459 Music Theory Terms Every Musician Should Know

Hello lifetime musician friends! When learning music for ourselves or teaching our students, it’s good to have a reference guide in our back pocket. This article lists all the important terms you need when studying music, making it easier for us to learn or explain. Let’s dive in!

Music Notation

The study of written musical symbols and notation systems. This covers reading and writing sheet music, key signatures, time signatures, expressive markings, etc. Here are definitions for some key music notation terms:

Notation – The written system used to visually represent music through symbols including notes, rests, dynamics, articulation, and other markings.

Staff – The five line grid upon which notes are positioned to indicate their pitch.

Clef – A symbol placed at the beginning of the staff to assign pitches to lines and spaces, such as treble and bass clef.

Time signature – Indicates the meter of the music by specifying how many beats are in each measure. Written as two numbers like 3/4, 4/4, 6/8.

Key signature – The accidentals (sharps or flats) appearing at the beginning of the staff to indicate the key of the music.

Note – A symbol used to represent the duration and pitch of a musical sound.

Rest – A symbol used to represent a period of silence for a particular duration.

Pitch – The highness or lowness of a musical sound.

Accidental – A symbol used to raise or lower the pitch of a note, such as sharps, flats, and naturals.

Sharp – Raises a note by one half step. Marked by the ♯ symbol.

Flat – Lowers a note by one half step. Marked by the ♭ symbol.

Natural – Cancels out a previous sharp or flat, returning the note to its original pitch.

Duration – The rhythmic value or length of notes and rests, such as whole, half, quarter, eighth.

Tempo – The speed at which the music is played, often indicated by terms like Allegro, Moderato, or markings like MM=120.

Tempo Markings:

Accelerando – Gradually getting faster.

Allegro – Fast, lively tempo.

Andante – Moderate tempo, “walking” speed.

Largo – Very slow and broad tempo.

Rallentando – Gradually slowing down.

Ritardando – Gradually slowing down, same as rallentando.

Vivace – Quick and lively tempo, faster than allegro.

In addition to Italian words, tempo can also be indicated by metronome markings (MM) denoting the number of beats per minute. Some common metronome markings are:

MM 40 – Grave, very slow

MM 60 – Largo, slow

MM 120 – Moderato, moderate speed

MM 168 – Allegro, fast

MM 200+ – Presto, very fast

Tempo markings and metronome speeds give an indication of the general pace and feel the composer intends for the music. But the exact interpretation can vary based on the style and context. Hope this helps explain some common tempo terms! Let me know if you have any other questions.

Dynamics – Symbols indicating volume such as f (forte – loud) and p (piano – soft).

Articulation – Symbols providing performance instructions, including accents, slurs, staccato, legato.

Tie – A curved line connecting two notes of the same pitch, indicating they are to be played as one combined note.

Slur – A curved line connecting notes of different pitches, indicating they are to be played in a legato manner.

Bar line – A vertical line drawn through the staff to mark off measures.

Double bar – A pair of vertical lines drawn through the staff, used to indicate the end of a section or piece.

Repeat sign – Symbols such as :||: used to indicate the repetition of a musical section.

D.C. al coda – An instruction to return to the beginning (“da capo”) and play until the coda symbol.

8va – Indicates to play the music an octave higher or lower.

Note stem – The vertical line attached to the note head which indicates the pitch name and duration.

Beam – A horizontal line connecting multiple note stems in the same rhythmic value.

Flag – The curved stroke attached to the end of a note stem, indicating rhythmic duration.

Dot – Augments the duration of a note by half its original value.

Triplet – Three notes played in the time of two of the same duration. Marked with a 3 bracket.

Meter – The rhythmic framework of strong and weak beats recurring in measures.

Pickup measure – A partial measure of music occurring before the full measures indicated by the time signature.

Music Analysis

The application of theoretical concepts to analyze and understand the compositional structure of music. This synthesizes many concepts to parse how a musical work is put together. Here are definitions for some key music analysis terms:

Harmony – The vertical aspect of music focusing on chords, chord progressions, and harmonic rhythm.

Rhythm – The patterns of long and short notes that give music its sense of motion and pulse.

Meter – The organization of rhythm in recurring accented (strong) and unaccented (weak) beats.

Tempo – The speed of the music’s pulse and rhythmic flow.

Dynamics – The relative loudness and softness marked by volume indicators like forte and piano.

Articulation – Symbols indicating how notes are performed, like staccato, legato, accent marks.

Phrasing – How notes are connected and shaped into musical sentences or ideas.

Melodic contour – The overall shape and direction of a melody through rises, falls, repetition, and sequence.

Orchestration – How instrumental colors are used and blended in the musical arrangement.

Tonality – The tonal center established by harmony and key, or lack thereof in atonal music.

Modulation – Shifting from one key or tonal center to another.

Chromaticism – Use of notes outside the prevailing key and harmony.

Dissonance/consonance – Level of tension or resolution in chords and intervals.

Theme and variations – A form where a theme is repeated in altered versions.

Sonata form – Exposition-development-recapitulation structure often found in first movements of sonatas, symphonies, chamber music, etc.

Fugue – Contrapuntal form based on the imitation of a musical subject between multiple voices.


The study of the relationship between musical voices that are harmonically interdependent yet independent in rhythm and contour. This includes species counterpoint, fugues, canons, etc. Here are definitions for some key music counterpoint terms:

Counterpoint – The relationship between musical voices that are harmonically interdependent yet independent in rhythm and contour.

Vertical – The harmonic aspect of counterpoint focused on vertical intervals between voices.

Horizontal – The linear aspect focused on the melodic shape of each voice.

Independent – Voices with distinguishable melodic shapes.

Dependent – Voices needing harmonic compatibility with other voices.

Species – Codified “species” or levels of increasing complexity studied in counterpoint pedagogy.

Periodicity – Repetition of a motive or phrase in a voice at different intervals.

Subject – The initial melody proposed as the basis for elaboration.

Answer – The countermelody that replies to the subject.

Imitation – Repetition of the subject or motif in different voices.

Invertible counterpoint – Countermelodies that can be inverted while retaining harmony.

Canon – A strict contrapuntal form where one voice imitates another exactly.

Suspension – A dissonance carried over from a previous harmony.

Retardation – Delaying the onset of a note to create dissonance.

Consonance/Dissonance – Relative stability or tension between voices.

Real answer – Exact transposition of the subject to tonic or dominant.

Tonal answer – Altered transposition of the subject to maintain tonality.

Relative – Answer transposed to scale degree intervals matching the subject.

Parallel – Consecutive intervals all moving in the same direction.

Contrary – Consecutive intervals moving in opposite directions.

Obligato – Independent countermelody accompanying the main melody.

Cantus firmus – Preexisting melody used as the basis for counterpoint.

Polyphony – Music with multiple independent melodic voices and counterpoint.

Music Orchestration

The study of arranging music for various instrumental ensembles. This involves understanding the capabilities and tonal qualities of different instruments. Here are definitions for some key music orchestration terms:

Orchestration – The arrangement of music for an ensemble of instruments and voices.

Instrumentation – The specific instruments used in a music arrangement.

Ensemble – The collection of instruments (and voices) performing the music.

Conductor – The person who leads and cues the ensemble.

Balance – The blend and volume relationships between ensemble parts.

Blend – The cohesion of ensemble timbres and parts.

Timbre – The tone color and sound quality of voices and instruments.

Range – The highest and lowest pitches an instrument or voice can produce.

Register – The relative high, middle, and low pitch ranges for instruments.

Technique – The skilled artistic use of an instrument to produce certain effects.

Articulation – How notes are attacked, detached, or connected on an instrument.

Bowing – In string instruments, the direction and style of moving the bow.

Pizzicato – Plucking the strings of string instruments.

Sustain – The ability of an instrument to prolong pitches.

Color – Tonal variations and shadings possible on an instrument.

Doubling – Multiple instruments playing the same musical line.

Dynamics – Degrees of loudness and softness.

Families – Categories of instruments with shared properties like strings, woodwinds, etc.

Scoring – Writing the instrumental parts for an ensemble.

Transcribing – Adapting a composition for a new ensemble.

Interpreting – Making artistic decisions to realize the music.

Arranging – Reconfiguring a musical work for different forces while maintaining identity.

Music Composition

While not exclusively a theoretical topic, music theory provides tools for composing original music. This includes coming up with melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic material. Here are definitions for some key music composition terms:

Compose – To create original music.

Composition – A complete musical work.

Notation – Written musical symbols representing sounds.

Sketching – Initial drafting of musical ideas.

Harmony – Vertical aspects like chords and chord progressions.

Melody – The horizontal lead line and tune.

Rhythm – Durational patterns and meter.

Counterpoint – Interplay between independent musical lines and voices.

Structure – The musical architecture and organization.

Form – The layout of sections like verse, chorus, bridge.

Motive – A short melodic or rhythmic pattern.

Theme – A prominent repeating melody.

Development – Elaborating and varying musical material over time.

Tension/release – Building and resolving musical suspense.

Consonance/dissonance – Stable and unstable chords.

Modulation – Shifting to a new key center.

Instrumentation – Writing for specific instruments.

Orchestration – Arranging for ensembles of instruments.

Piano, chamber, choral, orchestral – Writing for these ensemble types.

Electronic – Use of synthesizers, samplers, and music technology.

Improvisation – Spontaneous creation in performance.

Aleatory – Elements of chance or randomness.

Indeterminacy – Looser definition of musical elements.

Concept – Unifying compositional idea.

Style – Musical language, aesthetics, and conventions.

Techniques – Ways of manipulating musical elements like harmony, form, timbre, etc.

Creativity – Imaginative skill and inspiration.

Craft – Technical facility and expertise.


The physics and science behind sound, overtones, tuning systems, and the production of pitch, volume, and timbre. This can include mathematical and psychoacoustic analyses. Here are definitions for some key terms for acoustics:

Frequency – The number of sound wave cycles per second, measured in Hertz (Hz).

Vibration – The rapid periodic motion that creates sound waves.

Wavelength – The distance between repetitions of a sound wave.

Amplitude – The height or intensity of a sound wave.

Harmonics – Whole number multiples of the fundamental frequency in a complex tone.

Resonance – Vibrating sympathetic response that reinforces/amplifies sound.

Tuning – Adjusting the pitch of an instrument to a standard or temperament.

Temperament – A system of tuning intervals between pitches.

Pitch – Perceived highness or lowness of a sound.

Interval – The difference in pitch between two tones.

Overtones – Frequencies above the fundamental that give tone color.

Formants – Concentrated bands of energy contributed by resonances.

Transients – Bursts of energy at the start of a note.

Psychoacoustics – Study of perception and cognition of sound.

Critical bands – Ranges of hearing sensitivity to different frequencies.

Sound production – How sound is created on musical instruments.

Decibels – Unit of loudness/sound intensity.

Interference – Combination of waves that reinforces or cancels.

Room acoustics – How sound behaves in an enclosed space.

Spectral analysis – Studying the harmonic spectrum of complex tones.

Music Theory Pedagogy

The study of methods and approaches to teaching music theory and musicianship skills to others. This includes developing instructional materials and assessments. Here are definitions for some key music theory pedagogy terms:

Music Curriculum – The courses, content, and skills taught in a music program.

Music Theory Lesson plan – An instructor’s outline for material to cover in a music theory class session.

Music Instruction – The methods and techniques used to teach concepts and skills.

Music Lecture – Verbal presentation of information by the instructor.

Discussion – Facilitated dialogue with students around topics and ideas.

Active learning – Students engaged in hands-on activities, problem-solving, simulations, etc.

Educational psychology – Applying theories of learning, development, cognition to teaching.

Scaffolding – Providing supports to help students reach the next level.

Assessment – Measuring student learning through quizzes, exams, projects, etc.

Rubric – Scoring tool linking evaluation criteria to levels of mastery.

Creativity – Encouraging imaginative approaches and ideas.

Composition – Guiding students in creating original music.

Repertoire – Musical works selected for study and performance.

Musicianship – Developing core musical skills like listening, reading, performing.

Dictation – Notating music performed by instructor or recording.

Sequencing – Logical ordering of curriculum content.

Motivation – Stimulating student interest and engagement.

Differentiation – Tailoring instruction to diverse learning needs.

Standards – Learning goals defining essential knowledge and skills.

Objectives – Specific measurable outcomes for student learning.

Music Technology

The use of music notation software, MIDI, synthesizers, DAWs, and other tech tools for music theory education, composition, analysis, etc. Here are definitions for some key music technology terms, tools, and platforms:

DAW – Digital audio workstation software used for music production like Ableton, Logic, Pro Tools.

MIDI – Digital protocol enabling electronic instruments to communicate and be sequenced.

VST – Virtual studio technology audio plugin instruments and effects.

Plugin – Software add-on providing additional functionality inside a DAW.

Scorewriter – Music notation software like Sibelius, Finale, Dorico for engraving.

Sibelius, Finale – Leading scorewriting applications.

Pro Tools – Professional DAW and audio production platform.

Ableton Live – DAW popular for loop-based production and live performance.

Logic Pro – Apple’s DAW for macOS.

Synthesis – Generating sounds electronically through oscillators, filters, etc.

Sampling – Digitally recording and repurposing audio recordings.

Quantization – Adjusting timing of notes to a preset grid or beat.

Notation – Written musical symbols and score representing sounds.

Sequencing – Arranging and automating musical data like notes, controllers, loops.

Production – The creative process of recording, editing, mixing to finish a piece of music.

iPad apps – Music making apps run on the iOS iPad platform.

SmartMusic – Interactive music learning software with accompaniments and assessment tools.

Flat.io – Online music notation software great for collaboration.

Soundtrap – Cloud-based music making and collaboration platform.

Audacity – Free open source digital audio workstation.

Transcription – Converting audio into written sheet music notation.

Playback – Playing back MIDI or audio regions in a sequencer or DAW.

Virtual Instruments – Virtual software instruments used to input sounds into a DAW.

MusicLearningCommunity – digital platform dedicated to music education, leveraging interactive games and tools to teach foundational music theory and skills, exemplifying the integration of technology into modern music pedagogy.

Musical Cognition

Understanding how music is mentally processed and perceived by the brain. This draws on cognitive psychology and neuroscience. Here are definitions for some key music cognition terms:

Auditory Cortex: The part of the brain’s temporal lobe that processes auditory information.

Tonal Memory: The ability to recall and recognize pitches, melodies, intervals, or sequences after a brief hearing.

Absolute Pitch (AP): The ability to identify or reproduce a given musical note without a reference tone.

Relative Pitch: The ability to identify or produce intervals between given notes, based on their relative difference.

Musical Imagery: The mental representation and replay of music in the mind, without auditory stimulation.

Musical Syntax: The set of rules and structures that govern the combination of sounds in music.

Beat Deafness: A rare inability to perceive or synchronize with musical beats.

Timbre Perception: The cognitive process of recognizing and differentiating the quality or color of musical sounds.

Neural Oscillations: Brainwave patterns that synchronize with musical rhythms, potentially aiding in beat perception.

Musical Semantics: The study of how listeners extract meaning from music, connecting sounds to emotions, narratives, or memories.

Auditory Stream Segregation: The cognitive process of organizing sounds into separate perceptual streams based on different characteristics.

Pitch Salience: The prominence or dominance of certain pitches or harmonies in a musical context.

Neuroplasticity in Musicians: The ability of a musician’s brain to change and adapt as a result of musical training and experience.

Harmonic Expectation: The anticipation or prediction of certain harmonic progressions based on previous musical experiences.

Musical Emotion: The feelings or affective states that are induced by musical experiences.

Rhythmic Entrainment: The synchronization of neuronal oscillations with the beat of the music, often leading to foot-tapping or dancing.

Musical Dissonance and Consonance: The perceived tension or resolution in music, which can affect emotional responses.

Melodic Contour Processing: The cognitive processing of the shape or direction of a melody.

Music-Evoked Autobiographical Memory (MEAM): Memories from an individual’s life that are triggered by listening to music.

Tonal Hierarchies: The graded importance of different tones within a particular musical scale or key, influencing expectations and perceptions.


The cultural study of music theory through the lens of anthropology. Analyzing musical concepts and practices in their cultural contexts. Here are definitions for some key ethnomusicology terms:

Enculturation – The process of acquiring the musical knowledge and practices of one’s culture.

Cultural relativism – Understanding music relative to the culture that produced it.

Organology – The study of musical instruments across cultures.

Iconography – Visual symbols and artifacts representing musical practices.

Participant observation – Immersive fieldwork participating in musical practices.

Fieldwork – Hands-on research in a culture to document musical behaviors.

Insider/outsider perspectives – Musical analysis from embedded vs. external frames of reference.

Thick description – Detailed descriptive account situating behaviors in cultural contexts.

Emic/etic – Musical concepts having culture-specific vs. universal meaning.

Ideophone – Word that evokes an idea or sensation related to music.

Syncretism – Blending of musical elements from different cultures.

Musical change – How music evolves and transforms over time within a culture.

Transmission – How music is passed on between generations.

Context – The cultural, social, ritual settings where music is performed.

Function – The uses and roles of music within a culture.

Variability – Differences in performance across musicians or instances.

Oral tradition – Music learned and passed on through aural/oral means.

Case study – In-depth analysis of musical practices in a specific cultural context.

Interpretation – Deriving meaning from musical sounds, behaviors, and contexts.

Significance – The cultural value and impact of musical forms/practices.

Jazz theory

The study of harmony, scales, chord extensions, chord substitutions, and other theoretical concepts particular to jazz. Here are definitions for some key jazz theory terms:

Swing – Loose, syncopated rhythm that contrasts on- and off-beats.

Syncopation – Accenting normally weak beats and placing notes off the beat.

Blue notes – Flatted 3rd, 5th, and 7th notes that create a “bluesy” sound.

Blues form – 12-bar chord progression using I, IV, and V chords in a set structure.

II-V-I – Very common chord progression in jazz standards.

Chord extensions – Notes added beyond the basic triad like 7ths, 9ths, etc.

Upper structure triads – Triads played over rootless 7th chords.

Altered dominants – Dominant chords with altered tensions like b9, #9, b5, etc.

Tritone substitution – Subbing a dominant chord a tritone away, typically used with V7 chords.

Reharmonization – Changing the chords underneath a melody.

Slash chords – Chords with bass notes other than the root like C/E.

Quartal harmony – Chords built on fourth intervals rather than thirds.

Modal interchange – Borrowing chords from parallel minor/major key centers.

Polychords – Superimposed chord clusters like Cmaj7 over Gmaj7.

Hybrid scales – Blending different scales like harmonic minor with mixolydian.

Standard changes – Common chord progressions used in many jazz standards.

Rhythm changes – Chord changes from Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm.”

Backdoor progression – Chromatic chord loop like Bb7 to B7 to Emaj7.

Walking bass – Steady quarter note basslines outlining the changes.

Comping – Chordal accompaniment by piano, guitar, etc.

Guide tones – Key chord tones that define harmony, especially 3rds and 7ths.

Music history

Studying the evolution of music theory principles and practices in their historical contexts. Tracing the development of musical styles, forms, tuning systems, notation, etc. over time.

Here are definitions for some key music history terms:

Style periods – Distinct historical eras with characteristic musical languages, forms, aesthetics (Baroque, Classical, etc.)

Medieval – Music from 500-1400s featuring church modes, parallel organum, early notation.

Renaissance – 1400-1600s music with imitative polyphony, word painting, madrigals.

Baroque – 1600-1750 music with terraced dynamics, basso continuo, ornamentation.

Classical – 1750-1820 music with balanced phrasing, clarity of texture, simplicity.

Romantic – 1820-1900 music prioritizing emotional expression, expanded forms, chromaticism.

20th century – 1900s music encompassing modernism, impressionism, twelve-tone, electronics.

Modern – Contemporary music from 1900s-onward.

Impressionism – Evoking moods, images, freely handling dissonance and form.

Nationalism – Music influenced by folk music, history, language, culture.

Linear – Melodic lines and counterpoint as focus.

Vertical – Chords, harmony and simultaneities as focus.

Minstrels – Medieval traveling musicians and entertainers.

Figured bass – Baroque shorthand for chordal accompaniment.

Opera – Drama set to music combining text, staging, scenery.

Virtuosic – Displaying remarkable technical skill and mastery.

Vernacular music – Music of everyday people like folk songs.

Historiography – Writings about history, methodology and interpretation.

Primary sources – Original documents or artifacts from a period.

Iconography – Study of symbolic musical images and visual arts.

Biography – Account of a composer’s personal life and musical works.

Sacred music – Music for religious services and ceremonies.

Secular music – Non-religious music.

Censorship – Suppression of certain musical works/content.

Patronage – Financial support of composers and musicians by wealthy patrons.

Music printing – Technology enabling mass production of printed scores.

World music theory

Studying music theory through the lens of musical traditions from around the globe. Analyzing concepts like maqam, raga, gamelan, polyrhythms, and other non-Western approaches.

Here are definitions for some key world music theory terms:

Maqam – Melodic modes that form the foundation of Arabic, Turkish, and Persian music.

Raga – Melodic frameworks for improvisation and composition in Indian classical music.

Tala – Rhythmic cycles and patterns that form the rhythmic foundation in Indian music.

Gamelan – Ensembles of bronze percussion instruments, particularly associated with Indonesia.

Slit drum – Drum with a slit down the middle played by striking both sides, found in Africa, Asia, Latin America.

Mbira – African lamellaphone which is a keyboard instrument with metal keys mounted on a board.

Double bell – Percussion instrument made of two bell units on a handle, shaken or struck together. Common in West Africa.

Panpipes – An ancient wind instrument consisting of multiple pipes of varying length tied together, found in the Americas, Europe, Asia.

Overtone singing – Vocal technique of producing two or more pitches simultaneously through shaping of overtone resonances. Used in Mongolia, Siberia, Africa.

Multiphonics – Extended technique on wind instruments to produce more than one pitch at the same time.

Microtonal – Using intervals smaller than a semitone that fall between the 12 notes of standard Western chromatic scale. Found in traditional music from around the world.

Pelog – One of the two most common seven-note scales used in Javanese gamelan music.

Slendro – Pentatonic scale that is the other most common scale used in Javanese gamelan music.

Gong chede – Large gong instrument used in Balinese gamelan ensembles.

Interlocking parts – Independent melodic lines that weave together in hocket fashion, common in African drumming.

Polymeter – Simultaneous use of different meters/subdivisions between parts. Complex time signatures.

Polyrhythm – Different rhythms played together at the same time. Layers rhythmic complexity.

Ostinato – Short repeating melodic or rhythmic pattern that cycles throughout a piece.

Psychology of music

Music theory is like learning the ABCs of music. It teaches us about things like keys and beats. On the other hand, music psychology helps us understand how we feel and think about music. It looks at why some songs make us happy or sad and how music connects with our memories and feelings. Music psychology is included in this list of music theory terms because it adds to and shapes how we study and understand music theory. It’s like exploring the magic behind why we love music so much.

Here are the key terms about music psychology and their definitions:

Music psychology – The scientific study of how music impacts human thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

Cognition – Mental processes involved in perceiving, attending to, learning, remembering, understanding, and producing music.

Neuroscience – Studying the brain mechanisms responsible for musical behaviors using tools like fMRI.

Arousal – Activation of the reticular activating system in the brain stem and autonomic nervous system induced by music.

Mood – The affective state or feeling tone subjectively experienced while listening to music.

Personality – Enduring emotional traits and attitudes that influence musical preferences and behaviors.

Conditioning – Associating music with external stimuli to produce learned emotional/behavioral responses.

Reinforcement – Strengthening musical behaviors through rewards and positive feedback.

Associations – Connecting music with memories, visuals, lyrics, motion, etc. through learned associations.

Imagery – Mental images, memories, and stories evoked by music in the mind’s eye.

Nostalgia – Sentimental longing for the past induced by familiar, autobiographically-salient music.

Emotion – Short-lived affective reactions to musical stimuli encompassing physiological arousal, cognition, and behavior.

Limbic system – Set of brain structures important for processing emotions, memory, arousal, and musical reward.

Right brain – The right cerebral hemisphere thought to be specialized for processing music and emotion.

Therapy – Using music clinically to improve outcomes in health, education, and wellbeing.

Stress reduction – Music’s ability to decrease stress hormones, heart rate, and anxiety.

Comfort – The relaxing and reassuring effect of music stemming from familiarity and predictability.

Unpredictability – Creating interest by violating musical expectations in melody, rhythm, or form.

Processing fluency – Subjective ease with which the brain processes musical information based on past experience.

Motivation – Drive to engage with music stemming from enjoyment, cultural values, social needs, mood regulation, etc.

Mathematics of Music

Analyzing the mathematical properties and patterns underlying music. This includes areas like music set theory, combinatorics, algebra, geometry, topology relating to music.

Here are the key definitions of terms related to mathematics in music:

Set theory – Representing musical objects and relationships as sets with operations like unions, intersections.

Matrix – Rectangular array of numbers used to analyze music theoretic transformations and Operations.

Combinatorics – Mathematical analysis of permutations, combinations, and sequences in music.

Geometry – Connections between musical concepts like harmony and geometric models.

Topology – Study of shapes, spaces, transformation, and change in musical contexts.

Ratios – Expressing musical intervals and frequencies as simple whole number ratios.

Fibonacci sequence – Pattern 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8 etc. manifesting in musical formal designs, rhythm, and melody.

Logic – Use of symbolic logic systems to model musical syntax, rhetoric, and argumentation.

Transformation – Mathematical mapping of musical objects and structures.

Abstraction – Generalizing musical constructs as abstract mathematical concepts.

Proof – Logical sequence of statements establishing truth of a mathematical claim about music.

Algebra – Manipulation of musical variables and parameters through algebraic equations and functions.

Arithmetic – Basic mathematical operations underlying meter, rhythm, scales, tuning systems.

Acoustics – Physics of sound grounded in mathematics like wave equations, signal analysis.

Harmonics – Mathematical ratios of frequencies in overtone series.

Tuning systems – Mathematical constructions of musical scales and intonation.

Notation – Symbolic visual representation of musical parameters.

Graphing – Visualizing musical elements and patterns using graphs and charts.

Modeling – Generating musical structures and processes via mathematical models.

Algorithmic composition – Automating musical creation through generative mathematical algorithms and logic.

Formalization – Converting intuitive musical concepts into well-defined formal mathematical constructs.

Quantification – Assigning numerical values and metrics to qualities of music. Enables mathematical analysis.

Tuning Systems

Comparing theoretical tuning systems like just intonation, equal temperament, Pythagorean tuning, meantone, etc. and their effects. Here are the key definitions of terms related to tuning systems:

Just intonation – Tuning based on simple whole number ratios between frequencies to create pure, beatless intervals.

Equal temperament – Dividing the octave into 12 equal semitones, so intervals are slightly out of tune, but consistent.

Meantone – Tempering some fifths flat from just intonation to improve the thirds in earlier music.

Pythagorean tuning – Tuning based solely on the perfect fifth, which makes thirds very sharp.

Well temperament – Compromise tunings with beatless thirds but retaining some fifth/fourth purity.

Beatless intervals – Tuning consonant intervals like octaves and fifths perfectly in tune and beatless.

Wolf interval – Dissonant interval like the fifth in meantone temperaments, called “wolf” for its harshness.

Synthesizer programming – Custom tuning synthesizers by adjusting frequency ratios of notes.

Natural overtone series – Naturally occurring overtones and partials that determine harmony.

Consonance/dissonance – Perception of stability/instability between intervals determined by tuning.

Commas – tiny intervals resulting from discrepancies between tuning systems.

Octave stretching – Expanding an octave slightly wider than 2:1 to spread comma effects.

Adaptive tuning – Pitch drift and adjustment during performance according to musical needs.

Pitch drift – Fluctuation of intonation over time in non-fixed tunings.

Hertz levels – Frequencies in cycles per second assigned to notes. A=440Hz for instance.

Fundamental frequency – The lowest partial and perceived pitch of a sound.

Timbre effects – Changes in tone color resulting from adjustments to a sound’s harmonic tuning.

Acoustic properties – Mathematical behavior of soundwaves explained through tuning systems.

Harmony – Vertical sonorities affected by the tuning of notes and intervals.

Music Perception

Studying how the ear and brain process attributes of music like pitch, timbre, consonance, dissonance, melody, rhythm, and form. Here are some key terms related to music perception.

Auditory system – Anatomy of the ear and neural pathways that process sound information.

Psychoacoustics – Study of how the auditory system perceives and processes sound.

Pitch – Perceived highness or lowness of a musical tone.

Melody – Linear succession of pitches with rhythmic movement that forms a musical line.

Consonance – Tone combinations perceived as stable, relaxed.

Dissonance – Tone combinations perceived as tense, clashing.

Timbre – Tone color and quality allowing identification of sound sources.

Rhythm – Pattern of long and short durations in music.

Meter – Regular recurring accents dividing music into measures and beats.

Streaming – Perceiving sequential tones as separate voices or melodic lines.

Gestalt principles – Perceptual tendency to organize music into meaningful patterns and structures.

Implied harmony – Perceiving harmonies where none are sounded based on melody, familiarity.

Adaptation – Diminished sensitivity to ongoing sounds like drone notes.

Expectancy – Anticipation of future musical events based on schema and probabilities.

Tension-release – Sense of instability resolving to stability provides momentum.

Onset detection – Identifying the precise beginning of a sound.

Sound localization – Detecting direction of sound source based on timing and intensity differences.

Critical bands – Ranges of greatest auditory sensitivity to different frequencies.

Frequency range – Spectrum of audible frequencies humans can detect, approx 20Hz-20kHz.

Masking – Phenomenon of one sound obscuring perception of another sound.

Multimodal perception – Integrating auditory, visual, tactile input for musical understanding.

McGurk effect – Auditory perception altered by conflicting visual speech cues.

Subjectivity – Music is perceived differently between individuals based on experience.

Music Semiotics

Analyzing how music creates and conveys meaning through symbols, sounds, instrumentation, lyrics, and its relationship to signs and communication.

Here are definitions of terms related to musical semiotics:

Signifier – The sound object that carries meaning, like a melody or chord progression.

Signified – The concept or meaning attached to the signifier.

Symbol – Sign where the relationship between signifier and signified is arbitrary, like musical notation.

Icon – Sign that resembles its object, like a trumpet call sounding heroic.

Index – Sign directly connected to its object, like thunder denoting a storm.

Denotation – Literal explicit meaning conveyed by a musical sign.

Connotation – Implicit meanings and associations evoked by a musical sign.

Code – Musical system of conventions for communicating meaning, like functional harmony.

Metaphor – Musical signifier representing something outside of music, like ascending melodies connoting aspiration.

Genre – Category of music with distinctive style, form, content, like baroque or pop.

Style – Distinct musical language and aesthetics, like romantic-era rubato.

Meaning – What a piece of music denotes, connotes, expresses, or signifies to the listener.

Cultural associations – Music invoking meanings related to its cultural context.

Social connections – Relationships between music and its social environment.

Semiosphere – The musical sign system and all musical knowledge shared by a culture.

Hermeneutics – Interpretation methodology elucidating musical meaning.

Topics – Common musical figures like fanfares that carry conventional meanings.

Tropes – Deviations from conventions that form rhetorical musical statements.

Narrativity – How music conveys story-like processes symbolically over time.

Intertextuality – Musical meanings shaped by references to or quotations of other music.

Labels – Text descriptions on recordings shaping listener interpretation.

Gestures – Physical movements in music performance that convey expressive meaning.

Topic theory – Semiotic approach centered on musical topics and cultural associations.

Motive – Recurring musical idea that gains significance through development and repetition.

Development – Evolving and exploring motifs to generate meaning over a musical timeline.

Music Criticism

Music criticism is a theoretical framework for critically analyzing, interpreting, evaluating, and giving insight into music.

Here are definitions of terms related to music criticism:

Aesthetics – Branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty, art, and taste.

Analysis – Breaking down compositional elements of a musical work.

History – Contextualizing music works within their historical background.

Theory – Applying music theory concepts to analyze and explain how a work is constructed.

Opinion – The subjective personal perspective of the critic.

Interpretation – Conveying meaning, significance, and understanding of the music.

Description – Identifying and characterizing the elements, style, and techniques present in the music.

Culture – Relating the music to wider cultural influences and social contexts.

Background – Providing relevant biographical, historical context.

Judgment – Evaluating the quality, success, and merits of the music.

Vocabulary – Having an expansive lexicon to articulate subtle qualities of music.

Listening skills – Active, thoughtful listening habits enabling detailed music comprehension.

Connoisseurship – Extensive knowledge of a genre allowing meaningful comparisons.

Evaluation criteria – Musical elements used to determine quality such as melody, harmony, expression.

Substantiation – Providing evidence from the music work itself to support claims.

Analogy – Comparing music to extramusical concepts the reader relates to.

Journalism – Writing reviews and criticism for publication in news media.

Program notes – Commentary in concert programs explicating works to be performed.

Liner notes – Album sleeve text explaining recording contents.

Peer review – Critique of a work by other experts for publication or grants.

Music appreciation – Enhancing enjoyment and understanding of music works for lay listeners.

Guiding questions – Raising thoughtful points listeners can reflect on to engage deeper with the music.

Informing experiences – Commentary provides background to inform and shape the listening experience.

Music Aesthetics

Exploring philosophies of beauty, emotion, style, and taste in regards to music. Defining artistic values and merits.

Here are definitions of terms related to musical aesthetics:

Philosophy – The study of fundamental questions about concepts like beauty and art.

Beauty – The property of an object or sound that provides a pleasurable experience.

Sublime – Beauty that stirs awe, grandeur or even fear through its transcendence.

Taste – The subjective faculty of aesthetic judgment and discrimination.

Sensibility – Capacity to perceive emotional and aesthetic qualities of music.

Art – Creative works valued for beauty, imagination, and cultural significance.

Creation – The human act of making new artworks and sounds.

Emotion – Subjective feelings and sensations evoked by music.

Style – Distinct artistic and expressive qualities of a composer, genre, or period.

Genre – Category of art defined by similar form, style, and content.

Tradition – Art practices and aesthetics handed down over time in a culture.

Introspection – Self-examination of one’s own thoughts and feelings about art.

Experience – First-hand perception and sensation of artworks.

Intellect – Use of reason regarding questions of beauty and art.

Virtue – Expression of moral excellence and human ideals through art.

Morality – Ethical facets and effects of art within society.

Creativity – Inventing original works of imaginative expression.

Imagination – Forming new ideas, images, sensations not present to the senses.

Values – Artistic qualities and achievements deemed meaningful to a culture.

Principles – Fundamental precepts guiding aesthetics like form, expression, creativity.

Meaning – Ideas, emotions, and insights art conveys to audiences.

Qualities – Attributes like beauty, sublimity, grace that define aesthetic success.

Intentions – Desired outcomes that motivate artistic creation.

Criticism – Written works analyzing and evaluating artworks.

Perception – Sensory and cognitive processing of art by the viewer/listener.

Contemplation – Deep reflective thought about art and aesthetics.

Arbitration – Exercise of judgment regarding taste, criticism, and appreciation of art.