This comprehensive music dictionary is designed especially for guitar players. *Rotate your phone horizontally for best view.
Singing without accompaniment. Italian for “in the manner of the chapel.”
Emphasis on a note, word, or phrase.
Height of strings above the fingerboard. Different actions are better for different playing styles. Higher action requires more finger strength, while lower action can cause fret buzz.
A tempo having slow movement; restful at ease.
A direction to play lively and fast.
Attacking one or multiple strings with a down-up-down-up pattern. Often notated with upward (^) and downward (v) pointing marks, this fundamental picking technique increases the rate at which notes can be played and aids in economy of motion.
A musical technique in which notes in a chord are played in sequence, one after the other, instead of ringing out simultaneously. Also known as a “broken chord.”
Broadly defined as the process of organizing (arranging) how a musical piece is performed for either live or recording purposes. Key, tempo, rhythms, harmony etc. are all elements of arrangement: choices made by one person or a group of people.
The way a sound is started and ended.
Music that is written and performed without regard to any specific key.
The beginning (intensity) of a sound, such as a chord strummed or note(s) picked.
The process of both mentally hearing & understanding music, even when music is not present. To play music “by ear” requires one’s ability to audiate.
Bar (or Measure)
A segment of time in musical notation defined by a given number of beats.
Time in music history ranging between the mid 16th & 17th centuries. Characterized by emotional, flowery music written in strict form.
Lower range of musical notes produced by an instrument of singing voice.
The unit of musical rhythm.
A music genre developed in the 1860s by African-American musicians in the southern U.S. often using the 12-bar form.
The means by which an acoustic guitar body is internally supported against the tension of the strings using wood struts on the soundboard, back, and sometimes sides. Styles of bracing differ among guitars and can greatly affect an acoustic’s tone and durability.
1. A section in a song that contrasts with the verse and chorus and is often used to break up the repetitive pattern of the song.
2. Positioned on the guitar body just behind the sound hole (or pickups on electric guitars) allowing the strings to sit at a relative height to the fretboard. Depending on the guitar, the strings may terminate at the bridge or just pass over it.
A sequence of chords that brings an end to a phrase, either in the middle or the end of a composition.
Think ‘Row Row Row Your Boat.’ A musical form where the melody or tune is imitated by individual parts at regular intervals. The individual parts may enter at different measures and pitches.
A type of clamp used to hold down all or several of a guitar’s strings.
Male singers who were castrated to preserve their alto and soprano vocal range.
Three or more notes sounded together, as a basis of harmony.
A string of chords played in succession.
A repeating phrase played at the end of each verse in the song. Also often referred to as the ‘refrain.
Moving in half-steps. One fret at a time.
Includes all twelve notes of an octave.
A type of acoustic guitar strung with nylon strings, with quieter, softer tones. Generally made with wide, flat necks and smaller body sizes. Classical guitars are heard extensively in flamenco, bossa nova, and classical music styles.
In sheet music, a symbol at the beginning of the staff defining the pitch of the notes found in that particular staff.
(Italian for “tail”) is a passage that brings a song to an end. Technically, it is an expanded cadence. It may be as simple as a few measures or an entire section.
Four quarter-note beats per measure. 4/4 time.
Groups of tones that are harmonious when sounded together as in a chord.
Two or three melodic lines played at the same time.
A gradual increase in loudness, or the moment when a piece of music is at its loudest
A guitar body style in which either one or both shoulders of the upper bout are sunken next to the neck, allowing for easy upper fret access.
Any heptatonic scale (such as a major scale) which includes 5 whole steps (whole tones) and 2 half steps (semitones) in each octave.
A common acoustic guitar body shape designed by C.F. Martin in 1916. One of the largest body styles, these loud and powerful guitars named after battleships are perhaps the most popular body style in modern acoustic production.
An alternate tuning in which the 6th string is lowered a whole step from E to D. Although used in a variety of genres from country to jazz, dropped tunings are most common in metal, punk, and other heavy music styles.
A piece of music written for two vocalists or instrumentalists.
Relative loudness or softness.
(French for ‘Together’) The performance of either all instruments or voices in a chorus.
A style of male singing whereby partial use of the vocal chords, the voice is able to reach the pitch of a female. Often used interchangeably with ‘head voice.’
The interval between two notes. Three whole tones and one semitone make up the distance between the two notes.
(aka Fretboard on fretted instruments) is a thin, long strip of material, usually wood, that is laminated to the front of the neck of an instrument. The strings run over the fingerboard, between the nut and bridge.
aka Fingerstyle, a guitar playing technique in which the strings are, in contrast to strumming, plucked individually or together using the thumb and fingertips, with or without the addition of plectrums (picks). Found in many music genres, especially folk, classical & flamenco.
A symbol (b) indicating that the note is to be diminished by one semitone.
(French word for ‘Strong.’) A music symbol indicating to play loud.
The interval between two notes. Two whole tones and one semitone make up the distance between the two notes.
Metal strips inserted into the guitar (and other string instruments) fingerboard.
(aka a fingerboard on fretted instruments) is a thin, long strip of material, usually wood, that is laminated to the front of the neck of an instrument. The strings run over the fretboard, between the nut and bridge.
Vocal composition written for 3 or more solo parts, usually without instrumental accompaniment.
A feeling, vibe or emotional quality in music not easily defined. Sometimes has to do with rhythm, and playing/singing in a way that does not exactly match the meter. The term comes from the way a phonograph needle physically rides the groove on vinyl records.
Pleasing combination of two or more tones played together while a melody is being played. Harmony also refers to the study of chord progressions.
A style in which all parts perform the same rhythm.
The part of a song that “hooks” the listener. Typically a catchy melody, riff, lyric, or combination of these that remain in the listener’s head after hearing the song.
Arrangement of music for a combined number of instruments.
The pitch accuracy of a musician or musical instrument – that is, whether a tone is played ‘in tune’ or not.
The expression the performer brings when playing his/her instrument.
The opening section of a piece of music or movement.
Usually the first chord or note in a song.
The flats and sharps at the beginning of each staff line indicating the key of music the piece is to be played.
An occurrence in music featuring one or more guitars breaking from the rhythm section to play prominent melodies, solos, and riffs.
(Italian for ‘tied together’) Musical notes are played or sung smoothly and connected. That is, the player makes a transition from note to note with no intervening silence.
Usually consists of a single-note phrase line as opposed to Riffs that generally consist of repeated chord progressions. A Lick can be played as a solo, melody or a single phrase while a Riff is often a rhythmic pattern (i.e. chords) played throughout the song.
One of the two modes of the tonal system. Music written in major keys have a positive affirming character.
The blending of two or more pre-recorded songs.
Measure (or Bar)
A segment of time in musical notation defined by a given number of beats.
A collection of songs, performed together as one complete musical composition or work.
Pitches in sequence that form a pattern. The part in a song that is sung.
The division of time into units.
Middle range of musical notes produced by an instrument of singing voice.
One of the two modes of the tonal system. The minor mode can often be identified by the dark, melancholic mood.
A key change in mid-song and eventual return to the original key. Example: Eric Clapton’s Layla. Also a volume, pitch or tonal change in voice or sound to create a particular effect.
Repetition of a single tone.
A short melodic passage that is repeated in several parts of a work. Similar to a Lick but longer. Primary theme or subject that is developed. Ex. Beethoven’s 5th.
A separate section of a larger composition.
First developed in the 8th century, methods of writing music.
A small piece of hard material on a guitar that supports the strings at the end closest to the headstock.
Western music consists of 12 identifiable pitches/notes which repeat in the same order throughout the complete span of human hearing. If we select a note – E for instance – we say that the next E is ‘an octave away.’ A major scale (do re mi fa so la ti do) consists of 8 notes – the initial and final do’s being an octave apart.
An ‘open string’ is played without placing a finger on that string. An open chord is a voicing that contains one or more open strings. The first chords learned on guitar are typically in open position and are the most commonly heard in popular music.
Opposite of Intro (Introduction.) Appears at the end of a song.
(Greek meaning ‘Five’) A musical scale with five notes per octave, famously heard in many rock and blues solos.
A plectrum used to strum chords or notes on a guitar. Usually made of plastic.
A playing technique that involves plucking the strings of a string instrument.
A single line of music played or sung. A musical sentence.
The frequency of a note determining how high or low it sounds. Measured in Hertz (Hz)
A small flat tool (pick) used to pluck or strum a stringed instrument such as a guitar or mandolin.
Sitting/standing correctly and efficiently.
The movement of chords (or notes) in succession.
Feeling where the beat is.
A set of four musicians who perform a composition written for four parts.
A set of five musicians who perform a composition written for five parts.
A repeating phrase that is played at the end of each verse in the song. Also often referred to as the ‘chorus.’
A music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1960s.
The element of music pertaining to time, played as a grouping of notes into accented and unaccented beats.
Generally consists of repeated chord or note progressions. A rhythmic pattern played throughout a song.
The root note of a chord is the note around which the chord is built. The chord carries the name of that note as part of its identity.
Usually made of plastic or bone, and are generally glued into the bridge.
Successive notes of a key or mode either ascending or descending.
A set of seven musicians who perform a composition written for seven parts.
A set of six musicians who perform a composition written for six parts.
A symbol (#) indicating the note is to be raised by one semitone.
The highest female voice.
(Italian for “Detached”) Short notes detached/separated by silence.
A set of horizontal lines and intermediate spaces used in notation to represent a sequence of pitches, in modern notation normally consisting of five lines and four spaces. Also called stave.
A musical term meaning a variety of rhythms played together to make a piece of music, making part or all of a tune or piece of music off-beat. More simply, syncopation is “a disturbance or interruption of the regular flow of rhythm.” For example, a placement of rhythmic stresses or accents where they wouldn’t normally occur.
‘Tab’ for short, is a form of musical notation indicating instrument fingering rather than musical pitches.
The speed at which a regular pulse is repeated.
Tone color, quality of sound that distinguishes one verse or instrument to another. It is determined by the harmonies of sound.
A numeric symbol in sheet music determining the number of beats per measure/bar.
The first tone of a scale also known as a keynote.
Upper (higher pitch) range of musical notes produced by an instrument of singing voice.
Often confused with Vibrato (a rapid change in pitch), Tremolo is a rapid change in volume. The Tremolo arm on an electric guitar is actually a Vibrato arm.
Three-note chords consisting of a root, third, and fifth.
Time signature with three beats to the measure. 3/4 time.
Three notes played in the same amount of time as one or two beats.
A steel rod that runs through the neck under the fretboard of a guitar. Helps counteract the tension from the strings and can be adjusted to alter the curvature of the neck and action.
Everyone on the same pitch.
Often confused with Tremolo (a rapid change in volume), Vibrato is a rapid change in pitch.
Voicing (Chord Voicing)
A particular expression of a given chord. For example, playing E major in the open position is one voicing. Playing E major as a double bar chord on the 7th fret is another voicing of that same chord. Both offer different expressions of the same chord.
A song composed in triple time (3/4) with the accent falling on the first beat of each measure.