Music Theory 101 Terminology
Musicians tend to have an expanded vocabulary that incorporates many music-specific terms. Below is a list of some of the musical terms you would likely learn in a Music Theory 101 class.
Pitch Class – All pitches on a keyboard that have the same name
Scale – A group of pitches arranged from low to high or high to low
Tonic – The note upon which a scale or key is based; the first note of the scale that is the tonal center of a musical piece
Tonality – The organization of pitches based on their hierarchical relationship to the tonic (central tone)
Atonal – Lacking tonality; not based on a central scale or key
Key – The group of pitches associated with a specific tonic; a musical piece may be in the key of a major or minor scale (e.g., C Major or E minor)
Accidental – A musical symbol indicating that the pitch of a note should be altered (sharps, flats and naturals)
Sharp – A symbol indicating that the pitch should be a half step higher than the written note
Flat – A symbol indicating that the pitch should be a half step lower than the written note
Natural – A symbol indicating that a note should be played as written (not raised or lowered); typically only used to counteract a flat or sharp that has appeared in the piece previously, or in the key signature
Key Signature – The sharps and flats placed at the beginning of a staff, used to indicate which pitches should be played a half-step higher (sharp) or lower (flat); key signatures are typically associated with a particular key
Time Signature (also called meter signature) – A symbol placed at the beginning of a staff used to indicate the meter of a composition. The symbol typically consists of two numbers: the number at the top indicates how many beats are in each measure and the number at the bottom indicates the note value (e.g., a quarter note) that constitutes one metric beat.
Tempo – The speed at which the music is played; may be expressed in beats per minute, or with descriptive terms such as “largo” (Italian for slow) and “allegro” (Italian for fast).
Interval – The distance between two pitches; the interval describes the relationship that occurs when both pitches are played in unison (e.g., Minor 2nd or Major 6th)
Triad – A cord consisting of three pitches arranged in 3rds (a triad can be major, minor, augmented or diminished)
MUSIC TRIVIA QUESTION: What is the difference between a heptatonic scale and a pentatonic scale?
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Some good sources for music theory vocabulary and terms:
Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary (see the letter index at the bottom of the page)
And always remember to contact Flatts & Sharpe for all your Chicago music lesson needs!