Popular Music and Jazz Terms Glossary
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This is a list of jazz and popular musical terms that are likely to be
encountered in printed popular music songbooks and vocal scores, big band
scores, jazz and rock concert reviews, and album liner notes. This glossary
includes terms for musical instruments, playing or singing techniques,
amplifiers, effects, sound reinforcement equipment, and recording gear
and techniques which are widely used in jazz and popular music. Most of
the terms are in English, but in some cases, terms from other languages
are encountered (e.g., to do an "encore", which is a French
term). Printed jazz and rock scores and parts use a variety of "Classical"
terms as well, such as "a tempo" or "cut time", which
can be found in the glossary of musical terms.
* 1x10": refers to a speaker cabinet that contains one ten-inch
loudspeaker. Used for small venue PA cabinets and small stage monitor
speakers (with a horn), and lightweight bass guitar or electric guitar
combination amplifiers ("combos") and cabinets designed for
rehearsal monitoring or practice.
* 1x12": ...with one twelve-inch loudspeaker. Used for mid-sized
venue PA cabinets and stage monitor speakers (with a horn), and lightweight
bass and guitar combos and cabinets.
* 1x15": ...with one fifteen-inch loudspeaker. Used for PA cabinets
and stage monitor speakers (with a horn), bass combos and cabinets, and
in small venue subwoofer cabinets.
* 1x18": ...with one eighteen-inch loudspeaker, typically used in
subwoofer cabinets for PA applications.
* 2x10": ...with two ten-inch loudspeakers. Used in electric guitar
and bass combos and cabinets.
* 2x12": ...with two twelve-inch loudspeakers. Used in electric guitar
and bass combos and cabinets, and, with a horn, as a PA cabinet.
* 2x15": ...with two fifteen-inch loudspeakers. Used in bass cabinets
and, with a horn, as a PA cabinet.
* 2x18": ...with one eighteen-inch loudspeakers, typically used as
a subwoofer for PA applications or in dance clubs.
* 4x10": ...with four ten-inch loudspeakers. Used in electric guitar
and bass combos and cabinets.
* 4-track (or "four-track"): refers to a simple portable recording
and mixing device widely used in the 1970s and 1980s which used compact
* 5-string (or five-string): typically refers to an electric bass with
five strings, which often means the addition of a low "B" string.'
* 6-string (or six-string): typically refers to an electric bass with
six strings, which often means the addition of a low "B" string
and a high "C" string. (Note: in rare cases, basses with even
more strings are used). Also common slang meaning guitar.
* 7-string (or seven-string): typically refers to an electric guitar with
seven strings, which often means the addition of a low "B" string.
Seven-string guitars are associated with jazz, fusion, and metal styles.
* 8-track: a tape format popular in the 1970s.
* 8x10": ...with eight ten-inch loudspeakers. Used in electric guitar
and bass cabinets. It is sometimes called a "stack", and, in
the case of a bass cabinet, a "bass stack".
* acid rock: a style of rock music from the late 1960s and early 1970s
which emphasized psychedelic imagery, unusual sound effects, and distorted
* ad libitum (commonly ad lib; Latin): at liberty; i.e., the speed and
manner of execution are left to the performer
* alt (English) (also 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 (V7) chord with altered upper extensions (e.g.,
sharp 11th, flat 13th, etc.).
* altissimo: very high
* alto: high; often refers to a particular range of voice or instrument,
higher than a tenor but lower than a soprano (e.g., alto sax)
* amp: an abbreviation for "amplifier"; i.e., a musical instrument
amplifier or a PA system power amplifier; also an abbreviation for ampere.
* analog: sound equipment in which the signal containing the voice, electric
guitar signal, etc. is electrical, rather than converted into digital
"1's" and "0's" (binary system). Whether analog or
digital recording and effects are "better" is a subject for
debate. Proponents of analog effects and mixing boards often argue that
analog gear has a "warmer" or more "natural" tone.
* arpeggio: like a harp; i.e., the notes of the chords are to be played
quickly one after another (usually ascending) instead of simultaneously.
Arpeggios are frequently used as an accompaniment. See also broken chord
in this list.
* art rock: an avant-garde genre of rock that is related to progressive
rock (Genesis; Rush; Gentle Giant); both genres tend to use unusual instruments,
meters, and timbres, and both aim towards more complex, experimental compositions
and novel sonic textures.
* as is: a jazz term which instructs the performer to play the noted pitches
as they are printed. Parts for jazz musicians in big bands often consist
of lengthy sections of empty bars labelled with the changing time signatures
and chord changes. Rhythm section members improvise an accompaniment (see
comp), and lead instruments improvise solos. In sections where the jazz
arranger wants the performers to read notated pitches rather than improvise,
they indicate this with the notation "as is".
* axe: a slang term which refers to an electric guitar, or, by extension,
to any instrument (e.g., a bandleader may tell a saxophone player to "get
* B: slang abbreviation for a B-3 organ (see below)
* B-3: refers to the B-3, a widely-used version of the Hammond organ,
an electromechanical, tonewheel-based keyboard instrument.
* bark: a slang term used by keyboard players to refer to the growling,
biting tone of a vintage Fender Rhodes electric piano.
* bass: the lowest of the standard four voice ranges (bass, tenor, alto,
soprano); the lowest melodic line in a musical composition, often thought
of as defining and supporting the harmony; in a jazz or popular music
context, the term usually refers to the double bass or the electric bass.
* barre chord (or "bar chord"): a guitar chord in which the
first (or another finger) holds down two or more adjacent strings (that
is it "bars" several notes)
* beat: (1) the pronounced rhythm of music; (2) one single stroke of a
* 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. With the electric guitar, bending is widely used
in blues, blues-rock, and rock and, to a somewhat different fashion, in
* bin (or "bass bin"): a subwoofer cabinet that reproduces very
low-frequency sounds, usually with some type of horn or transmission line
system to enhance the bass response; typically used for the main, Front
of House speaker system, but in rare cases, may also be used as part of
a bass player's bass amplifier set-up. The term "bin" was more
common in the 1980s; in the 1990s and 2000s, the term "subwoofer"
or "sub" is much more widely used.
* 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
* bleeding (or "bleed" or "bleed-through"): a slang
term which refers to the ambient sounds that a microphone aimed at instrument
A picks up from other instruments or singers in the same room. In some
cases, "bleeding" is considered undesirable, if unwanted sounds
from other instruments are picked up by a microphone. For example, if
a guitar player plays an amazing solo during a recording, it may end up
being unusable if mistakes by the drummer—20 feet away—are bleeding through
into the mic in front of the guitar amp. To prevent "bleeding",
studios use isolation booths and cloth-covered room dividers. In some
cases, "bleed-through" is desirable, because it makes the recording
sound fuller or more "live".
* blow : a jazz term instructing a performer to improvise a solo over
the chord progression of a jazz tune; may also be written "blowing
section" or, in free jazz, "open blowing"
* lues : in a jazz context, when "blues" or "solo on blues"
appears at the start of a solo section, it is an abbreviation for "blues
progression"; it instructs the performer to improvise solos over
a 12-bar blues progression based on I, IV, and V7 chords.
* board: a shortened form of "mixing board", which refers to
the audio mixing board used by live sound engineers and studio engineers
to control the volume and tone of different instruments and voices, blend
them in the desired proportions, add external effects (e.g., reverb),
and route the final signal (or an intermediate signal) to desired locations
(e.g., to a recording device; to Front of House speakers; to monitor speakers,
etc.). The term "board" may also be used as a shortened form
* bouncer (or "doorman" or "cooler"): a security staffer
who works at music and concert venues such as bars and clubs; the job
of a doorman is to check for age of majority ID; search for concealed
weapons, drugs, or alcohol; remove intoxicated or aggressive patrons;
and enforce the rules of the venue (e.g., a rule against stage-diving
* bridge: Transitional passage connecting two sections of a composition,
also transition. Also the part of a stringed instrument that holds the
strings in place and transmits their vibrations to the resonant body of
the instrument. Some bridges on electric guitars have a see-saw action
called a whammy bar which allows notes or chords to be "bent"
down in pitch.
* broken chord: A chord in which the notes are not all played at once,
but rather one after the other (i.e., an arpeggio).
* cabinet (or "cab"): refers to a speaker cabinet, which is
a wooden (or sometimes plastic) enclosure for a loudspeaker and, in some
cases a horn or tweeter. Speaker cabinets are used to amplify instruments
* cadence: the point at which a melodic phrase "comes to rest"
or resolves. A cadence often occurs on the "tonic" note (supported
by the tonic chord—the "home chord" of the key). A cadence can
also occur on other notes over the "tonic" chord, or over another
chord such as the "dominant chord" (the chord built on the fifth
* call and response: a way of writing a song in which after a singer sings
a line, other singers (e.g., backup singers or band members) respond with
a line that completes the thought. Call and response singing was originally
part of African-American work songs, and it subsequently became an important
part of the blues.
* capo: a clip-on metal or plastic device with a rubber-padded bar which
holds down all six strings of the guitar in a fret position selected by
the performer. It is attached with an elastic or spring-loaded mechanism.
It allows a guitar player to have the open strings start at a higher pitch,
thus facilitating the transposition of songs and the use of the "ringing",
rich sound of open chords in unusual keys.
* changes: a jazz term which is an abbreviation for "chord changes",
which is the harmonic progression (or "chord progression") upon
which a melody is based.
* channel: in the context of a mixing board, a channel is one of the input
sections into which a microphone or output from an instrument amplifier
or instrument (e.g., an electronic keyboard) is plugged so that its volume
and tone can be altered and so that it can be blended with other instruments
and voices; in the context of an electric guitar amplifier or a bass amplifier,
the term "channel" is used to refer to amplifiers which have
two or more separate preamplifier, equalization, and effect settings ("channels")
which a performer can switch between in a performance via a footswitch.
* chops: a slang term which refers to a player's strong technique or endurance
("That alto sax player has great chops; she can play for hours.")
* chord: a group of three or more notes that, when played simultaneously,
can form a harmonic structure that can support a melody or a solo line.
The simplest chords are triads, which are made of the first note of a
scale and then alternate notes. For example, in the scale of C Major (C,D,E,F,G,A,
B,C), the triad would be C,E,G. Seventh chords use four notes: they consist
of a triad with an added interval. For example, in the scale of G Dominant
(G,A, B,C,D,E,F,G), the four-note seventh chord would be G,B,D,F. There
are also more complicated chords which add additional intervals (see ninth
chord, "alt dom"). A chord can also be played one note at a
time (see "arpeggio" and "broken chord").
* chorus: the refrain of a song which is repeated a number of times, in
alternation with verses and other sections (e.g., a guitar solo). In contrast
to the verses of a song, the chorus tends to be simpler and more memorable,
and it often uses more repetition of lyrics (e.g., "She loves me
yeah, yeah, yeah..."). The term "chorus" may also be a
synonym for "choir"--a group of singers; or it may refer to
a chorus effect--the sound created when a voice or instrumental tone is
doubled by other pitches which are not exactly the same, which creates
a rich, shimmering sound.
* chromatic scale: a sequence of all twelve notes in an octave, played
in a row (either ascending or descending). Fragments of the chromatic
scale are used in many styles of popular music, but more extensive use
of chromatic scale tends to occur in jazz, fusion, and the more experimental
genres of rock.
* clam: a slang term which refers to a mis-played or out of tune note,
often by a horn player.
* clean: in reference to the sound of an electric guitar, Fender Rhodes
electric piano, or other electric or electronic instrument, or to a recording
of a singer or instrument or to an entire mix, "clean" means
that the sound is undistorted and not muddy. For an electric instrument,
the opposite of a "clean" tone is an overdriven, "clipped"
(see "clipping"), or "dirty" sound.
* clean channel: many electric guitar amplifiers have two "channels":
a clean channel, which is undistorted, and an "overdrive" (or
"dirty" channel), in which the signal is heavily preamplified
and/or run through a distortion effect, thus producing a distorted signal.
Amps with two channels come with a footswitch which allows the performer
to switch between the two channels.
* clipping: a synonym for distortion. With vocals, mic'd acoustic instruments,
Front of House mixes, and monitor mixes, clipping is almost always deemed
to be undesirable, and it is minimized by reducing gain levels, using
compression devices, adding "pads" (attenuation circuits), etc.
With electric guitars, electric basses, Hammond organs, electric piano,
and other electric instruments, performers often purposefully add clipping
to the signal by boosting the gain or using an overdrive pedal.
* clonewheel (or clonewheel organ): refers to an electronic or digital
instrument which recreates or imitates the sound of a tonewheel-based
Hammond organ, typically in an instrument that is much lighter and smaller
than an actual Hammond organ (e.g., the Roland VK-7 or the Korg CX-3).
* coda: a tail; i.e., a closing section appended to a piece of music (also
called a "tag" or "outro").
* combo: an abbreviation for "combination", which is used in
two senses in jazz and pop music. "Combo" can be the equivalent
of "group" or "ensemble" (e.g.,"a jazz combo").
As well, "combo" refers to a "combination amplifier",
so named because it includes an amplifier and a speaker in a single cabinet.
* comp: a jazz term which instructs a jazz rhythm section performer (usually
a chordal instrument such as jazz guitar, jazz piano, Hammond organ, etc.)
to play accompaniment chords. In a recording context, the term is an abbreviation
for "composite", which refers to recording composite tracks.
* comp tickets: an abbreviation for "complimentary tickets",
which promoters give out to ensure that a concert will have a good-sized
crowd; as well band members and touring staff may be given comp tickets
that they can give to friends or family, as a "perk"
* compressor: an electronic audio effect which automatically reduces the
gain of a signal (vocals, instruments, etc.) to a pre-set threshold, thus
preventing unwanted peaks which could cause clipping. A compressor with
extreme settings becomes a limiter, which protects speakers and horns
* Condenser microphone (or "condenser mic"): A microphone that
uses the technique of "variable capacitance" to pick up sound.
The diaphragm is on a charged metal plate, and as such, condenser microphones
need power to operate. The power comes either from batteries or from a
mic preamp or a mixing board. The power that is provided from a preamp
or mixing board is called "phantom power".
* cover (or "cover tune"): when a band plays a song that has
been composed and recorded by another band, this is called a "cover
tune"; also used as a verb (e.g., "to cover" a song by
a certain band). The term may also refer to a cover charge, the door fee
charged to customers for admission to a band's performance at a bar (the
cover charge may go entirely to the band or it may be split with the bar,
based on the agreement between the band and the establishment).
* crossfader: on a DJ mixer, a crossfader is a control that slides on
a left-to-right track. It allows a DJ to alternate between two channels,
into which an audio input is plugged (e.g., a record player, CD player,
iPod, etc.). The left-most position of the slider control gives only Channel
A. The right-most position gives only Channel B. The area of the sliding
track between these two extremes is a blend of the two Channels. Crossfaders
can be used to create smooth transitions between two songs on different
sound inputs, or, when moved rapidly at the same time that a record is
manipulated on a turntable, they can be used in create rhythmic scratching
sounds and effects.
* crossover: in a music industry context, a "crossover artist"
or "crossover band" is a performer or group from one style that
has managed to garner a following amongst fans of a different musical
style. For example, some country performers have managed to get "crossover"
hits in the pop charts. In an audio engineering context, a crossover is
a frequency filter system that divides the frequencies in a signal into
low and high or low, mid, and high components. In this way, the different
frequencies can be routed to the appropriate speakers.
* crunch: used to describe a specific type of highly distorted electric
guitar tone used in heavy metal and thrash metal music, typically by the
rhythm guitarist. When played with palm muting, it creates a characteristic
heavy rhythmic sound.
* cut time: Same as the meter 2/2: two half-note (minim) beats per measure.
Notated and executed like common time (4/4), except with the beat lengths
doubled. Indicated by three quarters of a circle with a vertical line
through it, which resembles the cent symbol '¢'. This comes from a literal
cut of the 'C' 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
* dead: an adjective that means non-reverberant, as in the case of a
room in a recording studio that has very little natural reverb or ambience
(e.g., a "dead room"). To "liven up" the sound of
a track recorded in a "dead room", engineers will typically
add electronic reverb effects. Alternately, the track could be re-recorded
in a room with more reflective surfaces, to add natural reverb.
* Decibel (or "dB"): The unit of measurement of audio level
used in recording studios and by live sound engineers. Some cities and
performance venues have decibel limits for live performances.
* desk: British term for a "mixing board".
* DI (or "DI Box"): an electronic device which alters the impedance
of electric instrument signals (e.g., electric guitar, electric bass)
so that they can be plugged into a mixing board or PA system. The DI box
converts a high-impedance, unbalanced signal from an electric guitar into
a low-impedance, balanced signal. Many DI boxes have a ground lift switch
to remove AC hum from the electrical system.
* Digital Signal Processing (or "DSP"): the use of digital effects
to alter the tone, sound, pitch, or other parameters of a signal. Many
2000s-era mixers, guitar amplifiers, and electronic keyboards have on-board
* downtuned (or "detuned"): a guitar or bass that is tuned to
a lower pitch than the standard tuning, which is (from low to high) EADGBE
for guitar and EADG for bass.
* drive: an abbreviated form of "overdrive", which refers to
the distortion that occurs when a tube amplifier is pushed to its limits.
* drop: jazz term referring to a note that slides chromatically downwards
to an indefinite pitch .
* DSP: See "Digital Signal Processing".
* dry: a signal that has no reverb effect, or more generally, a signal
that has not been processed with any effects unit. Vocals are almost always
recorded "dry", and then the reverb or other effects are added
in post-production. Electric guitars and electric keyboards are often,
but not always recorded with their effects (distortion, chorus, etc.)
* dynamics: refers to the relative volumes in the execution of a piece
* effects unit: an electronic device which alters or conditions the
sound qualities in an electronic signal from a microphone, musical instrument,
or recording. Effects units can be housed in rack-mounted chassis'; stompbox
pedals; in computer software; or built into an amplifier (e.g., a guitar
amp), mixer, or instrument (e.g., a Hammond organ).
* encore (Fr): again; i.e., perform the relevant passage or an entire
song or tune once more
* engineer : in a live sound context, this refers to the audio engineer
who controls the soundboard and/or leads the crew of audio technicians;
in a recording context, this refers to the audio engineer who sets up
and runs the technical aspects of a recording session.
* fader: on a mixing board or DJ mixer, an audio level control that
slides up and down in a track. (see also crossfader).
* fall: jazz term describing a note of definite pitch sliding downwards
to another note of definite pitch.
* falsetto: male voice above usual bass or tenor range (see article)
* feedback: the resonance loop created when a microphone or guitar pickup
is placed close to a highly amplified speaker, often creating a howling
or screeching sound. In most cases, musicians and sound engineers seek
to avoid feedback with microphones and acoustic instruments; with electric
guitar, especially in heavy metal and shred guitar playing it may be done
* fiddle: a slang term for a violin in bluegrass, country music, and folk
* fill (English): 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
* 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.
* foldback: in Britain, this is the term for an onstage monitor speaker
that helps performers to hear their singing and playing.
* forte or f (usually): strong; i.e., to be played or sung loudly
* fortepiano or fp (usually): strong-gentle; i.e., 1. loud, then immediately
soft (see dynamics), or 2. an early pianoforte
* fortissimo or ff: very loud (see note at pianissimo, in this list)
* fortississimo or fff: as loud as possible
* Front of House (or "FOH"): refers to the speaker system which
faces the audience (and the sound engineers who control it)
* FX: synonym for "effects" (e.g., a "multiFX" pedal"
is a "multieffects pedal")
* gig: a slang term which refers to a musical engagement at a bar or
club, usually of a single night's duration
* gliss: a continuous sliding from one pitch to another (a true glissando),
or an incidental scale executed while moving from one melodic note to
another (an effective glissando). See glissando for further information;
and compare portamento in this list.
* groupie: a somewhat pejorative term used to refer to fans of a rock
group (typically refers to female fans).
* harmony vocals (or "harmony parts"): backup singing which
supports the main melody; the supporting parts are usually chord tones
that form intervals of a third, fourth, fifth, sixth, or octave away from
the main melody note.
* harp: from blues harp, which in blues and related genres is a slang
term for the harmonica.
* homophony: A musical texture with one voice (or melody line) accompanied
by chords; also used as an adjective (homophonic). Compare with polyphony,
in which several voices or melody lines are performed at the same time.
* horn: in a jazz, blues, or R&B context, the term "horn"
refers generically to any brass instrument (e.g., saxophone, trumpet,
etc.). In a sound engineering context, "horn" refers to a flare-shaped
housing into which a tweeter or loudspeaker is mounted as part of a speaker
* horn section: in a jazz, blues, or R&B context, this refers to a
small group of brass players who accompany an ensemble by playing soft
"pads" and punctuating the melodic line with "punches"
* ignore changes : a jazz term used in 1950s and 1960s-era avant-garde
and free jazz (e.g., Ornette Coleman) which instructs a soloist to improvise
without following the chord changes being used by the rhythm section instruments.
* intro: opening section of a song or tune.
* J-bass: an abbreviation for the Fender Jazz bass, a widely-used brand
of electric bass
* jam (or "jam session"): in jazz, blues, rock, or related genres,
an informal performance of improvised solos over well-known standard compositions
(e.g., a blues progression or a jazz standard).
* jazz standard (or simply "standard"): a well-known composition
from the jazz repertoire which is widely played and recorded.
* keyboardist : a musician who plays any instrument with a keyboard.
In a jazz or popular music context, this may refer to instruments such
as the piano, electric piano, synthesizer, Hammond organ, and so on.
* keyboard amp: a combination amplifier designed for keyboard players
that contains a two, three, or four-channel mixer, a pre-amplifier for
each channel, equalization controls, a power amplifier, a speaker, and
a horn, all in a single cabinet. Small keyboard amplifiers designed for
small band rehearsals have 50 to 75 watts, a 12 inch speaker, and a horn.
Large keyboard amplifiers designed for large clubs or halls have 200 to
300 watts of power, a 15 inch speaker, and a horn.
* lay out: a jazz term which is the equivalent of the classical term
tacet; it instructs the player to cease playing for a section or tune.
* lead (pronounced "leed"): in guitar playing, a single-note
melody or solo line. In Britain, the term also refers to a patch cable
which is used to connect an electric guitar to an amp.
* lead bass: a style of playing electric bass in which the player adopts
a soloistic or melodic "voice", rather than, or in addition
to playing the accompaniment role which is normally associated with the
bass (e.g., Cliff Burton of Metallica).
* leading note: the seventh note of a scale, which has a powerful "gravitational
pull" towards the eighth note of the scale, which is the "home
note" of the key. Because the seventh note of the scale has such
a strong pull towards the eighth note, it is deemed to need to "resolve"
to the eighth note.
* Leslie: a brand name for a rotating speaker cabinet designed for use
with the Hammond organ, but also used by some electric guitar players.
The rotating horn and rotating baffle around the low-range speaker create
an undulating effect.
* line: a synonym for "melody" (as in the terms "melodic
line"). (See also bassline).
* line in: In an audio context, a "line in" is a jack found
on mixers, guitar amplifiers, and recording devices. The "line in"
jack allows a performer to add an input into a mixer, amplifier, or recording
* line out: A "line out" jack provides an output signal from
an amplifier or other device, which can then be patched into a mixing
board, effect unit, PA system, etc.
* marcato, marc.: marked; i.e., with accentuation, execute every note
as if it were to be accented
* measure: the period of a musical piece that encompasses a complete cycle
of the time signature, e.g., in 4/4 time, a measure has four quarter-note
* mezzo forte: half loudly; i.e., moderately loudly. See dynamics.
* mezzo piano: half softly; i.e., moderately softly. See dynamics.
* MIDI: an acronym for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, an industry-standard
way for electronic devices to communicate information. MIDI connections
can be used to connect synthesizers, electronic drum machines, sequencers,
and so on.
* mixdown: the process near the end of the recording process in which
all of the tracks of recorded music (e.g., 12, 24, or even 48 tracks of
recorded vocals, guitars, keyboards, etc.) are blended and placed onto
the Left and Right channels of a standard stereo recording. A "remix"
occurs when the same initial tracks are given a new "mixdown",
thus blending the tracks in a different way, adding different effects,
* monitor: in a live music context, refers to speaker cabinets which are
used to amplify the singing and playing of onstage performers so that
the performers can hear themselves' in a recording context, refers to
studio reference monitors, which are heavy-duty, low-coloration speakers
designed for playing back mixes.
* monitor mix: in live audio, the monitor mix is the blend of vocal and
instrumental channels which is amplified and sent through onstage speakers
which are directed towards the performers. The "monitor mix"
often differs a great deal from the "Front of House" mix. In
a typical bar band, the "monitor mix" will consist mainly of
vocals, with the possible addition of other instruments that need additional
onstage monitoring volume (e.g., harmonica, saxophone, synth).
* Moog synthesizer: an early brand of analog synthesizer which was introduced
in the late 1960s; newly-released Moog synthesizers are still produced
in the 2000s.
* natural: a symbol (♮) that cancels the effect of a sharp or a flat
(see in this list)
* neck: on a guitar (e.g., acoustic guitar, electric guitar, electric
bass), violin-family instrument (e.g., violin, upright bass) or other
stringed instrument, the neck is the long, thin piece of wood which extends
from the soundbox or body of the instrument and upon which the strings
are put under tension between the bridge (on a guitar family instrument)
or the tailpiece (on a violin-family instrument) and the headstock (for
guitars) or the tuning pegs (violin) or machine heads (upright bass).
The neck on acoustic and electric guitars and most electric basses has
metal frets which divide the neck into semitones. Violin family instruments
and fretless electric basses do not have frets.
* notch filter: a very precise type of equalizer (e.g., a parametric equalizer)
which can be used to boost or cut very narrow frequency ranges. Notch
filters are used to lessen feedback with microphones or lesson overly
resonant notes on acoustic guitars.
* note-for-note solo: a live or recorded performance by an instrumentalist
which reproduces a previously recorded improvised solo. In some cases,
the recreation of the previously-recorded solo may be faithful down to
the smallest nuances, such as the use of "whammy bar" embellishments
and "ghost notes".
* octave: interval between one musical pitch and another with half or
double its frequency. Octaves can be played one note after the other (e.g.,
a low C and then a high C), or they can be played together at the same
time on instruments such as the guitar, piano, organ, etc.
* octave pedal: an effects unit which electronically adds a note an octave
(or two octaves) below or, less commonly, an octave above the note being
played by the performer.
* ohm: a unit of electrical impedance; speakers, microphones, headphones,
and other gear is rated with its nominal impedance. (See also "Z",
the abbreviation sometimes used for "impedance").
* organ trio: in jazz or rock, a group of three musicians which includes
a Hammond organ player and two other instruments, often a drummer and
either an electric guitar player or a saxophone player.
* ostinato: obstinate, persistent; i.e., a short musical pattern that
is repeated throughout an entire composition or portion of a composition
* P-bass: an abbreviation for the Fender Precision bass, a widely-used
brand of electric bass
* pad: in reference to the music played by a keyboardist, this refers
to a "sythesizer pad", which is a sustained background synthesizer
sound used to accompany a band or singer; in reference to sound engineering,
this refers to an attenuation circuit which reduces the gain of an excessively
"hot" signal, typically by 20 dB.
* pedal: refers to a stompbox effect unit, a volume pedal, or a similar
* pedale or ped: In piano scores, this instructs the player to use press
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 a Hammond organist that a section is to be performed
on the bass pedalboard with the feet.
* pedal point: a sustained or repeated note in a song or tune, often in
the bass register. The term is a reference to the bass pedal keyboards
that are used to sustain a pedal point in organ music.
* performance art: an experimental show which combines music, dance, visual
effects, and drama (e.g., Laurie Anderson). Associated with some types
of art rock and experimental rock.
* pianissimo or pp (usually): very gently; i.e., perform very softly
* piano or p (usually): gently; i.e., played or sung softly (see dynamics)
* piano-vocal score: the same as a vocal score, a piano arrangement along
with the vocal parts of an opera, cantata, or similar
* pickup (or "pick-up"): in reference to an electric guitar
or bass, this refers to the magnetic or piezoelectric device which transmits
the vibrations of the string or the guitar body to an amplifier; in reference
to a song or tune, a "pickup" or the "pickup notes"
refers to one or several melodic notes which lead into a subsequent section
(e.g., a band leader will tell the band to "start from the pickup
into the bridge").
* pickup group (or pickup band): a musical ensemble brought together for
a single performance or a few performances.
* pizzicato (or "pizz"): pinched, plucked; i.e., in music for
bowed strings, plucked with the fingers as opposed to played with the
* portamento: sliding in pitch from one note to another.
* power chord: a chord consisting of a note, a fifth above, and the octave.
It is widely used in rock, metal, hardcore punk, and other genres, usually
with overdrive or distortion.
* 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.
* rallentando or rall.: progressively slower.
* register: part of the range of an instrument or voice. ("The lower
register of the singer's voice was rich and dark").
* registration: a setting or combination of stops or voices on an electromechanical
organ (e.g., Hammond organ) or an electronic or "combo organ".
* Reggae: a Jamaican style of popular music that features a strong, syncopated
bassline, accompaniment with an undistorted electric guitar or Fender
Rhodes on the offbeats, and chanted vocals.
* remix: a second or subsequent "mixdown" of a set of recorded
tracks. (see "mixdown").
* reverb: refers to the echoing sound that occurs naturally to a voice
or instrument in hall or room with reflective walls and, by extension,
to analog or digital effect units which recreate this effect (reverb units).
* Rhodes: refers to the Fender Rhodes brand of electric piano, and, by
extension, to similar instruments produced by other manufacturers.
* rig: in a live music context, this is a slang term used by musicians
to refer to the audio processing and amplification gear used by a keyboardist,
bassist, or electric guitarist. An electric bassist, for example, may
refer to her speaker cabinet, bass amplifier "head" and rack-mounted
effects units collectively as her "rig" (or "bass rig").
* rit.: an abbreviation for ritardando; also an abbreviation for ritenuto
* ritardando, ritard., rit.: slowing down; decelerating; opposite of accelerando
* RMS: an acronym for "Root Means Square", a way of measuring
the power-handling capacity of a loudspeaker or tweeter in watts. The
RMS rating printed on the back of a speaker indicates the average power
that the speaker can handle.
* roadie: a slang term which refers to the employees of a musical group's
touring road crew who load and unload musical equipment.
* Roland: a Japanese musical instrument and audio equipment company that
produces electronic keyboards, guitar amplifiers, effects units and other
* rolled chord: a chord in which the notes of the chord are played one
after the other, which each note being sustained.
* sample (or "sampling"): to record a short portion from a
live performance or from a recording of an instrument or group, so that
this short "snippet" can be re-played or re-used in another
performance or recording. In the 2000s, sampling is usually done by making
a digital recording of the desired sample. Sampling is widely used in
2000s-era pop, hip-hop, and electronica.
* scratch: in a recording context, this refers to a rough "scratch
track", which is the recording of a rhythm section part or vocals
which is done to provide a temporary reference point for the performers
who will be recording their parts (the "scratch track" is erased
later on; in the context of hip-hop music and turntablism, "scratching"
refers to the manipulation of a vinyl record on a turntable with the hands
and a DJ mixer to create rhythmic sounds.
* segue: carry on to the next section of music without a pause
* semitone: the smallest pitch difference between notes (in most Western
music) (e.g., F–F#)
* session musician (or "session player" or "session man"):
in jazz and popular music, this refers to a highly skilled, experienced
musician who can be hired for recording sessions.
* 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
* 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 an
eighth or a quarter of a semitone too high in pitch.
* shred: an adjective that is mainly used in connection to the electric
guitar (or less commonly, to other stringed instruments such as banjo
or electric bass); it describes intense, virtuostic, rapid playing of
the instrument (e.g., "shred guitar). It can also be used as a verb
(e.g., "to shred").
* sidefills: a slang term for onstage monitor speakers that are placed
on the sides of the stage, to help performers to hear themselves.
* sideman (or "sidemen"): refers to musicians in a band who
accompany a lead singer, bandleader, or lead instrumentalist.
* sibilance: the "hissing" sounds that occur when words with
the letter "s" are sung; when vocals are sung into a microphone,
the "s" sounds can be picked up excessively by the mic. Excessive
silibance is prevented by using a pop screen or a compressor-triggered
* sign: another name for a symbol (called "segno" in Classical
parlance) in written music scores. The score may instruct the band to
jump from one section back to the part of the music marked with the sign.
* sit in: in jazz and blues, to "sit in" is to be invited to
perform onstage along with another group for one or several songs, often
to perform improvised solos.
* slapping (or "slap bass") in reference to the electric bass,
this term refers to a percussive, funky style of playing in which the
low strings are slapped and the high strings are popped, used in funk,
Latin, and pop. In reference to the upright bass, "slap bass"
refers to a percussive style of playing in which the player strikes the
strings against the fingerboard to create a percussive, rhythmic effect
(used in traditional blues, rockabilly, and bluegrass).
* snake: a slang term which refers to an audio multicore cable that terminates
in a patchbay; it is used to route the signals of all of the onstage microphones
and instrument amplifiers to the mixing board at the back of the performance
* 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 (sometimes
abbreviated as "break"), 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.
* solo, plural soli: alone; i.e., executed by a single instrument or voice.
The instruction soli requires more than one player or singer; in a jazz
big band this refers to an entire section playing in harmony.
* soprano: the highest of the standard four voice ranges (bass, tenor,
* standard tuning: for acoustic and electric guitar, the standard tuning
is "E,A,D,G,B,E" (from lowest string to highest). For the electric
bass, the standard tuning is "E,A,D,G". Altered tunings are
used to obtain lower notes (e.g., drop D tuning, in which the low E string
is lowered to a D), facilitate the playing of slide guitar, or to allow
the playing of "open" chords that are not possible in standard
* stompbox: a slang term which refers to a small, portable effect unit
that has an integrated on-off footswitch (e.g., a distortion pedal).
* stage piano: a high-quality, heavy-duty electric piano or digital piano
designed for touring or installation in a commercial performance venue
(e.g., a piano bar). Unlike synthesizer-style keyboards, a stage piano
typically has weighted or semi-weighted keys, which give more of the feel
of an acoustic piano. Some 2000s-era stage pianos include Hammond organ
and clavichord voices, in addition to piano and electric piano sounds.
* Stratocaster (or "Strat"): an electric guitar manufactured
by Fender, which is widely used in rock and other popular music.
* subwoofer (or "sub"): a speaker cabinet with a woofer that
is designed for the reproduction of low-frequency sounds from about 20
Hz-200 Hz. Subs are used in PA systems and studio monitor systems. Subwoofers
used for PA systems typically use large diameter woofers (18" or
21") mounted in large wooden cabinets. Studio monitor subs tend to
use smaller cabinets and smaller-diameter woofers (10", 12",
or 15"), because the goal with studio monitors is high fidelity,
not massive sound pressure output.
* sweetening: a recording production term that refers to the addition
of additional instruments or voices—orchestral strings, vocal harmonies
from a group of professional backup singers, Latin percussionists, etc.---
to a basic "bed track" or "basic track" of bass, drums,
and rhythm guitar or piano. Widely used in the 1970s in soft rock and
* sweet spot: in live sound or recordings in which a mic is placed in
front of an instrument or a guitar amplifier, the "sweet spot"
is a placement or position of a microphone which yields the most pleasing
sound; in the context of listening to a mix in a studio through monitor
speakers, the "sweet spot" is a distance away from the speakers
that the engineer believes to produce the most natural sound.
* syncopation: a disturbance or interruption of the regular flow of rhythm.
* tabulature (or "tab"): for guitar, bass guitar, and other
fretted stringed instruments, tab is a type of sheet music notation in
which the strings of the instrument are depicted on paper using staff
paper-like lines, and then the pitches to be played are indicated using
a fret number on the appropriate string line.
* tacet: silent; do not play.
* take: in a recording session, a period of playing or singing which is
recorded is called a "take".
* tech: a technician or repairperson who tours with a band or group, and
whose duties include setting up, maintaining, and repairing musical instruments
and related accessories; different types include a "drum tech";
"bass tech", and a "guitar tech".
* tempo: time; i.e., the overall speed of a piece of music
* tenor: the second lowest of the standard four voice ranges (bass, tenor,
* tight sound: a recording of an instrument (e.g., drums) which uses very
close miking done in a soundproof recording room to eliminate "bleeding"
from other instruments or ambient background noise.
* timbre: the quality of a musical tone that distinguishes different voices,
instruments, amplifiers, and effects
* time: in a jazz or rock score, after a rubato or rallentendo section,
the term "time" indicates that performers should return to tempo
(this is equivalent to the term "a tempo")
* trainwreck (or "train wreck"): a slang term which refers to
a major error that occurs during a performance, either due to an incorrect
entrance by one or more performers, or due to the performers getting out
of time or off pitch with each other ("At the end of the song, the
band got lost and the backup singers began the "outro" lines
a bar before the lead singer, which led to a confused "train wreck"
of an ending").
* transcription (or "note-for-note solo"): when a performer
copies every note of a previously-recorded solo, this is called a "transcription"
or a "note-for-note solo".
* tremolo: shaking; i.e., a rapid repetition of the same note, or an alternation
between two or more notes (often an octave on the piano). It can also
be intended (inaccurately) to refer to vibrato, which is a slight undulation
in pitch. It is notated by a strong diagonal bar across the note stem,
or a detached bar for a set of notes (or stemless notes).
* tube amplifier (or "valve amplifier"): a power amplifier which
is based on vacuum tubes. Tube amps produce soft clipping with a natural
compression, and they are widely used in electric guitar and electric
bass amps, and in Leslie-type amplifiers that are used to amplify Hammond
* tuner: may refer to an electronic tuner, which is a digital or analog
device which assists musicians to tune their instruments; or it may refer
to a piano technician who tunes pianos or other keyboard instruments.
* unison:several players in a group are to play exactly the same notes
within their written part, as opposed to splitting simultaneous notes
* vamp till cue: a jazz, fusion, and musical theater 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
* 'verb : an abbreviation for "reverb" which typically refers
to the electronic reverb effect.
* virtuoso: (noun or adjective) performing with exceptional ability, technique,
* vocal score or piano-vocal score: a music score of a musical theater
show or a vocal or choral composition where the vocal parts are written
out in full but the accompaniment is reduced to two staves and adapted
for playing on piano
* voicing: the choice of, and order of notes in the playing of a chord,
which creates a different sound. For example, a C Maj 7 chord played with
the voicing "C, E, G, B" (letter names refer to individual pitches
that make up the chord) is often considered to sound more "open"
than a voicing where the chord is inverted so that some of the chord tones
are very close in pitch (e.g., B, C, E, G). Another way that players may
"voice" the same type of chord differently is by adding tones.
For example, if a lead sheet shows the chord C Maj 7, some guitarists
might play "E,A,D", a voicing which is "open" (insofar
as it consists of large intervals) and which contains two "colour"
tones, namely the sixth ("A") and the ninth ("D")
of the chord.
* VU meter: an abbreviation for "Volume Unit" meter; a sound
level metering approach which measures the average sound levels. Commonly
used in LED and needle indicators on mixing boards, sound processors,
and other electronic gear.
* wall of sound: in a recording context, refers to a production technique
which creates a fuller, richer sound by having each part played by a number
of instruments and routing the sound through an echo chamber; in a live
concert context, refers to the massive volume created by huge stacks of
powerful, distorted guitar amplifiers at a heavy metal concert (e.g.,
* whammy bar: an accessory on an electric guitar which can be used to
bend down the pitch of an individual note or a chord (also referred to
as a "tremolo bar")
* woodshed: a slang term which refers to an intense period of practice
and self-development that a musician has (or is believed to have) undergone.
If a musician has dramatically improved his or her technique in a short
period, a critic may state that the performer has "woodshedded"
* XLR: a type of professional audio cable used to send balanced signals.
Microphone cables have three pins in the connector. More rarely, five-pin
XLR cables are used (e.g., for DMX). XLR cables are sometimes called "Cannon
connectors", a reference to the first manufacturer of these cables.
* Y-cable (or "Y-cord"): a cable with three ends, whereby one
plug is joined to two plugs. This allows a single signal output to be
plugged into two devices. For example, an electric guitarist could plug
a single guitar into two guitar amps to create an unusual tone colour.
Y-cables are also used to plug inserts into mixing boards (e.g., a compressor
or reverb unit).
* Z: an abbreviation for impedance, as seen in the terms "High-Z"
(high impedance) and "Low-Z" (low impedance), which are used
to describe speakers, microphones, cables, etc. Impedance, which is the
electrical resistance of a device, is measured in Ohms.
* zither: a stringed instrument with a soundbox which is used in traditional
European folk music.
See all musical glossaries:
Published - February 2011
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