The Musical Reference Shelf
John M. Zeigler, Ph.D.
he Musical Reference Shelf is an electronic dictionary of musical terms and directions, a glossary of musical forms, and a bibliography for learning more about the piano and music. It should not be a replacement for a full-blown musical dictionary, but it's a fast way of finding out what all that Italian on the score really means about what the piece is supposed sound like. Teachers and parents seeking a bibliography of helpful music education and pedagogy books should consult our article, Starting a Private Teaching Studio. Those interested in biographical information about composers should consult our Listening List and Composer Resource page, which links to biographies of many composers. To find out about the history of the piano and how it is constructed, see The "Why" of the Piano. For general help with the most commonly asked questions about pianos and lessons, see our Help page.
Some of the most useful additional reference materials pages on PEP can be found by looking at the Reference section and the Quick Help section of the Score page, which classifies PEP's over 350 documents by type and visitor group.
A tempo, al tempo, au mouvement, Im Tempo, Tempo Io, Tempo Primo - back to the original tempo (found after a Rit., Rall., or Accel.)
Adagio - a tempo marking which indicates the piece is to be played slowly
Agitato - "agitated" or restless
Allegro - a fast, lively tempo
Allegretto - a little slower than allegro, but faster than largo
Andante - moderately slow tempo
Andantino - little slower than Andante
Animato, animado - animated
Animando - getting livelier
Appassionato - passionately
Attacca - continue without pause
Brio - roughly translated as "verve" or "gusto"
Cantabile - "singing"; play emulating as much as possible the singing voice
con - with
Con fuoco - with fire
Con moto - with movement
Con spirito - with spirit
crescendo, cresc. - growing louder
Dim., diminuendo - getting softer
dolce,dolcemente - sweetly
douloureux,doloroso - sorrowful
e,et,ed - and
Espressivo - expressively or with expression
f, forte - strong loud
ff, fortissimo - very loud
Giocoso - merrily
Grave - slowly, gravely, solemnly
Grazioso - gracefully or with grace
langsam (Ger.) - slow
Largo - broadly and slowly, but not as slow as grave
Legato - play smoothly with no separation between the notes
lent,lento - slow
mf - moderately loud
mp - moderately soft
m.s.,m.g.,l.h. - left hand
marcato, marque - marked, stressed
meno - less
moderato,modere - moderate
Molto - very, much
Mosso - movement (or agitation)
Maestoso - majestic, stately
Ma non troppo - without rushing, not too much
p, piano - soft
pp, ppp,pianissimo - very soft
ped., con pedale - with pedal
pie, plus - more
poco, poco a poco - little, little by little
Presto - fast
Prestissimo - as fast as possible
Rall., rallentando - slowing down
rit.,ritard,ritardano,ritenuto,reteno - holding back
sf,sff,sfz,fz - accent
sans - without
Semplice - with simplicity
Sempre - always
Simile - same
Sostenuto - sustained
Subito - suddenly
tr - trill
Tranquillo - calm, tranquil
Un peu, un poco - a little
Vite - Rapid
Vivace - lively and fast
Vivacissimo - as lively and fast as possible
Volta - time (2da volta= second time through)
Concerto - composition for solo instrument and orchestra, usually in three movements with a fast - slow - fast pattern; in a concerto of classic form, both the soloist and the orchestra must state each theme in turn in each movement.
Etude - a study or exercise in technique, typically used by a composer for experimentation in style or sound quality or to provide a show piece for an accomplished soloist
Fantasia - a composition type in which a more improvisational style is used, usually in a single movement
Fugue - contrapuntal ("counterpoint") composition in which two or more voices ("polyphony") are interwoven by the various parts at different intervals of pitch; the voices are often played by a single soloist. The name is a Germanicized form of the Latin word for "fleeing" or "running"
Impromptu - as the name implies, a composition of an improvisational character without fixed form but linked by the use of themes
Invention - an exercise in two or three part counterpoint
Minuet - a moderate tempo dance type commonly found in works from the Baroque period; often found in Classical period works in the minuet and trio form.. Usually in 3/4 time and light in feel.
Movement - a distinct division of a composition with its own key, themes, rhythm, and character. In classical music performances one usually reserves applause until the completion of all the movements which make up the work being performed.
Nocturne - a romantic character piece written with an expressive melody over a broken chord accompaniment
Prelude - an introductory movement complete in itself; often used to describe piano compositions written in a single movement
Rondo - a composition where the first and third musical ideas are the same, with the second idea being different material. This form is often used in the last movement of sonatas or concertos.
Sonata - an instrumental composition usually in three movements in related keys with different forms and character; short for Sonata allegro. In a classic sonata form, the first movement is usually an allegro, followed by an adagio, then a rondo or minuet, ending with another allegro.
Sonatina - a shorter version of the sonata, the movements are usually shorter and simpler, originally written as teaching pieces
Symphony - a sonata for orchestra, usually in four movements; the movement structure usually follows Sonata allegro form although there can be fewer than four movements
Our Listening List and Composer Resource page has over 600 MIDI files to listen to, many more suggestions for additional piano music listening, and links to biographies of almost all well-known (and not-so-well-known) composers for the piano. If you're preparing a school paper, looking for resource material for a teaching studio, or would just like to learn more about composers, that's the place to find it. Teachers and students may also want to look at our time-travel Meet the Composer interviews.
There are a number of excellent radio programs, books, and video tapes which deal with musical topics. The list below is not exhaustive by any means, but reflects the sources that we use most regularly.
A radio program we never miss is the late Karl Haas' Adventures in Good Music. Dr. Haas' program has been on for over 30 years, but remains fresh and engaging. Each day he chooses a new and interesting topic to explore in classical music. The program is heavy on music and the limited talk is always charming. Very educational and highly recommended! Dr. Haas is also a recognized pianist. Although Dr. Haas passed away a few years ago, the program still runs in many radio markets across the U.S. and Canada. If it runs where you live, by all means, have a listen!
In Celebration of The Piano - Filmed live at Carnegie hall to celebrate the 135th Anniversary of the first Steinway. Features 26 of the world's greatest pianists, 100 minutes.
The Video Library of Great Composers - Each is about one hour long and includes a free 70 minute C.D.
Great Moments - Each 30 minute video focuses on memorable performances of the world's greatest artists.
Orchestra! - A study of the development of the symphony orchestra from Bach to the present day, starring Sir George Solti and actor Dudley Moore.
Beethoven Lives Upstairs - This film won an Emmy award for best children's program. For all ages.
The Unanswered Question: Six Talks at Harvard by Leonard Bernstein
Music - This is a wonderful magazine from BBC Classical Music Service devoted to all aspects of classical music with stories about artists, composers and their music, reviews of recordings and live performances, a calendar of events, and even advice on building a library of classical music. An added bonus is that each issue comes with full-length, full-digital CD of the featured artist's or composer's music. Many of these CD's are dual music/software CD's that you can play in your CD player and put on your computer to both hear the music and learn about it and composer.
Clavier Companion- This magazine is for devotees of the piano. Its articles focus on piano and carry more in-depth interviews. It also carries ads for all kinds of piano software, equipment, and services. The children's periodical Piano Explorer is also available.
Piano Explorer - the magazine for piano students. Articles on composers and music, tips and much more