even experienced players come across new terms on
piano music. Some of the words used are more common, though. A few of these are listed for you.
Accelerando - getting faster as the section of the piece marked goes on.
Adagio - played very slowly
Allegro - played at a fast tempo and with a cheerful mood
Andante - played moderately slowly
A tempo - go back to the original tempo
Beat - the basic unit of time in music, it is a regular tap of the foot, for example
Chord - when you play three or more notes together all at once
Coda - an ending that is different that previous verses in the musical piece
Crescendo - getting louder and louder through a marked passage
Diminuendo - getting softer and softer through a marked passage
Dolce - sweetly
Ensemble - a musical group, it could be anything from a band to a classical group
Forte - means to play the piece loudly, forcefully
Fortissimo - play the piece very loudly
Genre - the category of music (or any other artwork), rock and blues are examples
Glissando - playing down the keyboard rapidly, usually by sliding thumb down the keys
Interval - the distance between two musical tones
Largo - very slow and broad
Mezzo forte - play the piece somewhat loudly
Mezzo piano - play the piece somewhat softly
Phrase - a unit of music, denoted by a curved line under or over notes phrased together
Pianissimo - play the piece very softly
Piano - play the piece softly
Presto - play extremely fast
Semitone - also known as a half step
Staccato - play notes quickly, crisply, and detached from each other
Tempo - the rate of speed of the musical piece; it can vary during songs when marked
Variations - when you play a basic tune and then play different versions of it that retain the same basic
These are the most common music words used by pianists, along with the words that have already been used in
these lessons. Keys, key signatures, time signatures, notes, whole notes, quarter notes, and so on; improvisation,
etc. There are always more words to add to your musical vocabulary.
Some of the words above are written out above or between the staffs. Some are noted by using a mark of some
sort. There are many markings to learn, but some of them are easy. This is because the word is often written out
along with the marking. For example, a crescendo marking starts as a point on the left and opens up wider to the
right. Sometimes, the word crescendo will also be written somewhere either in the marking or under it to help you.
Some markings you will have just have to learn.
Staccato music is marked by dots under the notes you are to play short and crisp. When you learn all of this
musical terminology, do not sit back and ignore the rest of the words and markings you find. Keep learning and you
will never get bored. There is always more to know.
Besides looking at sheet music and songbooks that are already printed, there is another way to buy music in a
music store now. Many stores have a special computer set aside for making copies of music. You choose the song you
want from a list. If you only know a few words, you may still be able to find the song if the search tools are good
After you have selected your song, you get the opportunity to look at the music. You can look at the music from
beginning to end, but you cannot copy it until you agree to buy it. The artists are protected in this way because
the store pays the royalties from your payment when you buy the copies. You should expect the copies to be high
quality, and on good paper.
You can also get sheet music online. When you buy online, you usually do not get as good of a look at the music
you are about to buy. You are more likely to get a small sample to give you an idea of what the music is like.
The online companies do not like to show too much because it is too easy for people to steal work that is
printed on the internet. They will send you your choices by mail or by download as soon as you pay.
No matter how you get your music, be sure that you get the music you like and you will be able to play in the
near future. There is no need to stockpile music for that someday when you will suddenly be playing like a pro.
Instead, get songbooks and sheet music that you are ready to use right away.