A Violinist's Glossary
A brief glossary of music terms, with emphasis on words pertaining to the violin.  This is a work in progress with new terms added daily.
AA note on the scale.  The second highest string on a violin.

A440(440 cycles per second) The note to which a violin's A-String is tuned.  This tone is commonly used for tuning the orchestra.

A tempoItalian for "in time". Returning to the original tempo or speed after a period of intentionally playing faster or slower.

Absolute pitch:   (also called "perfect pitch") The ability to accurately identify the pitch of a tone with no external reference.

Accelerando: Getting faster.

AccentEmphasis on a particular note or beat with the result being that beat is louder than those surrounding it.

Ad libitum:   Latin for "play freely". In classical music this means free tempo and dynamics -- at the choice of the player or soloist, in jazz, pop, rock etc. it means an improvised solo.

Adagio: Quite slow.

Al fine : Italian for "to the end".

Alla breve: "Shortened time".  2/2 time.

Alla Corda: Playing on the string, with the bow firmly on the string throughout the passage.

Allegretto: In Italian, the diminutive form of allegro. A little slower than allegro.

Allegro:   Italian.  "Fast and lively".

Allegro assai : Italian for "very fast".

Allegro moderato : Italian for "moderately fast". Fast, but not as fast as allegro.

Allegro non troppo : Italian for "fast but not too much".

Andante : Italian for "slow".

Andante moderato : Italian for "moderately slow". Slow, but not as slow as andante.

Andante sostenuto:   Ittalian for "slow and sustained". Slower than andante.

Andantino: Italian diminutive of andante. Slow, but not as slow as andante.

Animato: Italian for "animated", "with movement".

Arpeggio: From Italian, meaning 'in the manner of a harp'. A "broken" chord performed with the notes 'spread out', one after the other rather than simultaneously, usually starting from the bottom.

Atonal music:   Music with no defined key or root note. The term is especially associated with serial music.
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Ballad: A narrative solo song. In jazz and pop music it means a slow sentimental or romantic song.

Balzato: A note that is bowed / "bounced" off the string.

Bar:   In musical notation, the vertical line that separates measures is called a bar.  For this reason a measure is sometimes referred to as a bar.  "Start at the fifth bar," means "Start at the fifth measure."

Bariolage: (sometimes ondeggiamento ):  The quick alternation between a static note and changing notes that form a melody either above or below the static note. This technique is common to Baroque violin music, where the static note is usually an open string note.

Baroque : Used for music written between the years 1600 and 1750.

BluegrassAn instrumental country & western music style characterized by playing of banjos, guitars, violin, etc.

Bowing distribution: The distribution of bow throughout a passage that maintains a uniformly even sound, and no distorted or loud notes which stand out and disturb the fluidity of the music.

Bridge: A piece of carved maple placed between the slashes in the f-holes.  It supports the strings above the fingerboard.  The bridge transfers the vibration from the strings to the belly of the violin so that the entire instrument can resonate and produce the violin's sound.
Chord : Two or more notes played simultaneously.

ClefA symbol normally placed at the beinning of every line of written music, to indicate the exact location of a particular note on the staff.  Generally speaking, the Treble and Bass clefs are more widely used than other clefs. The Treble and Bass clefs are used to notate music for the piano and for most choral arrangements. The Treble clef places the note G above middle C on the second line and is therefore also referred to as the "G" clef. The Bass clef fixes the note F below middle C on the middle line of a staff and is therefore also referred to as the "F" clef.
D: The musical note on the scale to which the third string on the violin is tuned.  293.66 cycles per second.

Da capo : Italian for repeat from the start.

Da capo al fine : Italian for repeat from the start to the place marked "fine".

Dal segnoItalian for repeat from the sign.

Dal segno al fine : Italian for repeat from the sign to the place marked "fine".

Decrescendo : Italian for getting "gradually softer."

Diminuendo (or diminuendo) Italian for play gradually softer.

DissonanceTwo or more notes that clash with each other when played simultaneously.

DolceIt.: "soft".

Duet (or duo) : Music for two instruments or two voices.

Dynamics : The degrees of softness or loudness in music indicated by signs or words on the score. The most important dynamic signs: pianissimo (pp): very soft, piano (p): soft, mezzo piano (mp): moderately soft, mezzo forte (mf): moderately loud, forte (f): loud, fortissimo (ff): very loud.
E : Note of the scale to which the violin's highest pitched string is tuned.  659.25 cycles per second.

Ejercicio A musical piece designed for improving technical or musical skills.

End Button: The button at the end of the violin around which the tailgut is attached.  Tension against the end button is what keeps the strings, bridge and tailpiece properly aligned.

Espressivo : Italian for "with expression".

Estinto : Italian for "extinct". Play as soft as possible (i.e. barely audible).
F-Hole: Holes placed in the belly of the violin through which sound passes.

Fantasia A free form musical piece.

Fermata : Italian for hold the note a little longer than notated.  If in an ensemble situation, until the leader indicates you may continue.  It is frequently called a "hold."

Fine:   Italian for "end".

Forte : Italian for "strong".  It is a dynamic instruction for "loud."

Fortissimo : Italian for "very strong". Very loud (louder than forte).

Forzato: (or forzando or sforzando):  A very strong accentuation of a single note or chord.

Fret: A bar or ridge (usually made of metal) across the fingerboard or neck of a musical instrument; when the string is stopped (pressed) by a finger at the metal bar it will produce a note of the desired pitch. Frets are arranged on instruments to produce specific musical pitches, usually of some musical scale.  Although extremely uncommon on accoustic violins, some electric violin models can be special ordered with frets.

Furioso : Italian for "furiously".
Half StepThe smallest commonly used interval of musical distinction in western music. An octave is divided into 12 such intervals. On the piano a half step is the distance between any two adjacent keys, whether black or white. On guitar each fret represents a half step. A half step is also known as a semitone.

The simultaneous combination of notes and the ensuing relationships of intervals and chords. When a melody plays, the addition of any more parts that play along with it are known as harmony. Harmony is also the study of the relationships of notes and chords with one another.

Hurdy-gurdyTraditional European instrument with strings sounded by a rotating wheel.
Jeté (Fr.) (RH) : Thrown bowing, usually an up bow and up beat which starts from above the string.
Larghetto : Tempo marking: not quite as slow as a largo.

Largo : Tempo marking: very slow and broad.

Legato: Slurred bowing, playing two or more notes in the same bow, and playing a whole series of notes with equal and even tone, so that they form a whole line of melody. String changes and left hand position changes must not interfere and disturb the smoothness of the passage.

Libretto: A libretto is the words used in an extended musical work such as an opera or musical. It includes the lyrics to the musical numbers as well as any spoken passages.

Lyric: Relating to musical drama, especially opera.

Lyrics: The words of a song.
Major Scale:  A specific type of seven note diatonic scale in which notes are separated from one another by whole steps, except for degrees 3 to 4 and degrees 7 to 8, which are separated by half steps. In other words, a major scale, in ascending order, is as follows: 1 - 2 = Whole step (where 1 is the root note of the scale) 2 - 3 = Whole step 3 - 4 = Half step 4 - 5 = Whole step 5 - 6 = Whole step 6 - 7 = Whole step 7 - 8 = Half step The major scale is the most common type of scale in contemporary music.

Mandolin :
A small stringed instrument descended from the lute.

Marcato :  It.: "marked", "emphasized". Marcato is a technique for playing a stringed instrument, such as violin, viola, cello, and the double bass: Using the bow, one begins each note with a new attack, rather than continuing the motion of the bow from one note to the next, which would be legato or slurred. Marcato is not, however, staccato, each note is still played for it's entire duration.

March: Music for marching, usually in quick 2/4 or 6/8 time or slow 4/4 time.

Martelé ( Martellato): Literally : Hammered separate bow strokes ( one note per bow ). Gaps are purposely introduced in between each note, and a clear or sharp attack is given to the beginning of the note to produce a striking or accented effect on each note. The bow is not lifted during the gap, but remains motionless, after an abrupt ( or not so abrupt ) stop. One might say that Martelé is a heavier on-the-bow staccato. Be sure to understand that a sustain to the note may also be required...its length, however, will depend on personal style and taste, and also the character of repertoire tackled.

Melody : An arrangement of single notes in a musically expressive succession.
Meno : Italian for "less."  Used with another term.  (see below)

Meno mosso: Italian for "less speed", "slower".

Mezzo: Italian for half.  Used with another term.  (see below)

Mezzo forte : Italian for "half strong". Moderately loud.

MIDI : Abbreviation of "Musical Instruments Digital Interface".   MIDI was developed back in the early 1980's as a standardized protocol for communication between electronic musical instruments and peripherals. It allows MIDI devices to transmit and receive almost every aspect of a musical performance.

Minor Scale:  
A specific type of seven note diatonic scale in which notes are separated from one another by whole steps or half steps. Similar to a major scale except different notes have whole and half step spacing between them. Additionally there are three significant variants of the minor scale: the natural minor, the harmonic minor, and the melodic minor. In the natural minor scale, all notes appear with the same accidentals as in its relative major (An A minor's relative major scale is C and so forth). Hence the name of natural. A natural scale, in ascending order, is as follows: • 1 - 2 = Whole step • 2 - 3 = Half step • 3 - 4 = Whole step • 4 - 5 = Whole step • 5 - 6 = Half step • 6 - 7 = Whole step • 7 - 8 = Whole step Harmonic minor differs in the raising of degree VII (the step from 6 to 7), which is harmonically motivated. Raising that note forms the dominant chord or dominant seventh chord on the fifth degree of the scale: • 1 - 2 = Whole step • 2 - 3 = Half step • 3 - 4 = Whole step • 4 - 5 = Whole step • 5 - 6 = Half step • 6 - 7 = Augmented 2nd step (1 & 1/2 steps) • 7 - 8 = Whole step Besides raising degree VII (the step from 6 to 7), degree VI (the step from 5 to 6) may also be altered. The resulting scale is called melodic minor scale. The main purpose of this accidental is to facilitate the melodic movement from degree VI to degree VII, avoiding the augmented second that is formed in the harmonic minor scale. This is referred to as the minor melodic scale. It should be noted that it changes when descending. • 1 - 2 = Whole step • 2 - 3 = Half step • 3 - 4 = Whole step • 4 - 5 = Whole step • 5 - 6 = Whole step • 6 - 7 = Whole step • 7 - 8 = Half step • 8 - 7 = Whole step • 7 - 6 = Whole step • 6 - 5 = Half step • 5 - 4 = Whole step • 4 - 3 = Whole step • 3 - 2 = Half step • 2 - 1 = Whole step

Moderato : Italian for "moderately". Often used together with other tempo markings, such as "andante moderato" (moderately slow) and "allegro moderato" (moderately fast).

Mute: A device that attaches to an instrument to prevent it being played at its full volume.
Peg: One of four carved pieces of ebony or boxwood inserted into the pegbox.  Each peg has a hole drilled into it.  The end of a string is placed through the hole and the peg is wound away from the tailpiece to tighten the string.  Clockwise from the upper right the strings controlled should be the A, E, G and D.  Although usually plain, the pegs can be decoratively carved or inlaid with mother of pearl or other decorations.

Pegbox: The carved box at the end of the neck through which the pegs are inserted.

Perfect Fifth
The relationship between the first note (the root or tonic) and the fifth note in a major scale. It is also the inversion of the perfect fourth. In a diatonic scale, each scale degree, or note, is given a number, with the root or tonic, which is defined as tonal center of the scale or Key. In the Key of C major, C is the Tonic or scale degree one. D is scale degree 2, or a 2nd, E would be scale degree 3, or a 3rd, in the key of C continued, F, is scale degree 4 or a perfect 4th, and G, would be scale degree 5, or the perfect 5th. A perfect fifth in just intonation corresponds to a pitch ratio of 2:3 or 1:1.5 while in an equal tempered tuning, a perfect fifth is equal to seven semitones, a ratio of 1:27/12 (approximately 1.4983), or 700 cents, two cents smaller. The perfect fifth is considered the most consonant interval outside of the unison and octave. The strings on violins, violas, and cellos are all tuned to perfect fifths.

Piano :
    1. A musical instrument played by pressing down keys on a keyboard and causing hammers to strike metal strings, the vibration from which is stopped by dampers when the keys are released.
    2. Italian for "softly."

PianissimoItalian for "very soft".

Pizzicato: Pizzicato is Italian for pinched. It is a directs string players to pluck the string instead of bowing it.

Point of contact ( RH ) : see contact point
Portato ( Porté in French ) (RH) : An slightly emphasized détaché, with added inflection possibly aided to a slight degree by a more expressive vibrato. This can be bowed with several notes in the same bow, or separately.
Posture : The balanced and healthy stance and functional freedom of the upper body, needed to perform a wide variety of right and left hand movements. The positioning of the feet, for a basic "practice" stance, are best placed evenly, with one foot under each shoulder. The direction of the feet should be parallel, as if they were placed on a railway track. The torso should not be twisted, leaving the shoulders on the same axis as the hips and feet. The head should be looking at the scroll, at about 45 degrees from a straight in front position. The violin is placed resting on the collarbone, and lifted to a horizontal position. The head is rotated ( never tilted sideways ) to the left and lowered gently onto the chin rest. It should not grip the violin too strongly, yet there are instances where it should hold the violin more firmly. ( For instance playing in extremely high positions, or changing position. )
Preparing fingers ( LH ) : An important technique for economizing and reducing left hand actions to a minimum. Preparing, ( on the same lines as leaving down fingers ), is also a pre-requisite for smooth string changes with the bow. If the left hand note is not already in place the moment the bow reaches the new string, then a big muddle occurs ! The traditional technique involves leaving the lower fingers on the string for as long as possible. Wohlfahrt's Op.45 first studies often have the line indicating a held first finger. (though 2nd and 3rd can also be held down).

PrestissimoVery fast. Superlative of presto.

Presto : Italian for "fast". Presto is generally used as the fastest tempo marking. In 18th century music it usually means as fast as possible.

Rhythm : The aspect of musical composition concerned with periodical accent and the duration of notes.

RiffTerm used in pop, rock and jazz for short phrases used as building blocks for solos.

Ritardando : Italian for "gradually slower".

Rondo: An instrumental form in which the first or main section is repeated between subsidiary sections and to conclude the piece - usually in a lively tempo
Saltato (RH):  Bouncing or "jumping" bow. Usually two or more notes per bow are used. The same technique as spiccato or sautillé apply.

Sautillé (RH): An advanced technique, where a bouncing bow is used played at a fast tempo in the middle of the bow. The bow bounces automatically with a small ( but crucial ) participation of the forearm and small wrist movements.

Scroll: The decorative carving at the end of the violin, usually in the form of a scroll, but it can be carved in the form of anything else.

Sempre : Italian for "always", used in conjunction with another term. Ex. sempre staccato: "always staccato" (play all notes staccato).

Septet : A group of seven performers which may consist of instrumentalists or singers.

Sight reading : Playing unknown music directly from the score.

Sonata Form: In its standard meaning, sonata form is a 3-part form in music composition, in which the second and third parts are closely linked so as to imply a 2-part organization. The three parts are called exposition, which presents the principal theme, establishes the tonic key, and modulates to some other closely related key; development, in which the exposition theme is fragmented and reworked into new combinations and sequences, and recapitulation, which reintroduces the exposition theme as it was originally played. (The 2-part organization appears most clearly when the exposition is played twice.) Sonata form refers to the form of a single movement rather than to the whole of a 3- or 4-movement sonata, symphony, or work of chamber music. It is sometimes called first movement form or sonata allegro form. The term, sonata form was the invention of A.B. Marx, a music theorist/writer of the 19th century who devoted is life to the deification of Beethoven and establishing the myth of Beethoven's musical supremacy. This is why sonata form as it is commonly known is largely a generalization of the procedures of Beethoven before 1812. In Marx's defense, it was intended above all as an aid to composition. The method of defining a form by taking the works of a famous composer as models is rightfully discredited today.

Sostenuto Italian for "sustained". Used in tempo markings such as andante sostenuto.

Soundpost: vvvv

Spiccato (RH): Derived from détaché, this bowing leaves the string ( albeit only just ). Separate notes are played evenly down and up, usually at the middle of the bow, with the 4th finger on the stick. At faster tempi, the 4th finger may be removed and the bow passes into what is known as sautillé. The foream and the horizontal component to this stroke is very important. The vertical component is unimportant, though this may not appear an obvious point at first.

Staccato (RH): Literally means separated notes with the bow on the string ( German style ) or the bow just leaving the string ( Franco-Belgian style - less common ). Several notes may be played, usually in an up bow. Down bow staccato ( as in Hora Staccato by Dinicu ) is less common and somewhat non traditional. The forearm is an important component, and must produce short, even "packets" of motion, detaching the notes clearly from one another even if they are in the same bow. Kreutzer wrote a good beginner's étude for up bow, on the string ( traditional ) staccato.

Staccato Volant (RH): Flying staccato, with many notes per bow, usually up, where the bow leaves the string slightly after each note (or before !). Pichiettato (volante) is the Italian term.

Staff: A system of parallel lines on and between which musical notes are written (in sheet music) from which music is played. Normally made up of five lines (with four spaces in between), the staff also determines pitch range based on the clef, key based on the key signature and meter based on the time signature all found at the beginning of the staff.

String quartet : An ensemble consisting of two violins, a viola and a cello.

Subito : Italian for "suddenly".

Suite : A composition made from several more or less independent shorter pieces.

Swing Jazzy dance music with an easy flowing rhythm.

Sympathetic strings : Extra strings added to certain string instruments. The sympathetic strings are not to be played upon, but to resonate to the playing strings, adding extra tone.

Symphony An elaborate composition usually for full orchestra, and in several movements with one or more in sonata form.
Tail Gut: The cord that attaches the violin's tailpiece to the end button.

The part of a stringed instrument where the strings are attached. The tailpiece is attached to the body and the strings are attached to the tailpiece by some method. From there the strings progress over the bridge and up the neck where they terminate, usually at the headstock.

Tempo marking : Notation indicating the relative speed at which a compositon is to be played.  Common tempo marks (listed from slow to fast): Largo, Larghetto, Adagio, Andante, Andantino, Moderato, Allegretto, Allegro, Vivace, Presto, Prestissimo.

TimbrePronounced "tamber," it is the subjective quality or tone color of a sound; the essential quality of a sound that makes it what it is. An oboe has a different timbre than a tuba, for example. Two oboes may have a slightly different timbre from one another. They sound different. Timbre is made up of all of the qualities of a sound: transient attack, harmonic content, envelope, overtone structure, and more.

Time Signature: The standard method of denoting the meter of a piece of music. The time signature usually appears at the beginning of a piece of written music, and anywhere in the music where it changes. The top number of the time signature denotes how many beats there are per measure. The bottom number tells you what kind of note receives one. So a time signature indicating 3/4 would mean that there were three beats per measure and a quarter note receives one beat.  6/8 would mean six beats per measure with an eighth note receiving one beat.

In music, the term Tone can be used to describe many things such as:
A sound of distinct pitch, quality, and duration - a note.
The interval of a major second - a whole step.
The characteristic quality or timbre of a sound.
The characteristic quality or timbre of a particular instrument or voice.

Top Nut: The piece of ebony between the pegbox and the fingerboard which raises the strings slightly above the fingerboard to prevent buzzing against the fingerboard.  It is notched to maintain spacing between the strings and keep them from sliding laterally across the fingerboard.

Tranquillo: Italian for "calm."

Tremolo (Tremulo ): An old term for vibrato : Spohr in his violin school (1831) and L. Mozart in his treatise (1756) both write about an oscillation of the sound produced by the left hand called tremolo. As early as 1636 the best violinists were known to sweeten their sound by certain "tremblements" which ravished the spirit.  Around 1850 the term vibrato became universally used in place of tremolo. With the French term tremolo can also mean trill, but the words "trillo", ondeggiamento, ondeggiare and ondulé (meaning wavy) also refer to vibrato (or a sort of bow undulation used by Baillot ). The area becomes very gray, but vibrato and many other inflections of the human voice were around ever since the birth of the violin !

Trio: A vocal or instrumental piece for three performers.

Triple stop : Playing three notes simultaneously on a string instrument.

Troppo : Italian for "too much". Non troppo: "Not too much".
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G : Note on the scale to which a violin's lowest string is tuned.  195.99 cycles per second..

Grace Note: An ornamental note usually played with a very light and quick motion on or right before the beat, leading immediately to the following note. Grace notes are often used in classical music. In written music, the grace note is usually written in a smaller size than the other notes.

Grave : Italian for "slow and solemn".

Grazioso: Italian for "with grace".
Interlude : Music inserted between other pieces of music. Also music inserted between acts of plays or other non-musical events.
Key Signature:   The sign, or number of signs, written at the beginning of each staff to indicate the key of a given song in sheet music. The use of a key signature dispenses with the need to write the accidentals (flats, sharps and natural signs) for the notes affected throughout the song. No signature indicates that the key is Natural, either C major or A minor.
In music, a note that is neither raised (see sharp) nor lowered (see flat). A natural sign next to a note in sheet music "overrides" the key signature for that given note, making it neither raised nor lowered for the duration of that measure.


Non troppo
It.: "Not too much". Used in tempo markings like "allegro non troppo".

A tone of definite pitch. In written music, a note is a sign that represents a single sound of a given music pitch and the duration that the pitch should be played or sung. The pitch of a Note is defined by its position on a musical staff combined with the given key signature while the duration of a note is defined by a set of written note values, or symbols. The most familiar note values are as follows:
Whole Note: Equals four Quarter Notes.
Half Note: Equals one-half of a Whole Note or two Quarter Notes.
Quarter Note: Equals one-fourth (or one-quarter) of a Whole Note.
Eight Note: Equals one-eighth of a Whole Note or one-half of a Quarter Note.
Sixteenth Note: Equals one-sixteenth of a Whole Note.
Outside of written music, a note is a bit harder to fully grasp in exact terms. Why? Consider the pitch of a note. The same note with a predetermined pitch, say A/440 (440 Hz), played or performed by different instruments is going to sound very different. Why? While the pitch of the note is defined in physics by the frequency of vibrations of the sound, there are sometimes other supporting factors such as Timbre or the harmonic structure of the instrument. Similarly, while a note in written music is also defined by its duration, not all instruments perform attacks and decays the same. This creates individual character that can further define a note in a given scenario. So, while a Note in written music is easily definable, a Note in the 'real world' is alive and organic.

Nut: See Top Nut
An octave is a frequency ratio of 2:1. An octave band consists of all of the frequencies within an octave. There is one octave between 100 Hz and 200 Hz, and between 1,000 Hz and 2,000 Hz, for example. Octaves are perceived as equal pitch intervals, even though the true bandwidth in Hertz varies with the frequency level of the octave. To our ears, two frequencies an octave apart (whether it might be 100 to 200 Hz or 1,000 to 2,000 Hz) sound like the same note.

It is interesting that our ears obey a precisely logarithmic law when assigning subjective pitches to frequencies. Even though an octave is strictly speaking a subjective judgment, it is so closely equal to frequency doubling (no matter where one is in frequency) that it has been defined as an objective measure

Opera : A dramatic work in one or more acts, set to music for singers and instrumentalists.

Operetta (or Operette) :  19th and early 20th century term for lighter opera. Performance includes both songs and spoken dialogue.

Ornaments : Also called embellishments, these are notes considered to be an extra embellishment to a melody which are either added spontaneously by the performer or indicated by the composer on the score by signs or notation.

Overture : An orchestral piece opening an opera or musical.
Unison : Two or more voices / instruments singing or playing the same note or the same part.
Whole Step
A common interval of music equal to two half steps, or two musical notes. For example, a "D" note in a piano is one whole step above a "C." In between the two — at the half step position — there is one note: D Flat or C Sharp, depending upon how you look at it.
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Coda : Italian for "tail". The ending of a piece of music.

Collé: A bow stroke described as an off the string lower half ( quite near the frog ) détaché. The attack of the note should be on the string, and the moment the bow is suddenly drawn horizontally it begins its lift away from the string. It is possible to play collé at the tip.

Con espressione : Italian for "with expression".

Con fuoco :  Italian for "with fire".

Con grandezza :  Italian for "with grandeur".

Con moto : Italian for "with movement."

Con sordinoItalian for playing with the mute in place.

Crescendo : It for getting "gradually louder".