Wikipedia:WikiProject Music terminology

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There are a lot of different schools of thought about how to speak about music, see: music theory, musical analysis, musicology, and chord symbols.

Through the course of putting together the Wikipedia, it has become apparent to several contributors that quite often we do not mean the same things when we say the same words, or even worse, we will use different words for (and create different articles about) the same things.

This page has been created, therefore, as a way to standardize the terminology used in the Wikipedia with reference to music. It is understood that this is not an attempt to in any way elevate one usage or system over another, but rather to simply establish a set of standards for talking about these things so that we all know what we mean when we say a certain word, and so that all articles will use a consistent form of symbolic analysis.

Hopefully, in time, this page will accumulate a glossary of terms which can serve as a standard for the authorship of articles relating to music and particularly music theory.

Parent project[edit]


  1. StudiesWorld (talk) 00:29, 14 January 2014 (UTC)

Former and inactive participants


Description of single notes[edit]

  • Note vs. pitch vs. frequency: A note is written on a page, or understood in a larger musical context, including a rhythmic value; a tone is a pitch, typically in relation to a scale and without rhythmic specification; a pitch is an auditory frequency; a frequency is an acoustic phenomenon, for example, with respect to harmonics. Sound can be pitched or unpitched (such as a clap).
  • Duration describes the absolute time of a note (measure, piece, etc.), note value the relative time as indicated by the written notation, rhythm a pattern of durations or note values.
  • Timbre refers to the quality of a sound, in particular, as related its fundamental and overtones.
  • Intensity or dynamics is preferred over volume unless referring to electronically amplified music. This is because volume is not referring to the amplitude of the waves the instrument is producing, but the amount of space (volume) the sound fills.

Combinations of notes[edit]

Elements of pieces[edit]

Pieces of music[edit]

  • Piece includes composition and improvisation.
  • piece vs song - a song is sung, and a piece is played. However, beyond these simple definitions, 'piece' is more inclusive than 'song' (i.e., a piece can have a strong element of solo vocal writing). 'Song' is an almost universal term for a movement in popular music, but is more specific in non-popular (classical) music.

Musical analysis[edit]

Scale degrees[edit]

Harmonic analysis[edit]

  • Harmony is a general term for the relationships between the roots of chords; chord progression refers to the relationship between two or more successive chords.
  • tonal/tonality is a general term for music that is hierarchically organized around a pitch center or in a key. Use common practice period when applicable.
  • atonal/atonality refers to musical styles that avoid a tonal center.
  • diatonic means organized around a seven-note scale comprising whole tones and semitones, in which the semitones are maximally separated.
  • diatonic functionality assigns meanings to the various scale degrees or the triads build on them.
  • Roman numerals may be used, singly or in combination with figured bass (e.g., IV6), but only when discussing subjects whose readers could be expected to understand them.
  • figured bass is a system of inserting Arabic numerals underneath one or more notes in a bass line to indicate the quality of the chord above those notes.
  • modulation means a change of key; use 'key change' if you want to be understood by a wider readership.
  • Atonal techniques: transformation, permutation; operation is general term including those as well as transposition, inversion.


Styles of music[edit]

  • genre, idiom, movement, period, era
  • Classical vs classical - "Classical music" is the classical music era or the specific time period beginning the 18th century in European art music while "classical music" is any established musical tradition which uses some form of notation and requires study or training to be an acceptable participant in, other than as an audience or listener, in any culture: List of classical music traditions. Any classical music may be discussed simply as "classical music" if at the beginning of an article it is specified which tradition is under discussion. This distinction may not be recognised by many readers.
  • pop music vs popular music - pop music is a more or less specific genre, while popular music is a broader term that includes pop music as well as most folk music and any other music not classical.
  • common practice period refers to tonal, non-folk music written from about 1600 to about 1900h here, "common practice" refers to the adherence to a set of widely accepted patterns, including the major and minor scales and their triads.


General usages[edit]

  • "musical blank" vs "blank (music)" - use the latter unless there is a reason to distinguish, such as musical bow and bow (music)
  • When referring to a key, one writes, for instance, C major, but when referring to a chord one writes C-major. Always write out major or minor; never use pop-chord symbols such as Cm except in captions, tables, formulas, etc.
  • crotchet, minim, quaver, etc. vs quarter note, half note, etc. - both the English "crotchet, quaver, minim" and the American "quarter note, eighth note, half note" are acceptable in articles, as noted in the Manual of Style, though the American forms are more common in practice. Whichever form is used, place the other in parentheses the first time it comes up for clarity, e.g.: "There is a minim (half note) followed by two crotchets (quarter notes)"
  • harmonic vs partial vs overtone - While the articles about each of these subjects should indicate that they are often used interchangeably, overtone should refer to both harmonics and partials, harmonics being the whole number or integer multiples and partials being all other multiples.
  • set, series, sequence - In mathematics a set is an unordered collection of things, a sequence is an ordered collection of things, and a series is the sum of a sequence. In music, specifically musical set theory a set is often used to mean unordered and/or ordered collections, but should be used only for unordered collections. Series is often used to mean an ordered collection of things and a sequence often means an ordered collection of pitches which is then repeated transposed (it is often used this way in tonal theory).

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


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