Elements of Music Tips

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What are dynamics?


Dynamics refer to the volume or loudness of a tone. Dynamics range from very soft (pianissimo), to very loud (fortissimo). Crescendo means gradually becoming louder. Decrescendo means gradually becoming softer.

What is melody?


Melody is the part of music that we can sing. It is a series of notes arranged in a particular rhythmic pattern and divided up into smaller units called phrases. Melody is the horizontal structure of music.

What is tempo?


Tempo comes from the Italian word meaning time, and refers to the pace of the piece of music. Tempo markings are in Italian and range from very slow (adagio), to very fast (presto).

How do I recognize the rhythm of the music?


Rhythm is the heartbeat of music. As music passes in time, it is divided into perceptible sections, and each section subdivided further.

What is harmony?


Harmony is the combination of two or more notes to produce new sounds called chords. We can say that harmony is the vertical structure of music. It adds depth and texture to the piece.

What is a rondo?


The last movement of a symphony or sonata is often in the Rondo form. The term rondo comes from the French “rondeau” meaning round. The rondo is a lively movement with a recurring theme. Its form is A-B-A-C-A-D-A. The listener becomes more familiar and comfortable with the theme each time it returns.

What is a fugue?


In the organization of a fugue, several parts (or voices) enter successively in imitation of each other. The opening is called the subject, the imitations are called the answer, and the sections in between are called episodes.

What is a motif?


A motif is a short musical idea, usually a subdivision of a theme or a phrase characterized by its rhythm, melody or harmony.

What is a Coda?


Coda, or “tail” in Italian, is the very last part of the music. This small section brings a large work of several movements such as a sonata, or a symphony, to a satisfying conclusion.

What is musical color?


Timbre is musical color. Each instrument has its own color and produces its own mood or emotion. Varying combinations of instruments produce different textures and distinctive colors.

What is sonata form?

Sonata Form

The rules of sonata form apply to the first movement of a sonata or a symphony. The movement is divided into three main sections, the exposition, the development and the recapitulation. The exposition states the primary theme in the home key of the piece and then transitions to the secondary theme in a new key. The development is a “working out” of these two themes reaching a climax before returning to the primary and secondary themes in the recapitulation. This time both themes are in the home key.

What is a concerto?


Originally the term "concerto" applied to any ensemble for voices and instruments. Now it is used to describe a work for solo instrument(s) with orchestra.

How do I recognize a Theme and Variation?

Theme and Variations

The theme is the melody that forms the building block on which each variation is based. Variations are permutations of the theme. One example of Theme and Variations is Mozart's Variations on the familiar melody, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

What is a measure?


A "measure" in music is the term for the "box" of musical text in between two consecutive bar lines. A measure contains a particular number of beats, as noted in the time signature. For example a measure in 3/4 time will contain three quarter note beats. A measure in 4/4 time will contain four quarter note beats.

What is a phrase?


Usually a melody will divide itself up into two halves called phrases. Two phrases form a musical period. Each phrase ends with a cadence, a 'resting' place in the music. The first phrase of a musical sentence generally ends with a cadence that is incomplete, or feels as if it is left dangling. The second phrase ends with a cadence that gives a sense of finality.

What is syncopation?


The displacement of the accent in syncopation drives a piece of music forward. While syncopation is common in ragtime and jazz, it provides an element of surprise in classical music. Syncopation comes from the Greek word meaning “cutting short.”

What is a Minuet?


A minuet is a dance which originated in France and became popular in the European courts of the 18th century. The minuet is in triple meter and its form is A-A-B-A: a first section which is repeated, a contrasting Trio section, and a return to the original material of the first section.

What is a symphony?


A symphony is a large work for orchestra usually consisting of four movements.

What is meter?


Meter, as in poetry, depends on the placement of the accent. You can feel the meter of a piece by tapping with your hand with the pulse. A Triple or Waltz meter is STRONG-weak-weak, or ONE-two-three. Duple meter is a steady ONE-two, ONE-two. Quadruple meter, common time, is ONE-two-THREE- four, with the ONE being the strongest, the THREE being the second strongest, and the two and four being the weak beats.

What is a Scherzo?


The word scherzo means “joke” in Italian. Beethoven preferred using the vigorous scherzo, rather than the more reserved minuet, as the third movement in his symphonies, sonatas, and chamber works. Later composers wrote scherzos as independent pieces. Examples include Chopin's Sherzos for piano, and the Sorcerer's Apprentice of Paul Dukas, a symphonic scherzo.

What is a sonata?


The classical sonatas of Haydn and Mozart were composed for solo instrumentalist, or solo with piano accompaniment and were generally written in three movements. The first movement, sonata-form; the second movement, slow and introspective; and the final movement, a rondo to bring the piece to a lively conclusion.

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