Glossary Of Singing Terms



Glossary Of Singing Terms:

Our definition guide to some of the words you’ll hear that are used within the singing community.

 

A Cappella:             

Singing without any form of instrumental accompaniment.

Absolute Pitch:

Ability to determine the exact pitch of a note as played on a musical instrument just by listening to it

Accelerando:

A symbol used in musical notation indicating to gradually quicken tempo.

Accent:                    

Giving a particular note or phrase more stress than the ones before or after it. Italics do it in print, accents do it in singing. To be effective in solo singing, accents must usually be subtle.

Accessible:

Music that is easy to listen to and understand.

Accidentals:           

Any of various signs that indicate the alteration of a note by one or two semitones or the cancellation of a previous sign.

Accompaniment:

Music that is played as background to a solo singer or lead instrumentalist

Accompanist:        

A pianist who plays music beneath the singing.

Act:

A portion of an opera or musical designated by the composer, which has a dramatic structure of its own.

Ad Libitum:

At liberty; the performer decides how to sing or play the respective section or notes

Adagio:

A tempo having slow movement; restful at ease.

Adam’s Apple:

Common term used to describe the part of the larynx (voice box) which protrudes from the front of the neck. More noticeable in men than women.

Adducted:

The term for vocal cords getting pulled together when you sing high up in your vocal range.

Allegro:                    

Lively and quick tempo

Alto:  

Lowest female voice part in a choir group

Andante:

Meaning a walking tempo or walking pace; a moderate speed.

Aria:

A solo piece written for a main character, which focuses on the character’s emotion.

Arpeggio:

When the notes of a chord are played quickly, one after another. Usually used as accompaniment for a song, for example, broken chords most commonly on the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 8th notes of an octave.

Art Song:                 

In classical music, a song not from an opera, but sung in classical style. Art songs

were created primarily for concerts.

Articulation:           

The formation of clear and distinct sounds in speech.

Artist Manager:

An agent who represents artists by publicizing their talents, finding roles for them, negotiating their contracts and handling other business matters for them.

Atonal:

Music that is written and performed without regard to any specific key.

Attack:                      

Describes the process of a singer first hitting a note, as in “his attack on that high C was too harsh,” or “her attack at the beginning of the song was very gentle.”




B

Ballad:

A slow tempo, sentimental or romantic song.

Back phrasing:      

A stylistic technique where the singer is either ahead or behind the beat, on purpose.  Jazz singers typically use this technique, as do some pop singers.

Banda:                     

A small group of instrumentalists who play either on the stage or backstage, not in

the pit, often as part of a crowd or military scene.

Bar:                           

A specific number of musical sounds that are organized within a measure, and that are contained within two solid lines called bar lines.

Baritone:

The male mid-range singing voice between bass and tenor, with a range that extends from the second G below middle C to the first G above middle C.

Baroque:

Time period in music history ranging from the middle of the 16th to the middle of the 17th centuries. Characterized by emotional, flowery music; written in strict form.

Bass:

The lowest of the male singing voice,  with a range of the second E below middle C to the first E above middle. In serious or dramatic opera, low voices usually suggest age and wisdom; in comic opera, they are generally used for old characters.

Bass Clef:

A symbol placed on the fourth line of a staff to indicate that the fourth line of the staff corresponds to the F next below middle C; F clef.

Baton:

A short stick that the conductor uses to lead the orchestra or choir.

Beat:                         

Regular pattern of musical rhythm within a bar or measure.

Bel Canto:               

Singing that focuses on beautiful sound.  An Italian phrase literally meaning “beautiful singing.”  A traditional Italian style of singing that emphasizes tone, phrasing, coloratura passages and technique. Also refers to opera written in this style.

Belting:                    

Originally a term applied to female voices only: “This is a loud, driving sound that is produced by pushing the natural chest register beyond its normal limits.  Although the original terminology didn’t include men, male singers can also belt.

Blend:                      

In solo singing, the smooth transition between the head and chest voice.

Blending:  

A term used in choirs in order to make a group of singers sound like one voice, as opposed to lots of individual voices. This is done by encouraging singers to listen to each other and modify their voice accordingly to sound like what is being produced by everyone else.

Break:    

The sudden change in tone between the head and chest voice, caused by vocal tension. When a singer hits his or her break, there may be a “popping” sound, or some other sound that is jarring and ugly. This can be avoided with good vocal technique.

Breath Support:  

Efficient use of the singer’s stream of breath, controlled primarily by the diaphragm.

Bravo:

Literally, a form of applause when shouted by members of the audience at the end of an especially pleasing performance. Strictly speaking, “bravo” is for a single man,”brava” for a woman, and “bravi” for a group of performers.

Bridge:

A transitional passage that connects 2 sections of a composition or song. Usually placed after the chorus of a song.  The term bridge is also used to describe moving from one voice register to another.  eg chest voice into head voice.

Broken Chord:

A chord in which the notes are not played simultaneously at once, but in some consistent sequence. Notes are played either consecutively one after another, or 2 notes by 2 notes in a specific order.

Buffo:

From the Italian for “buffoon.” A singer of comic roles (basso-buffo) or a comic opera (opera-buffa).

 

C

Cabaletta:

Second part of a two-part aria, always in a faster tempo than the first part.

Cadence:

A musical term referring to a chord sequence that brings an end to a musical phrase either in the middle or the end of a composition.

Cadenza:

Initially an improvised cadence by a soloist; later becoming an elaborate and written out passage in an aria or concerto, featuring the skills of an instrumentalist or vocalist.

Canon:

Musical form where a melody or phrase is imitated by individual instrument or voice parts at various intervals of the song. The melody or phrase may be repeated backwards, inverted, or even at various tempos.

Cantabile:

A style of singing which is characterized by the easy and flowing tone of the composition.

Cantata:

Music written for chorus and orchestra. Most often religious in nature.

Canzone:                 

(Canzonetta) A folk-like song commonly used in opera buffa.

Capo:

Head; the beginning

Capriccio:

A quick, improvisational, spirited piece of music.

Carol:

A song or hymn celebrating Christmas.

Castrato:

Male singers who were castrated to preserve their alto and soprano vocal range.

Catch Breath:         

A quick, short, unobtrusive breath.

Cavatina:

A short and simple melody performed by a soloist that is part of a larger piece.  It now usually refers to the opening, slow section of a two part aria.

Cave:                        

The round shape at the back of the mouth.

Centred:                   

Everything balanced, working as one.  Getting the greatest amount of power from your voice, using the least amount of effort.

Chamber music:

Written for 2 to 10 solo parts featuring one instrument to a part. Each part bears the same importance.

Chant:                      

Singing in unison, texts in a free rhythm. Similar to the rhythm of speech.

Chest Voice:

The lower notes of a singer’s range; in the same general range as the speaking voice. When singing in the chest voice, the vocal cords become naturally thick, and the resulting sound is generally associated with deep, warm tones.  Also known as chest register.

Chest Resonance:                         

The resonance sounds it comes from the chest area.

Chiaroscuro:

The voice-pedagogy term that is used universally to refer to the balancing of the light or clear (chiaro) and dark (oscuro) aspects of timbre, or balancing tonal brilliance and depth of the resonance.

Choir:

A group of singers in a chorus with 3 or 4 notes sung simultaneously in specific harmony.

Chorale:

A hymn sung by the choir and congregation. Originally refers to a German Protestant hymn tune. In composition, it typically means a choral composition for voices or instruments, such as a Bach chorale. The word “Chorale” is also sometimes used as the name of a choir or chorus.

Chord:                      

When two or more notes or pitches are sounded simultaneously a chord is created.

Chord Progression:                     

A series of chords played in succession.

Chorus:

A group of singers, singing together, who sometimes portray servants, party guests or other unnamed characters; also the music written for them.

Chorus Master:                  

The one in charge of choosing chorus members and rehearsing them for performance. If there is a backstage chorus, it is usually conducted by the chorus master who is in communication with the conductor of the orchestra

Chromatic Scale:

A musical scale that includes all the notes within an octave, including sharps and flats. Total of 12 distinct notes within a chromatic scale.

Claque:

A group of people hired to sit in the audience and either applaud enthusiastically to ensure success or whistle and boo to create a disaster. In past years, leading singers were sometimes blackmailed to pay a claque to insure that claqueurs would not create a disturbance. Even now, a claque is sometimes used but rarely acknowledged.

Classical:

The period of music history which dates from the mid 1700’s to mid 1800’s. The music was spare and emotionally reserved, especially when compared to Romantic and Boroque music.

Classicism:

The period of music history which dates from the mid 1800’s and lasted about sixty years. There was a strong regard for order and balance.

Clavier:

The keyboard of a stringed instrument.

Clef:

In sheet music, a symbol at the beginning of the staff defining the pitch of the notes found in that particular staff. Most common clefs are the treble and bass clef.

Coda:

Closing section of a movement.

Coda Tail:    

Closing section appended to a movement or song.

Coloratura:

Elaborate ornamentation of vocal music written using many fast notes and trills. Can also refer to a Soprano voice suited for such colouration or ornamentation.

Commedia dell-arte:                     

A type of comic opera popular in Italy in the 16th to 18th centuries that involved improvisation using stock characters and gestures. The characters were often masked to represent certain archetypes.

Common Time:

The time signature of 4/4; four beats per measure, each beat a quarter note (a crotchet) in length. 4/4 is often written on the musical staff as ‘C’.

Composer:              

A person who writes music.

Compound Time:

Metrical time such that 3 beats are counted as one; each beat is divisible by 3

Comprimario:         

A secondary or supporting role or a person singing such a role.

Concertato:             

A large ensemble of soloists and chorus generally found in the second movement of a central finale, to which it forms the lyrical climax.

Concerto:

A composition written for a solo instrument. The soloist plays the melody while the orchestra plays the accompaniment.

Conductor:

The leader who directs a group of performers. An accomplished musician with a strong sense of rhythm and an in-depth understanding of the voice and instrument,

The conductor indicates the tempo, phrasing, dynamics, and style by gestures and facial expressions. Sometimes called Maestro

Consonance:

Groups of tones that are harmonious when sounded together as in a chord.

Consonant:

A speech sound produced as the result of a temporary partial or complete constriction of airflow   (b d f g l etc)

Contralto:

Lowest female classical singing voice part.  Often known simply as “alto.”with a range extending from the F below middle C to the second G above middle C.

Counterpoint:

Two or three melodic lines played at the same time.

Countertenor:

Highest male classical singing voice part with an elevated range. With training and practice this higher range, similar to that of a woman’s alto, becomes the natural voice.

Cover:                      

The name given to an understudy in opera; someone who replaces a singer in case of illness or other misfortune.

Covering:                

A term used mostly in opera to describe a darker tone.

Crescendo:

A musical term for dynamics direction; gradually getting louder or a swelling of sound.

Crotchet:

Quarter-note; 1 beat in duration.

Cue:

A signal to a singer or orchestra member to begin singing or playing.

Curtain Call:

At the end of a performance, all of the members of the cast and the conductor take bows. Sometimes this is done in front of the main curtain, hence the name curtain call. Often, however, the bows are taken on the full stage with the curtain open.

Cut:

To omit some of the original material from the score.

 

D

D.S.:

Dal Segno

It is a repeat mark found on sheet music It may mean: Repeat from the Dal Segno sign,

Dal Segno al Coda  

Repeat from the D.S. sign and continue until directed to move to the Coda, a separate ending section

Dal Segno al Fine

Repeat from the D.S. sign and end at the last bar of the song Dal Segno

Da Capo:

An instruction to repeat from the beginning of the piece and ending on the final chord of the song

Deceptive Cadence:

A chord progression that seems to lead to resolving itself on the final chord; but it does not.

Decrescendo:

Gradually getting softer the opposite of crescendo. Also known as Diminuendo

Demi-semiquaver:

One out of 32 parts of a Whole Note; 1/16th of a beat in duration

Diaphragm:

The dome shaped muscle attached to the bottom of the lungs that separates your chest and stomach cavities. Its main function is to initiate inhalation.

Diction:

The clear pronunciation of words. This requires attention to both consonants and vowels. Different types of music may require more or less diction; for example, in musical theatre, it’s essential that the audience understand the lyrics, but in jazz or blues, the singer may occasionally slur words on purpose in order to achieve a desired sound. Good diction helps produce good sound, however, so all singers should pay attention to it.

Diminuendo:

Gradually getting softer (Same as Decrescendo

Diphthong               

Two vowel sounds occurring in the same syllable. Also known as gliding vowels.

Director:                  

One who prepares an opera or play for production by arranging the details of the stage settings and stage effects, and by instructing the performers in the interpretation of their roles.

Dissonance:

Harsh, discordant, and lack of harmony. Also a chord that sounds incomplete until it resolves itself on a harmonious chord.

Diva:

Literally “goddess,” it refers to an important female opera star. The masculine form is divo.

Dolce:           

Meaning to be performed sweetly or delicately.

Dominant:

5th note of a musical scale

Double Aria:

An aria which consists of two parts. The first part, or cavatina, is usually slow and the second, or cabaletta is faster. There is often recitative between the two sections.

Downbeat:

The first beat in a measure as conducted by the leader of an ensemble is called the downbeat.

Dramatic:                

As in a “dramatic soprano,” “dramatic tenor,” etc. A type of singing that is heavier than “lyric,” often accompanied by more focus on acting than on making a “pretty” sound.

Dress Rehearsal:

A final rehearsal that uses all of the costumes, lights, etc. While sometimes it is necessary to stop for corrections, an attempt is made to make it as much like a final performance as possible.

Drone:

Dull, monotonous tone such as a humming or buzzing sound. Also a bass note held under a melody.

Duet:

Piece of music written for two vocalists or instrumentalists.  They may or may not sing simultaneously or on the same musical line.

Dynamic:

The variations of softness and loudness in music.

 

Eighth:

An interval of a distance of 8 notes.

Elegy:           

An instrumental lament with praise for the dead.

Encore:

Additional song(s) played at the end of a recital responding to the audiences enthusiastic reaction to the performance, shown by continuous applause after the last song of a concert or performance.

Energico:

A symbol in sheet music a direction to play energetically.

Enharmonic:

Two notes that differ in name but refer to the same pitch.

For example, C sharp and D flat.

Ensemble:

The performance of either all instruments of an orchestra or voices in a chorus.

Enunciation:           

The act of pronouncing words clearly.

Epiglottis:

The leaf-like cartilage that separates the functioning of your oesophagus (channel to

stomach) from the functioning of your trachea (channel to the lungs).

Espressivo:

A direction to play expressively.

Etude:

A musical composition written solely to improve technique. Often performed for artistic interest.

Exercise:

In singing, a device (a note or sequence of notes sung in a certain manner) used to condition and/or strengthen your vocal muscles to work with the proper airflow.

Exposition:

The first section of a movement written in sonata form, introducing the melodies and themes.

Expressionism:

Atonal and violent style used as a means of evoking heightened emotions and states of mind.

Expressivo:

To play or sing expressively.

 

F

Falsetto:

It means False Singing. In male singers, a high register (actually, sung in the female range) similar to the head voice. It has a Minnie Mouse Sound about it.  However, unlike the head voice, falsetto cannot blend with the chest voice.  Female’s can also sing in a falsetto range.

Fermata:

A symbol that tells the performer to hold a tone or rest for as long as they like, beyond the written note value.  It is usually referred to as a pause.

Fifth:

An interval of a distance of 5 notes between two notes.

Finale:

The last musical number that concludes the end of a musical composition.

Fine: 

End of song.

Flat:

A symbol indicating that the note is to be diminished by one semitone. For example, if we have the note D and we add a flat to it the note now becomes D-flat or D♭.

Singing Flat: When your pitch is too low. To be under the correct pitch, not quite in tune.

Forced:

Singing that is forced may sound strained, and is accompanied by unnecessary tension in the throat.

Form:

Musical term referring to the shape and structure of a piece of music.

Forte:

A symbol indicating to play loud or strong.

Fortepiano: 

Loud then immediately soft.

Fortissimo:

Very loud.

Fourth:

An interval of a distance of 4 notes between two notes.

Fugue:

A composition written for three to six voices. Beginning with the exposition, each voice enters at different times, creating counterpoint with one another.

Full Voice:

As loud as a person can sing without creating imbalance between airflow and vocal cord tension. Also refers to a tone that has a balanced resonance quality.

 

G

Glissando:

Sliding between two notes.

Grandioso:

Word to indicate that the movement or entire composition is to be played grandly.

Grave:

Word to indicate the movement or entire composition is to be played very slow and serious.

Grazioso:

Word to indicate the movement or entire composition is to be played gracefully.

Gregorian Chant:

Singing or chanting in unison without strict rhythm. Collected during the Reign of Pope Gregory VIII for psalms and other other parts of the church service.

 

H

Half-step:                 

A musical interval of a semitone eg C to C#

Hard Palate:

The hard area of the roof of your mouth, just behind your teeth.

Harmony:

A pleasing combination of two or three tones played together to create a pleasant sound or musical effect in the background while a melody is being played. Harmony also refers to the study of chord progressions.

Head Resonance:

The vibration of a soundwave which is bounced around the structures of your head such as sinuses, nasal cavities and mouth to create a better sounding note.  Head voice is usually associated with lighter, brighter and higher notes.

Head Voice:            

The higher part of the vocal register, which resonates around the structures of your head such as sinuses, nasal cavities and mouth. Head voice is usually associated with lighter, brighter and higher notes.  Falsetto is also resonated in head voice.

Homophony:

Music written to be sung or played in unison.

House Manager:

For performances, the person who is responsible for the audience and all that happens from the entry to the theatre, to the box office, to the seating and audience behaviour in the hall.

Hymn:           

A song of praise and glorification. Most often to honour God.

 

I

Imagery:

The situations, people, or emotions a singer pictures in his or her head while they sing, in order to achieve emotion and a good level of acting in their songs. Imagery may also be used to help a singer achieve better vocal technique.

Interlude:

Instrumental music played between scenes in an opera, musical or play. Can also refer to the music break in a song when the singer does not sing.

Intermezzo:

Short movement or interlude connecting the main parts of the composition.

Intermission:

A break, usually of about 20 minutes, between the acts of an opera, musical or show, during which the audience is free to move around.

Interpretation:

The expression the performer brings when performing.

Interval:       

The distance in pitch between two notes.

Intonation:

The rise and fall of the voice in speaking or singing.

Introduction:

The opening section of a piece of music or movement.

Inversion:

A chord that is not played with the root note at the bottom, but with the other notes of the chord taking the bass position

 

Karaoke:

A music entertainment where the singer sings along to a pre-recorded track and follows the lyrics on a video screen.

Key:                          

A combination of sharps and flats to indicate the pitch of a piece of music.

Key signature:

A group flats and sharps at the beginning of a piece of music, indicating the key or pitch of music the piece is to be played.

 

L

Larghetto:

Usually slightly faster than largo.

Largo:

Meaning wide, broad. In music a tempo marking meaning to be performed quite slowly.

Larynx:

The structure at the top of your trachea (windpipe) made up of cartilages, ligaments and muscles. Inside, attached from front to back are your vocal cords.  Outside of the larynx sits your thyroid gland. Certain muscles of your larynx affect the tension of your vocal cords as they work with air from your lungs in producing vocal sound.

Leading note:

The seventh note of a scale where there is a strong desire to resolve on the tonic (the first note of the scale).

Legato:

Word to indicate that the movement or entire composition is to be sung or played smoothly as though all the notes were tied together.

Libretto:       

A book of text containing the words of an opera.

Licks:

This is a very short solo that is performed to a complicated and fast melody during a little break in the song. During the battle rounds, it was basically when one singer would break off from the song and do a proper fancy technical bit and then return to the normal song.

Ligature:      

Curved line connecting notes to be sung or played as a phrase.

Lighting Designer:

One who designs and coordinates the light changes that help create a show’s overall effect. Much of this is now computerized.

Lyrics:

The words of a song.

 

M

Madrigal:

A secular vocal music composition of the Renaissance and early Baroque eras. Traditionally, madrigal were  unaccompanied.  The number of voices varies from two to eight, and most frequently from three to six.

Maestro:      

Refers to any great composer, conductor, or teacher of music.

Magic Opera:          

An opera in which there are many magical effects and often animals appearing on stage. Often the plot of a magic opera involves the rescue of one of the major characters.

Major:

One of 2 modes of the tonal system. Music that is written using the major key has a positive or happy character.

Major Scale:

A diatonic scale with notes separated by whole tones except for the 3rd, 4th, 7th and 8th.

Marking:                  

When a singer chooses to sing half-voice for a rehearsal, A full-length opera is very hard on a singer’s voice so many mark during rehearsals.

Mask:

The area around and including the eyes which is often used to create head resonance.

Measure:

A measurement of time in music that contain a specific number of pulses within a bar as defined by a time signature  eg, in 4/4 time, a measure has 4 crotchet beats to a bar.

Mediant:       

3rd note of a musical scale.

Medley:

Musical term referring to using passages from the various songs of a composition, that are performed one after another forming one complete song of its own. It is often used in overtures.

Melisma:                  

The singing of a single syllable of text whilst moving to several different notes in succession.

Melodrama:

In a technique which originated with the French; short passages of music alternating with spoken words.

Melody:

A sequence of notes producing an identifiable sound or tune.

Metronome:

A mechanical or electrical instrument that makes repeated clicking sound at an adjustable pace.  Used for marking rhythm in practicing music.

Mezzo:

Medium, Half

Mezzo Forte:

Moderately Loud

Mezzo Piano:

Moderately Soft

Mezzo Soprano:

The second highest female classical singing voice part, just below the Soprano voice, extending from the A below middle C to the second A above middle C.

Middle Voice:

Middle voice is where we mix the elements of head and chest voice to create a better sound. Think of it as adjusting the balance of treble and bass on your sound system and is achieved by resonance and voice placement.

Minim:          

Half-note value; 2 beats in duration

Minor:

One of 2 modes of the tonal system. Music that is written using the minor key has a negative or sad character and can be identified by the dark, melancholic mood.

Minor Scale:

A diatonic scale with notes separated by whole tones except for the 2nd, 3rd, 5th & 6th.

Minuet:

Slow and stately dance music written in triple time.

Mix                            

A mix between head and chest voice. Also known as middle voice.  It is where we mix the elements of head and chest voice to create a better sound. Think of it as adjusting the balance of treble and bass on your sound system and is achieved by resonance and voice placement.

Modes:

The way notes of a scale are arranged within the character of the mode.  The two main modes in modern music are major or minor.

The other modes used in music theory are: Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, Locrian.

Modulation:

To transition to another key.

Molto vivace:

Very lively, or at a very quick speed.

Monotone:

Repetition of a single tone.

Motif:

An identifiable succession of musical sounds, but shorter than a complete melody.

Movement:

A large unit within a symphony or concerto. It usually is comprised of many themes or musical ideas.

Musicology:

The study of forms, history, science, and methods of music.

 

N

Nasal:

When the voice is focused purely around the nose and nasal area.

Natural:                    

A symbol in sheet music that returns a note to its original pitch after it has been augmented or diminished.

Neoclassical:         

Movement in music where the characteristics are crisp and direct.

Nocturne:

A musical composition that has a romantic or dreamy character with nocturnal associations

Nodules:                  

A type of polyp on the vocal cords that prohibits good singing. When vocal cords get irritated (from fatigue, poor technique, an infection, etc.), they swell. Singing repeatedly with swollen vocal cords causes nodes. The only way to know if you have or are developing nodes is to go to a throat specialist (ENT). If you have frequent hoarseness or a constant sore throat, see one immediately. Treatment is usually rest, although surgery may be required in severe cases. Also known as Nodes

Nonet:          

A composition written for nine instruments.

Notation:

First developed in the 8th century, methods of writing music.

Notes:

Symbols to represent sounds or pitches and duration of those sounds.

Number Opera:

An opera composed of individual numbers, such as recitative, arias, duets, ensembles, etc. Between the numbers there is often a chance for applause. Most of the operas of Mozart, Rossini and Bellini can be called number operas.

 

O

Obbligato:

An extended solo, often accompanying the vocal part of an aria.

Octave:

The interval between two musical notes, the upper one of which has twice the pitch of the lower one. In a major or minor scale, the distance of this interval lies eight steps away, hence the term “octave.”

Octet:

A composition written for eight instruments.

Opera:

A drama where the words are sung instead of spoken. In opera, singing is the way characters express feeling; as it often takes longer to say something in music than it would in speech, the action may seem delayed or even interrupted.  Like a play, an opera is acted out on a stage with performers in costumes, wigs and makeup; virtually all operatic characters sing their lines, although there are exceptions for a role that is spoken or performed in pantomime.

Operetta:

A short light, sometimes comical musical drama, some of which is spoken but with many musical numbers.

Opus:

Convenient method of numbering a composer’s works where a number follows the word “opus”. For example, Opus 28, No. 4.  Often the opus numbers are assigned in order of composition, but at times the numbers are assigned by order of publication.

Oratorio:

An extended cantata on a sacred subject.

Orchestra:

A large group of instrumentalists playing together, led by the conductor, accompany the singers.

Orchestration:       

The art of applying orchestral colour to written music by assigning various instruments different parts of the music. This requires a complete knowledge of instrumentals and their timbre, range, etc.

Ornaments: 

Tones used to embellish the principal melodic tone.

Ostinato:

A repeated phrase.

Over breathing:

Taking a huge breath in and then constricting the lungs, making it difficult to sustain a note.

Overtone singing: 

Harmonic singing from the throat, in which the singer manipulates the resonances created as air travels from the lungs through the vocal cords and out of the lips to produce a melody.

Overture:

An orchestral introduction to an opera, musical or other large musical work.

Operetta:                 

A style of theatre in-between opera and musical theatre. Generally, it’s a comedy with both music and script. It contains classically-inspired music, sung in a legitimate style.

 

P

Parlando Singing: 

A style where the rhythm–and often the pitch–of the tune are usually observed, but the “singing” sounds more like the speaking voice than the singing voice. Notes are often shortened, and the ends of phrases often have a downward inflection, simulating natural English speech. Rex Harrison was a master of this technique and used it in his role in My Fair Lady, among other musicals.

Patter:

A “patter song” is one with many lyrics sung rapidly. Patter also refers to the brief periods in-between songs where a singer talks to the audience.

Phrasing:

Refers to the breaths or “stops” in between notes. Natural phrasing will include “stops” after all periods, commas, semicolons, or colons. Additional phrasing may be necessary for the singer to take catch breaths or to achieve a certain style. It’s an excellent idea for singers to sit down with sheet music in hand and mark their phrasing before they begin to sing. This helps prevent unexpected losses of breath and awkward phrasing that draws attention to itself.

Pitch:                        

The sound of a particular note. When pitch is referred to, it’s usually in reference to being “on” or “off” pitch. “On pitch” means the singer is singing in tune. “Off pitch” means the singer is either flat or sharp.

Part:

A line in a contrapuntal work performed by an individual voice or instrument.

Partial:

A harmonic given off by a note when it is played.

Passaggio:

The parts of a singing voice where register transitions occur.

Pause:

To suspend or stop momentarily.

Pentatonic Scale:

A musical term referring to a musical scale consisting of only 5 basic tones.For example: the five black keys of a keyboard make up a pentatonic scale. Often used in Oriental or Chinese music.

Phrase:

A single line of music played or sung. A musical sentence.

Phrasing: 

Essential in singing to give life and expression to your sound, instead of it sounding monotonous or robotic. Phrases are formed through different inflections extremely similar to natural speech, however these may vary slightly depending on the genre or style of music being sung.

Piano:           

An instruction in sheet music to play softly. Abbreviated by a “p”.

Pianissimo:

Very soft.

Pit:

A sunken area in front of the stage where the members of the orchestra play.

Pitch:                        

The frequency of a note determining how high or low it sounds. It can also refer to being “on” or “off” pitch. This means the singer is either singing in tune or is off by being singing too sharp or flat.

Piu:

More. eg piu piano would mean more softly.

Placement:              

A singing technique that uses the sensation of vibrations in the head to achieve healthy sound that resonates and carries well. Most healthy singing is done in what is often referred to as “forward placement” (or “the mask”), with vibrations behind the teeth/lips, on the cheekbones, and sometimes the forehead and/or nose. The resulting sound is full, not nasally or thin.

Projection:

Generally, the ability to be heard by the audience. Sometimes also refers to the ability to communicate emotion to the audience, as in “she projects great sadness.” 

PV:                            

Abbreviation for Piano Vocal Score.  It is a sheet music of a song which comprises of a vocal line and the treble and bass lines for piano accompaniment.

PVG:                         

Abbreviation for Piano Vocal Guitar Score.  It is a sheet music of a song which comprises of a vocal line and the treble and bass lines for piano accompaniment and also the guitar chords or tablature.

Polyphony:

Combining a number of individual but harmonizing melodies. Also known as counterpoint.

Polytonality:           

Combination of two or more keys being played at the same time.

Portamento:

A mild glissando (sliding from one pitch to another) between two notes for an expressive effect.

Pre Chorus:            

The section of a song between the verse and the chorus.

Prelude:

A short introduction that leads into an act without a break. However not lengthy enough to be considered an overture.

Presto:

A direction in sheet music indicating the tempo is to be very fast.

Prima Donna:

Literally “first lady;” the leading woman singer in an opera. Because of the way some have behaved in the past, it often refers to someone who acts in a superior and demanding fashion. The term for the leading man is primo uomo.

Principle:                 

A major singing role, or the singer who performs such a role.

Production Manager:                   

The administrator responsible for coordinating the sets, costumes, rehearsal facilities and all physical aspects of a production. Often, the person who negotiates with the various unions representing stage hands, musicians, etc.

Production:

The combination of sets, costumes, props, lights, music, etc to put on a show

Progression:

The movement of chords in succession.

Projection:              

The strength of singing whereby the voice is used loudly and clearly so it can be heard by the audience. It commands respect and attention. Also refers to the ability to communicate emotion to the audience, eg. she projects great sadness.

Prompt:                    

To help a singer remember lines, some opera houses will place a person (prompter) in a box below and at the very front of the stage.

Pronunciation:         

The result of producing sounds of speech and the accepted standard of the sound and syllable.

Props:

Small items carried or used by performers on stage.

Pure Note:

A clear, sustained note with a controlled breath and without vibrato.  To create a true pure note, everything needs to be in balance.  Placement of the note and vowel, diaphragmatic control and vocal cords energized yet relaxed.

 

Q

Quadruple Time:

Measure consisting of 4 beats or pulses, with accents on the 1st and 3rd beats

Quartet:

A group of four musicians performing a piece of music written for four parts.

Quaver:

One-eighth of a Whole Note; ½ a beat in duration.

Quintet:

A group of five musicians performing a piece of music written for five parts.

R

Range:

Refers to the notes that a given performer can sing comfortably.

Rallentando:           

Broadening of the tempo, becoming progressively slower.

Recapitulation:

A reprise.

Recital:

A solo concert with or without accompaniment.

Recitative:

Words sung in a conversational style.

Refrain:

A repeating phrase that is played at the end of each verse in the song.

Register:

A range of tones produced in the human voice by the vibrations of the vocal folds. Includes chest voice, head voice and falsetto.

Relative:

Major and Minor keys that share the same notes in that key. For example: A minor shares the same note as C major.

Relative pitch:

Ability to determine the pitch of a note as it relates to the notes that precede and follow it.

Renaissance:

A period in history dating from the 14th to 16th centuries. This period signified the rebirth of music, art, and literature.

Repeat:

To play/sing a certain section again

Repertoire:              

The songs a singer knows well and can perform.

Repetiteur:

A member of the music staff who plays the piano for rehearsals and, if necessary, the piano or harpsichord during performances. They frequently coach singers in their roles and assist with orchestra rehearsals.

Reprise:

To repeat a previous part of a composition generally after other music has been played.

Requiem:

A hymn, or musical service for the repose of the dead.

Resolution:

A group of chords can create harmonic tension. When this tension is released with a calm chord, or a chord without tension, it is “resolved” and is thus called a resolution.

Resonance: 

The amplification of the vibrations that create tone through and within your mouth, throat, sinuses and nasal passages. Large, full resonant tones are desirable in some styles of music but inappropriate in other styles.  In musical terms this is known as timbre.

Rest: 

To stop playing or singing for the specific note duration.

Reverb:

A termed used by musicians, and sound engineers for reverberation.  Usually created by a machine, or mixing desk, it gives the voice more colour, tone and presence. Usually used in studio’s and live performances.

Rhythm:

The element of music pertaining to time, played as a grouping of notes into accented and unaccented beats.

Rit

Abbreviation for Ritardando. Sometimes used for Ritenuto although less frequent.

Ritardando: 

Musical term for tempo direction; slowing down, decelerating.

Ritenuto:

Held back, slower. Usually more so and also more temporarily than a ritardando. Ritenuto may apply to a single note, unlike ritardando.

Rococo:

A musical style characterized as excessive, ornamental, and trivial.

Romantic:

A period in history during the 18th and early 19th centuries where the focus shifted from the neoclassical style to an emotional, expressive, and imaginative style.

Rondo:

A musical form where the principal theme is repeated several times. The rondo was often used for the final movements of classical sonata form works.

Root:

Principal note of a triad.

Run:

When a singer starts off at a very high note and drops quickly through the scale down to a very low note in the space of a second or two.  Also known as Roulade.

Round:

A tune where the melody is sung in two or more voices. After the first voice begins, the next voice starts singing after a couple of measures are played in the preceding voice. All parts repeat continuously.

Rubato:

An important characteristic of the Romantic period. It is a style where the strict tempo is temporarily abandoned for a more emotional tone.

 

S

Scale:

Musical term referring to successive notes of a key or mode that are either ascending or descending in a specific defined pattern.

Scat:                         

Using the voice as an instrument. A jazz term referring to a technique where singers use wordless sounds and improvised notes, often imitating jazz instruments. Cleo Laine “doo-be-doo-be-do” is an example of scatting.

Scoop:

Beginning a note beneath it’s pitch, then sliding up to the correct pitch. Scooping was the prominent feature of “crooners” in the 1920s-50s; Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Perry Como were among the singers famous for this style.

Scena:

Literally “a scene;” a dramatic episode which consists of a variety of numbers with a common theme. A typical scena might consist of a recitative, a cavatina and a cabaletta.

Scherzo:

Pertaining to the sonata form, a fast movement in triple time.

Scordatura:

The retuning of a stringed instrument in order to play notes below the ordinary range of the instrument or to produce an usual tone color.

Score:

The written music of an opera or other musical work.

Second:

An interval of a distance of 2 notes

Segno:

Sign, usually used in Dal Segno (D.S.)

Semiquaver:

One-sixteenth of a Whole Note; 1/8 of a beat in duration.

Semitone:    

Half of a tone; the basic pitch unit of the classical music system.

Sempre:

Always. For example, sempre forte would mean always loud.

Sempre piu:

Always more.

Septet:

A set of seven musicians who perform a composition written for seven parts.

Sequence:

A successive transposition and repetition of a phrase at different pitches.

Serenade:

A piece of music honoring someone or something.

Seventh:      

An interval of a distance of 7 notes.

Sextet:

A set of six musicians who perform a composition written for six parts.

Sforzando:

Forceful, usually accented.

Sharp:          

A symbol indicating the pitch of the specific note by 1 semitone

Sharp:

To be above the note When your pitch is too high. (often the result of oversinging) when you can’t hear yourself properly, so you are not in tune.

Sight Singing:        

The ability to look at sheet music and read sing it with near-perfection. Very few singers have this ability. Most professional singers can read music and sight read with at least some accuracy.

Simple Time:          

Rhythm characterized by 2 or 3 beats or pulses to a measure.

Siren Sound:

Making a sound like an old-fashioned war siren. A vocal technique used to create one voice within the registers, it is used to smooth out breaks, flips and cracks within the voice.

Sixth:

An interval of a distance of 6 notes.

Slide:

A glissando or portamento. Also refers to the moving part of a trombone.

Slur:

A curve over notes to indicate that a phrase is to be played legato.

Soft Palate:

The fleshy part at the back of the roof of your mouth.

Solar Plexus:

Located at the centre and base of the ribs, the soft part just above the stomach. The centre of diaphragmatic power.

Solo:

To perform or sing alone.

Song cycle:

A sequence of songs, perhaps on a single theme, or with texts by one poet, or having continous narrative.

Soprano:

The highest female voice with a range extending from middle C to the C two octaves above it.

Spinto:                     

A type of soprano or tenor. Translated, the word literally means “pushed,” and describes a more dramatic, dark sound, and usually a heavier voice.

Staccato:

To sing or play in a short or detached manner.  Each note is separate from the one before and after it.   The opposite of Legato.

Staff:                           

Made up of five horizontal parallel lines and the spaces between them on which musical notation is written, indicating their pitch or key

Stage Areas:

The various sections of the stage. Left and right are as seen by those on stage, not in the audience. Since many stages are raked, that is higher in back than in front, upstage is at the back and downstage at the front. If an actor stays upstage, all the others have to turn their backs to the audience when speaking to him. This is the origin of the phrase “to upstage someone.”

Stage Director:      

The one responsible for deciding the interpretation of each character, the movements of the singers on stage, and other things affecting the singers. Is in charge at rehearsals.

Stage Manager:

The person in charge of the technical aspects of the entire opera, including light changes, sound effects, entrances (even of the conductor) and everything else that happens.

Stagehand:

One who works behind-the-scenes setting up lighting, props, rigging, scenery and special effects for a production.

Staggered Breathing:       

Staggered breathing is a technique used in choirs where there is an extremely long phrase in a piece of music. If it is deemed impossible for each individual singer to get through the phrase without running out of breath, staggered breathing comes into play. This is where singers in the same part take short breaths at different times to their neighbour, to create the illusion that the overall sound created by the choir is one single unbroken line.

Stave:

Also means Staff.   Made up of five horizontal parallel lines and the spaces between them on which musical notation is written.indicating their pitch or key.

Step:                         

A musical interval between pitches (such as C–D or C–B♭) comprising two semitones or two half steps.

Stretto:

Pertaining to the fugue, the overlapping of the same theme or motif by two or more voices a few beats apart.

Strophic:

Describes an aria in which the same music repeats for all stanzas of a text.

Subdominant:

4th note of a musical scale.

Submediant:           

6th note of a musical scale.

Suite:

A loose collection of instrumental compositions.

Supertitles:             

Translations of the words being sung, or the actual words if the libretto is in the native language, that are projected on a screen above the stage.

Supertonic:

2nd note of a musical scale.

Sustain:

To sing or play a specific note for the specified duration.

Sustaining:         

Sustaining is a breathing technique, which allows a vocalist’s sound to stay consistent throughout a phrase. It involves tensing the abdominal muscles around the diaphragm and controlling the air flow as the sound is produced. It is often overlooked outside of classical music, however it is an extremely important technique in any genre if you want your overall tone to sound consistent.

Swallowing the Note:

Pushing down too far on the larynx, strangling the vocal cords.

Synopsis:                

A written description of an opera’s or musical’s plot.

System:

A combination of two or more staves on which all the notes are vertically aligned and performed simultaneously in differing registers and instruments.

 

T

Tab:

Tablature – A system of notation for stringed instruments. The notes are indicated by the finger positions.

Tempo:

Indicating speed of a piece of music or a song.

Tenor:

Highest male voice with a range from once octave below middle C to the A immediately above middle C.

Tessitura:

It means texture and defines the average pitch level that most frequently occurs within a given piece.  Eg, the song may start low, but if most of the notes are in a higher range, so the song would be described as a high tessitura.

Theme:

The most important melody at any specific time in a musical work. There can be one main theme in a work, or many themes.

Third:

An interval of a distance of 3 notes.

Tie:

A musical term referring to a curved line over 2 notes that indicates that the note is to be held for the duration specified.

Timbre:     

Tone colour and quality of sound that distinguishes an instrument or singer from another.

Time Signature:

A numerical symbol at the start of a song or music score, indicating the number of beats to a measure or bar.

Tone:

The quality of your voice that results from the resonance reinforcement of the tone initially produced in your larynx. Every voice has a specific colour, which can be described as warm, dark, light or heavy . Two singers singing exactly the same notes will sound completely different to each other.

Tonal:           

Pertains to tone or tones.

Tonality:

The sound quality of a note. Can also refer to the quality which affect the mood, expression or feelings.

Toneless:

Unmusical, without tone.

Tonic:

The first note of a musical scale, also called the keynote

Transpose:             

To change the key of a song; to lower or raise the notes of a song or a portion of a song.

Trill:                          

An operatic technique used mostly, by sopranos. A trill consists of a rapid alternation between two notes, usually a half step or a step apart.

Treble:

Highest part in harmonized music. Or, highest pitch or range.

Treble Clef:

A sign that indicates the G above middle C, placed on the second line of the staff; Also known as the G clef.

Tremolo:

Quick repetition of the same note or the rapid alternation between two notes.

Triad:

Three note chords consisting of a root, third, and fifth.

Trio:

A composition written for three voices or instruments.

Triple Time:

Time signature with three beats to the measure.

Triplet:

Three notes played in the same amount of time as 1 or 2 beats.

Tritone:

A chord comprised of three whole tones resulting in an augmented fourth or diminished fifth.

Tune:

A rhythmic succession of musical notes, a melody for instruments or voices

Tuning:

The raising and lowering a pitch of an instrument to produce the correct tone of a note.

Tutti: 

Passage for the entire ensemble or orchestra without a soloist.

Twang:                     

A nasally vocal technique used to achieve a powerful, crisp breathless head voice and to help create one voice. When singing from your head voice and moving into your chest voice.

Twelve-tone:

Music composed such that each note is used the same number of times.

 

U

Unison:

Two or more voices or instruments playing the same note simultaneously. 

Upbeat:                    

The preparatory sign given prior to the first beat in a bar.

V

Verse:

Section of a song usually at the start, leading to the chorus or pre chorus 

Vibrato:                    

A natural wavering pulsating change of pitch to accent expression in a piece while singing a note. It is usually inadvertent as opposed to a trill.  The voice is alternating subtly and very quickly between two different pitches that are very close together. The larynx and diaphragm both play a part in contributing to the vibrations. The best singers have full control over their vibrato and use it to accent certain words or phrases for dramatic or emotional effect.

Virtuoso:

A person with notable technical skill in the performance of music.

Vivace:

Direction to performer to play a composition in a brisk, lively, and spirited manner.

Vocal Colouring

Painting the tones of your voice with emotion including bright and dark tone.

Vocal Cords:          

Also known as vocal folds.  Elastic bands of muscles found inside the larynx (or voice box), which sits within the windpipe.  They are fixed at one end and open and close due to adjustments in tension. As air passes through, it causes them to vibrate producing sound.  The change of closure and vibrating length affects the pitch and intensity of your tone.

Vocal Fry                 

A low creaky vibration caused by fluttering vocal chords or informally known as the ‘Husky Voice’.

Voce:

Italian for voice

Voice  

One of 2 or more parts in polyphonic music. Voice refers to instrument parts as well as singing voice parts.

Voices can sound distinguishable, even when singing the same pitches. This is down to timbre. You may have a very resonant and deep sounding voice, or a crystal clear and bright voice. Different types of timbres are suitable for different genres of music. While all singers have a different natural timbre, creating new timbres with the help of different registers help give a much bigger variety to a singer’s sound.

Vowel:

A specific resonance structure through which a tone is sustained. Produced primarily by altering the size and shape of the mouth cavity and changing the position of the tongue, which determines how the resonance cavities will reinforce certain frequencies of the initial cord tone. The result of each alteration is a recognizable sound – Ah, Aye, Oh Eh Ee Oo.

W

Warm Up:                

Anything that helps the singer prepare for a rehearsal or performance. Typically, a warm up consists of vocal exercises, such as running scales. It may also include warming up the body with stretches to relieve tension and help wake the sense, with special emphasis on the jaw, tongue, and lips. The latter may include tongue twisters.

Whole note:

A whole note is equal to 2 half notes, 4 quarter notes, 8 eighth notes,

Whole Tone:

A musical term referring to a musical scale that consists of only whole-tone notes. This scale only has 6 basic notes.

Yodelling:                

A form of singing that involves repeated and rapid changes of pitch and alternation between the normal voice and falsetto.

 

 

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