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The Musical Reference Shelf


by John M. Zeigler, Ph.D.
Rio Rancho, NM USA


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.


keyinfo.gif (1045 bytes)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.


Electronic Musical Dictionary



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)

Glossary of Some Musical Forms

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

Composers and Their Music

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.

Learning More About The Piano and Music

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!


New Harvard Dictionary of Music
The Lives of Great Composers edited by Nicolas Slonimsky
The Dictionary of Composers and Their Music edited by Eric Gilder
The Companion to 20th Century Music by Norman Lebrecht
The Inner Game of Music by Timothy Gallwey
The Performer Prepares by Robert Caldwell
Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians edited by Nicolas Slonimsky
The Piano Book by Larry Fine
Leonard Bernstein: A Life by Meryle Secres
The NPR Guide to Building A Classical CD Collection by Ted Libbey
Music. Passion for an Art by Jean-Yves Bossuer
With Your Own Two Hands by Seymour Bernstein
Piano Lessons - Music. Love and True Adventures by Noah Adams


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

Page created: 8/5/95
Last updated: 01/30/15
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Reprinting from the Piano Education Page The Piano Education Page, Op. 10, No. 1,
Copyright 1995-2016 John M. Zeigler. All rights reserved.