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Encyclopedia > Rubato
This article will be merged with Italian musical terms at some point in the near future.

Below is a list of terms used in musical terminology which are likely to occur on printed or sheet music. Many of these terms have a Italian etymology, reinforcing the heritage of much music originating from Italy. In different countries, the terms you see below may be written in the language of that country.

Unless indicated otherwise, these terms are assumed to be Italian (or English) in origin.


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  • accelerando – gradually increase the tempo; "accelerate".
  • a cappella – in the manner of chapel music, without instrumental accompaniment
  • adagio – "slow."
  • adagietto – "rather slow."
  • adagissimo – 'very slow."
  • ad libitium (commonly ad lib) – the speed and manner are left to the performer.
  • affrettando – hurrying, pressing onwards.
  • agitato – "agitated."
  • alla breve – indicates two minims in a bar, formerly four.
  • allegro – "lively," or fast.
  • andante – moderate tempo, just this side of slow
  • animato – "animatedly."
  • appassionato – "passionately."
  • arpeggio – literally, like a harp. Used to indicate that the consecutive notes of a certain chord are to be played quickly one after another, instead of at the same moment. In piano music this is sometimes a solution used to play a wide-ranged chord which, technically speaking, cannot be played simultaneously with one hand. Music played on the limited hardware of video game computers uses a similar technique to create a chord from one tone generator. Arpeggios are accompaniment patterns.
  • arco – see Arco.
  • assai – "very."
  • attacca (at the end of a movement) is a direction to begin (attack) the next movement immediately, without a gap or pause.


  • brillante – "brillantly."
  • brio – "vigour."
  • brioso or con brio – "vigorously."
  • broken chord – a chord in which the notes are not all played at once. They may follow one after the other, or two notes may be immediately followed by another two, for example.


  • cantabile – "singingly."
  • cesura or caesura – often called "railroad tracks" indicates complete break in sound
  • col legno – indicates strings are to be struck with the wood of the bow, see col legno; also battuta col legno: "beaten with wood"
  • common time is the time signature 4/4: four beats per measure, each beat a quarter note. 4/4 is often written on the musical staff as C. The symbol is not a "C" as an abbreviation for "common time", but a broken circle: the full circle at one time stood for triple time, 3/4.
  • con – "with."
  • con moto – "with motion."
  • con sordino – "with mute."
  • The directive crescendo is for the musician to play gradually louder than previously. Cf. diminuendo, dynamics (music).
  • cut time is synonymous to the meter 2/2: two half-note beats per measure. This is notated and played like common time (4/4), except with the note lengths halved. Cut time is denoted by three quarters of a circle with a vertical line through it, which resembles the cent symbol . This comes from a literal "cut" of the C symbol of common time. Thus, a quarter note in cut time is only half a beat long. A measure has only two beats. The other common meter with two-beat measures is fast 6/8, in which note lengths are 2/3 their normal values.


  • deciso – "decidedly."
  • The term diminuendo (or dim.), is an indication for the musician to play with gradually decreasing volume. It is the opposite of crescendo.
  • divisi – (or div.) means literally "divided", indicating that a part in which several musicians normally play exactly the same notes are to split the playing of the written simultaneous notes among themselves. It is most often used for string instruments. (The return from divisi is marked unisono: see in this list.)
  • dolce – "sweetly."
  • dolente – "sorrowfully."
  • dynamics refers to the relative volumes in the execution of a piece of music. See dynamics (music).


  • espressivo – "expressively."


  • The term forte, or just the notation f, is a directive for the musician to play loudly. The term fortissimo, ff, is similar—the musician is to play very loudly. See dynamics (music).
  • fuoco – fire.


  • geschwind – "quickly." (German)
  • getragen – "sustainedly." (German)
  • giocoso – "gayly."
  • glissando is a continuous sliding from one pitch to another (a "true" glissando), or an incidental scale played while moving from one melodic note to another (an "effective" glissando). See glissando for further information; and compare portamento in this list.
  • grazioso – "gracefully."
  • giusto – strictly, exactly.


  • Hauptstimme – "chief part" (German), designating the contrapuntal line of primary importance, in opposition to nebenstimme


  • immer – "always," German.
  • impetuoso – "impetuously."
  • in altissimo – play an octave higher.
  • incalzando – increasing speed


  • krftig – "strongly." (German)


  • lacrimoso – Sadly
  • lamentoso – Mournfully
  • langsam – "slowly." (German)
  • larghetto – slowly but not as slow as Largo
  • largo – "slowly."
  • legato – smoothly, in a connected manner
  • leggiero – lightly or delicately
  • lent – "slowly." (French)
  • loco – play as written (generally used to cancel an 8va direction)
  • lusingando – "coaxingly."


  • ma – "but."
  • ma non troppo – "but not too much"
  • maestoso – stately or "majestically."
  • mano destra – [played with the] right hand (abbreviation: MD).
  • mano sinistra – [played with the] left hand (abbreviation: MS).
  • marcia – a march.
  • martellato – hammered out.
  • marzial – "martially."
  • mssig – "moderately." (German)
  • MD – see mano destra.
  • meno – "less."
  • moderato – "moderate," often combined with other terms, for example, "Allegro moderato".
  • morendo – "dying away" in tone or tempo.
  • mosso – "motion", used in conjunction with "pi" or "meno", respectively, for more movingly or less movingly (about tempo).
  • A mezzo-soprano is a female singer with a range usually extending from the A below middle C to the F an eleventh above middle C. Mezzo-sopranos generally have a darker vocal tone than sopranos, and their vocal range is between that of a soprano and that of an alto. See mezzo-soprano for further information.
  • mezza voce – With subdued or moderated volume, literally "half voice."
  • MS – see mano sinistra.
  • munter – "lively." (German)


  • Nebenstimme – (German), "under part." A secondary contrapuntal part, always occurring simultaneously with, and subsidiary to, the Hauptstimme.
  • nicht zu schnell – "not too fast." (German)
  • notes ingales (French); unequal notes; a principally Baroque performance practice of applying long-short rhythms to pairs of notes written as equal


  • ossia – Denotes an alternative way of performing a passage often notated with a footnote, additional small notes, or an additional staff.


  • The indication piano, or the notation p, is an directive for the musician to play softly. The related term pianissimo, pp, directs the musician to play very softly. See dynamics (music) for more information.
  • pesante – "heavy and ponderous."
  • pi – "more."
  • pizz. – see Pizzicato.
  • poco – "little."
  • poco a poco – "little by little."
  • poi – "then."
  • portamento – 1. generally, sliding in pitch from one note to another (especially in singing; more often called glissando in instrumental music); 2. in piano music, an articulation between legato and staccato, like portato, in this list.
  • portato – non-legato but not as short as staccato (same as portamento[2], in this list).
  • precipitato – "precipitately."
  • presto – Very quickly.
  • prima volta – "first time."
  • primo – "first."


  • quasi – "as if," almost.


  • rallentando or rall. – gradually slower
  • rasch – "fast." (German)
  • rinforzando pr rf. – to stress by strength
  • ritardando or rit. – gradually slower
  • ritenuto or riten. – holding back or slower (usually more so than a ritardando; and may, unlike ritardando, apply to a single note)
  • roulade – as a florid vocal phrase
  • rubato – flexibility of tempo within a musical phrase for expressive effect


  • scherzando – "playfully."
  • scherzo – "a joke."
  • schneller – "faster" (German)
  • scordatura is an alternate tuning used for the open strings of a string instrument. External link: About Scordatura and the Viola d'amore (http://www.violadamore.com/scor.asp).
  • sempre – "always."
  • senza – "without."
  • senza sordino – "without mute."
  • sforzando or sfz – giving a strong accent
  • simile – "similarly"—i.e. continue applying the preceding directive, whatever it was, to the following passage.
  • soave – "smoothly."
  • sostenuto – "sustainedly."
  • sotto voce – soft tones, literally "under voice" used as a direction instructing the singer or instrumentalist to proceed in a more understated or more subtle fashion.
  • spiritoso – "spiritedly."
  • staccato – an indication to play with a sharp attack, and briefly. In music notation a small dot under or over the note indicates that the note is to be sounded staccato.
  • smorzando (or smorz.) – smother the notes; "dying away."
  • subito – "suddenly."
  • sul ponticello – in string playing, an indication to bow very near to the bridge, producing a characteristic glassy sound, which emphasizes the higher harmonics at the expense of the fundamental
  • sul tasto – in string playing, an indication to bow over the fingerboard


  • tenuto (held) – to touch on a note slightly longer than usual, but without generally altering the note's value.
  • tremolo – a rapid repetition of the same note, or an alternation between two or more notes. It can also be intended (inaccurately) to mean a rapid and repetitive variation in pitch for the duration of a note (see vibrato). See tremolo for further information. It is notated by a diagonal bar across the note stem or a detached bar for a set of notes.
  • tre corde ("three strings"; sometimes inaccurately tre corda) – to release the soft pedal (in piano music). See una corda.
  • tutti – together, usually used in an orchestral or choral score when the orchestra or all voices come in


  • una corda ("one string") – a directive in piano music for the musician to depress the soft pedal, reducing the volume of the sound. In some pianos, this literally results in the hammer striking one string rather than two or three. (For most notes on modern instruments, in fact it results in striking two rather than three strings.) Its counterpart, tre corde ("three strings"; see in this list), is the opposite: the soft pedal is to be released.
  • un poco – "a little."
  • unisono – (or unis) "in unison"; several players are to play exactly the same notes within the written part, as opposed to splitting simultaneous notes among themselves. Often used to mark the return from divisi (see in this list).


  • vivace – "lively"; "up-tempo"
  • V.S. (volti subito) – "turn page quickly". Found often in orchestral parts.


  • Zeitmass – tempo. (German)

See also

Italian musical terms - Tempo.

External links

  • British vs. American Musical Terms (http://ww2.lafayette.edu/~gilbertn/British.html)
  • Clef.org glossary of musical terms (http://www.clef.org/index.asp)
  • Choral Conducting Terms (http://www.spu.edu/depts/fpa/choral/chorterms.html)

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