Music Theory and Composition : Music Theory and Composition

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

Glossary of Musical Terms – Acoustics of Music – Part 9


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Scales in Music – A Tonal System

Acoustics of Music – Part 9

Glossary of Musical Terms

The glossary of musical terms provides the definitions of the key words used in the Acoustics of Music article series. We believe it will greatly assist you in your ability to understand the explanations of the concepts presented here. They will help to maintain a standard of meaning and act as a reference throughout the series should their intended definition be somehow confused, misinterpreted or lost.

As  the larger article series, Scales in Music – a Tonal System, is posted this document will be updated to reflect additional terms to support them.

For your benefit and without further adieu, our glossary of musical terms.

Acoustics – The scientific study of sound.

Amplitude – Objectively, it is the height of the frequency wave. Subjectively, it is the loudness of the sounding pitch.

Decibel – A decibel (dB) is a unit of measure used to express the relative difference in power or intensity, usually between two acoustic or electronic signals or sounds.

Fast Fourier Transform – The Fast Fourier Transform is a mathematical formula used for analyzing periodic functions. It was originally formulated by a French mathematician, Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier (1768-1830).

Frequency – Frequency, measured in Hertz (Hz), is a unit of measure equal to one cycle per second. Frequency is the primary determinant of the listener’s perception of pitch.

Harmony – Any collection of pitches sounding simultaneously and organized in time.

Intervals – The difference usually expressed by the number of steps between two pitches.

Melody – A pleasing and coherent succession or arrangement of sounds that are not considered noise.

Music – The results arising from exercising the art and skill of a composer or performer, that of arranging sounds in time so as to produce a continuous, unified, and evocative composition, as through melody, rhythm and timbre.

Note – A symbol used in music composition to identify a tone of definite pitch whereby its’ sounding pitch is determined by its placement on a musical staff.

Pitch – The perceived quality of a sound, dependent primarily as a function of its fundamental frequency.

Rhythm – The pattern of musical movement through time.

Scale – An ascending and descending collection of tones proceeding by a specified scheme of intervals.

Scale Degree – The numbered positions of individual pitches within a major or minor scale.

Sine Wave – A visual representation of frequency. (Simplified)

Step – Usually referred to as either a half step or whole step. A half step is also known as a semitone whereas a whole step is referred to as either one tone or two semitones. It represents the interval between one scale degree and the previous or the next scale degree within a defined scale.

Timbre – The combination of qualities of a sound that distinguishes it from other sounds of the same pitch and amplitude (intensity or loudness).

Tone – A tone is an audible sound that defines a distinct pitch, quality and duration; a performed note.

Wavelength – The distance between one peak or crest of a wave and the next corresponding peak or crest.

Mini Series Links

To return to the Music Theory – Level 1 directory for the article listings within the series, please proceed to Music Theory Section – Level 1 – Series Introduction – Part 10.

To continue onto Music Theory – Level 2 directory for the article listings within the series, please proceed to Music Theory Section – Level 2 – Series Introduction – Part 20

To proceed to Acoustics of Music directory for the listings within the mini-series, please proceed to Acoustics of Music – Part 1 – Series Introduction.

All definitions were taken in whole or in part from the American Heritage College Dictionary, Fourth Edition, as published by Houghton Mifflin Company, N.Y. and Boston and the Harvard Dictionary of Music, Fourth Edition, as published by Belknap Press of Harvard University.

This article is intended for educational purposes only.

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