Glossary of jazz and popular music

This is a list of jazz and popular music terms that are likely to be encountered in printed popular music songbooks, fake books 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 units, 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).



A seven-string electric guitar, the Ibanez RG7321BK
A speaker cabinet containing 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.
A speaker cabinet containing 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.
A speaker cabinet containing 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.
A speaker cabinet containing one eighteen-inch loudspeaker, typically used in subwoofer cabinets for PA applications.
A speaker cabinet containing one twenty-one-inch loudspeaker, typically used in large subwoofer cabinets for PA applications.
A speaker cabinet containing two ten-inch loudspeakers. Used in electric guitar and bass combos and cabinets.
A speaker cabinet containing two twelve-inch loudspeakers. Used in electric guitar and bass combos and cabinets, and, with a horn, as a PA cabinet.
A speaker cabinet containing two fifteen-inch loudspeakers. Used in bass cabinets and, with a horn, as a PA cabinet.
A speaker cabinet containing two eighteen-inch loudspeakers, typically used as a subwoofer for PA applications or in dance clubs.
A speaker cabinet containing four ten-inch loudspeakers. Used in electric guitar and bass combos and cabinets.
A speaker cabinet containing four twelve-inch loudspeakers. Commonly used in electric guitar amplifier systems, less so in bass. Configured with all four speakers on the same panel or with the top two speakers angled upward.
4-track (or "four-track") 
A simple portable recording and mixing device widely used in the 1970s and 1980s which used compact cassettes.
5-string (or five-string) 
An electric bass with five strings, which often means the addition of a low "B" string.'
6-string (or six-string) 
An electric bass with six strings, which often means the addition of a low "B" string and a high "C" string. (Note: in uncommon cases basses with even more strings are used. 6-string bass may as well refer to bass guitar tuned as a typical guitar with an octave down, such as Fender Bass VI). It is also a common slang of guitar.
7-string (or seven-string) 
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-string (or eight-string) 
An electric guitar with eight strings, which often means the addition of a low "F#" string and a low "B" string. Eight-string guitars are associated with jazz, fusion, and metal styles.
A tape format popular in the 1970s.
...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".
In electric guitar parlance, turning a volume knob (or distortion knob) to the highest setting (usually marked "10").
In the heavy metal music mock documentary This is Spinal Tap, the fictional guitarist claims that he had his amplifiers modified so that the volume could be turned up to "11".
Both electric guitars and acoustic guitars are available in 12 string versions. Three of the added strings are doubling the standard strings at the unison, and three are an octave higher.


Art rock band Roxy Music performing in Toronto in 1974
Artist and Repertoire (A&R) 
A department in a record company responsible for assigning songs to artists for recording and distribution
acid rock 
A style of rock music from the late 1960s and early 1970s which emphasized psychedelic imagery, unusual sound effects, and distorted guitar playing.
ad libitum (commonly ad lib; Latin) 
At liberty (i.e. the speed and manner of execution are left to the performer). In some cases, the instruction suggests that the performer improvise a part.
alt (English), 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.).
Very high
High; often refers to a particular range of voice or instrument, higher than a tenor but lower than a soprano (e.g. alto sax)
An abbreviation for "amplifier" (i.e. a musical instrument amplifier or a PA system power amplifier); also an abbreviation for ampere
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.
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".
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 your axe").


A close-up of the Hammond L-100 organ, with the drawbars in the foreground
A close-up of the Hammond L-100 organ, with the drawbars in the foreground
Slang abbreviation for a B-3 organ (see below)
The B-3, a widely used version of the Hammond organ, an electromechanical, tonewheel-based keyboard instrument.
Beats 2 and 4 in 4/4 time, particularly when they are strongly accented. A term more used in rock 'n roll.
A slang term used by keyboard players to refer to the growling, biting tone of a vintage Fender Rhodes electric piano when played through a tube amp.
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)
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.
The low-pitched instrumental part or line played by a rhythm section instrument (see also "line" below)
1. The pronounced rhythm of music
2. One single stroke of a rhythmic accent
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 jazz.
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.
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, 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".
block chords 
A style of piano playing, developed by Milt Buckner and George Shearing, with both hands 'locked' together, playing chords in parallel with the melody, usually in fairly close position. It is a technical procedure requiring much practice, and can sound dated if the harmonies are not advanced enough. Also called locked hands.
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"
Yamaha 2403 audio mixing console in a 'live' mixing application. Each column of knobs controls the volume, tone, and other elements for a single channel (e.g. a microphone being used by a singer).
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.
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 of "fingerboard".
Transitional passage in which a soloist plays unaccompanied.
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 (cab) 
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 and vocals.
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 scale degree). One of the features of Classical music is that cadences are often elided; that is, instead of coming to rest at the cadence, a new musical line commences at exactly the same time of the cadence. This helps to create a forward momentum in the music
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.
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.
A jazz term which is an abbreviation for "chord changes", which is the harmonic progression (or "chord progression") upon which a melody is based.
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.
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.")
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").
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 you 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.
A slang term which refers to a mis-played or out of tune note, often by a horn player.
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 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.
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.
The Roland VK-7 is referred to as a "clonewheel organ", because it recreates the sound of vintage tonewheel organs like the Hammond organ.
clonewheel or clonewheel organ 
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).
A tail (i.e. a closing section appended to a piece of music). Also called a "tag" or "outro".
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.
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"
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 from peaks.
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).
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.
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.
Used to describe a specific type of highly distorted, mid-boosted 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 breve.


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 (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.
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 (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 DSP effects.
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.
An abbreviated form of "overdrive", which refers to the distortion that occurs when a tube amplifier is pushed to its limits.
Jazz term referring to a note that slides chromatically downwards to an indefinite pitch .
See "Digital Signal Processing".
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.) already added.
The relative volumes in the execution of a piece of music


The Ibanez Tube Screamer overdrive pedal, an effects unit with a footswitch to turn the effect on and off
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)
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.


On a mixing board or DJ mixer, an audio level control that slides up and down in a track. (see also crossfader).
Jazz term describing a note of definite pitch sliding downwards to another note of definite pitch.
Male voice above usual bass or tenor range (see article)
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 on purpose.
A slang term for a violin in bluegrass, country music, and folk music.
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
A symbol () that lowers the pitch of a note by a semitone. The term may also be used 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.
In Britain, this is the term for an onstage monitor speaker that helps performers to hear their singing and playing.
forte or (f) 
Strong (i.e. to be played or sung loudly)
fortepiano (fp) 
Strong-gentle (i.e. 1. loud, then immediately soft) (see dynamics), or 2. an early pianoforte
fortissimo (ff) 
Very loud (see note at Pianissimo)
fortississimo (fff) 
As loud as possible
Front of House (FOH) 
The speaker system which faces the audience (and the sound engineers who control it)
Synonym for "effects" (e.g. a "multiFX" pedal" is a "multieffects pedal")


A slang term which refers to a paying musical engagement at a venue, usually of a single night's duration
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.
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.
From blues harp, which in blues and related genres is a slang term for the harmonica.
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.
The first (and last) chorus of a tune, in which the song or melody is stated without improvisation or with minimal improvisation.
A motif that is used in popular music to make a song appealing and to "catch the ear of the listener".
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 cabinet.
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" (sudden interjections).


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.
Opening section of a song or tune.


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 standard 
A well-known composition from the jazz repertoire which is widely played and recorded.


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. Steve Harris of Iron Maiden).
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.
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.
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 device.
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)
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 beats
mezzo forte 
Half loudly (i.e. moderately loudly). See dynamics.
mezzo piano 
Half softly (i.e. moderately softly). See dynamics.
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.
The Minimoog Model D, a Moog synthesizer which was produced from 1971 to 1984.
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, etc.
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.


A symbol () that cancels the effect of a sharp or a flat (see in this list)
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 lessen 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".


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.
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.
Obstinate, persistent (i.e. a short musical pattern that is repeated throughout an entire composition or portion of a composition)


An abbreviation for the Fender Precision bass, a widely used brand of electric bass
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.
A stompbox effect unit, a volume pedal, or a similar device.
pedale (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.
This Hammond spinet organ shows the relatively short pedals and 13-note range used on the pedalboards of spinet organs
pianissimo (pp) 
Very gently (i.e. perform very softly)
piano (p) 
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 (pizz) 
Pinched, plucked (i.e. in music for bowed strings, plucked with the fingers as opposed to played with the bow)
Sliding in pitch from one note to another.
In punk, metal, jazz, and other styles, this is a pejorative term used to refer to musicians or music fans who are deemed to not truly understand the music and its history ("That guy in the grey shirt says he's a hardcore fan, but he doesn't even know Black Flag...what a poseur!").
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.
An individual who directs the recording process through artistic and technical decisions.


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.


Rhythm and Blues. A musical phenomenon that grew out of Black American blues, boogie-woogie, Gospel, roadhouse piano/guitar duos and other influences mostly from the Southern United States.
rallentando (rall.) 
Progressively slower.
Part of the range of an instrument or voice. ("The lower register of the singer's voice was rich and dark").
A setting or combination of stops or voices on an electromechanical organ (e.g. Hammond organ) or an electronic or "combo organ".
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.
A second or subsequent "mixdown" of a set of recorded tracks. (see "mixdown").
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).
The Fender Rhodes brand of electric piano, and, by extension, to similar instruments produced by other manufacturers.
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").
An abbreviation for ritardando;[1] also an abbreviation for ritenuto[2]
ritardando (ritard., rit.) 
Slowing down; decelerating; opposite of accelerando
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.
A slang term which refers to the employees of a musical group's touring road crew who load and unload musical equipment.
A Japanese musical instrument and audio equipment company that produces electronic keyboards, guitar amplifiers, effects units and other equipment.
rolled chord 
A chord in which the notes of the chord are played one after the other, which each note being sustained.


A Numark DM2002X Pro Master DJ mixer, which can be used for mixing records or scratching.
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.
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.
Carry on to the next section of music without a pause
The smallest pitch difference between notes (in most Western music) (e.g. F–F#)
session musician, 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.
A jazz term describing a trill between one note and its minor third; or, with brass instruments, between a note and its next overblown harmonic.
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.
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").
A slang term for onstage monitor speakers that are placed on the sides of the stage, to help performers to hear themselves.
A sound reinforcement setup with subwoofers for the bass range (the cabinets on the floor) and full range cabinets for the mid and high frequencies (stacked on top).
sideman or sidemen 
Musicians in a band who accompany a lead singer, bandleader, or lead instrumentalist.
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 equalizer.
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).
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 venue.
An electrical circuit that uses transistors and other silicon semiconductors to manipulate current levels as contrasted with vacuum tubes.
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.
Alone (i.e. executed by a single instrument or voice).
Plural for solo; requires more than one player or singer; in a jazz big band this refers to an entire section playing in harmony.
The highest of the standard four voice ranges (bass, tenor, alto, soprano)
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 tuning.
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 (Strat) 
An electric guitar manufactured by Fender, which is widely used in rock and other popular music.
Surf Ballroom 
The venue in Clear Lake, Iowa where Buddy Holly, J. P. Richardson ("The Big Bopper") and Ritchie Valens played their last performances on 2 February 1959. They lost their lives in a plane crash following the performance at the "Winter Dance Party". The tragic loss is known as "The Day The Music Died"
subwoofer (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.
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 disco.
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.
A disturbance or interruption of the regular flow of rhythm often consisting of playing off of the main beat (i.e. playing on the "and" of every beat in a measure instead of on the beat).


tabulature (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.
Silent; do not play.
In a recording session, a period of playing or singing which is recorded is called a "take".
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".
Time (i.e. the overall speed of a piece of music)
The second lowest of the standard four voice ranges (bass, tenor, alto, soprano)
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.
The quality of a musical tone that distinguishes different voices, instruments, amplifiers, and effects
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")
The glow from four KT88 model "Electro Harmonix" brand power tubes lights up the inside of a Traynor YBA-200 guitar amplifier
A synonym often used interchangeably in reference to various nouns in music, including the sector on a CD containing a block of data, an audio channel (often a "backing track", or "background track"), and even the song itself.
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".
Shaking (i.e. a rapid repetition of the same note, or an alternation between two or more notes). 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 organs.
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.


Several players in a group are to play exactly the same notes within their written part, as opposed to splitting simultaneous notes among themselves.


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
An abbreviation for "reverb" which typically refers to the electronic reverb effect.
(noun or adjective) performing with exceptional ability, technique, or artistry
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
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.


Motörhead are known for the powerful "wall of sound" created by the big stacks of powerful amplifiers
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. Motörhead)
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")
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" on technique.


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).


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.
A stringed instrument with a soundbox which is used in traditional European folk music.

See also


  1. musicdictionary; Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary; American Heritage Dictionary, 4th edition; Gardner Read, Music Notation, 2nd edition, p. 282.
  2. Dolmetsch Online, "Tempo"; Oxford American Dictionary; Collins English Dictionary.
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