Basic Music Terms Everyone Should Know
You don’t need to know much about music to appreciate it. You can enjoy a symphony, for example, without knowing how instruments combine to create the sound you hear or understanding the complex structure of a piece. But having some knowledge of basic music terms will help you better understand and appreciate the music you listen to. Here’s a list of terms you should know and what they mean.
For more in-depth explanations of these terms and other musical concepts, read our blog posts about the elements of music, including melody, harmony and rhythm; musical forms such as sonata form; and the history of classical music.
Accent: A way of emphasizing a note by playing it louder than others around it. Accents are also sometimes indicated by markings above or below notes on sheet music.
Allegro: Italian for “lively.” Allegro is one possible tempo (speed) for a piece of music.
Arpeggio: A chord played with each note occurring one after another rather than simultaneously as a chord is usually played.
Cadence: A rhythmic or melodic pattern that marks the end of a phrase or section of a piece of music. Cadences can be either complete or incomplete; final
A cappella: literally means “in the manner of the chapel.” It refers to a style of vocal music that is unaccompanied by instruments.
Accent: an emphasis or stress on certain notes.
Accidental: a sharp, flat, or natural symbol that causes a note to be raised or lowered by half a step.
Allegro: a fast tempo, usually between 120 and 168 beats per minute.
Andante: a moderately slow tempo, usually between 76 and 108 beats per minute.
Arpeggio: broken chords in which the notes are sounded one after another rather than simultaneously.
Beat: the basic rhythmic unit of a piece of music; the pulse of the music.
Cadence: a melodic or harmonic punctuation mark at the end of a phrase, major section, or entire work.
Chord: three or more notes played simultaneously.
Crescendo (cresc): gradually getting louder; building up volume in volume level. The opposite is decrescendo (decresc).
Dynamics: refers to how loud or soft the music should be played.
Eighth note(quaver): half the length of quarter note (crotchet). These are also known as
Electronic music refers to music that emphasizes the use of electronic musical instruments or electronic music technology as a central aspect of the sound of the music. Historically, electronic music was considered to be any music created with the use of electronic musical instruments or electronic processing, but in modern times, that distinction has been lost because almost all recorded music today, even acoustic-only recordings, is processed using some type of electronic effect or processing during post-production. Today, this distinction is largely gone and electronics are used in all forms of popular music.
Electronic instruments include the theremin, synthesizer and computer. Electronic music began in the mid-20th century when electricity became widely available for mass communication and recording uses. Soon after the first electronic musical instrument was invented (in 1897 by Thaddeus Cahill), composers started seeking new sounds from these new instruments and began writing purely electronic music for them. The electric organ offered a new method for composers to make use of continuous pitch which had been limited by keyboard instruments where each key represented a specific note; with an organ, a composer could play any note they wanted continuously until they released it. After the first use of an electric guitar in jazz by Charlie Christian in 1938, musicians began exploring rock & roll and created new blues
Electronic music is music that employs electronic musical instruments and electrical or electronic music technology in its production, an electronic musician being a musician who composes and/or performs such music. Examples of electronic musical instruments include:
Many composers use a variety of different types of these instruments in their work. If you’re interested to learn more, check out this resource: Electronic Music Resource Guide.
The term ‘electronic music’ can encompass many things – from early experimental music from the turn of the 20th century through to modern EDM.
All electronic music is produced using technology, either electronically generated sounds, or by manipulating acoustic sounds using technology. Electronic music includes acoustic genres that have been produced using electronic musical instruments or electronic processing, such as electric guitar and electronic bass. It also encompasses purely electronic genres, such as electro, techno, house, dubstep and ambient.
A lot of people are under the impression that ‘electronic music’ only includes dance/club genres like techno and house. However, as you can see above this is not the case – it can include a wide range of musical styles and genres.
Electronic music is music that employs electronic musical instruments and electronic music technology in its production, an electronic musician being a musician who composes and/or performs such music. In general a distinction can be made between sound produced using electromechanical means (electroacoustic music), and that produced using electronics only.
Electronic music has been around for over half a century. The first significant use of electronic music was by Luigi Russolo with his Intonarumori orchestra in 1913. Since the 1920s, when the theremin, ondes martenot, trautonium, and Buchla were invented, electronic instruments have been used by composers to create new sounds that were not possible with traditional acoustic instruments alone.
During the 1970s, electronic music became increasingly dominant in popular music; in the 1980s it became a major element of the avant-garde. In the early part of the 20th century, electronic devices began being used to make and modify sounds. Early electronic musical instruments included the Ondes Martenot (1923), Theremin (1924), Trautonium (1929) and later synthesizer (1964).
Electronic composition began with tape machines that were capable of recording and splicing sounds together to create new recordings
I have written two books that, in my opinion, are the best way to learn music theory: Practical Music Theory and Basic Music Theory. Both of these books use a combination of explanations and practice exercises to make learning music theory easy. The end result is a book that teaches you what you need to know and gives you plenty of practice so you don’t forget.