Vocabulary – Part 20


1. An attenuator circuit used to reduce the signal from certain microphones to prevent clipping in the pre-amp. The circuit might be part of the microphone, a separate component, or built into the pre-amp. An electronic circuit designed to attenuate the output of a device by a given amount. For example, some microphones have so much output that they can overdrive the input stage of many mic preamps. To prevent this, mic designers will include a switchable “pad” on the output stage of the mic, attenuating, or reducing the mic’s output by 10 or 20 dB.

2. Sustained and harmonious background sound in a musical arrangement. This term typically describes strings or synthesizer tones playing chords or otherwise “filling” sounds—via reverb, doubling, etc.—that change smoothly and slowly, if at all. Pads are often used to add weight to an otherwise thin mix.

Swing Time

A timing signature where the note between beats is played much closer to the following beat rather than directly in the middle.  Several sources have suggesting thinking of swing time as a virtual triplet where the main beat is played on 1 and the mid beat played on 3.

Rag Time

Ragtime is not a “time” (meter) in the same sense that march time is 2/4 meter and waltz time is 3/4 meter; it is rather a musical genre that uses an effect that can be applied to any meter. The defining characteristic of ragtime music is a specific type of syncopation in which melodic accents occur between metrical beats. This results in a melody that seems to be avoiding some metrical beats of the accompaniment by emphasizing notes that either anticipate or follow the beat (“a rhythmic base of metric affirmation, and a melody of metric denial”[25]). The ultimate (and intended) effect on the listener is actually to accentuate the beat, thereby inducing the listener to move to the music.




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Vocabulary – Part 19

Musical Notation

Musical notation is a visual representation of music and how it should be performed. Modern or standard musical notation makes use of many symbols, too many to list here. For more information see this Wikipedia article.

Common Time

Common time is another way of saying 4/4 time. It is so called as it is the most common time signature is many forms of western music, including rock, country, and pop. In standard notation, it is can be symbolized by what appears to be a “c” rather than the more common four over four notation. The symbol is actually derived from a broken circle for reasons explained in this Wikipedia article.

Cut Time

Cut time is another way of saying 2/2 time. It is common in marches and musical theater. It has a faster “feel” than common time. In standard notation it can be symbolized by what appears to be a “c” with a vertical line down the center. For more, see this Wikipedia article.

Zipper Noise

In digital audio production, a “zipper noise” is an audible artifact caused by making changes to digital settings. It is often most pronounced when changing delay or reverb times. It is largely caused by the fact that digital adjustments are, by definition, made in steps. Analog can be a continuous change, preventing many of these artifacts.

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Vocabulary – Part 18

Major vs Minor Scales

The major and minor scales differ in the 3rd, 6th, and 7th notes of the scale.  Major scales are believed to be more bright and happy while minor scales are believed to be more dark and dreary.


Why is an octave, which is 12 notes, named as if it were only eight? It is called an octave because there are eight notes in the primary major and minor scales.  Even though we recognize 12 semitones in an octave now, historically music used whole number ratios to determine the fifth and third and resulting in an eight notes (the notes of the scales) representing an octave. However, these ratios did not work well if many octaves were in play.  The Church was strongly behind whole number ratios in music as they considered them holy.  It is only recently (16th or 17th century) that we have moved to the 12 tone equal temperament scale for music.


The mellotron is an analog sampler invented in the early 1960s. It was used by many artists, including The Beatles, The Moody Blues, and others. It functioned by having piano-like keys that, when pressed, caused a length of magnetic tape to roll past a tape head. Each key had its own tape with a recorded sample to match the pitch of that key. Sample tapes were only about seven seconds long and had to rewind before they could be played again.


A symphony is a musical piece composed for performance by an orchestra.


An orchestra is a musical group usually combining woodwinds, brass, percussion, string and others. Orchestras perform several varieties of of music, including symphonies.


The word philharmonic, while it has an etymological definition, doesn’t really mean anything when used adjectively, such as in the name of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Philharmonic comes from the words for “love” or “love of” and “music”, thus literally translating into “love of music”. Just as the London Symphony Orchestra is so named and literally means “an orchestra in London that plays symphonies”, the London Philharmonic Orchestra simply uses the word to differentiate itself (literally, “an orchestra in London that loves music”). The word itself was originally used to name a music society, so it has always been used as a pronoun or adjective, having no real musical definition.

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Vocabulary – Part 17

12 Tone Music
Music which uses a 12 tone chromatic scale and plays each note from the scale an equal number of times.

Blue Note
A note which is not diatonic to the key such as lowering the third or seventh and sometimes the fifth of a major scale.  Also sometimes called the “worried” note.

Grand Pause
A full ensemble silent pause for an undetermined amount of time.

Cadential Extension
Adding additional material to delay or extend the normal cadence of a song.

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Vocabulary – Part 16

Hurdy Gurdy:

An instrument similar to a violin but played by a rosined wheel turned by a crank.  Notes are changed by pressing keys that depress the strings.  Multiple drone strings make it sound similar to bagpipes.

Scale Degree:

A name for each note in the scale.


The first note in each octave of the scale. Also called the “root” or “center”.


The second note in the scale. The name comes from the note being above or “super” the tonic.


The third note in the scale. It gets its name from being half-way between the tonic and the dominant.


The fourth note in the scale. So called, because it is below, or “sub”, the dominant.


The fifth note of the scale. It is considered second in importance only to the tonic, hence “dominant.”


The sixth note in the scale. Its name comes from being halfway between the upper tonic and the subdominant.

Leading Tone:

The seventh note in the scale in major, harmonic minor, and melodic minor scales. When played, it always sounds like it should “lead into” the tonic.


The seventh note in the natural minor scale (identical to the Aeolian mode). The name is changed because it has less of a “leading” feel than the seventh note in major scales.


Singing in a range that is one octave into the modal voice and above the modal voice.

Modal Voice:

The normal speaking register, based upon the pitches of various vowels.  This means that modal voice and, thereby, falsetto differ by the spoken language of the song.

Bracket and Brace:

Visible structures used to combine multiple staves on sheet music, joining the staves together to signify they are to be played at the same time. Brackets are used to combine separate parts or instruments, as in an orchestral score combining all the different instruments on one sheet. Braces are used to combine different multiple parts for a single instrument, such as the right and left hand staves for a piano score.

Sources: http://www.musictheory.net/lessons/23 and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Degree_(music)

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Vocabulary – Part 15

Vocal Bridge :

Also known as Passaggio or sometimes a vocal break, these are pitch ranges where a singer has to shift between registers. Sometimes this will coincide with a noticeable pitch gap, change in tone, temporary jump beyond the desired pitch, or other problems. Typically, these bridge areas can be reduced in size or eliminated through training.

Bar/Measure and Hypermeasure:

A combination of measures of length X surrounded by other hypermeasures of length X where each hypermsure has it’s own “feel”.  Similar to a phrase, but to be a hypermeasure it must be with other hypermeasures.


A person who conducts a music group or ensemble. Director: a person who directs an entire performance, which may include music, acting, dancing, props, etc. In a performance that is onlymusic, the conductor and director are often the same person, and used interchangeably.

Alto Clef:

The clef between the bass and treble clefs.  The alto clef is centered on middle C and is used by multiple instruments such as the viola, English horn, and trombone.  Higher notes played on a double bass or bass guitar are also in the alto clef range.  A picture of the clef may be found here: http://nmelementarystrings.weebly.com/viola-alto-clef.html


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Vocabulary – Part 14


A canon in music is a device in counterpoint in which a melody announced by one voice or instrument is imitated by one or more other voices or instruments, entering after the first has started, in the manner of a round. The word canon may describe the device as it occurs in a piece of music or a complete composition in this form, like Pachelbel’s well known Canon.   (https://www.sfcv.org)

Crab Canon: (also known by the Latin form of the name, canon cancrizans)

An arrangement of two musical lines that are complementary and backward, similar to a palindrome. Originally it is a musical term for a kind of canon in which one line is reversed in time from the other (e.g. FABACEAE played simultaneously with EAECABAF). A famous example is found in J. S. Bach‘s The Musical Offering, which also contains a canon (“Quaerendo invenietis”) combining retrogression with inversion, i.e., the music is turned upside down by one player, which is a table canon.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crab_canon)


A form of musical composition where multiple melodies are combined to form the whole. Significant consideration is given to the interaction between the melodies. This may include specific harmonies but is generally more focused on the creation and release of harmonic tension. There are many types of counterpoint. Species counterpoint is a specific tool used for musical training and has many strict rules. Free counterpoint is more commonly used and significantly relaxes those rules. Round, canon, and fugue are well-known techniques for creating contrapuntal pieces.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Counterpoint)

Alberti bass:

A special type of chord figuration that alternates 1 5 3 5 and repeats as an accompaniment figure. It is very common in the music of the 18th century Classical style and is named after the composer Domenico Alberti, who used it frequently. (http://solomonsmusic.net/glossary.htm)

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Vocabulary – Part 13


Anything other than pitch and loudness that distinguishes one sound from another. AKA: color, tone quality, texture

It has been subdivided differently by different folks. For example: tone/noise, spectrum (harmonics), ADSR, changes in envelopes, prefix.


“Harmonic augmented by resonance.” This shows up as a somewhat more dominant harmonic that changes at a different rate from overall pitch. This becomes evident when doing pitch adjustments (e.g. auto-tune), especially with vocals. Many pitch shifting plugins will have a special “formant” control that allows the formant to be shifted separately for a more natural sound.

XLR (as in XLR cable):

  • X = Ground
  • L = Left
  • R = Right

Pitched and unpitched percussion:

  • Pitched percussion is a drum, mallet instrument, or any other percussion instrument that is specifically tuned for a particular pitch to match the key or melody of a song.
  • Unpitched percussion is any percussion instrument that is not specifically pitched, though the instrument may be tuned (e.g. a snare drum). Even though a snare drum is tuned so that it sounds good, it is (usually) not tuned to a particular pitch to match other instruments.
  • The terms “tuned percussion” and “untuned percussion” were replaced with pitched and unpitched, due to the confusion of being able to tune “untuned” (unpitched) instruments. Many percussion instrument can be used as either pitched or unpitched.

Organology:  The science of musical instruments.

Raag Pahadi: 

An Indian Raga which is a scale as well as a way of playing the notes.  Has different scales for ascending and descending.  (See Image:  http://raag-hindustani.com/Scales3.html)

The twelve notes used in Hindustani raga music, their Western equivalents, solfa-syllables, and notations. An introduction to the basic diatonic scale. (See Image: http://raag-hindustani.com/Notes.html)

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Vocabulary – Part 12

Picardy Third:  When a minor key song ends on a major chord.

Parallel compression (aka New York compression) : Creating two copies of a signal, one heavily compressed, the other either dry or very lightly compressed and mixing them together. It allows for the increased loudness from the compressed version, while still keeping some of the dynamics of the uncompressed.

Concept for Bass lines or guitar solos:  There are 7 notes in a typical key (example the 7 white piano keys in the key of C) and only 12 notes total (E.g. 7 white piano keys plus 5 black).  This means that if you don’t know the key of a song you’re playing with you still have a better than 50% of hitting a note that is in the correct key.  Also, if you hit an incorrect note (one not in the key) you’re never more than a half a step away from a note that is in the key.

Drum stick grips:

    Matched Grip: A grip where each drum stick is held the same in each hand.

    Unmatched Grip: A grip where each drum stick is held differently in each hand.

    Traditional Grip: An unmatched grip with the right hand using an overhand grip, while the left hand uses an underhand grip.  Used mainly in traditional marching bands and early jazz music.

    French Grip: A matched grip where the palms face each other.  Used where finesse is necessary, such as timpani and jazz rides.

    German Grip: A matched grip where the palms face down. Used for more power, such as with a snare.

    American Grip: A grip in between the French and German grip, where each palm faces forty five degrees inwards.  Used as a jack-of-all-trades grip.

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Vocabulary – Part 11

Synthesizer: A synthesizer is a machine or software program which is used to create “synthetic” sounds, or “synths”. These sounds can mimic “real” sounds (like a trumpet) or can be completely synthetic, as in a lot of electronic music.

Sampler: A sampler is a machine or software program used to play existing sounds, either in part or whole. The sounds played could be an audio recording, a previously created synth, or any other type of audio. Samplers will usually give you ways to modify the sound in various ways: changing the speed or pitch, reversing the sound, adding effects, etc.

Sequencer: A sequencer is a machine or software program that lets you take existing audio and sequence it together to make music. The general idea is to place one or more sounds at the beginning, then place one more sounds after the first ones (so that they play in order), and continue doing so until the song is complete.

Synthesizers, samplers, and sequencers are the basis of electronic music, and often you will find software that performs all three of these functions, negating the need for multiple programs.

ADSR (Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release) Envelope: The amplitude envelope of a single signal run through a synthesizer. The attack describes the time it takes from the signal start for the note’s amplitude to go from zero to a peak amplitude. The decay is the time it takes for the amplitude to drop from that peak to the sustain level. Sustain, unlike the other parameters, is an amplitude level, not a time. It is a plateau where the amplitude will remain until the end of the signal. When the signal ends, the release is the time it take for the amplitude to drop from its current level to zero.

Breathing: Also known as pumping, this is an effect caused by use of a compressor. As a compressor artificially changes the volume, “ideal” release settings will make the change fairly transparent as it will effectively match the expected release of the source. If the settings are not a match, the signal will sound like it is “breathing”. Originally, this effect was considered undesirable. More recently, this effect has been used in various ways. One, it gives a lot of electronic dance music its signature pumping bass lines. Second, along with “sidechaining” it is used to help automatically keep a bass in sync with a kick drum.

Antecedent Phrase: A phrase that “asks a question” or lends itself to a musical response.  The first half of a “question and answer” sequence.

Consequent Phrase: The “answer” to an Antecedent Phrase.  Usually a phrase that is a modification or compliment to the Antecedent.

Parallel Period: A musical phrase consisting of an antecedent and a consequent phrase.  The consequent is a slight variation on the antecedent, usually with the same musical construction, but differing in cadence.  Notated as A | A’

Double Period: A more complex parallel period usually in the form of A | B | A | B’.  It is essentially a repeated set of antecedent and consequent phrases, where the second repetition of the consequent phrase differs slightly to close the idea.

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