Graham Nasby's Online Resources


Musical Definitions

These important musical terms were posted to rec.humor last year.

  • Accent: An unusual manner of pronunciation, eg: "Y'all sang that real good!"
  • Accidentals: Wrong notes.
  • Ad Libitum: A premiere.
  • Agitato: A string player's state of mind when a peg slips in the middle of a piece.
  • Agnus Dei: A woman composer famous for her church music.
  • Altered Chord: A sonority that has been spayed.
  • Attaca: "Fire at will!"
  • Augmented Fifth: A 36-ounce bottle.
  • Bar Line: A gathering of people, usually among which may be found a musician or two.
  • Beat: What music students to do each other with their musical instruments. The down beat is performed on the top of the head, while the up beat is struck under the chin.
  • Bravo: Literally, How bold! or What nerve! This is a spontaneous expression of appreciation on the part of the concert goer after a particularly trying performance.
  • Breve: The way a sustained note sounds when a violinist runs out of bow.
  • Cadence:
    1. The short nickname of a rock group whose full name is Cadence Clearwater Revival.
    2. When everybody hopes you're going to stop, but you don't. (Final Cadence: when they FORCE you to stop.)
  • Cantus Firmus: The part you get when you can only play four notes.
  • Chord: Usually spelled with an "s" on the end, means a particular type of pants, eg: "He wears chords."
  • Chromatic Scale: An instrument for weighing that indicates half-pounds.
  • Clef:
    1. If a student cannot sing, he may have an affliction of the palate, called a clef.
    2. Something to jump from if you can't sing and you have to teach elementary school.
  • Coloratura Soprano: A singer who has great trouble finding the proper note, but who has a wild time hunting for it.
  • Compound Meter: A place to park your car that requires two dimes.
  • Duple Meter: May take any even number of coins.
  • Triple Meter: Only rich people should park by these.
  • Meter Signature: The name of the maid who writes you a ticket when you put an odd number of coins in a duple meter.
  • Conduct: The type of air vents in a prison, especially designed to prevent escape. Could also be installed for effective use in a practice room.
  • Conductor: A musician who is adept at following many people at the same time.
  • Counterpoint: A favorite device of many Baroque composers, all of whom are dead, though no direct connection between these two facts has been established. Still taught in many schools, as a form of punishment.
  • Countertenor: A singing waiter.
  • Crescendo: A reminder to the performer that he has been playing too loudly.
  • Cut Time: When you're going twice as fast as everyone else in the orchestra.
  • Detache: An indication that the trombones are to play with the slides removed.
  • Discord: Not to be confused with Datcord.
  • Dominant: An adjective used to describe the voice of a child who sings off key.
  • Duration: Can be used to describe how long a music teacher can exercise self-control.
  • English Horn: Neither English nor a horn, not to be confused with the French Horn, which is German.
  • Espressivo: Close eyes and play with a wide vibrato.
  • Fermata: A brand of girdle made especially for opera singers.
  • Flat: This is what happens to a tonic if it sits too long in the open air.
  • Flute: A sophisticated pea shooter with a range of up to 500 yards, blown transversely to confuse the enemy.
  • Form:
    1. The shape of a composition.
    2. The shape of the musician playing the composition.
    3. The people of paper to be filled out in triplicate in order to get enough money from the Arts Council to play the composition.
  • Glissando:
    1. The musical equivalent of slipping on a banana peel.
    2. A technique adopted by string players for difficult runs.
  • Half Step: The pace used by a cellist when carrying his instrument.
  • Harmonic Minor: A good music student.
  • Harmony: A corn-like food eaten by people with accents (see above for definition of accent).
  • Hemiola: A hereditary blood disease caused by chromatics.
  • Heroic Tenor: A singer who gets by on sheer nerve and tight clothing.
  • Lamentoso: With handkerchiefs.
  • Major Triad: The name of the head of the Music Department.
  • Minor Triad: the name of the wife of the head of the Music Department.
  • Mean-Tone Temperament: One's state of mind when everybody's trying to tune at the same time.
  • Modulation: "Nothing is bad in modulation."
  • Music:

  • Tempo: This is where a headache begins.
  • Tone Cluster: A chordal orgy first discovered by a well-endowed woman pianist leaning forward for a page turn.
  • Tonic: Medicinal liquid to be consumed before, during, or after a performance. (Diatonic: This is what happens to some musicians.)
  • Transposition: The act of moving the relative pitch of a piece of music that is too low for the basses to a point where it is too high for the sopranos.
  • Trill: The musical equivalent of an epileptic seizure.
  • Triplet: One of three children, born to one mother very closely in time. If a composer uses a lot of triplets he has probably been taking a fertility drug.
  • Vibrato: Used by singers to hide the fact that they are on the wrong pitch.
  • Virtuoso: A musician with very high morals.

Last updated: November 26, 2005