'hidden' fifths and octaves

two parts begin any interval apart and move in the same direction to a perfect fifth or octave.

12-bar blues progression

Comprised of three (typically) four-bar phrases. The first phrase is entirely tonic harmony (I). The second phrase contains two bars of subdominant (IV) and two bars of tonic (I). The final phrase begins with one bar of dominant (V) followed by one bar of subdominant (IV) and two bars of tonic (I). The third phrase may or may not end with a turnaround.

16-bar blues progression

A variation on the 12-bar blues progression. Composed of four (typically) four-bar phrases, usually two iterations of tonic, followed by subdominant and dominant. The final phrase may or may not end with a turnaround.


The first part in a pair of imitative voices (compare comes).

AABA form

Also called 32-bar song form. AABA consists of at least four sections. It begins by repeating two strophes, moving to a contrasting bridge section, and then repeating the primary strophe again. AABA forms typically then include another repetition of BA, making the entire form AABABA.

absent tonic

The tonic is never actually sounded as a harmony during the song, but is still implied through the melody or through the use of conventional harmonic progressions.


Existing on its own, without reference to another system. For example, "absolute pitch" refers to the phenomenon of being able to sing a pitch without referencing an instrument or another pitch.


Increase in speed (tempo)


A stress or emphasis on a note


One of many symbols (the sharp (♯), flat (♭), and natural (♮) among others) that alter a pitch

acoustic collection

a seven-note collection similar to the mixolydian mode but with fi (↑4̂); corresponds roughly to the lowest partials of the harmonic series


The physical science of sound.

active note

In tonal music, a note that has a tendency to move to a specific note in the following chord, usually a step up or down. Also called a "tendency tone."

Additive rhythm

A compositional device that begins with a small rhythmic unit and gradually adds length to the durations


A diatonic mode that follows the pattern WHWWHWW. This is like the natural minor scale. This scale can also be found by playing the white notes of the piano starting on A.

aeolian cadence

♭VI–♭VII–i, or A♭–B♭–Cm in C minor. This schema implies the aeolian mode. Very frequently, the i chord is altered to be major, yielding a sequence of three major chords related by steps in the same direction. This progression, especially with a major I chord, is often associated with heroic themes in video games and movies.

aeolian shuttle

i–♭VII–♭VI–♭VII. This progression can be understood as a shuttle between i and ♭VI, with the intermediate ♭VIIs acting as passing chords.

after-beat fifths or octaves

Two consecutive weak-beat fifths or octaves in fourth species counterpoint; e.g., from two successive 9–8 suspensions.

all-interval row

A 12-tone row that contains all 11 ordered pitch-class intervals.

alternative path

A technique of internal phrase expansion. It occurs when new material causes a phrase to deviate from its expected trajectory toward the cadence. These deviations may be permanent ("reroutes") or temporary ("detours").


The second-highest voice part in SATB style, written in the treble clef staff with a down-stem; its generally accepted range is G3–D5.

alto clef

Also known as a "C" clef, an alto clef designates the lowest line of a staff as the pitch F3.

American Standard Pitch Notation (ASPN)

Designates specific musical frequencies by combining a note name (such as "C") with an octave designation (such as "4") creating a bipartite label ("C4")

Ametric music

Music that does not have any perceivable meter


The notes before the first measure of a musical work


A repetition of the fugue's subject, transposed to another pitch level. May be a "real" answer (a literal transposition) or a "tonal" answer (an inexact transposition).


A phrase comprised of a basic idea followed by a contrasting idea that ends with a weak cadence.


A two-note embellishing tone gesture in which a chord tone is heard early as a non-chord tone

applied chord

A chord from another key inserted into a new key, in order to tonicize another diatonic chord other than I.


Embellishing tone that is approached by leap and left by step in the opposite direction

Arabic numerals

The numbers 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9


Phrases that are "archetypal" or that follow an archetype are related to the sentence, the period, or one of the hybrid phrase-level forms.

arpeggiating 6/4

A 6/4 chord that results from an arpeggiated bass line (e.g., if the bass line alternates between the root and fifth of the same chord).


A melodic, "horizontal" statement of a triadic harmony; in other words, each note of a triadic harmony played in succession (rather than simultaneously). Also referred to as a "broken chord."


Refers to both a note's length and the accent level of its attack


A method of specifying musical pitches by combining note names with octave designations

Asymmetrical meter

A meter in which contains measures which are divided into unequal groupings of beats or divisions, creating an uneven metrical pulse


An adjective describing music that lacks any sense of tonal center.


Refers to the "front" of a note--how loud or soft it is played or sung


To imagine hearing a sound in one's mind

Augmented intervals

Intervals that are one half-step larger than a perfect or major interval

augmented triad

A triad whose third is major and fifth is augmented


Auditory; related to hearing


In church modes, authentic modes are those which range from final to final.

authentic cadence

A cadence with the harmonies V–I. The harmonies are typically in root position. Authentic cadences can be further distinguished by their melody note in the I chord: an authentic cadence ending on scale-degree 1 in the melody is a perfect authentic cadence, while one with 3 or 5 in the melody is an imperfect authentic cadence.

auxiliary section (song form)

Auxiliary modules help frame the core modules, introducing them, providing temporary relief from them, or winding down from them.

Auxiliary Sections (classical form)

Sections that introduce, follow, or come between a work's core sections (A, B, primary & secondary themes, refrains, episodes, and developments/digressions/contrasting middles). Auxiliary sections are either external or internal. External Auxiliary Sections either introduce a piece/section (prefix) or follow the piece's/section's generic conclusion (suffix). Prefixes and suffixes come in small and large varieties. Internal auxiliary sections (connective sections) function to connect two core sections. Transitions generally help lead away from the piece's main section toward a contrasting section (B, secondary theme, episodes, developments/digressions/contrasting middles), and retransitions generally help to lead back to the piece's main section (usually A or a sonata form’s primary theme).


An accent on beats 2 and 4 of a quadruple meter. Backbeats are common in jazz and pop styles.

Balanced Binary Form

Balanced is a term used to describe an aspect of a binary form (either simple or rounded). It means that the tail end of the first reprise, returns at the tail end of the second reprise. That return will be in the piece's home key even if it was in another key in the first reprise. In order to be considered a return, there needs to a crux point, that is a particular moment where the restatement begins at the tail end of the second reprise. This restatement is the point at which there is a direct bar-for-bar mapping of measures between the tail end of both reprises. Importantly, this excludes rounded binary examples where the entire first reprise is repeated verbatim in the second reprise because there is no crux point at the tail end of the second reprise.

bar lines

Vertical lines that create measures

basic idea

Basic ideas are short units that are typically associated with beginnings. They don't usually end with cadences, and they often establish tonic. They are they first units we hear in a presentation, an antecedent, a consequent, and a compound basic idea.

bass (instrument)

Any one of several bass-range string instruments, including the double bass (upright bass, string bass, contrabass, acoustic bass) or the bass guitar (electric or acoustic).

bass (voice)

The lowest voice in SATB style, written in the bass clef staff with a down-stem; its generally accepted range is F2-D4

bass clef

Also known as the "F" clef, a bass clef designates the lowest line of a staff as the pitch G2

bass line

The lowest part (or "voice") of a composition.


The horizontal lines that connect certain groups of notes together


A pulse in music to which one can tap or clap along

beat unit

Which note value gets the beat

Becoming ⇒ (the process of)

The process of becoming is an analytical phenomenon that captures an in-time, analytical reinterpretation regarding a formal/phrasal unit's function. In this situation, a formal/phrasal label at first seemed fitting, but as that unit continues in time, a different label seems fitting. Even upon re-listening, this process of conversion is likely to still be experienced. The rightwards-double arrow symbol (⇒) is often used to denote this process. Examples include, primary theme ⇒ transition, continuation ⇒ cadential, suffix ⇒ transition, and any number of other combinations.


One of three formal functions (with the other two being middle and ending). Beginnings are often signaled by: establishment of a new melody, or repetition of the beginning of a previously heard melody, emphasis on tonic harmony (especially root position), a melody that opens up musical space by ascending, statement of a motive that is developed through the remainder of the phrase.

Binary Form

In the context of musical form, the term binary means a formal type that has two main parts often called reprises because each main part is typically repeated. There are three types of binary form: rounded, balanced, and simple. Binary forms are common in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries and they were used heavily in dance music. Binary form is typically one of the shorter forms and because of that, they are often embedded within larger, compound, forms like compound ternary form.

Block Chords

Chordal homorhythm

blue notes

Notes whose exact pitch sounds somewhere between the flat and regular versions a scale degree, particularly scale-degree 3 and 7.

breath mark

Indicates a breath (for wind instrumentalists and vocalists) or a pause (for percussionists and string players)


Bridges tend to play a transitional role (neither the point from which to depart, nor the point of arrival) in the formal cycle, generating high expectation for the return of the primary section by contrasting with it and temporarily withholding it. Bridge sections tend to emphasize non-tonic harmonies and commonly end on dominant harmony.


A melodic and harmonic goal. In classical tonal music, cadence types include Perfect Authentic (PAC), Imperfect Authentic (IAC), and Half (HC).


One of the three common ending types. Its distinguishing characteristic is its bass line: M-F-S-D, which may be elaborated with chromaticism.

cadential 6/4

A common embellishment of the cadential V chord, in which the fifth of the V chord (re, 2̂) is replaced with the sixth (mi/me, 3̂) and the third (ti, 7̂) is replaced with the fourth (do, 1̂). The sixth and fourth form a 6/4 chord, hence its label. The cadential 6/4 resembles a I6/4 in its pitch content.


Indicates a break and/or a cutoff

caesura fill

Caesura fill is when a single voice of the musical texture bridges what would otherwise be a gap between two sections.


A feature of musical phrasing that features a simulated dialogue between two instruments or groups of instruments.

cantus firmus

literally meaning 'fixed' voice or melody, this is a pre-exisiting melodic line that serves as the basis for a new counterpoint exercise or other composition.


The number of elements in a set or other grouping.


Angled bracket placed above Arabic numerals to indicate scale degrees

change of register

In counterpoint, a type of consonant weak beat that steps in the opposite direction following a large leap.

Changing meter

Any change of meter in a piece


Any combination of three or more pitch classes that sound simultaneously

chord construction

Chords should contain the correct notes and accidentals, and should not be missing any notes

chord loops

Repeated chord progressions, often four bars long, that are repeated throughout a portion or all of a song.

chord substitution

Replacing a standard chord (i.e., within a harmonic schema) with a different chord. The substituted chord is typically identical in harmonic function to the standard chord, and often shares at least two notes with the standard chord.

chord symbol

A system of naming chords that specifies the note name of the root, chord quality, and any alterations

chord symbols

A system of naming chords that specifies the note name of the root, chord quality, and any alterations.

Some basic symbols are given below as a quick reference, but for more detail, see the Chord Symbols chapter.

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chordal 7th

Refers to the 7th of a chord. For example, V7 in the key of C is spelled G-B-D-F. The note F is the chordal 7th. We say chordal 7th to distinguish it from the leading-tone (Ti, [latex]\hat{7}[/latex]).

chordal seventh

The note of a seventh chord a seventh above the root


Chorus sections are lyric-invariant and contain the primary lyrical material of the song. Chorus function is also typified by heightened musical intensity relative to the verse, including features like “a more dense or active instrumental texture; prominent background vocals; and/or a higher register melody” (Summach 2012, p. 106). Choruses most frequently (but not exclusively) begin on-tonic.
Chorus sections are distinct from refrains primarily by virtue of their being sections in and of themselves, where refrains are contained within a section.


A process where modules are stripped away from the formal cycle until only the chorus module (C) remains.


Relating in some sense to the chromatic scale. The term may be used to refer to notes that are outside the given key.

chromatic scale

A collection of notes which consists of twelve half-steps

circle of fifths

A graphic that shows the relationship between major (and/or minor) key signatures, by placing the key signatures around a circle in order of number of accidentals.


In set theory, a class is a group whose members are all equivalent in some sense—transposition, inversion, octave, enharmonic, etc.

clausula vera

A contrapuntal cadence in which a perfect octave or unison is approached through contrary motion by step. One line will have re–do (2̂– 1̂) while the other has ti–do (7̂-1̂). This results in the sequence of harmonic intervals 6th–8ve, 10th–8ve, or 3rd–1.


A symbol placed on the left side of a staff, which indicates which notes are assigned to different lines and spaces

closed spacing

A chord spacing in which the chord fits within one octave.

Closed vs Open endings (a.k.a. sectional and continuous)

An important factor in influencing the stability of a section is how the section closes harmonically. If the section closes with an authentic cadence (either PAC or IAC) in the home key, the section is harmonically closed but any other close is considered harmonically open. Examples of open harmonic endings are half cadences and any type of cadence involving a modulation, that is, a PAC in the key of the dominant is still harmonically open because of the modulation.

closing rhetoric

Closing rhetoric involves common patterns and techniques that signal that the end of the song is likely coming soon.

Closing Section

A large suffix in sonata-form works. The closing section is usually very stable and often consists of many V–I or IV–I motions confirming the local tonic.


A coda is a song-ending section that presents new material. Like outros, codas exhibit closing rhetoric.

Coda (classical)

A type of suffix (external auxiliary section). Codas are usually of the large variety (a phrase or longer), and they occur at the end of a work (or end of a movement within a multi-movement work) after the PAC that ends the piece proper. The word coda is Italian for “tail” because they are found at the tail end of a work. Sometimes composers communicate the location of the coda by writing the word in the score but this is not necessary to identify a section as a coda. Like all suffixes, codas are considered an expansion technique and therefore the are not essentially to the structural content of the work and it is often said that the work would still make complete syntactic sense if it were removed entirely.


A type of suffix (external expansion). Codettas are usually medium length (for example, between 4-8 measures), they often occur at the end of a section within a piece, and they often feature repeated units. They may or may not contain a full phrase.


A group of pitches being used as the basis for a composition. This term is more neutral than "key," which may imply a hierarchy.

color note

For modes in pop music, the color note is the pitch that distinguishes a mode from major (in the case of mixolydian/lydian) or from minor (in the case of dorian/phrygian).


The second (following) part in a pair of imitative voices (compare dux).

common practice

A periodization of Western music utilized by music theorists and musicologists encompassing c. 1600-1900

common tone

A tone that is present in more than one chord.

common tone diminished seventh chords

Abbreviated ctº7. A diminished 7th chord that, instead of having dominant function, is a neighbor chord that embellishes the chord that comes after it. The ctº7 has a common tone with the root of the following chord. All the other notes of the ctº7 are a step away from a note in the following chord. This creates the characteristic neighboring motion of the ctº7.

complement mod 12

An integer x's complement mod 12 is the number y that would sum to 12. For example, 11's complement mod 12 is 1.

complementary set

The set which, together with an original set, will make the complete twelve-tone collection. Complements are literal when referring to pitch class sets and abstract when referring to set classes.

compound basic idea

A compound basic idea (c.b.i.) is an antecedent without a cadence. It consists of a basic idea followed by a contrasting idea. The reason it's called "compound" is that it often forms the basic idea for a large sentence, one in which the presentation is 8 measures long and consists of two four-measure c.b.i. units as stand-ins for the archetypal two-measure b.i.s

compound form

Occurs when one form is comprised of other smaller forms. For example, a period may be comprised of two sentences, or one or more of a ternary form's sections may be comprised of a binary form.

compound interval

An interval that is larger than an octave

Compound Meters

Meters in which the beat divides into three, and then further subdivides into six

Compound Ternary Form

A type of ternary form where at least one of the form's parts (A, B, or the second A section) is comprised of its own complete form (typically a binary form). The term "compound" can also be used to clarify that a single section contains a complete form. Compare with simple ternary form.

conducting patterns

Establish a meter and tempo for musicians


The director of a choir, band, or orchestra

connective auxiliary sections

A category of formal sections that connect two core sections; for example, transitions and retransitions.


A phrase comprised of a basic idea followed by a contrasting idea that ends with a strong cadence. It usually forms the second half of a phrase-level form.


A quality in an interval or chord that, in a traditional tonal context, is stable; this stability is the result of its perceived independence from a need to resolve

consonant passing tone

Passing motion that does not involve dissonance.


A subphrase that features a mix of any of the following: fragmentation, increase in harmonic rhythm, increase in surface rhythm, or sequences. Continuations end with a cadence and are usually found in the second half of a theme.

contour lines

Lines that indicate whether pitch moves up, down, or stays the same


Contraction refers to the process of making a phrase shorter than we expect. It always occurs within a phrase.

Contraction (of a motive)

making the durations of a motive shorter than the original

Contrary motion

When two voices move melodically in opposite directions—that is, one voice moves up and the other moves down.

contrasting beginning

The contrasting beginning is like an antecedent without a cadence. It is a beginning part of a phrase-level form that's comprised of a basic idea followed by a contrasting idea, and it doesn't end with a cadence.

contrasting idea

A small unit that contrasts with the material that came immediately before it, usually in terms of contour. It's featured in the antecedent and the compound basic idea.

Contrasting section

A core section that provides contrast with the main section. May be stable or unstable.

core bass pattern

A core bass pattern is the basic series of notes that defines a common progression. This series of notes may be embellished with other, less important notes, but the pattern is still recognizable because the basic series is still present.

core section

Core sections comprise the main musical and poetic content of a song. Core sections include strophe (AABA and strophic form only), bridge, verse, chorus, prechorus, and postchorus.

core section (classical)

A core section is formal category including both main sections (e.g., A, primary theme, refrain) and contrasting sections (e.g., B, C, D, secondary theme, episode, contrasting middle, development, digression). In contrast to auxiliary sections, core sections present the main musical material of a work and generally represent the bulk of a composition.


A general term for music that involves multiple simultaneous and independent melodic lines. The term comes from the idea that each note (point) has another note against (counter to) it.
A musical line written added to a cantus firmus.


A melodic line that is consistently sounded with (and complements) the subject/answer of a fugue.


Italian verb meaning "to grow"


The moment that the tail end of the first reprise returns at the tail end of the second reprise of a binary or sonata form. This moment is the beginning of a series of corresponding measures between those two formal locations. If the first reprise contained a modulation, then the corresponding measures of the second reprise will now be transposed to the home key. The term crux was coined by James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy in their book Elements of Sonata Theory.


A cycle is a grouping of contains one or more sections, typically in the same order. Sometimes one or more sections are omitted in the repetition of a cycle, especially toward the end of a song.

dance chorus

An intensified version of the chorus that retains the same harmony and contains the hook of the song, which increases memorability for the audience, and encourages dancing.

Deceptive motion

A cadence-like resolution from V to a non-tonic harmony. The most common deceptive motion is V–vi; next most common is V–IV6.


Italian verb meaning "to diminish"

delay of melodic progression

In counterpoint, a type of consonant weak beat that skips by third and then steps into the following downbeat.

dependent transition

A sonata form transition that reuses motivic material from the primary theme.


A type of alternative path. A detour creates a temporary deviation from a phrase's expected trajectory toward a cadence. Detours are initiated by a diversion onto the detour and they end with a resumption of rhetoric from earlier in the phrase.


A section of a sonata form that is unstable, and which may or may not explore thematic material established in the exposition.


1. A scale, mode, or collection that follows the pattern of whole and half steps WWHWWWH, or any rotation of that pattern.
2. Belonging to the local key (as opposed to "chromatic").

diatonic harmony

Harmony that is based in a diatonic scale, such as the white notes of the piano. Diatonic harmony uses only chords within the scale, and is usually labeled with Roman numerals.

diatonic mode

A scale made up of the notes of the diatonic collection.


Translating a rhythm, melody, chord progression, or some other aural sound that you've never before seen or played/sung into staff notation

Diminished intervals

Intervals that are one half-step smaller than a perfect or minor interval

diminished seventh chord

Another name for a fully diminished seventh chord, a seventh chord with a diminished triad and a diminished seventh

diminished triad

A triad whose third is minor and fifth is diminished


Italian meaning "to diminish"

direct fifths or octaves

Similar motion into a fifth or octave. Also called "hidden" fifths or octaves.

Displacement (of a motive)

Changing the metric position of the motive relative to its original statement.


A quality in an interval or chord that, in a traditional tonal context, is unstable; this instability is the result of its perceived dependence on a need to resolve

division unit

Which note gets the division

dominant function

A category of chords that provides a sense of urgency to resolve toward the tonic chord. This cateogry of chords includes V and viio (in minor: V and viio).

dominant lock

Extensive prolongation of the V chord. Also known as "standing on the dominant." Often involves a pedal point on sol (5̂).

dominant seventh chord

A seventh chord in which the triad quality is major and the seventh quality is minor. For example: C–E–G–B♭

doo-wop schema

 𝄆I – VI – IV – V 𝄇, or C – Am – F – G in C major. 

Common alterations: substituting ii for IV; rotation.


A diatonic mode that follows the pattern WHWWWHW. This is like the natural minor scale, but with a raised scale-degree 6. This scale can also be found by playing the white notes of the piano starting on D.

dorian shuttle

IV–i, or F–Cm in C minor. This shuttle implies the dorian mode. It can sound like ii–V to someone who is not used to the dorian mode.


Increases a note or rest value by half

dot grid

A "grid" of dots that represent beats and measures

double flat

Lowers a note by two half-steps

double neighbor

An embellishment that surrounds a note with its upper and lower neighbor. The note being embellished may or may not be articulated between the two neighbor tones. Some examples of double neighbor figures embellishing the note C might be C–D–B–C, C–B–D–C, or C–D–C–B–C.

double plagal schema

♭VII–IV–I, or B♭–F–C in C major. The term comes from duplicating the plagal relationship (IV–I) by applying it to IV as well (IV/IV–IV, or ♭VII–IV).

double sharp

Raises a note by two half-steps

double whole note

Divides into two whole notes


Duplicating some notes of a chord in multiple parts

doubly augmented interval

An interval a half-step larger than an augmented interval

doubly diminished interval

An interval a half-step smaller than a diminished interval


Beat 1 of a measure which is conducted in a downwards motion

Duple Meters

Meters in which beats are grouped into twos


A tuplet that involves dividing a beat in compound meter into two parts


Indicate volume (amount of loudness or softness)

eighth note

Divides into two sixteenth notes

eighth rest

Divides into two sixteenth rests

Elision (phrase/form)

An elision is the overlapping of two phrases that functions as the ending of one phrase and the simultaneous beginning of the next.

embellishing harmony

A harmony whose function is to prolong another harmony, rather than to advance the phrase toward its cadential goal. Embellishing harmonies are often said to be passing or neighboring.

embellishing tones

Notes that decorate other, more structurally important notes. Embellishing tones are often not part of the prevailing chord. Most are 3-note gestures where the first and third notes are consonant and the 2nd note is the embellishing tone. The embellishing tone may be consontant or dissonant.

Types of embellishing tones include: passing tones, neighbor tones, appoggiaturas, escape tones, pedal tones, suspensions, and anticipations.

emergent tonics

"The tonic chord is initially absent yet deliberately saved for a triumphant arrival later in the song, usually at the onset of the chorus." (Mark Spicer, "Fragile, Absent, and Emergent Tonics in Pop and Rock Songs," 2017).

energy gain

A quality in a passage of music that heightens the "energy" of the passage. This can be through more active rhythmic activity, faster harmony changes, thicker texture, expanded range, crescendo, or drive toward a cadence or goal.


Having a different letter name but sounding the same (e.g. f-sharp and g-flat)

enharmonic equivalence

Notes, intervals, or chords that sound the same but are spelled differently

Enlargement (of a motive)

Making the durations of a motive last longer than the original.


A term used when describing the sections of a rondo form that are not the main theme (a.k.a. A or refrain). Episodes provide contrast with the main theme through changes in multiple domains, primarily key and melodic/rhythmic/harmonic material.

escape tone

An embellishing tone that is approached by step and left by leap in the opposite direction

essential expositional cadence (EEC)

The goal of the S area. The EEC is the first satisfactory PAC that is followed by new material (not based on S).

Evaded cadence

Refers to any situation where a composer sets up the expectation for a cadence, then avoids cadencing. Deceptive motion, for instance, is a kind of evaded cadence. Other ways to evade a cadence can include: inverting the dominant or tonic (e.g. V6/4-V4/2-I6) and omitting an essential voice such as the bass note of the tonic chord or the soprano note of the tonic chord.


Expansion refers to the process of making a phrase longer than we expect. This lengthening might occur within the phrase ("internal expansion") or outside of the phrase ("external expansion").


The first large section in a sonata form work. It usually establishes the main themes of a work and sets up a conflict that is later resolved in the work. This conflict often takes the form of differing key centers (such as when the primary theme of a sonata is in tonic and the secondary theme is in the dominant)

Exposition (fugue)

The first part of a fugue, during which each of the voices enter with the subject or answer.

extended cadential ending

An extended cadential ending is like a continuation , but it always harmonizes the core bass pattern M-F-S-D.

extension (harmony)

Adding additional thirds on top of the triad. Most commonly refers to 9ths, 11ths, or 13ths rather than 7ths, although 7ths are also extensions.

external auxiliary section

A category of auxiliary sections including prefixes (which introduce a piece/section) and suffixes (which follow the generic conclusion of a piece/section).

external expansion

Lengthening a phrase by adding extra material to it either before it's begun ("prefix") or after it's cadenced ("suffix")

Feathered beaming

A gradual change in the speed of notes within a single beam


A half-circle surrounding a dot that indicates one should hold a note


Musica ficta are editorial accidentals added to Renaissance music. In this era, composers did not necessarily notate accidentals, yet competent performers would know to add them in appropriate places. In modern editions of Renaissance music, ficta are often provided by the editor, or agreed upon by a performing ensemble.

figured bass

Arabic numerals and symbols that indicate intervals above a bass note. These are realized into chords and non-chord tones by musicians


In church modes, the final loosely corresponds to the modern notion of "tonic," in that it is a melodic goal. However, the final may not always be emphasized in the way a tonic is. Finals are named by the fact that the last note of a Gregorian chant will always be the final of the mode.

first inversion

A triadic harmony with the third in the bass

Fixed Do

Do is always the pitch class C, Re the pitch class D, etc. regardless of scale


A curved line placed at the end of a stem



Lowers a note by a half-step


A combination of two or three syllables: typically one stressed syllable, and one or two unstressed syllables.


Refers to the structure of a passage or piece. Form can be understood as a hierarchical grouping of units, and we often speak of form at one or of two levels: phrase-level form (referring to motives, ideas, subphrases, or phrases) or composition-level form (referring to sections, movements, or whole pieces).


Italian for "loud"

Forte number

A nomenclature for set classes developed by Forte. The first number refers to the cardinality of the set, and the second number is semi-arbitrary, but generally proceeds from the most compact to the most expanded set.

fragile tonic

The tonic chord is present, but weakened. Usually, the weakening comes from using the tonic chord in inversion, or otherwise from placing the tonic chord in a metrically unstable mid-phrase position (versus a more typical usage where the tonic is a stable point of arrival or departure). This term comes from Mark Spicer, "Fragile, Absent, and Emergent Tonics in Pop and Rock Songs" (2017).


Making unit sizes smaller than the previously established size. For example, if units had previously been 2 measures long, fragments might be 1 measure long.

free atonal music

Music that is atonal, avoiding a traditional pitch center and harmonic hierarchy, but is not serial.

Free counterpoint

Contrapuntal writing without any specific thematic content.


How often a sound wave repeats.

fully diminished seventh chord

A seventh chord whose triad is diminished and whose seventh is diminished


The role that a musical element plays in the creation of a larger musical unit.


A principle of melody writing suggesting that any large leaps that open up a new register ought to be filled in afterward with stepwise motion.

generic interval

The number of scale steps between notes of a collection or scale

grand staff

Two staves placed one above the other, connected by a brace. The top staff has a treble clef, while the bottom staff has a bass clef.

graphic notation

A notational technique where pitch and durations are specified by nonstandard symbols

ground bass

A repeated bass pattern that formed be foundation for a set of variations, not unlike the cyclical progressions of pop/rock songs.


Slang for a crescendo or decrescendo symbol

half cadence (HC)

A kind of inconclusive cadence that occurs when a phrase ends on V.
Occasionally, particularly in Romantic music, the final chord of a half cadence will be V7.

half note

Divides into two quarter notes

half rest

Divides into two quarter rests

half-diminished seventh chord

A seventh chord in which the triad quality is diminished and the seventh quality is minor. For example: B–D-F-A.


Generally considered to be smallest interval in Western musical notation

harmonic elision

The suppression of an expected chord. Two kinds of elision are a leading-tone elision, in which the expected triad is replaced by the dominant seventh chord with the same root or by a functionally equivalent diminished seventh chord, and raised-root elision, kin which root of the expected chord is raised to become a leading tone (or applied leading tone).

Harmonic function

Refers to three cateogories of chords: tonic, predominant, and dominant. A chord's membership within a category indicates something about how that chord typically behaves in tonal harmonic progressions in Western classical music. For example, tonic function chords are stable and tend to represent points of resolution or repose.

harmonic intervals

The interval is played or sung together (both notes at the same time)

harmonic major

A major scale with le (↓6̂) instead of la (6̂): do–re–mi–fa–sol–le–ti–do (1̂–2̂–3̂–4̂–5̂–↓6̂–7̂–1̂).

harmonic minor

An ordered collection of half- and whole-steps with the ascending succession W-H-W-W-H-3Hs-H

harmonic rhythm

The rate at which chords change, usually expressed in chords per measure. A common rate of chord change in 18th-century classical music is 1 chord per measure, for example.

harmonic series

A series of notes whose frequencies follow a certain pattern of mathematical proportions: 1:1, 1:2, 1:3, 1:4, 1:5, etc. Starting with the pitch C2, this would result in the series of pitches C2, C3, G3, C4, E4, G4, B♭4, C5, etc.


Notes played or sung all together at the same time

harmonically closed

A phrase or module is harmonically closed when it ends with tonic harmony (I in root position).

harmonically open

A phrase or module is harmonically open when it ends on a harmony other than tonic.


An overtone of a complex sound that occurs at a whole-number ratio to the fundamental.


A vertical sonority.

head refrain

A refrain that is the first line or so of the section's text.


A measurement of the frequency of a sound. Frequency is another word for the number of cycles of peaks and valleys there are per second (frequency) in a waveform.


A musical texture with multiple, simultaneous variants on a single melodic line.


A 6-note collection. In serial music, "hexachord" is typically used to refer to either the first 6 notes of a 12-tone row or the last 6 notes of the row.

Hexachordal combinatoriality

A property of a row in which combining one hexachord from a version of a row with a hexachord from another version of a row creates the chromatic collection.

hexatonic scale

A six-note collection that alternates between half steps and minor thirds, such as C–C♯–E–F–G♯–A.

Hexpole (H) transformation

A Neo-Riemannian transformation that connects a triad to its modal opposite a third away by moving each voice by a single semitone (e.g., connecting C major and A♭ minor).


Arranged according to rank

Home Key

A term used to describe a piece's overall tonic. If a movement is in the key of A major, then the home key is A major. The term is used to distinguish itself from local keys.


A musical texture indicating the special status of one melodic part (usually the top-most) which may or may not participate in rhythmic unison with the other parts.


A type of Homophony in which all parts move together (usually in chords).

hopscotch schema

IV–V–vi–I. This four-chord schema has become increasingly common in pop music since 2010.

hybrid form

A hybrid form is one that combines aspects of the sentence and the period into one phrase-level form.


Groupings of measures into different patterns of accentuation

hypermetrical numbers

Numbers that show the accentuation pattern of a hypermeter; they are placed above measures, centered


A poetic foot consisting of one stressed syllable followed by one unstressed syllable.


The smallest unit of music identified by a segmentation analysis. Ideas need not end with cadences, and they may combine to form subphrases or phrases. Examples include: basic idea, contrasting idea, unit, cadential idea, and fragments.


ii7–V7–I∆7 in major, or iiø7–V7–i7 in minor. A fundamentally important progression in traditional jazz. 


Imitation sees two or more parts enter separately with (versions of) the same melody.

imperfect authentic cadence (IAC)

A V–I cadence in which

V, I, or both harmonies are inverted, and/or
Do (scale-degree 1) is not in the soprano over the tonic triad.

Additionally, IACs are often used to evade a cadence. Please see the chapter on cadences for a more thorough discussion.

Imperfect consonance

Thirds or sixths with major or minor quality.

incomplete neighbor

A type of embellishing tone that is approached by step and left by leap or vice-versa. The name comes from the idea that it functions as a neighbor tone on only one side of its embellishment.

Incomplete neighbors may be called appoggiaturas or escape tones.

independent transition

A sonata-form transition that introduces new motivic material (as opposed to reusing material from the primary theme).

index number

In a transformation (Tn or In), n is the index number. n represents the interval of transposition in semitones.


Chromatically altered from the typical version.

integer notation

A system of naming pitch classes that treats C as 0, C♯ as 1, D as 2, etc.

internal expansion

Making a phrase last longer than we expect by lengthening it after it's begun, but before it's cadenced.


The distance between two notes

interval class

The smallest possible distance between two pitch classes. The largest interval class is 6, because if order is disregarded, the tritone is the largest possible interval. A P5 can be inverted to a smaller P4, m6 to M3, and so on.

interval subdivision

In counterpoint, a type of consonant weak beat that divides a larger consonant leap (from downbeat to downbeat) into two smaller leaps.

Intervallic inversion 

Occurs when two notes (such as C and E) are flipped; C (on bottom) with E (above) is an inversion of E (on bottom) with C (above)

Introduction (classical form)

A section of music that occurs before the start of the musical form proper. In faster movements, introductions tend to have noticeably slower tempi. Introduction can range considerably in length, ranging from less than a single phrase (small prefix) to one or more phrases (large prefix). In the 18th century, introductions often contained independent musical material that doesn't appear in the rest of the work proper, but in the 19th century, composers tended to explore the integration of the introduction's material with the rest of the work.

introduction (song form)

Introduction sections transition from the unmetered silence that precede the song to the musical activity of the first core section. They tend to be short and untexted (i.e., instrumental) and tend to present musical material from one or more core sections to come.


In serial music, invariance refers to keeping a property of a row the same. For example, when a retrograde version of a row contains the same ordered pitch classes as a prime version of the row we would call it "retrograde invariant" to mean that the order of pitch classes doesn't change when the row is reversed and transposed.


The act of mirroring pitch content "horizontally"; i.e., so that motion down becomes up and up becomes down. Inversion often preserves intervallic content.

Inversion (of a motive)

Changing the direction of the motive (e.g. instead of going up, it goes down)


Chords that do not have their root in the bass voice


A diatonic mode that follows the pattern WWHWWWH. This is like a major scale.


Italian suffix which means "extremely"

jazz blues

The jazz blues incorporates several alterations to the 12-bar blues to blend together blues harmony and jazz harmony. In the eighth bar, instead of remaining on tonic, there is an applied ii–V that leads to the ii chord in bar 9. And in the third phrase, the V–IV–I of the standard blues is replaced with a ii–V–I more common to jazz.

key signature

Accidentals placed at the beginning of a work which apply throughout the work (and which imply a particular tonic)

key signatures

Accidentals (sharps or flats) in a certain combination that imply a particular note as tonic


Relating to movement of parts of the body

Lament bass progression (classical)

A lament-bass progression refers to a variety of harmonic progressions that harmonize a descending bassline from Do down to Sol. The simplest diatonic version uses the bass notes Do-Te-Le-Sol and is harmonized by the progression i v6 iv6 V. Chromatic alternatives are common, many of which use the notes between the simple diatonic version (Do-Ti-Te and Te-La-Le). Le is sometimes harmonized by augmented sixth chords, and Te is sometimes harmonized by V42/iv. More elaborate versions harmonize all available notes between Do and Sol: Do-Ti-Te-La-Le-Sol.

lament schema

A harmonization of a descending upper tetrachord (1–7–6–5) in the bass.

lead sheet

A type of jazz/pop score that typically notates only the melody and the chord symbols (written above the staff).

leading tone

Scale-degree 7 that is one half-step below scale-degree 1. The leading tone is diatonic in major keys, but requires an accidental in minor keys.

leading-tone chord

The triad or seventh chord built on ti ([latex]\hat{7}[/latex]).

Leading-Tone Exchange (L)

A Neo-Riemannian transformation that preserves the minor third in the triad, and moves the remaining note by semitone (e.g., relating C major and E minor).


A melodic interval of a third or greater. Note that some refer to thirds as "skips" rather than leaps.

ledger lines

Small lines written above or below a staff to extend the staff's range of notes


To play or sing smoothly or connected


A German solo song form that reached an artistic apex in the 19th century.

link (fugue)

A passage of a fugue that does not contain a subject statement in any voice.


A diatonic mode that follows the pattern HWWHWWW. This is like the natural minor scale, but with a lowered scale-degree 2 and lowered scale-degree 5. This scale can also be found by playing the white notes of the piano starting on B.

Loose Formal Organization (Caplin)

This is William Caplin's terms that he defines as, "A formal organization characterized by nonconventional thematic structures, harmonic-tonal instability (modulation, chromaticism), an asymmetrical grouping structure, phrase-structural extension and expansion, form-functional redundancy, and a diversity of melodic-motivic material (compare tight-knit)." (Quoted from Caplin's 2011 book, Analyzing Classical Form, p. 709)


A diatonic mode that follows the pattern WWWHWWH. This is like the major scale, but with a raised scale-degree 4. This scale can also be found by playing the white notes of the piano starting on F.

lydian shuttle

I–II♯, or C–D in C major. This progression can easily be confused with IV-V in major or ♭VII–I in mixolydian, so one should be careful when referencing this progression. It implies the lydian mode.


A module or phrase is lyric-invariant if each time it appears it brings (mostly) the same lyrics. Lyric invariance tends to come at points of formal closure (tail refrains at the ends of strophes, choruses at the end of a verse-chorus song’s formal cycle).


A module or phrase is lyric-variant if each time it appears it brings (mostly) different lyrics.

Main section

A section that presents the work's primary musical ideas. Usually, the main section is the first core section of the work. Examples include primary themes, refrains, expositions, choruses, or strophes.

major pentatonic scale

A scale that proceeds M2–M2–m3–M2–m3. For example, starting on C, the C major pentatonic scale is C–D–E–G–A.

major scale

An ordered collection of half-steps (H) and whole-steps) as follows (ascending): W-W-H-W-W-W-H

major seventh chord

Another name for a major-major seventh chord, a seventh chord with a major triad and a major seventh

major triad

A triad whose third is major and fifth is perfect

major-major seventh chord

A seventh chord whose triad is major and whose seventh is major

major-minor seventh chord

A seventh chord whose triad is major and whose seventh is minor


To play with a more forceful accent or emphasis


In twelve-tone music, the matrix is a 12-by-12 grid that sets out all 48 forms of a row class.


Created by bar lines, a measure (or bar) is equivalent to one beat grouping

medial caesura

The cadence that is the goal of the TR and marks the boundary between TR and S. Usually a HC, in I, V, or the secondary key; sometimes an authentic cadence in the secondary key; rarely, it could be an AC in the tonic key.

Some features are commonly present with the MC:

Chromatic approach: the dominant of the MC is often approached chromatically from s4.
Dominant lock: After s4, V is prolonged.
Energy gain: the material leading up to the MC will be high-energy and forte.
Hammer blows: The MC will repeat the V chord; often there will be 3 hammer blows.
Caesura: A pause follows the cadence—this is where the “caesura” part of the term “medial caesura” comes from. Sometimes the pause is “filled in” with decorative notes (caesura fill), to carry over and smoothly connect to the S area.

melodic interval

The interval is played or sung separately (one note after another)

melodic minor

An ordered collection of half- and whole-steps with the ascending succession W-H-W-W-W-W-H and the descending succession W-W-H-W-W-H-W


Notes played or sung one at a time; also known as arpeggiating


A French solo song form that reached an artistic apex in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Melody and Accompaniment

A type of Homophony where one can clearly distinguish between melodic and supporting voices, usually with differing rhythms between them.


A recurring pattern of accents that occur over time; meters are notated with a time signature

Metric modulation

A means of smoothing out abrupt tempo changes by introducing subdivisions or groups of beats in the first tempo that match durations in the new tempo

metronome marking

Usually indicated in beats per minute (BMP)


Italian for "moderately"


A microtone is a tone that exists outside of the 12-tone equal tempered scale (for example, quarter tones).

mid-song introduction

Mid-song intros function similarly to introductions, but in the middle of the song. They usually introduce the first section in the formal cycle. “Livin’ on a Prayer” has a brief mid-song introduction at 1:48, which sets up the arrival of the second cycle (beginning with Verse 2). A more extended mid-song introduction comes at 1:57 of “Pride (In the Name of Love)” by U2, which sets up the verse that begins the final cycle.

middle C

C4; the C near the middle of the piano keyboard, written on the first ledger line below the treble clef staff or the first ledger line above the bass clef staff


A physical and/or social setting

minor 7th chord

Another name for a minor minor seventh chord, a seventh chord with a minor triad and a minor seventh

minor blues

The minor blues differs from the standard 12-bar blues by having minor seventh chords on the i and iv chords, and replacing the V–IV–I cadence with a ii–V–I cadence.

minor iv schema

Use of a minor iv chord in a major key. This creates a semitone descent between scale-degrees ♭6 and 5. It is common to precede iv with IV (major), creating a descent 6–♭6–5.

minor pentatonic scale

A pentatonic scale with the intervals m3–M2–M2–m3–M2. For example, starting on A, the minor pentatonic would be A-C-D-E-G.

minor seventh chord

A seventh chord in which the triad quality is minor and the seventh quality is also minor. For example: C–E♭–G–B♭.

minor triad

A triad whose third is minor and fifth is perfect

minor-minor seventh chord

A seventh chord whose triad is minor and whose seventh is minor


A diatonic mode that follows the pattern WWHWWHW. This is like the major scale, but with a lowered scale-degree 7. This scale can also be found by playing the white notes of the piano starting on G.

mnemonic device 

A technique used to aid memorization


Mod-12 is short for modulo 12, where numbers wrap around upon reaching 12. Arithmetic in mod-12 is most familiar through clock time: after 12-o-clock, the time becomes 1-o-clock again.

Modal brightness

"Bright" refers to a more major sound, while "dark" refers to a more minor sound

mode mixture

The intermixing of major and minor versions of scale-degrees 3, 6, and/or 7 within a composition.


A change of key.

In the Classical-era of western, classical music—which spans the middle to the end of the 18th century—there were a specific set of standard modulation schemes that were used within a section of music. These are summarized below:
[table id=14 /]


A musical texture with a single, unaccompanied melodic line.


A piece that has one governing tonic, that is, it starts and ends in the same key and contains a single tonic that gives the impression of being the primary key of the work. This term is used to distinguish between works that present progressive tonality.


A regularly recurring unit of music that's smaller than an idea, and which is typically transformed across a work. The word "motive" usually refers to pitch material, but other kinds of motives such as rhythmic or contour also exist.

motor rhythm

Persistent rapid note values, especially sixteenth notes. Common in Baroque music.

Movable Do

Do is the first scale degree in a scale; this is in contrast to Fixed Do, when Do is always the pitch class C


A module or phrase is music-invariant if each time it appears it brings (mostly) the same music.


A module or phrase is music-variant if each time it appears it brings (mostly) different music.


Music historians


Cancels a prior accidental, such as a sharp or flat

natural minor

An ordered collection of half- and whole-steps with the ascending succession W-H-W-W-H-W-W

Neapolitan sixth

A ♭II6 chord.

Nebenverwandt transformation (N)

A Neo-Riemannian transformation that moves both members of the minor third in a triad by semitone, and again changes the mode (e.g., relating C major and F minor).

neighbor tones (NTs)

Embellishing tones are approached by step and left by step in the opposite direction.


A type of motion where a chord tone moves by step to another tone, then moves back to the original chord tone. For example, C-D-C above a C major chord would be an example of neighboring motion, in which D can be described as a neighbor tone. Entire harmonies may be said to be neighboring when embellishing another harmony, when the voice-leading between the two chords involves only neighboring and common-tone motion (as in the common-tone diminished seventh chord).

neighboring 6/4

A kind of 6/4 chord that embellishes a harmony with neighbor motion. This is usually labeled with figures, e.g. with 5-6-5 in one voice and 3-4-3 in another.

Normal order

The most compressed way to write a given collection of pitch classes.

nota cambiata

A five-note species counterpoint embellishment that may occur in one of two different forms:

Down by step, down by third, up by step, up by step
Up by step, up by third, down by step, down by step


Includes both a pitch and rhythmic component; may include a stem, beam, and/or flag


The elliptical part of the note that can be either filled in (black) or outlined (white)

Oblique motion

When one voice moves melodically while another voice remains on the same pitch.

octatonic collection

The octatonic collection is built with an alternation of whole steps and half steps, leading to a total of 8 distinct pitches. One example is C–C♯–D♯–E–F♯–G–A–B♭. Jazz musicians refer to this as the diminished scale.


Two pitches with the same letter name (e.g. "C"), twelve half-steps apart

octave equivalence

The assumption that pitches separated by one or more octaves are musically equivalent (e.g. an octave above "A" is "A")

octave equivalent

Pitches that are spelled the same but are one more more octaves apart


A series of eight notes (such as C to C)


A rhythmic or note value that does not fall on a beat (1, 2, 3, etc.)


A phrase or module is off-tonic when it begins on a harmony other than tonic.


A phrase or module is on-tonic when it begins with tonic harmony (I in root position).


A technique of internal phrase expansion. Coined by Janet Schmalfeldt, the technique involves three steps: (1) the music tries to cadence, (2) the attempted cadence is evaded, and (3) the music retries the cadence.

one-more-time technique
open spacing

Notes of a chord are spaced out beyond their closest possible position

operations (set theory)

In set theory, "operations" refers to transposition and inversion.

ordered pitch interval

The distance between two pitches measured in semitones, with a plus or minus symbol to indicate ascending or descending, respectively. For example: C4 to E5 would be an ordered pitch interval of +16.

ordered pitch-class intervals

The distance between pitch classes from lowest to highest. In other words, pitch class intervals are measured on the clockface, always going clockwise.

ordered set

A group of things that appear in a specified sequence. An ordered pitch set, for example, appears in a consistent order within a piece of music. Compare against a pitch class set, where the pitches are unordered, meaning they can appear in any order in the piece of music.


A repeated rhythmic or pitched musical idea


Outros function as a transition from song back to silence, and thus decrease energy. Often this is accomplished in the recording studio by way of a fadeout.


Pandiatonicism uses the notes of a diatonic collection without imparting a sense of pitch center.

parallel fifths

two parts start an perfect fifth apart and both move in the same direction by the same interval to also end a perfect fifth apart

parallel major

Shares a tonic with its parallel minor

Parallel minor

Shares a tonic with its parallel major

parallel modes

Modes are said to be parallel if they share a tonic pitch. For example, C major and C minor are parallel modes.

Parallel motion

When two voices move melodically in the same direction and by the same interval—for example, both voices move upward by a melodic second. (Note: the quality of the interval may vary, and it still counts as parallel motion.) By definition, two voices moving in parallel motion will also maintain the same harmonic interval between them.

parallel octaves

two parts start an octave apart and both move in the same direction by the same interval to also end an octave apart.

parallel relationship

When a major and minor key/scale share the same tonic

Parallel transformation (P)

A Neo-Riemannian transformation that preserves the perfect fifth in the triad, and moves the remaining note by semitone (e.g., relating C major and C minor).


A component frequency within a complex tone's set of overtones.


A type of motion where a chord tone moves by step to another tone, then resolves by step in the same direction. For example, C-D-E above a C major chord would be an example of neighboring motion, in which D can be described as a passing tone. Entire harmonies may be said to be passing when embellishing another harmony, when the voice-leading between the two chords involves mainly passing tones (as in the passing 6/4 chord).

passing 6/4

A 6/4 chord built on a passing tone in the bass. It's most commonly found prolonging tonic or pre-dominant harmonies. Importantly, the chords on both sides of the passing 6/4 are always the same function.

pedal tones

Pedal tones are often found in the bass. They consist of a series of static notes over top of which chord changes occur that do not include the bass.

pentatonic collection

A pitch collection built with the interval pattern M2–M2–m3–M2–m3. This collection can also be generated by using scale-degrees 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 only of the major scale.



perceived versus notated meter

The meter written in the score may not be the meter that the listener perceives

percussion clef

A clef used by non-pitched percussion instruments, where each line or space is dedicated to a different sound

perfect authentic cadence (PAC)

A V-I cadence in which both harmonies are in root position and in which Do (scale-degree 1) is in the soprano over the tonic chord.

Perfect consonance

Perfect octaves (twelve semitones), perfect unisons (zero semitones), and perfect fifths (seven semitones). Perfect fourths (five semitones) are sometimes considered a perfect consonance, sometimes a dissonance; this depends on the context.


A phrase-level form that consists of two phrases: an antecedent and a consequent.


To divide time into different periods


A relatively complete musical thought that exhibits trajectory toward a goal. In much music, that goal is a cadence; so we might also say that a phrase is a relatively complete musical thought that ends with a cadence.

Phrase Expansion

The lengthening of a phrase, whether internally or externally, beyond its expected duration resulting from a "play" with grouping units.“Expected duration” is defined contextually, and it may rely on such factors as: era, genre, pre-established models (i.e., projection) “Play” may occur either within a single group (stretching) or by stringing together additional groups (adding). Stretching and Adding can also occur at the same time.

phrase model

Indicates the typical order and flow of harmonic functions in a phrase: T-PD-D-(T).

phrase-level form

Refers to the various ways in which a phrase may be constructed of subphrases, ideas, and motives. Examples of phrase-level forms include sentences, periods, repeated phrases, hybrid forms, etc.


the way a passage might be shaped in performance (where to push and pull time, where and how to change dynamic levels, etc.)


A diatonic mode that follows the pattern HWWWHWW. This is like the natural minor scale, but with a lowered scale-degree 2. This scale can also be found by playing the white notes of the piano starting on E.

Phrygian half cadence

The phrygian half cadence (PHC) is a special kind of cadential phrase ending that occurs only in minor and which involves the progression iv6–V. It's called “phrygian” because of the half step that occurs when Le ([latex]\downarrow\hat{6}[/latex]) moves to Sol ([latex]\hat{5}[/latex]) in the bass, a sound that’s similar to when [latex]\hat{2}[/latex] moves to [latex]\hat{1}[/latex] in the phrygian mode.


Italian for "soft"

picardy third

Substituting a major I chord for a minor I chord (for example, using C major instead of C minor in a piece that is in C minor overall).


A discrete tone with an individual frequency.

pitch class

All pitches that are equivalent enharmonically and which exhibit octave equivalence

pitch class set

A group of pitch classes.

pitch interval

A type of interval that is measured in semitones. For example, the pitch interval 2 is two semitones; the pitch interval 7 is seven semitones.

pitch-class intervals

The distance from one pitch-class to another. Since pitch-classes are collections of all pitches related enharmonically and by octave equivalence, we need to define how to calculate this distance:

if the ordering of pitch classes (pcs) matters, calculate the distance from pc 1 to pc2 in semitones as if you're going up to pc2, regardless of whether the actual pitch of pc 2 is higher or lower then pc1. Calculate the size within an octave.

If the order of the pcs doesn't matter, then just calculate the closest distance between the two pcs in semitones.

pivot chord

A chord used to modulate between two keys that is diatonic in both.


A mode with a range of a fifth above and fourth below its tonic

plagal cadence

A plagal cadence uses the harmonies IV–I.

plagal motion

Occurs when IV (or IV6) moves to I (or I6). Sometimes people have called this "plagal cadence," but we find that term too restrictive since plagal motion more often serves to prolong tonic than to create a cadence. The term "plagal motion" is more inclusive of the variety of contexts in which IV moves to I.


When two or more meters happen simultaneously


A musical texture which emphasizes the separateness of the parts involved. Quintessential examples include imitative genres like fugues and canons.

post-cadential extension (p.c.e.)

A type of suffix (external expansion). Post-cadential extensions are usually short, they often occur at the ends of phrases within a section, and they typically prolong the final chord of the cadence or re-state the two chords that created the cadence.


A short section that follows a chorus and serves only to close the cycle—does not to introduce or transition to the beginning of the next cycle (Mark Spicer 2011, par. 9).


Prechorus function is most significantly typified in energy gain. Prechorus sections often use motivic fragmentation, acceleration of harmonic rhythm, movement away from tonic harmony, and harmonic openness.

predominant function

Predominant function chords are those that transition away from tonic function toward dominant function. It's best to split this category into two groups: (1) Strong predominants are those that signal a dominant function chord is imminent. These are IV and ii (in minor: iv and iio). (2) Weak predominants are those that transition away from tonic, typically moving to a stronger predominant. These are iii and vi (in minor: VII, III, and VI).


An external expansion that occurs before the beginning of a phrase. Prefixes are usually introductions, and they may be small, as when the accompaniment for a lied begins before the singer, or they may be large, as when a symphony begins with a slow introduction.


A subphrase consisting of a basic idea and its repetition. Presentations don't usually end with cadences.

Primary Theme (P theme)

The main section of a sonata-form work, in the tonic key. P themes are usually stable.

prime form

A name for a set class. The prime form is the version of the set class that is most compact to the left and transposed to begin on 0.

Prime symbol

Prime symbol:

This small symbol (look similar to an apostrophe) is used in the analysis of phrases and forms to indicate that some repeated material has changed, in some way, from its initial statement. For example, A would be the symbol for the first section but A′ would be used to represent the return of the A section with some element(s) of change.

Progressive Tonality

Progressive tonality - A piece that starts and ends with different tonics. This concept is used to distinguish itself from monotonality which is the default harmonic plan in most tonal works from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.


“Prolongation” just means that a given harmony’s influence lasts longer than a single chord. Usually this is accomplished by alternating the prolonged chord with other, less important chords.


A system of musical notation stripped of complicating elements, and focusing only on basic elements of meter, rhythm, and scale degree

Quadruple Meters

Meters in which beats are grouped into fours


When applied to an interval, the term "quality" modifies the size descriptor in order to be more specific about the exact number of semitones in the interval

When applied to triadic harmony, "quality" refers to the size of the different intervals that make up the harmony

quarter note

Divides into two eighth notes

quarter rest

Divides into two eighth rests


A group of lyrics that is four lines long.


The span of notes a voice or instrument can sing or play

real answer

A fugue subject transposed by fourth/fifth, stated in a second voice in response to the first voice's subject statement.


The process of turning figured bass symbols into chords


A section of a sonata form work that beings back themes from the exposition and which resolves the conflict established in the exposition.

Refrain (rondo form)

In a rondo form, a refrain refers to the work's primary theme. It is often referred to as a refrain because of its recurrent nature. In most rondos, the refrain is stated at the beginning, restated after each contrasting episode, and then one more time as the last form sectional, though a coda may follow.

Refrain (song form)

A lyric-invariant passage within a section that is otherwise lyric-variant. A refrain is too short to form its own section—typically a phrase or less.


Considered in relation to some other system. For example, modes are said to be relative if their scales share all the same notes (like C major and A minor). Or, relative pitch describes the ability to sing certain pitches after being given other pitches.

relative major

Shares a key signature with its relative minor

relative minor

Shares a key signature with its relative major

relative relationship

When a major and minor key/scale share the same key signature

Relative transformation (R)j

A Neo-Riemannian transformation which preserves the major third in the triad, and moves the remaining note by whole tone (e.g., relating C major and A minor).

Repeat signs

Indicate a section of music is repeated

repeated phrase

Two phrases where the second one is a repetition of the first. The repetition is always written out (repeat signs don't signify a repeated phrase), and usually the repetition is a variation on the initial statement.


A technique of internal phrase expansion. Sometimes a composer repeats material to create extra length in a phrase. Such repetitions may be exact or varied.


A section of a work that bears repeat signs like either of the parts of a binary form. Each reprise is typically referred to by number (i.e., reprise 1, reprise 2, or 1st reprise, 2nd reprise).


A type of alternative path. A reroute involves a permanent change of a phrase's trajectory toward the cadence. Reroutes are initiated by a diversion.


The duration of silences in music


An embellishing tone that is approached by static note and left by step up. The retardation is on a stronger part of the beat


A retransition is very similar to a transition but its location and function are different. Retransitions come between two sections where the upcoming section is the initiation of a large-scale return. In most cases, retransitions help prepare the return of the piece’s main section. In a ternary form this would be the A section, in a sonata form this would be the restatement of the primary theme at the onset of the recapitulation, and in a rondo this would be the return of the refrain (a.k.a. the A section). A retransition often drives toward attaining the dominant chord of the home key and will often prolong the dominant once attained, usually in the form of a suffix. Retransitions may have a clear half-cadential ending (possibly followed by a suffix), or they may have an elided ending that coincides with the initiation of the following section.


Describes when a theme, row form, or motive is played in reverse in comparison to an initial (or original) statement.


The duration of musical sounds and rests in time

rhythm dot

A notational symbol indicating that the affected note should be held 1.5 times as long.

rhythm section

In jazz, the piano, guitar, bass, and percussion.

rhythmic solmization

A system that pairs rhythmic values with particular syllables

rhythmic values

Represent the relative values of notes


Decrease in speed (tempo)

Roman Numeral Analysis

An analytical process where musicians label chords with Roman numerals to identify chords within the context of key signatures

Roman numerals

A series of numeric symbols originating in ancient Rome


The lowest note of a triad or seventh chord when the chord is in root position

root motion

The distance between roots (NB: not basses!) of adjacent chords. For example, "root motion by step" refers to the distance between two chords that are only one step apart, such as I and ii, IV and V, etc.

root position

Ordering the notes of a chord so that it is entirely stacked in thirds. The root of the chord is on the bottom.

Root-Position Dominant - Common Versions

A root-position dominant will often take the form of any one of the following options and each provide an essentially equivalent overall harmonic effect:





rotation (pop schemas)

Beginning a harmonic schema on a different chord within the schema, but proceeding through the harmonies in the same order. In other words, if the schema is 1-2-3-4, a rotation of the schema would be 3-4-1-2. Something like 1-3-2-4 would not be a rotation, because the chords appear in a different order than in the schema.

Rounded Binary Form

A type of binary form where the material at the start of reprise 1 returns somewhere near the middle of reprise 2. Both appearances of that repeated music are expected to be in the home key.


AKA series. Refers to the ordered elements in a serial composition. These elements are often pitches, but could be other things such as durations or dynamics.

row class

A collection of all forms of a given row. Most row classes contain 48 versions of a row, but some contain fewer due to duplications of row forms. For example, a prime version of a row may be equivalent to a retrograde version of the row.

row form

A version of a particular row in serial music. For example, any transposed version of the original row is considerd a form of the row. The same is true of inversions, retrogrades, and retrograde-inversions


A musical texture with four independent musical lines; the four parts are referred to as the soprano (S), alto (A), tenor (T), and bass (B).


An ordered collection of half- and whole-steps

scale degree

A single step within a scale; usually referenced by either an Arabic numeral or solfège syllable

Scale Degree Names

A movable system of names for scale degrees

Scale Degrees

The relative number of a note in a scale relative to the first note of that scale


A schema is a mental representation of a stock pattern. In music theory, the term "schema" usually refers to a prototypical chord progression or formal structure. Significantly, schemas can appear with variations while still being recognized as an instantiation of that schema. We understand an individual pattern in the music (exemplar) as a version of an ideal general pattern (prototype), and that relationship helps us understand how that pattern is functioning within a particular passage of music. Schemas are often give names, like "Meyer" or "double plagal."
Schemas can have both internal defining characteristics and normative placements within a series of musical events.
• Internal characteristics may describe a schema’s melodic features, harmonic features, and metric features.
• A schema’s normative placement describes it temporal location. For example, we will normally find a closing schema like the “Prinner” at a close of a phrase.

second inversion

A triadic harmony with the fifth in the bass

secondary dominant

A chromatic chord that temporarily tonicizes another key besides the tonic key, by taking on a dominant function in that new key.

secondary key

A temporary key within a piece that is overall in a different key. For example, a piece in A major may temporarily modulate to E major; E major is a secondary key within A major.

secondary leading-tone

A leading-tone chord that makes a non-tonic chord temporarily sound like tonic. Most often secondary leading-tone chords are fully diminished, though occasionally they are half-diminished.

Secondary Theme (S theme)

The contrasting section of a sonata-form work. The S theme begins and ends in a contrasting key (usually V in major-mode sonatas and either III or v in minor-mode sonatas). S themes are usually stable.


In musical form, this refers to the highest-level division of the overall form of the piece. Examples include the exposition in sonata form, the first part of a binary form, or the chorus of a pop song.


A portion of a row. Segments of a row can be any number of elements (for example, in a 12-tone row, it's common to look at 3-note segments or 4-note segments).


The process of dividing a passage or piece of music into its component parts. Most commonly, we show the idea level on a score using square brackets above the staff. For a discussion of the hierarchy of these "component parts" see Phrase-Level Forms 1.


A special kind of phrase consisting of a presentation and a continuation.


A phrase that differs substantially from the archetypal sentence while still exhibiting some traits of a sentence-structure phrase.


A pattern that is repeated and transposed by some consistent interval. Usually the term "sequence" refers to both the melody and harmony being transposed by the same interval, but we can also speak of "melodic sequences" or "harmonic sequences" where only one domain participates.

sequence copy

The segment of a sequence that repeats and transposes the material from the model.

sequence model

The segment of music that establishes the pattern for a sequence. In other words, it's the segment that gets copied in a sequence.


A strategy of putting elements in a particular order. The elements can be any dimension of music: pitch, duration, dynamics, etc....

Non-musical elements can also be serialized, such as the episodes in a television series.


Refers to the ordered elements in a serial composition. These elements are often pitches, but could be other things such as durations or dynamics.


In set theory, a set is a group whose members are not necessarily related.

set class

A group of pitch class sets related by transposition or inversion. Set classes are named by their prime forms. E.g., (012) is a set class.

set theory

A methodology for analyzing pitch in atonal music. Pitch classes are given an integer name (0–11, where C is 0, C♯ is 1, etc.). Groups of pitches are considered together as "sets." Sets may be related by inversion or transposition.

seventh chord

A four-note chord whose pitch classes can be arranged as thirds


Raises a note by a half-step

sight counting

Counting at "sight" (i.e. having never before seen or heard the rhythm)

Sight singing

Singing music at "sight" (i.e. having never seen it before)

Similar motion

When two voices move melodically in the same direction—that is, both move upward, or both move downward.

Simple Binary Form

A type of binary form that does not contain the types of material returns found in rounded and balanced binary.

Simple Duple

A meter with two beats, each of which divides into two

simple intervals 

Intervals with a size an octave or smaller

Simple meters

Meters in which the beat divides into two (subdivides into four)

Simple Quadruple

A meter with four beats, each of which divides into two

Simple Ternary Form

A ternary form whose sections are each made up of one or more phrases but not complete forms. The term "simple" can also be used to clarify that a single section does not contain a complete form. Compare with compound ternary form.

Simple Triple

A meter with three beats, each of which divides into two


A general term for two or more sound events occurring at the same time

singer/songwriter schema

I–V–vi–IV in major, or III–VII–i–VI in minor (C–G–Am–F, for example). This chord progression often loops throughout a pop song. Frequently, this progression begins on the vi/i chord instead of the I/III chord.

sixteenth notes

Divides into two thirty-second notes

sixteenth rest

Divides into two thirty-second rests


Interval size is written with Arabic numbers (2, 3, 4, etc.); it is the distance between two notes on a staff


Voice leading movement by third.

skipped passing tone

In counterpoint, this is a type of consonant weak beat motion that is approached by skip (third) and left by step in the same direction.

slash notation

An abbreviated form of musical rhythmic notation, that involves dashes to indicate articulations, horizontal lines to indicate a sustained note, and circles to indicate rests

Slide transformation (S)

A Neo-Riemannian transformation that moves the two pitches that form the perfect fifth in a triad by semitone, and changes the mode of the triad (e.g., relating C major and C♯ minor).


A curved line placed over notes to indicated they should be played or sung without separation


The application of solemnization syllables (Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, etc.) to notes within the context of scales


A system that pairs each note of a scale with a particular syllable

Sonata Form

Sonata form gets is name by association with the form that most multi-movement works had in the Classic era. It is one of the more complex forms and can be understood as an elaborate version of rounded binary form that features a balanced component. Because of its prevalence in classical music in general, it has been given very specific names for each part of its larger and smaller organization. The larger level names are as follows: Exposition (≈A), Development (≈B), and Recapitulation (≈A′). In general terms, the exposition contains two main sections separated by a transition (internal auxiliary section) and the exposition usually ends with a suffix (typically the large variety). The specific names for each section of the exposition are as follows:

Primary Theme (main section 1)
Transition (internal auxiliary section)
Secondary Theme (main section 2)
Closing Section (suffix)

These sections are often referred to with capitalized initials: P, T, S, C.




The highest part in SATB style, written in the treble clef staff with an up-stem; its generally accepted range is C4-G5

sound wave

An acoustic wave (energy vibration) that is perceived as sound.


There should be no more than an octave between upper voices (soprano and alto, alto and tenor); there should be no more than a twelfth between the tenor and bass

Species counterpoint

A step-by-step way of learning to write melodies and to combine them.


A combination of size and quality to describe an interval


A poetic foot consisting of two stressed syllables in a row.


A four-part phrase structure in popular music: statement, restatement, departure, and conclusion. An srdc structure shares many features with the Classical sentence.

Stability - Form

A relative sense of stability in a work is a common means of delineating form, and is an important dramatic concern for creating momentum and engaging a listener's expectation about what might happen in a work, given the listener's familiarity with how other pieces in a given genre behave. Much like story telling, music often expresses the sense of beginning, middle, and end and listeners have the ability to pay attention to that aspect of music which typically engages their interest because once they feel the sense of being in the middle, for example, they can project an expectation that the middle will lead to an end at some, undetermined point in the future. The sense of expectation is something that composers regularly manipulate by establishing models (or relying on models established by other works and composers) and then altering those models which can give the listener a sense of having an expectation, an implicit prediction, and then an emotional response depending on whether or not their expectation came true.

This balance between stability and instability can generally be associated with beginnings, middles, and ends. Beginnings can be expected to be relatively stable and middles can be expected to be relatively unstable. Endings typically involve instability but also the promise of an arrival at which point the instability will come to a close, creating a sense of relative stability that helps to bring a section or work to a satisfying close.

Common features for each might include some combination of the following features

• Stability: tonic expansions, regular hypermeter, no modulation, diatonic melody, and diatonic harmony (among other things)

• Instability: increased chromaticism (tonicization), increased rhythmic activity, modulation, sustained dominant, sequences (especially chromatic ones), and irregular hypermeter, and irregular phrase lengths (among other things)


To play or sing a note shorter than its usual duration


Five horizontal lines that are evenly spaced on which notes are placed

Standard, Classical-Era Cadence Types

In the Classical-era of western, classical music—which spans the middle to the end of the 18th century—there were a specific set of standard cadence types that were used to close phrases. They were the perfect authentic cadence (PAC), the half cadence (HC), and the imperfect authentic cadence (IAC).


In lyrics, a stanza is a group of lines of lyrics. In music notation, a stanza is a group of staves that are played simultaneously.


The vertical line that originates at the notehead

stem direction

On a grand staff in SATB style, the soprano and tenor are up-stemmed, while the alto and bass are down-stemmed

straight eighth notes

Eighth notes that are equal, as opposed to swung eighths (which are unequal).

Straight syncopation

Taking a series of notes of equal durations, cutting the duration of the first note in half, and shifting the rest early by that half duration


A technique of internal phrase expansion. It occurs when a composer lengthens a harmony or melody by increasing its duration so that it lasts longer than expected. When that happens, we say that the unit that contains the harmony or melody has been stretched.

string instruments

An instrument that produces sound via one or more vibrating strings


A basic multi-phrase unit. In pop music, a strophe is a focal module within strophic-form and AABA-form songs.

strophic form

A large-scale song structure, in which the same basic multi-phrase unit is repeated throughout (AAA). The basic unit that is repeated is called a strophe. Strophic form is more common in early rock-and-roll (1950s–1960s) than in the 1970s and beyond.

structural features

Musical features that pertain to section divisions and form


A harmonic function that may either lead toward a dominant-function chord or back to a tonic-function chord. Subdominant function is most typically associated with the IV chord, otherwise known as the subdominant chord, and the II chord, otherwise known as the supertonic chord.


A short melody which forms the melodic basis of a fugue and recurs throughout.


The unit of music that need not end with a cadence and which is one level smaller than a phrase, but one level larger than an idea. Subphrases do not exist in all phrase-level forms. Periods, for example, do not contain subphrases. Sentences contain two subphrases: a presentation and a continuation.


A set that is entirely contained within another larger set.


In counterpoint, a substitution is a type of consonant weak beat that involves the leap of a fourth followed by a step in the opposite direction. The name implies that this motion substitutes for a more common passing-tone motion.

subtonic shuttle

♭VII–I, or B♭–C in C major. This shuttle can imply mixolydian if the tonic chord is major, or aeolian if it is minor. In this shuttle, the ♭VII chord has dominant function.

subversion of a cadence

Occurs when a potential cadence point is declined by the material that follows it. A common strategy is for a composer to write music that proposes a cadence, but then to "back up" in the phrase and try the cadence again. See also "One-more-time" technique in the chapter on phrase expansion.


A type of external expansion that occurs after the end of a phrase. There are three terms we commonly use to describe suffixes, ranging in size from smaller to larger: post-cadential extension, codetta, and coda.


In typesetting, superscript characters appear higher on the page than the regular characters—like an exponent in math. For example, in the chord symbol C7, the 7 is superscript.


A larger set that contains other smaller sets. For example, a superset of (037) is the diatonic collection, (013568t).


A larger set that contains some other set.


An embellishing tone that is approached via static note and left by step down. The suspension is on a strong part of the beat.

swing eighths

A performance practice in which two notated eighth notes are performed unequally, in about a 2:1 proportion.


A rhythmic phenomenon in which the hierarchy of the underlying meter is contradicted through surface rhythms. Syncopation is usually created through accents and/or longer durations.


the norms or principles according to which musical elements are combined into meaningful and stylistically appropriate successions

tail refrain

A refrain that is the last line or so of a section's text.


How fast or slow a work is to be performed; most tempi are in Italian or another non-English language


Relating to time


The second lowest part in SATB style, written in the bass clef staff with an up-stem; its generally accepted range is C3-G4

tenor (church modes)

Related to the word "tenuto," the tenor of a mode is the pitch frequently sustained in a chant melody using that mode.

tenor clef

Also known as a "C" clef, a tenor clef designates the lowest line of a staff as the pitch D3


A type of articulation marking used to indicate legato, indicated by small horizontal lines above or below the notes.

Ternary form

A musical form consisting of three distinct sections, in an ABA (not ABC) formal structure. The B section typically contains contrasting material in a new key. Repeat signs around each section are common.


A four-note collection


The density of and interaction between voices in a work.

the fifth

The note of a triad or seventh chord a fifth above the root

the third

The note of a triad or seventh chord a third above the root

third inversion

A triadic harmony with the chordal seventh in the bass

Through Composed

An attribute of a musical form where no sections of music return. For example, a form with sections A B C. Similar motivic material may be present in different sections, but the sections would each be considered distinct. A piece that doesn't have any clear sections and seems like a continuous churning of musical ideas can also be described as through composed.


Connects two or more notes of the same pitch; do not rearticulate any "tied to" notes

Tight-knit (Caplin)

This is William Caplin's terms that he defines as, "A formal organization characterized by conventional theme types, harmonic-tonal stability, a symmetrical grouping structure, form-functional efficiency, and unity of melodic-motivic material (compare loose)." (Quoted from Caplin's 2011 book, Analyzing Classical Form, p. 714)

time signatures

In simple meters: specifies how many beats are contained in each measure, and which note value is equivalent to a beat. In compound meters: specifies how many divisions are contained in each measure, and which note value is equivalent to a division.

Timeline notation

A contemporary metric technique that uses seconds as the measure of time, rather than traditional bar lines and meters


An adjective used to describe music that adheres to the Western system of functional harmony.

tonal ambiguity

A property of certain chord progressions, where the progression does not inherently imply a single chord as the tonic chord.

tonal answer

An imitative repetition of a subject that is not an exact transposition of the subject (i.e., a real answer) but modifies the intervals to fit within the same key as the original subject. A common modification is to change a perfect fifth do–sol (1̂– 5̂) in the subject to a perfect fourth sol–do (5̂– 1̂) in the answer. The term "tonal answer" refers to the fact that this preserves the tonal relationships (e.g., between do and sol) instead of preserving intervallic relationships.

tone cluster

A chord/harmony composed entirely of seconds (major or minor), rather than thirds or any larger interval.


The home note or home chord of a scale, or something with the function of that home note.

tonic function

A category of chords that sound stable, providing a sense of home or center. In Western classical music, the only chord that belongs to this cateogory is I (in minor: i).


The process by which a non-tonic triad is made to sound like a temporary tonic. It involves the use of secondary dominant or leading-tone chords.


Generally, a section of music that functions to connect two thematic sections. In particular, a transition comes between two sections where the upcoming section is not the initiation of a large-scale return (e.g., transitions are commonly found between an A and B sections, or between the Primary and Secondary themes in a sonata). Transitions usually help to lead away from the piece's main section toward a contrasting section. Often a modulation is introduced to help prepare a section in a new key, though a modulation is not required. Transitions are a type of auxiliary section and they come in small and large varieties. Large transitions contain at least one complete phrase and small transitions don't contain complete phrases.


The act of moving pitch content by a certain interval.

treatment of the chordal 7th

1. Approach the chordal 7th by step or common tone
2. Resolve the chordal 7th down by step

Reminder: we say "chordal 7th" to distinguish it from the leading tone, which is different.

treatment of the chordal seventh

Also known as the "G" clef, a treble clef designates the lowest line of a staff as the pitch E4


A division a unit (one beat, two beats, one measure, etc.) into three almost-equal groups: for example, dividing a half note into two dotted eighth notes and an eighth note (3+3+2)


A three-note chord whose pitch classes can be arranged as thirds


A collection of three notes.

Triple Meters

Meters in which beats are grouped into threes


A tuplet that involves dividing a beat in simple meter into three parts

triply augmented interval

An interval a half-step larger than a doubly augmented interval

triply diminished interval

An interval a half-step smaller than a doubly diminished interval


An augmented fourth or diminished fifth. The name reflects that the two notes of a tritone are three (tri-) whole steps (tones) apart.


A poetic foot consisting of one stressed followed by one unstressed syllable.


A rhythm that involves dividing the beat into a different number of subdivisions from that usually implied by the time signature


An embellishment that indicates to decorate a note with its upper and lower neighbor, in that order. (The opposite order would be an "inverted" turn.) For example, a turn on C would be performed C–D–C–B–C. This embellishment is a specific kind of double neighbor.


Broadly speaking, a turnaround is the use of a non-tonic chord (usually dominant) at the end of a harmonically closed unit to transition into the beginning of the following on-tonic unit. In jazz, the term "turnaround" often refers to the progression vi–ii–V–I. The exact qualities of these chords is highly variable, and one or more of the chords may be substituted with a different, related chord.

typical writing procedure

1. Write the entire bass
2. Write the entire soprano to make a smooth melody that interacts well with the bass. Choose active notes for the soprano above dominant-function chords, and remember you need not write left to right always.
3. Write the inner voices by asking "what notes do I already have? What notes do I still need? Considering spacing and resolution, what note placement would give me the smoothest motion?"


A segment of music that expresses whatever the prevailing higher-level grouping expresses. For example, if a unit is contained within a continuation, it expresses continuation function. We often apply the term "unit" to ideas that aren't easily categorized using terms such as basic idea, contrasting idea, or cadential idea.

Unordered pitch intervals

The distance between two pitches, measured in semitones. C4 to E5 would be an unordered pitch interval of 16.


Spelling chords stacked in thirds or in closed position, within a single staff, usually for abstract or theoretical purposes, rather than for performance.


The last beat of a measure which is conducted with an upwards motion


Verse sections are lyric-variant and often contain lyrics thatadvance the narrative. Until the 1960s, verse sections tended to be harmonically closed. Beginning in the 1960s, verse sections became more and more likely to be harmonically open (Summach, p. 114). Verses (like strophes) tend to begin on-tonic.

verse-chorus form

The most common form of pop songs today. The song is built of lyric-variant verses and lyric- and music-invariant choruses that deliver the primary narrative material of the song.

voice (musical line)

An independent, monophonic part within a piece of music (instrumental or vocal). Each voice may be played by a different instrument, or multiple voices may be played by one instrument (especially in polyphonic instruments like keyboard or guitar).

voice crossing

The ranges of voices should not cross; the soprano must always be higher than the alto, the alto must always be higher than the tenor, the tenor must be higher than the bass

voice leading

The way a specific voice within a larger texture moves when the harmonies change. For example, in a choir with four parts, soprano/alto/tenor/bass, one might discuss the voice leading in the tenor part as the entire choir moves from I to V.

voice overlap

In a multi-voice texture, when one voice leaps beyond the previous note in another voice.


Distribution of notes in a chord into idiomatic registers for performance.


The distance between two peaks of a sound wave.


Concerning European and European-colonized countries

whole note

Divides into two half notes

whole rest

Divides into two half rests

whole tone collection

A pitch collection composed entirely of whole steps. There are six whole steps in a whole tone collection. There are only two possible whole tone scales: C–D–E–F♯–G♯–A♯, or C♯–D♯–F–G–A–B.


Two half-steps

whole-tone collection


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OPEN MUSIC THEORY Copyright © 2021 by Mark Gotham; Kyle Gullings; Chelsey Hamm; Bryn Hughes; Brian Jarvis; Megan Lavengood; and John Peterson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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