Terms and Symbols Used in Charts
Because Western music is primarily derived from European classical music, most of the terms used in music are foreign to American speakers. Italy was the epicenter of the Renaissance in art and music, and the majority of the musical terms musicians use today sprang from that era. By studying and familiarizing yourself with these terms, you will be able to converse with other musicians in an intelligible way and, most importantly, be able to follow the musical direction dictated in a chart.
If you're going to be a real musician, you should purchase a music dictionary. It's a helpful reference guide to the terms you'll inevitably encounter when reading music of any kind. Even if you don't purchase a full unabridged version, there are smaller pocket-sized versions that will cover the majority of terms you'll need to know.
Despite this, you're still going to need to memorize a lot of musical terms since they come up so often.
Tempo: the speed or pulse of the music. Sometimes exact tempos are shown in the top left corner of a chart. Other times, tempo is indicated using terms such as
Andante: a little faster than adagio, often described as a walking speed
Moderato: medium or moderate speed
Allegro: a lively or quick pace often described as cheerful. Extremely fast tempos are usually notated as
vivace, presto, or even prestissimo.
Although you should know traditional tempo markings such as adagio, andante, moderato, and allegro, they are used less and less in contemporary chart writing. Instead, simpler language is often used, such as slow bossa, fast bop, or pop ballad. These terms indicate both tempo and feel.
Ritardando or rallentando: these terms are interchangeable and refer to a gradual slowing of tempo, usually written as the abbreviations
rit. or rall.
Accelerando: gradual increase in tempo, usually written as the abbreviation
A tempo: return to the original or first tempo.
The following terms are related to expression and articulation:
Pianissimo (pp): very soft
Piano (p): soft; a notch louder than pianissimo
Mezzo piano (mp): moderately soft; louder than piano but softer than mezzo forte.
Mezzo forte (mf): medium loud; usually a natural, unforced volume that exists in the middle of the dynamic spectrum
Forte (f): loudly
Fortissimo (ff): very loud
Accents: an accent tells you to emphasize a specific note or notes through a sudden increase in volume. There are two main types of accents. Both are seen as carets in the music. A caret that points upward is a strong or particularly forceful accent. Other terms such as
sforzando (sfz) and fortepiano (fp) also tell you to give a note an extra emphasis or dynamic punch.
Crescendo: gradual increase in volume, denoted by a widening hairpin symbol or the abbreviation
Diminuendo or decrescendo: interchangeable terms that refer to a gradual decrease in volume, denoted by a narrowing hairpin symbol or the abbreviations
cresc. and dim.
Fermata: hold or freeze on a note or chord indefinitely; sometimes called a bird's eye
The following terms relate to navigation:
First/second ending: at the end of a section in a chart you may see two endings. In this case, the first ending always includes a repeat. After you take the repeat, you will play your way through the music again and take the second ending.
D.C. al fine: repeat to the beginning and end where you see the word
fine, which means “end” in Italian.
D.S. al coda: repeat to the sign then jump to the coda when indicated. You will end on the coda.
Many of these terms are used, and labeled, in the condensed sample chart shown in Figure 16-1. (It would be impossible to include every term in one chart.) This sample uses the more difficult D.S. al coda. In the real world, you might also see D.C. al coda and D.S. al fine. Also, you'll see hash marks ( / / / / ) used in most of these measures. This tells you to keep time playing the basic rhythm or ostinato that was given to you.
Once you have a basic command of note reading and you can implement the essential musical terms listed above, you are ready to read down a chart. Any written piece of music has, as you know, a beginning, an end, and hopefully some musical variety in the middle. But beyond these vague notions of what is going on in any given piece of music there are common patterns, signs, and structures that appear and reappear in most pieces of music. You've already dealt with chord symbols, key signatures, time signatures, and repeats, which are probably the most ubiquitous structures of all.